In fantasy terms, usually when a football player goes down injured, it most directly affects a teammate at the same position. For example, when New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman went down with a knee injury during the preseason, it immediately made likely replacements Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola considerably more valuable.
But things are different with the Miami Dolphins.
When it was announced that Fins wideout DeVante Parker was inactive against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday due to an ankle injury, many glommed on to the idea that Leonte Carroo or Jakeem Grant would see more targets, making them more viable fantasy plays.
Not so fast, my friend.
Carroo did see a season-high three targets, but he didn’t reel any of them in, and the diminutive Grant only had one catch for four yards.
So where did those touches go? To the Miami running backs.
Jay Ajayi toted the rock 26 times for a season-high 130 yards. And backup Damien Williams carried the ball a season-high four times (for just 9 yards) and caught a season-high three passes for 14 yards.
One could argue that that change in the offensive scheme has paid dividends in the offense’s results. OK, yes, the Dolphins have scored just 36 points in the last two weeks combined, but they did manage to put together prolonged go-ahead drives in the second halves of each of those games.
“Prolonged” is the key word in that statement. In the last two weeks — again, wins over the Falcons and Titans — the Dolphins averaged 32:05 in time of possession. In the previous two weeks — losses to the Jets and Saints — they averaged 24:42. That’s a difference of almost 7½ minutes of possession. It’s trends like that that help you win football games.
So how did they do it?
Well, Brandon Howard explained it very well in this story from earlier this week. It basically had to do with the offensive formations and the players the Dolphins were able to make use of:
“In previous weeks, the Dolphins have utilized a great deal of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) in an effort to get their three most talented wide receivers on the field: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. With Parker out of the lineup due to an ankle injury, the Dolphins gave the Falcons a heavy dose of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers), which helped jump-start the ground game.”
Tight end Julius Thomas, one of the three tight ends who saw time for the Fins on Sunday, pointed out that they even played some 13 personnel: one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver.
Earlier in his career, Thomas was a fantasy stud, once averaging 54 catches, 638 yards and 12 touchdowns over two Pro-Bowl seasons with the Broncos, and he made three catches for 22 yards Sunday against the Falcons. But the other two tight ends Miami utilized in Atlanta, MarQueis Gray and veteran Anthony Fasano, have combined for zero catches and just one target so far in 2017.
In other words, when they’re in the game, chances are excellent the Dolphins are going to run the ball.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said Thursday that using those largely successful two and three tight-end sets wasn’t a result of DeVante Parker being unavailable — they were just part of the game plan.
And maybe they were. Perhaps the Dolphins would have lined up that way even if Parker had dressed.
But with the big wideout dinged up, it must have just reinforced their decision to go with those “jumbo sets.”
And who was the clear beneficiary of that decision — at least from a fantasy football perspective? Jay Ajayi.
With Parker again looking unlikely to take the field Sunday against the Jets at Hard Rock Stadium, look for that Dolphins ground game to make up for its miserable 30-yard performance in Week 3 in New York.