The Miami Dolphins are entering their third day of 2015 training camp practices Saturday morning, looking to finally end a string of non-winning seasons and find their way back into the NFL Playoffs. The Dolphins last made an appearance to the postseason tournament in 2008, winning the AFC East with an 11-5 record a year after having finished the year with a 1-15 record. The club has spent a lot of time and money this year in an effort to return one of the highest winning percentage teams in NFL history to its winning ways. According to an ESPN article Friday, the Dolphins may not just make the playoffs, but they could be a sleeper to land in the Super Bowl.
KC Joyner, an ESPN NFL Insider, identified three teams he calls sleepers to make the Super Bowl this season. The New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings claim two of the three slots, but it is, of course, the third team about which we really care. The Dolphins, who finished 2014 with an 8-8 record and in third-place in the AFC East, have added key players like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, wide receiver Greg Jennings, and tight end Jordan Cameron, while drafting rookies like wide receiver DeVante Parker. The moves were enough for people to start taking notice, including Joyner, who explained his selection of the Dolphins in his list, writing first about quarterback Ryan Tannehill's growth as he enters his fourth year:
Ryan Tannehill's improved decision-making: Tannehill has come a long way in three pro seasons. As a rookie, he ranked tied for 16th in the NFL with a 2.1 percent bad decision rate (BDR), which was identical to his BDR in his last year at Texas A&M. But he seems to have corrected these issues. In each of his past two seasons, he's posted a BDR in the top 10, which is a promising sign that Tannehill is growing into his role as a franchise quarterback.
Joyner then takes a look at the receiving side of the passing game, particularly Parker and Kenny Stills, for whom Miami traded this offseason:
A bolstered vertical passing game: Tannehill's biggest weakness has been his inability to consistently complete long passes. That could change with the additions of Kenny Stills and rookie DeVante Parker. Last season, Stills ranked second among qualifying wide receivers in vertical yards per attempt and tied for fourth on stretch vertical ypa (throws of 20 yards or more). Parker's 19.9 yards-per-catch average ranked 10th in the FBS last season. This combination could dramatically improve Tannehill's subpar 2014 numbers on vertical and stretch-vertical passes -- 29th and 34th overall, respectively.
It could be a part of Miami's offense that does not get a lot of attention at this point that pushes the Dolphins over the top. Starting running back Lamar Miller returns after surpassing 1,000 yards last season, while the team drafted the highly-touted Jay Ajayi, who fell down draft boards due to concerns over past knee problems. Joyner writes:
An underrated running game: Miami finished first in the league last year in GBP, which gauges overall rushing game production. Even if the Dolphins decline a bit in this category, they still will have an upper-tier ground game, especially if rookie Jay Ajayi can live up to his lofty potential.
The Dolphins could have an advantage when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, as well - and it's not just Suh clogging the middle of the line:
Add these elements to a highly favorable pass defense schedule (ninth-easiest in the league according to my analysis), and Miami should be able to make some noise in the NFL postseason.
Hopefully, as Dolphins fans, we all get to see the team make that postseason noise this year.