Fantasy Fins: Will Kenyan Drake rise to occasion in lead-back role for Dolphins?

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) gives a stiff arm to New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Can Kenyan Drake be a complete, every-down, lead running back in this league? Post colleague Joe Schad asked that very question in a story a few weeks ago. And it looks like we’ll finally get a chance to find out Sunday against the Broncos.

The Dolphins traded Pro-Bowler Jay Ajayi to the Eagles on Halloween. That left Damien Williams as the apparent lead back, but he went down with what appeared to be a painful shoulder injury last week against New England. So it’s Drake, the second-year back out of Alabama, who’s next up.

A number of relatively unknown running backs have come out of nowhere to put up solid fantasy numbers this season: your Tarik Cohens of the Bears, your Chris Thompsons for Washington, your Alvin Kamaras of the Saints, your Jerick McKinnons in Minnesota, among loads of others.

Why can’t Drake be next up on that list, too?

Earlier in the season, the former third-round pick seemed like a perfect fit for the Fins as “a shifty, speedy, change-of-pace back,” as Schad called him.

Schad pointed out Drake’s excellent yards-per-carry average, a team-leading 5.4 last season and a Dolphins-best 4.8 this year. But “can he be a complete inside-outside back?”

“Drake will need to prove he can stay healthy, prove he can be trusted to protect the football and prove he can be a consistent blocker.”

He’s been solid on the health front so far, but that’s with just 75 career rushes to his name. (By comparison, Jay Ajayi totaled 76 in his first four games of the 2017 season.) Can Drake average 4.8 yards a run when he’s getting 25 touches a game? We won’t know until he gets the opportunity.

Still, fantasy football gurus won’t care much about Drake’s health or his blocking, as he’s likely little more than a temporary injury replacement at this stage of the season. The fumbling, on the other hand, does matter.

Drake has lost two fumbles this year — both of them in costly situations against the Raiders and Patriots — on just 42 carries, an issue he knows must be addressed quickly if he wants to continue to see the ball.

“I’m my own worst critic, so any time I put myself in a compromising position, whether that’s pass blocking or fumbling, I’m always gonna be way harder on myself than anybody can be on me,” Drake told Jason Lieser earlier this week. “I take it very personal when I do lay the ball on the ground, so two times is already two times more than I ever want in my entire career.

“But being a running back, you have to understand that sometimes those plays happen. You’ve gotta have a short memory and move on.”

The Dolphins have worked this week on protecting the ball. And coach Adam Gase’s expectations for Drake remain high.

“He wants to be what we expect him to be,” Gase told reporters, “which is a guy that can help us move the chains in the run game, be extremely effective in the pass game and knows what to do in protection. … [We] need him to come along as quickly as possible.”

And with Williams and Senorise Perry (concussion) likely sidelined, the only other running back on the active roster is undrafted rookie De’Veon Smith out of Michigana “thumper” who has yet to see the field in a regular-season game.

That means Drake is likely to see plenty of the ball in the coming weeks, both on the ground and in the passing game. And with Miami largely out of the playoff hunt, there’s no reason not to give the youngster a shot.

Will he rise to the occasion fantasy-wise? There’s only one way to find out.

Fantasy Fins: Expect Miami WRs Landry, Stills, Parker to get plenty of action

Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates his touchdown with DeVante Parker #11 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Not many people would look at a matchup like 4-6 Miami at 8-2 New England this weekend and think excitedly, “Oooooh, which Dolphins should I put in my fantasy lineup?!?!”

No, Sunday’s Week 12 matchup could well get ugly. Not only do the Fins hold just a 10-22 record against the Patriots in the Tom Brady era, but this game also features arguably the league’s best offense (New England) against a defense that has struggled mightily of late (Miami).

Miami’s offense has been barren, too — 30th in the NFL in total offense and 31st in scoring offense. But don’t rule out the possibility of a positive fantasy impact, particularly from the Dolphins’ wide-receiver crew of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.

Landry (67 receptions, 567 yards, 6 TDs), Stills (40/588/5) and Parker (34/404/1) have all had moderately successful seasons, whether it’s Jay Cutler or Matt Moore throwing to them. And with Moore set to get the start under center, it’s reasonable to think that they’ll all see their fair share of the ball against the Patriots’ worst-in-the-league pass defense.

