What will the 2017 Miami Dolphins do in the redzone?

Ryan Tannehill warms up prior to a game in Miami. Image by Brian Miller
Ryan Tannehill warms up prior to a game in Miami. Image by Brian Miller /

After a second successful offseason, the Miami Dolphins have many weapons offense. Just how many ways is this team going to be able to strike on offense?

Let’s start with the foundation… the offensive line. Mike Pouncey is elite, the fear is his health. But he will be a great leader for this unit both on and off the field. Laremy Tunsil and Ju’Wuan James are very talented tackles that are looking to keep making strides in their careers. The weakness would be at guard…

Jermon Bushrod should improve after a full year of guard under his belt. Isaac Asiata was a mountain-mover in the run-blocking game at the collegiate level, but recent reports claim he is struggling to separate himself from the competition. Ted Larsen is a quality player with great position flexibility. Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen are quality backups that can sub in when needed. All of these players are in the mix to start at guard.

What can these guys do in the redzone? Well Isaac Asiata has the potential to push an NFL defensive tackle for 10 yards and take him out of the play. Mike Pouncey, Laremy Tunsil and Ju’Wuan James all have great pulling abilities and can pinch outside and give Jay Ajayi an extra block or two.

Now let’s talk about the weapons on offense. Devante Parker looks to finally be unloading his full potential in OTAs. He has the size and power to go up and get 50/50 balls. He is a “go get it” type of receiver that all quarterbacks love to have.

Jarvis Landry is perhaps the greatest threat in the game up the middle. He is not going to blaze past defenders with his speed or body up linebackers with his size. He simply has a knack for getting open, providing a blanket for Ryan Tannehill to throw to when under pressure. All that paired with his sticky hands make him an extremely threatening redzone weapon.

Kenny Stills is one of the fastest wide receivers in the league. In the redzone, his YAC abilities will separate him from the crowd. Stills can take a screen pass from Tannehill and skip around a few defenders for a 10-yard touchdown with ease. His 9 touchdowns in 2016 will also draw the attention of free safeties over the top, giving a more open field for his teammates to work with.

What about our mismatch over the middle? Julius Thomas is 5 inches over 6 feet and weighs 255 pounds. That is surely a body that will draw the eyes of Ryan Tannehill when in the redzone. His basketball background gives him an advantage due to his footwork, allowing him to cut in and out of breaks with ease. Not long ago, Thomas was catching touchdown after touchdown in the redzone. Granted, Peyton Manning was throwing him the ball, but Thomas assuredly was a large reason for the success.

More on Julius Thomas…   he has already made strides in his run and pass blocking this offseason, which will only make him more valuable. Julius Thomas has the hands of a receiver, which is what every quarterback wants in their tight end. His nose for picking apart a defense also gives him an advantage in the redzone, where one defensive mistake can give the offense a free 6 points.

Julius Thomas is not the only tight end on the roster. Anthony Fasano is perhaps the best backup tight end in the league. In fact, Fasano is definitely the best blocking tight end in the league. And I’m not just saying that because I love the offseason pickup, I’m saying that because he was ranked as the #1 run-blocking tight end in all of football by Pro Football Focus. He spent all of 2016 blocking for Demarco Murray en route to Murray being one of the elite running backs in the game last season.

With that said, not only is he helping Ryan Tannehill stay afloat, but he is also paving the way for Jay Ajayi to get to the endzone. In the redzone, Fasano has the strength to shove a defensive end out of the way and find the outside linebacker and block him into the ground, taking out two defenders in one play. Jay Ajayi is going to be the biggest beneficiary of the addition of Anthony Fasano.

Speaking of Jay Ajayi, is he our most talented player on the offens? Well no…   not yet. He must prove that last season was no fluke. But let’s stick to the topic. In the redzone is where Ajayi thrives. He has the bulldozing power that few running backs had. He also learned how to be patient, especially after seeing Le’Veon Bell slice throught the Dolphins defense.

Jay Ajayi has great vision as well, and a better offensive line will only buy him more time to assess the defense. Within 20 yards of the endzone, Jay Train is well aware of his teammates around him and what they bring. He will not be seeing full boxes very often, allowing him to take a lot of one-on-ones. If I had to choose who would win a one-on-one matchup between Jay Ajayi and many starting linebackers in the league, I would choose the Jay Train more often than not.

What if it’s the 14th game of the season and Jay Ajayi is on the sideline? No need to worry. Damien Williams proved to be a more than serviceable backup to Ajayi. Williams has the elite ability to pound the ball into the endzone as well as great hands out of the backfield. Before last season, Williams was primarily a pass-catching back, which makes his skill set even more valuable.

Beyond Williams would be 2nd year player Kenyan Drake, who once drew comparisons to Jamaal Charles. That may be bold, but it very well could be in his future. Drake is blazing fast, like there really is no containing this guy if he beats you around the edge. Drake has taken over the pass-catching role (or the 3rd down role) in the running back room. It is easy to say that the running back room can be classified as a strength for the offense.

Now what will we see in the redzone? Well let’s look at one formation in particular, one that could maximize our strengths to the full potential: double-tight formation. With another tight end on the field, one of the receivers would have to come off and that would likely be Kenny Stills. The setup would look like a normal offensive line setup with a tight end on both ends of the line, Jay Train in the backfield with Parker and Landry split wide.

With this look, the defense has to account for both the pass and the run. With Fasano on the field, many are going to assume we will run the football to his side. Although we might very well do that (and do it effectively), we also have the luxury of hitting Julius Thomas boxing out in the endzone for a touchdown. Landry could cut across the middle where he thrives and slip past the goal line.

Say we don’t care if the defense knows whether or not we are going to run the ball, we can just do it anyway. With Fasano, Tunsil, Larsen and Pouncey, we have a formidable group of blockers that each have the ability to pull out and knock out a defender or two. They could also stay put and open up a wide open hole for the Train to run through.

With the effective blocking ability throughout the offense paired with the elusiveness and toughness of Jay Ajayi, there are not many defenders that will be able to get in between him and the endzone. He is a downhill runner that did not have this amount of effective blockers a year ago but still excelled. Adding such talent can only make him better.

We could also abandon the purpose of the formation all together and throw the ball in the corner of the endzone for Devante Parker to go up and grab. His talent is second-to-none and just needs to be unlocked in order for this offense to reach the next level.

Even outside of the double-tight formation, Kenny Stills can be brought on along with Kenyan Drake and we could abandon the tight end usage due to the strength and abilities in our position players. This offense could look like the Atlanta Falcons from 2016. We have all the talent; it just needs to be unlocked.

This offense can punch any defense in the mouth and the redzone just might be where they thrive this season. With the many weapons, look for a breakout season from the Miami Dolphins in 2017.

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