The offseason is a magical time in the NFL. All players are “in the best shape of their lives” and every single coach is going to “create a winning culture.” All teams are “poised to make a playoff run,” and perennial losing teams are “finally ready to turn things around.”
That being said, the offseason is also a time when coaches need to make the tough decisions about who is going to make their team’s roster. No matter how much talent a team brings in through free agency and the draft, cuts are inevitable. An offseason roster of 90 players will eventually have to be trimmed down to the best 53, and outside of the team’s top players, there are never guarantees as to who will make the team.
This offseason, I am running a series of depth chart projections, breaking down Miami’s roster by position, and predicting who will make it to week 1 of the 2017 season. Today, we review the tight end position.
With Jordan Cameron out of the league and Dion Sims leaving for the Windy City, Miami is looking towards Julius Thomas to take over the primary tight end position in Adam Gase’s offense. Gase has a deep understanding of Thomas’ skillset from their days together in Denver when Thomas was one of the top tight ends in the league. Thomas complied 24 touchdowns over just two seasons while catching passes from Peyton Manning, helping to lead one of the most prolific offenses of all time to the Super Bowl.
Since then, Thomas has suffered a litany of injuries while playing with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, and he’s is hoping he can turn things around with the Dolphins. If he can stay healthy, Thomas projects to be the red-zone threat and over the middle weapon that Tannehill has lacked for so long. Don’t be surprised if the tight end position becomes a far more important piece of the Miami’s offense this season.
Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%
Sims was Miami’s go to blocking tight end last season, but with him gone, the Dolphins have brought in a familiar face to clear the path for Jay Ajayi. Fasano played for the Dolphins from 2008-2012, but has since caught passes from Alex Smith and Marcus Mariota in Kansas City and Tennessee respectively.
While with the Titans, Fasano proved to be one of the league’s top blocking tight ends, helping to pave the way for DeMarco Murray’s career resurgence. Now back with the Dolphins, Fasano will most likely settle in as the second tight end on the depth chart, but should still find himself being an integral part of the offense. Gase will count on Fasano to be a solid blocker both for Ajayi in the running game and Tannehill in the passing game.
In the passing game, Fasano will not be limited to just blocking though. Over the past three seasons, he’s accumulated 59 receptions for 598 yards and 8 touchdowns, proving he can be a consistent threat on third downs and in the red zone.
Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%
Gray impressed many fans with his big play capability last season. With Cameron’s injury, Gray was asked to step up in the passing game, contributing in all 16 games, and starting 7. Over the course of season, he caught 14 passes for 174 yards, with the longest catch coming in at 53 yards. That 53 yard reception came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 6, when the Dolphins turned their season around and started a six game win streak.
Gray is most likely going to retain his role as Miami’s third string tight end and should continue to make the occasional contribution in the passing game.
Chance of making the 53 man roster: 85%
Duarte spent most of last season on Miami’s practice squad after being drafted by the team in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. His athleticism and route running ability will give him the opportunity to fight Gray for the third spot on Miami’s depth chart, but his blocking skills leave much to be desired. In an offense that relies so much on a powerful running game, that could be the factor that restricts Duarte from making the team.
Duarte’s willingness to work on his blocking and become a special teams contributor should make the difference as to whether or not me makes the final 53, but he is a strong candidate to make the practice squad for a second straight year.
Chance of making the 53 man roster: 35%
Training Camp Bodies
Pantale came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets back in 2013. He’s been with the Bears and Eagles in a practice squad capacity as well, but hasn’t contributed in a regular season game since 2014. If Pantale wants a shot in Miami, he’ll have to prove his worth on special teams.
Pantale’s size and strong hands make him and intriguing project player, but his poor blocking and limited athleticism hinder his chances of making any real contribution. The most likely scenario is that he competes with Duarte for a position on the practice squad, as it’s unlikely for the Dolphins to allocate two practice squad spots to the tight end position.
Chance of making the 53 man roster: 5%
Projected 2017 Tight End Depth Chart
1. Julius Thomas
2. Anthony Fasano
3. MarQueis Gray
Current Depth Chart Projections
As we move through this series, I will keep a running list of past projections. By the time roster cuts roll around, we will have a full depth chart projection for the 2017 season.
- Jay Ajayi
- Kenyan Drake
- Damien Williams
- De’Veon Smith
- Jarvis Landry
- DeVante Parker
- Kenny Stills
- Leonte Carroo
- Jakeem Grant
- Isaiah Ford (R)
- Julius Thomas
- Anthony Fasano
- MarQueis Gray
- Kiko Alonso
- Neville Hewitt
- Lawrence Timmons
- Mike Hull
- Raekwon McMillan (R)
- Koa Misi
- Deon Lacey
- Byron Maxwell
- Xavien Howard
- Tony Lippett
- Bobby McCain (starter at nickel corner)
- Cordrea Tankersley (R)
- Jordan Lucas
- Reshad Jones
- Nate Allen
- Michael Thomas
- Walt Aikens
- (Suspended)* T.J. McDonald
Current Roster Spots Occupied: 30
*Suspended players do not occupy a spot on the 53 man roster until their return to the team following the end of their suspension.