Everyone knows that Landry, who turns 25 on Tuesday, holds the NFL record for the most receptions through the first four seasons of his career with 355 and counting. At this rate, he’s projected to catch 107 passes this season — just shy of his career-best 110 in 2015 — for 907 yards, and he has already set a career best with those six touchdown grabs.

Stills is coming off a career-high 180 yards on seven catches in last week’s loss to the Buccaneers, including a season-long 61-yard touchdown grab from Moore. He remains the team’s big-play threat with a team-best 14.7 yards per reception.

Parker is the one piece of the trio that hasn’t quite lived up to expectations this season. Despite a preseason in which he was touted as one of the NFL’s breakout talents, the soft-spoken third-year wideout missed several games due to injury and has disappeared for parts of others, causing offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen to say recently that Parker “doesn’t have the edge that he had coming out of training camp.”

Which of the three is most likely to do it against the defending Super Bowl champs? It’s tough to say. Landry is the safest bet, particularly in PPR leagues (given his 10.8 targets per game), but also because he’s become more of a red-zone target this season. Stills remains more likely to break off a huge gain, and Parker’s size makes him a dangerous target on downfield alley-oop passes. In short, there’s reason to believe all three will contribute.

And against a New England unit giving up 282 passing yards a game — including 300-plus yards to such QB luminaries as Alex Smith and Josh McCown — expect Moore to get plenty of opportunities to air it out, even if many of those opportunities come in garbage time.

Over their last four games, all losses, the Dolphins have given up an average of 35.5 points and scored just 16.25. So it stands to reason, especially on the road, that Miami could get down early, forcing Moore into even more passing situations.

It may not be pretty for Miami in Foxborough, but win or lose, Matt Moore will be slinging the ball all over Gillette Stadium. And these will be the guys he’s aiming for.

Fantasy Fins: Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick not a bad start against struggling Dolphins D

Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers runs with the ball against the Miami Dolphins during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 13, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Awful. Horrible. Atrocious. Catastrophic. Historically bad.

These terms were all used to describe the Miami Dolphins defense in the team’s Monday night loss in Carolina. And those were the kinder words we could actually publish.

Not only did Matt Burke’s unit give up 45 points to Cam Newton and company, but they allowed the Panthers to convert an astounding 79 percent of their third downs, allowed 548 yards of total offense (second-most in the league this season, a total that included 294 rushing yards) and allowed five straight touchdown drives at one point.

Pretty embarrassing for a defense that includes names like Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Lawrence Timmons and Rey Maualuga.

Five hundred plus? That’s a damn lot,” Maualuga said Sunday night after being told about the Panthers’ yardage numbers. “That’s a lot. You see the guys that’s on this defense and there’s no way we should give up 350, let alone 400, let alone whatever you said it was.”

Fantasy football players would agree. And the keenest fantasy football players would take note.

“Why?” you ask.

You should care because it’s not a bad idea to consider picking up and starting opposing players set to face Miami’s porous defense.

It’s one of those unwritten axioms of fantasy football, like handcuffing (picking up a big-time running back’s backup in case the starter gets injured), never drafting a kicker until the final round or never owning anyone from the Cleveland Browns.

Paying attention to your fantasy players’ opponents can be vitally important, whether you’re trying to decide which player to start in a given week — e.g., player A and player B are equally good, but you can only start one; so start the one who’s playing a weaker opponent — or you’re taking a flier on a waiver-wire pick-up to help as an injury replacement or during a bye week.

Say you had Aaron Rodgers as your starting quarterback. He goes down injured, so you pick up local guy Jacoby Brissett of the Colts. Indianapolis is on a bye this week, so you’re left with a bunch of rough-looking options on the waiver wire.

You’re trying to decide between, say, Brett Hundley of the Packers and Fitzpatrick, who is starting for Tampa Bay in place of Jameis Winston. Hundley has been OK in recent weeks, but he’s facing the Ravens, who (according to Yahoo) have given up the second fewest total of fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick is going against the Fins, who, let’s not forget, gave up approximately 7,000 yards and 18 touchdowns to the Panthers on Monday.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws to an open receiver during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets on November 12, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Yes, the Harvard alum — did you know Fitzpatrick went to Harvard?!?! — is just a long-time backup and is owned in just nine percent of Yahoo leagues, but pit him against Miami and all of a sudden he’s looking like a halfway decent play on Sunday.

