As we count down to the NFL season, Sports Jerks will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.
Today’s feature team and question?
The Miami Dolphins – How much will Mike Wallace help?
Since 2008, the Miami Dolphins have been on a fast track to nowhere. The team has plodded through four losing seasons with no real end in sight. The franchise has been just good enough to avoid landing a top draft pick, but bad enough to miss the playoffs each season. Even in 2008, when hopes were high after an 11-5 season, the Dolphins were soundly defeated in a Wild Card matchup, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 27-9 behind quarterback Chad Pennington.
Pennington is long since gone, but things haven’t gotten better. Improvement didn’t come under Chad Henne or Matt Moore, and while the hope is that Ryan Tannehill can turn things around, that didn’t happen last year. In 2012, Miami suffered through another below average season, going 7-9. After a 4-3 start, the wheels fell off as the Dolphins went only 3-6 the rest of the way.
Part of the struggles can be attributed to the lack of a strong passing game. The Dolphins added Brandon Marshall in 2010 but the wide receiver didn’t quite meet expectations. Despite two 1,000-yard seasons, Marshall scored only nine touchdowns in his two-year stay in Miami. Without him, the passing game struggled even more last year, falling to 26th in the league with less than 200 yards per contest.
The Dolphins realized a change was needed – enter Mike Wallace. Wallace came over to Miami this year from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The speedy receiver had nearly 2,500 yards in 2010 and 2011, and despite a down season in 2012, he was still highly desired. Wallace’s numbers last year took a hit as he finished with just 836 yards receiving, but at only 27, he should have a lot of football left in him.
The concern about Wallace, however, isn’t necessarily the sub 1,000-yard season. The young wideout averaged more than 20 yards per catch in his first two seasons. One big problem is that number shrunk to less than 15 per catch over the last two years. Despite being targeted the most in his career in 2012 (119 balls were thrown his way), Wallace also didn’t catch nearly as many balls for first downs. His 33 last season were significantly less than the 54 times he moved the sticks in 2011. Wallace still managed to catch his fair share of passes with 64, but he’s always been more deep threat than elite all-around receiver. The big plays didn’t happen nearly as much last season.
Wallace will help – few will deny that. However, the lack of experience around him is concerning.
Expected to start opposite Wallace is Brian Hartline, but he isn’t the type of player that will draw much attention away from Wallace. Hartline did have 1,000 yards last year, but only three 100-yard games. The 74 catches he had were largely more a product of few true options at the position.
After Hartline, for Wallace, unfortunately it gets even worse. Brandon Gibson came over from St. Louis and is a solid third receiver, but he’s the only receiver on the depth chart with any significant experience. Rishard Matthews is presumably the fourth receiver, but with only 11 career catches, he’s a huge question mark. All of the expected third and fourth stringers have caught a total of zero (yes, zero) NFL passes. Miami had Armon Binns, who was expected to take the No. 4 spot, but he suffered an injury over the summer and was placed on the waived-injured list.
Simply put, Miami is very thin on experience at wide receiver and that will hurt Wallace. He’ll be the target of every team’s best defensive efforts and any injuries to Hartline or Matthews will make things even more difficult.
Also hurting the Dolphins is the recent loss of tight end Dustin Keller for the season. Keller was injured in a preseason game and will miss the entire year with a knee injury. Without him, the receiving options shrink even more and will make Tannehill’s job extremely difficult if the team doesn’t target another wideout or tight end.
Wallace will help the team but with few legitimate threats at wide receiver, I’m not sure the Dolphins’ passing attack will be significantly better in 2013. Tannehill was a rookie last season and he’s expected to be improved. That, combined with Wallace, gives the passing game some potential. Still, I’m not sure it will be enough to make Miami’s aerial game all that dangerous this season.
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