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Margin For Error: Why The Miami Dolphins Need To Add A Big Receiving Target

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The Miami Dolphins have improved offensively this season, but they still need one more piece to take it to the next level.

Ryan Tannehill would greatly benefit from having a bigger target to throw to.
Ryan Tannehill would greatly benefit from having a bigger target to throw to.
Joe Robbins

In the Joe Philbin era of the Miami Dolphins, the offense has been lackluster. In the first two seasons, Miami averaged less than 20 points per game. This season, after changing an offensive coordinator and scheme, the Dolphins are scoring over 25 points per game - the benchmark set by coach Philbin. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passer rating, and most importantly, touchdowns. The running game has improved as well as the offensive line play. Despite some tough losses, the Dolphins have a winning record, and a chance to make the playoffs. Everything would appear to be moving in a positive direction.

But (and there is always a ‘but'), things aren't exactly as they appear. There are still questions regarding Tannehill, his consistency, and the consistency of the offense as a whole. Miami has scored 30+ points in three games this season, matching the total of the previous two seasons combined. But there have been three games in which Miami scored 16 or less points, all three resulting in losses. There is any number of areas that fans can point to as the problem. The biggest issue, in my opinion, is the lack of a big, physical target within the playmakers. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to sell the notion that Miami is devoid of playmakers - they have some key pieces that they can build around. But they lack a playmaker(s) that have the size and physicality to make defenses worry. What is the biggest impact of having a bigger target?

It will give Tannehill a greater margin for error. The logic behind this idea is simple: make the bullseye bigger. Ryan Tannehill thus far in his pro career has been forced to throw passes to receivers that presented small catch radii. As result, his accuracy will look worse at times than it needs to be because he is throwing into tighter windows. Because his receivers lack size and physicality, he has to throw near perfect passes EVERY time. Even the best quarterbacks need to be bailed out from time to time and Tannehill has lacked an option that can be trusted to bail him out when needed. This is not an attempt to absolve Tannehill of some of the accuracy issues he has struggled with over his career. But there are times when a pass has gone incomplete when a bigger target may have helped him out. A big target will help out in three areas where the Dolphins currently struggle: the red zone, deep passing, and contested passes.

Having a red zone target is an obvious area of need for the Dolphins. Here are two pass attempts from this season where the play failed:

In both instances, Tannehill threw to open, but smaller targets. It's undeniable that having a target with a bigger catch zone could have helped score TDs in these situations. While neither play was a critical factor in the outcome of these games, Miami will be in a similar situation in a close game and a turnover or failed drive then could mean the difference between winning and losing.

This will help out in the deep passing game too. Mike Wallace is a premier deep threat in the NFL. Unfortunately, he provides a small catch radius due to his tendency to ‘body catch'. Here are some photos of deep pass attempts to Wallace.

In each of these cases, Wallace attempts to body-catch the ball instead of extending his hands to make the catch. While it is expected of Tannehill to throw accurate passes in these situations, he is given a smaller bucket to drop these passes into than he should have due to Wallace catching the ball this way.  A bigger target, preferably one that 'hand catches' would give Tannehill a bigger catch zone.  This won't excuse underthrown or overthrown passes.  What it WILL do is create big plays as opposed to incomplete passes.

Having a bigger, more physical target will help out with contested passes as well. I was a big fan of Donte Moncrief in the 2014 draft. I watched tape of him leading up to the draft and felt he was a potential #1 receiver. But the play that sold it for me was this:

That's a receiver bailing his quarterback out. It was underthrown, but the receiver made the play. Miami lacks a receiver than can do this (I've not seen Landry do it YET, but I think he could). Of course, fans will still gripe about a less-than-perfect pass.

Those are less-than-perfect throws to a receiver, yet the receiver comes down with it. The truth is EVERY quarterback will throw less-than-perfect passes, especially deep passes. Sometimes a quarterback needs a receiver to make a play on a less-than-perfect pass. Sometimes a quarterback needs a player to do this:

instead of constantly trying to perfectly trying to fit a pass into a tight window.

I fully believe Tannehill is a good enough quarterback to lead the Dolphins into the playoffs. But in order for this offense to fully reach its potential, the team needs to give Tannehill a bigger target. One of the Dolphins' beat writers started calling Brian Hartline ‘Blankie' because of Tannehill's reliance on him in past seasons. That may have been fine in the old system, but Tannehill has graduated and needs something better. He needs a TRUE ‘security blanket' receiver that is open even when he's not open. He needs a receiver that he can just say "Screw it! I'm just gonna throw this one up for ol' (insert name here) to go get".

There are some positives on the offense. Landry is fast becoming a focal point in the offense and rightfully so. But he still has size limitations. Wallace has the speed to stretch defenses, but isn't physical enough to fully embrace the #1 receiver role. Clay is a playmaker and a trusted target for Tannehill and Dion Sims has shown some development. Both players have potential to be red zone threats. Can they continue to step up and give Tannehill bigger targets? Unfortunately, this is an issue that is not likely to be resolved this season. But I believe that if the Dolphins ever expect Tannehill to become the franchise quarterback they want him to be, then they need to find that guy - a big receiver or tight end that can give Tannehill a greater margin for error that other quarterbacks take for granted.