The old “Start them against the Dolphins!” trick isn’t likely to be in play for other Buccaneers skill players, as running back Doug Martin, wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and even tight end Cameron Brate are already claimed in most leagues.

But Fitzpatrick has some major weapons at his disposal, and he will get ample opportunity to air it out Sunday at Hard Rock. He’s no Aaron Rodgers, but late in a season chock full of season-altering injuries, he could put up solid numbers against the Dolphins.

So could plenty of other opposing players in subsequent weeks.

***

Dolphins vs. Buccaneers: How do they match up in Week 11?

Why are so many Miami Dolphins on different pages during games?

Coincidence? Jay Ajayi’s gone, and so are negative plays by Miami Dolphins’ RBs

Fantasy Fins: How trading Jay Ajayi makes Jay Cutler far more valuable

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) calls a play against the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on November 5, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A number of big-name NFL quarterbacks won’t be under center the rest of the season due to injury. And whether you owned Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck or even Ryan Tannehill in your fantasy league, you may still be looking for a permanent replacement.

Jay Cutler could be that quarterback.

Wait, wait … don’t hit that “Back” button yet. I’m serious this time.

While the trade of running back Jay Ajayi to the Eagles is — on the surface — a major blow to the Dolphins offense, it could actually make Jay Cutler considerably more important — and valuable — in fantasy terms.

Just look at last Sunday against the Raiders. In Miami’s first game since dealing its All-Pro running back, Adam Gase and his offense took to the air in a big way. Though the Dolphins lost — obviously no real issue when it comes to the fantasy world — Cutler set season highs in completions (34), completion percentage (81.0), passing yards (311), passing touchdowns (3) and QB rating (121.3).

[RELATED: A three-touchdown Jay Cutler game is a terrible thing to waste]

And with the running back committee of Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake still waiting for someone to take the lead, there’s little reason to think the Fins won’t continue to air it out. Even if he spreads it around to various receivers (seven different players caught passes against the Raiders) — making those receivers, backs and tight ends less reliable fantasy-wise — it all helps Cutler’s bottom line.

The Dolphins’ second-half schedule even plays in Cutler’s favor. After Monday night’s tilt against the Panthers and their sixth-ranked pass defense, Miami faces Tampa Bay (ranked 30th in the NFL) at home, they’re at New England (32nd), home against the Broncos (OK, No. 4) and Patriots, at Buffalo (26th) then Kansas City (28th), then home against the Bills in Week 17. Those opposing pass defenses average out to the 25th best pass defense in the league. Cue “Smokin’ Jay” and his cannon arm.

You may not like his style, his attitude or the something-less-than-passion many argue he displays on and off the field. But Cutler is clearly Gase’s guy, and whether the Dolphins are chasing the playoffs or just playing out the string, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to throw the ball.

As of Friday night, Cutler was owned in just 17 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues. By comparison, more people (18 percent) owned Texans rookie Deshaun Watson, who is on IR and out for the season after tearing his ACL.

And there is something personal in that 17 percent. He’s not flashy. He’s not new. He rarely makes or even attempts the spectacular play. He often looks apathetic on the field. He may not even be particularly likeable.

But Cutler has been a big-time QB in this league. He’s thrown for over 4,500 yards in a season (granted, it was in 2008, for an 8-8 Broncos team). He’s made a Pro Bowl (again, in 2008).

Is he the same quarterback he was then? No.

But if Adam Gase continues to ask him to throw the ball 40-45 times a game, with the skill players he has around him, he’s capable of putting up some big numbers. And to a fantasy owner without a legit starting quarterback, that can make Cutler a valuable commodity.

Fantasy Fins: Don’t be so quick to get Jay Ajayi’s replacements in your lineup

Miami Dolphins running back Damien Williams (26) during pre-season game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on August 10, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The Miami Dolphins made the difficult decision earlier this week to trade All-Pro running back Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles. When a deal of that magnitude takes place, it usually means fantasy owners should rush to whomever is set to replace the traded party, pick them up and get them in the lineup.

Not so sure that’s the case this time around.

Ajayi’s backups, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake, seem like the guys who will see the lion’s share of the rushing opportunities going forward for the Dolphins. And they’re both solid enough backs.

Williams has been with Miami since 2014, and though he’s seen more action as a pass-catcher than a runner, he’s been productive with his touches. As colleague Hal Habib pointed out earlier this week, “Williams had six touchdowns in 58 touches last season, which equates to about one TD every 9 1/2 times he had the ball.” Not too shabby.

