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The Value of Special Teams

Many of Miami's offseason moves have been with the sole purpose of improving this team's special teams units. But what we haven't done yet is really look at just how important special teams are as well as talk about just how bad the Dolphins' special teams play was in 2007. So let's look at the value of good special teams play in terms of offensive production.

Last season, the Dolphins were 29th in the NFL in kick return yards, averaging just 19.9 yards per kick return. On the other hand, Dolphins' opponents averaged 25.3 yards per kick return, which places the Dolphins 30th in the NFL. Now that looks bad, but it's hard to quantify just how bad. Consider this. The Football Outsiders tell us that the Dolphins average starting field position was at their own 27.67 yard line, which is the 2nd worst average starting field position in all of the NFL.

The 2nd thing to consider is that the Dolphins were surprisingly effective in the red zone in 2007. They scored a touchdown on 51.3% of their red zone possessions, which was good enough for 17th in the NFL. Now that's not great by any stretch of the imagination. But it's better than I thought it would be.

However, the problem here is that the Dolphins only reached the red zone 39 times this season, which is good for 27th in the NFL. How can the Dolphins score if they can't even get inside the opponent's 20 yard line?

So how do the Dolphins improve this? In 2007, the Dolphins averaged gaining just 25.82 yards per drive, which ranked them 24th in the NFL. So if you consider Miami's average starting field position (27.67 yard line) and the total yards they gained per drive (25.82), the average Dolphins drive ended on the opponent's 46.51 yard line. That's not acceptable.

But what if the Dolphins could improve by just 3 yards in both average kick return and average kick coverage? That 6 yard swing would mean Miami's average drive would end at their opponent's 40 yard line. If the Dolphins made this improvement, they would place themselves in the top half of the NFL. In 2007, the median team, the Jets, had their drives end at their opponent's 41.14 yard line. So a simple 3 yard improvement in kick returns and kick coverage could really improve the Dolphins' chances of putting points on the board in 2008. And keep in mind that I'm not even considering the fact that the Dolphins' offense will hopefully improve and gain more than the 25.82 yards per drive that they gained in '07.

Now I know that statistical analysis is faulty to some extent because of the number of other variables that we need to consider. But the point of this was not to say that improved special teams will equate to more points on the board for the Dolphins. But I do think this shows how improved special teams play makes a very big impact on a team's offensive production. And improving a team's special teams play is a much easier thing to do when trying to rebuild a team than simply rebuilding an offense or a defense, mainly because the talented special teams players are much cheaper. This new regime recognizes this and is doing what they can in free agency to really make a difference in special teams production. Then, come draft day, they'll turn their attention to rebuilding a defense and an offensive line.

However, without really signing any big name free agent, this front office has already improved the Dolphins' ability to score points simply by upgrading the special teams units.