The Miami Dolphins have a defined food chain that features Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle as the top two receiving threats. Coach Mike McDaniel’s offense targets receivers 68 percent of the time, just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (69) and Los Angeles Rams (72) throw to receivers more often.
Only 43 of Miami’s 486 pass attempts — eight percent of throws — are directed toward tight ends. That said, injuries to Waddle, Hill, and running back Raheem Mostert throughout the year have forced McDaniel to be creative. Fourth-year tight end Durham Smythe caught a season-best five receptions against the Dallas Cowboys and has averaged four receptions over the last three weeks.
“A lot of it’s just what the defense is giving you,” Dolphins OC Frank Clark explained. “The [tight ends] are in position as you deploy them in the concepts and sometimes if you’re the primary, you get covered and other times the ball can get checked down to other options. So I just think it’s more of as the coverage and we go through the attack, sometimes when guys defend the deep part of the field, they’re going to give you the underneath part of the zones.
“If you catch a checkdown in between zones, or you catch a vertical in between zones and you can stay on the move, that’s where you can get some good production.”
Smythe’s role in the offense has been streaky since Week 1. He caught three of seven targets for 44 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers and was dormant for most of October and November. Week 16 against Dallas was the first time he reached 40 receiving yards since Week 4 in Buffalo.
“The biggest thing is, when you have the guys that you’d say initially are ‘blocking skillsets,’ sometimes they’re overlooked in the passing game and they can find those holes in between zones, and they can catch it and get yards,” Smith said. “Guys who are physical after contact can get even more yards off that. So I think it’s more opportunities and you can’t say enough about the guy.
“What a great part of our program, I mean, just an unbelievable tough-minded person who is just one of the guys that you love coming and coaching because the way he approaches everything is so professional.”
Smythe had four receptions for 41 yards last time the Dolphins played Buffalo and is coming off back-to-back 50-yard games for the first time in his career. Waddle and Mostert are both questionable for Sunday’s game, meaning we may see another increased workload for Smythe — and potentially a target while alone in the back of the end zone.