Drake is faster and more of a home-run hitter, which seems surprising given head coach Adam Gase’s apparent frustration with the dearly departed Ajayi’s desire to try to hit a home run with every run, rather than taking the 3 or 4 yards more easily at his disposal. Drake hasn’t seen as much action with the Fins, though he has shown some spark as a kick returner.

Miami Dolphins kick returner Kenyan Drake (32), tries to get away from San Francisco 49ers strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (29), during a kick return deep into Dolphins territory during NFL game Sunday November 27, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

There are two problems, though. First, the two have combined for just one NFL start in their careers — Drake last season. And second, whoever sees more of the ball will still be doing it (1) in Adam Gase and Clyde Christensen’s 32nd-ranked offense and (2) behind the Dolphins’ banged-up and already less than stellar O-line.

So what kind of ceiling can we really expect?

The Raiders allowed a season-high 166 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy and the Bills last week. On average, the Oakland run defense is allowing 120.4 yards a game on the ground, 22nd in the NFL.

Gase would kill for numbers like that Sunday night, especially given that the Fins ground game hasn’t come close to hitting that mark this season and is averaging just 76.4 yards a tilt.

And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that we’re not clear on who – Williams or Drake – will lead the way. Perhaps it will be the dreaded running back-by-committee. Maybe Gase will play the hot hand. It’s possible he doesn’t know himself.

“We’ll just kind of see how it goes from here on out,” Gase said on Wednesday of his running-back situation, “but as for right now, I like the group I’ve got.”

When asked Friday about whether he’s ready to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him, Williams told our Jason Lieser, “I’ve had great patience from my rookie year to now. … It’s all about patience and opportunities. I’ve been patient, and opportunities came. Now, what will I do with it?”

That’s the question everyone is asking. And without any clear answer, tossing either Williams or Drake into your fantasy lineup against the Raiders is little better than a complete crapshoot.

***

[Dolphins vs. Raiders: How do they match up in Week 9?]

[Post staff predictions: Raiders have edge over still-recovering Dolphins]

[DeVante Parker Fantasy Alert: How is his ankle holding up?]

[Have you visited The Daily Dolphin Facebook Page? It’s really, really good]

Fantasy Fins: Jarvis Landry’s TD streak makes him significantly more valuable

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (14) scores a touchdown in the first quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, October 22, 2017. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

The numbers say that Jay Ajayi should have a big game against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football.

Baltimore has the worst rush defense in the league, allowing over 145 yards a game, including 100-plus yards in three of their last four contests to Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell, Jordan Howard of the Bears and Viking Latavius Murray.

And with Ajayi averaging 24.7 carries and 86 yards per game over the Dolphins’ last three — all Miami wins — the trends suggest that Adam Gase’s offense will jump aboard the Jay Train on Thursday and hope for a long, fruitful ride.

But what happens if the banged-up Dolphins offensive line struggles to open up holes? What happens if the Ravens load the box and force backup quarterback Matt Moore to beat them through the air?

Then the more intriguing Dolphin — at least from a fantasy perspective — is a wide receiver.

Through his first three seasons as a pro, Jarvis Landry tied best friend and former LSU teammate Odell Beckham for the most receptions (288) in NFL history. Allow me to repeat that: IN NFL HISTORY.

Yes, passing is becoming a more and more prevalent — and therefore explosive — facet of most NFL offenses. But it’s still a striking statistic.

Yet when fantasy football drafts started happening over the summer, Beckham was picked — on average, according to Yahoo — 5.6 overall, while Landry went … hmmm, let me scroll down … oops, clicking over to the next page … an astounding 69.8 overall. Beckham, on average, went mid-first round; Landry, mid-seventh.

Why the discrepancy?

It’s clear if you look at the stats. The two had identical reception totals through three years, but Beckham had far more yards (4,122 to 3,051) and touchdowns (35 to 13) than Landry, all in five fewer games. In short, the 24-year-old Dolphin falls way short of his buddy in receiving yardage and touchdowns, typically the two most important fantasy stats for pass-catchers.

Hal Habib asked Landry earlier this season how he felt about the lack of touchdowns, especially. Landry listed several reasons that stat never matched up with his other numbers: “He cited zone defenses, double coverage and a lack of red-zone targets that’s a by-product of the team’s lack of red-zone trips.”

