Last year, the Miami Dolphins spent a fortune “upgrading” their defense. The centerpiece of that spending spree was the $114 million the team handed to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (DL19), making him at the time the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.
The results of that spree were — well, let’s just say the Dolphins didn’t exactly get their money’s worth. The team finished 25th in the NFL in total defense, 28th in run defense and 25th in sacks — not the return on investment the team was seeking.
Well, apparently the Miami brain trust is a big fan of the old maxim, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Because once again the Dolphins under new head coach Adam Gase went hard at the defense in free agency in 2016.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
After losing Olivier Vernon (DL14) to the New York Giants in free agency, the Dolphins were left with a big hole to fill up front. The Fins filled that hole with a player who was once the NFL’s highest-paid defender in his own right, signing Mario Williams (DL92) to a two-year deal after he was released by the Buffalo Bills.
Williams heard the naysayers after a miserable 2015 season, but he told Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald he’s blocked out talk that his days as a dominant pass-rusher are done. “It’s been great, because honestly I haven’t even held onto it,” he added. “I think, especially in this, my 11th year, that’s been something that’s been really good for me, just going out and playing. I’m a regular human being. People can say things from the outside in, but that’s never affected me.”
Williams isn’t the only Dolphins end looking to erase a down 2015. Cameron Wake (DL62) was all over the place last year — an invisible start followed by a white-hot stretch that ended with a thud courtesy of a torn Achilles. The 34-year-old told CBS Miami he’s eager to show this year that he isn’t ready for the scrap heap just yet. “I’ve worked tremendously hard making sure, building that strength up, getting back to that my ways of old,” Wake said. “It’s something that I have always prided myself on, part of my game is getting that job done and I don’t think this year will be any different.”
The issue with Wake isn’t just age and injury, His tackle numbers have been trending downward for years, culminating in a 2015 where only two his stops were non-sacks. There’s still some fantasy upside present with Wake as a DL3, but Williams is the player to target — a DL2 capable of top 10 fantasy production if you think (as I do) that 2015 was an aberration.
As to Suh, while his numbers were down in 2015 he was as effective a player from an NFL standpoint as he’s ever been. Suh might no longer be arguably fantasy’s top defensive tackle, or even in the first tier. But he remains a solid IDP DL2 and excellent weekly starter if your IDP league requires his position.
The defensive overhaul in Miami continued in the linebacker corps, with the Dolphins swinging a trade with Philadelphia to secure the services of Kiko Alonso (LB127). Alonso hasn’t been the same since posting an eye-popping 159 tackles as a rookie for the Bills, largely because of injury. But defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told ESPN’s James Walker he sees a big rebound in the offing in 2016.
“I think middle for him is his natural position,” Joseph said. “I think Kiko is a modern-day Mike ’backer. Back in the day, you got those Mike ’backers who are really A-gap run stoppers and big guys who can cover. It’s a passing league along with a little bit of one-back run.”
Alonso didn’t play especially well in the preseason (that’s putting it mildly — he sucked), and given the past couple of years it would seem not so much a matter of if he gets hurt so much as wondering when that injury will happen. However, Alonso also has precious little competition for tackles from the other Dolphins linebackers — and that affords him 100-solo upside. Add it all together, and you get the very definition of a risk/reward selection as a fantasy LB2.
Outside Alonso, as things stand today there isn’t a whole lot to see for IDP owners among the linebackers on South Beach. Weakside man Jelani Jenkins (LB76) saw his numbers tail off in a big way last season and will start the year watching from the sidelines after a knee scope late in the preseason. Jenkins’ injury could mean more snaps for Koa Misi (LB72) early in the season, but once the Dolphins are at full strength Misi will go back to a role as a two-down thumper.
The top-scoring IDP overall in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring last year wasn’t a linebacker. Or a defensive lineman. It was safety Reshad Jones (DB1), who rode a staggering 135 tackles (including an NFL-high 106 solos) to that No. 1 spot.
There’s no denying that Jones had a phenomenal year, nor that he’s safely entrenched as an elite DB1 in fantasy leagues this year. However, Jene Bramel of Football Guys cautioned that fantasy owners looking for a repeat season are setting themselves up to be disappointed.
“It wasn’t quite as impressive as a typical J.J. Watt season,” Bramel wrote, “but Reshad Jones was far and away the second most valuable IDP last year. He averaged over three points per game more than any other defender — including Deone Bucannon. The addition of Kiko Alonso will make it very difficult for Jones to put another 106 solo (135 combined) tackle season, however.”
Sadly for IDP owners, much like at linebacker outside that one high-end IDP option there isn’t a lot of fantasy hay to be made in the Miami secondary. With that said, IDP owners in leagues that require a pair of cornerbacks may want to take a late look at Byron Mawxell (DB52), who came over from the Eagles in the same trade that brought Alonso to town. Maxwell might have gotten paid like an elite corneback by the Eagles last year but he certainly didn’t play like one.
Which is just how IDP owners like it.