Has the lack of TDs bothered Landry?

“As a competitor, it does, a lot,” Landry told Habib. “But also as a team guy, I understand that if I’m getting doubled, then other guys have to make a play and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to score and the only way we’re going to be able to win.”

A fair response.

But things have changed for Landry this year, and not just in comparison to Beckham, who went down in Week 5 with a fractured ankle.

He’s still catching passes at a record rate — with 45 grabs heading into Thursday’s game, he’s tied for second in the NFL with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, behind only Antonio Brown of the Steelers. Obviously, that means Landry remains hugely valuable fantasy-wise, but particularly so in PPR leagues.

But he’s also catching touchdowns. His three scores this season — all of which have come in the last three games; again, all Dolphins wins — put him on track to destroy his season average of 4.3.

“I mean, he’s what you want,” said Moore, who engineered Miami’s come-from-behind win Sunday against the Jets. “The go-ball, you give him a 50/50 ball, he comes down with it and makes a big play. … He’s just somebody you want on your team, no doubt. He’s pretty gifted. Just a good guy to have.”

He’s just a football player,” Jay Cutler said of Landry after the win the week before over Atlanta. “He has a high football IQ, tough as nails, competitor, wants the ball on (every) play.”

It’s unclear what’s to thank for the uptick in touchdowns in recent weeks. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that neither Cutler nor Moore has as much experience with the entire receiving corps as injured starter Ryan Tannehill — and that when there’s less comfort there, a quarterback’s fallback is to try to get the ball to the team’s two-time Pro Bowler and best pass-catcher.

Whatever it is, Landry has been catching touchdowns and the Dolphins have been eking out wins. And with Moore likely to get the call vs. the Ravens’ seventh-ranked pass defense, his connection to Landry is going to have to stay open.

 

***

Report: Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry cleared by NFL, won’t face suspension

Don’t tell Miami Dolphins’ Adam Gase, but Ravens have worst run D in NFL

DeVante Parker injury update: Will he play Thursday at Baltimore?

Why the Miami Dolphins believe in starter Cordrea Tankersley

Fantasy Fins: Jay Ajayi looking bullish vs. Jets with change in offensive scheme

Jay Ajayi #23 of the Miami Dolphins rushes against Tennessee Titans on October 8, 2017 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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.

Fantasy Fins: Why Jay Ajayi might not have a huge game against the Jets

Jay Ajayi #23 of the Miami Dolphins eludes Joey Bosa #99 of the Los Angeles Chargers as he rushes to gain during the game at the StubHub Center on September 17, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

I can’t think of any Dolphins regulars who would make terrible fantasy starts this week. That seems obvious against a team such as the New York Jets, whose defense is rated 30th in the NFL (18th against the pass, 32nd against the run).

Chief among the Dolphins must-starts, it would seem, is Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi, who last week ran for 122 yards against the Chargers.

[RELATED: Dolphins vs. Jets: How do they match up in Week 3?]

But not so fast, my friend.

Yes, the Jay Train ran well last year against the J-E-T-S, combining for 168 yards and a touchdown in their two games. And New York has allowed an astounding 185 rushing yards per game so far this year in losses to the Bills and Raiders. (And just to be clear, I’m not saying Ajayi is a bad fantasy start this week. He’s not. If I were lucky enough to have drafted him, you bet your sweet bippy he’d be in my lineup.)

But there are several factors working against Ajayi being hugely successful this week.

The first is that this is the Jets, which of course seems like it should weigh in Ajayi’s — or any opponent’s — favor. But consider this: If the Dolphins get out to a big lead, are they going to keep Ajayi in the game any longer than necessary? Probably not.

The more likely scenario would see him ceding some time to Damien Williams and Kenyon Drake, two backups who should both see the field plenty in New York. I could see both cutting into Ajayi’s touches and fantasy numbers, and they could even be viable fantasy contributors themselves in super-deep leagues. (In fact, don’t be surprised if Williams or Drake scores a touchdown on Sunday.) Whatever the case, the Fins coaching staff would like to get them both more snaps than the four combined offensive plays they saw last week.

The other factor is Ajayi’s health. His knee has been a little gimpy this week, thanks, Adam Gase says, to a hit sustained in the Chargers game, and the 24-year-old has missed several days of practice. The third-year back is officially questionable. Gase — and everyone else — fully expects Ajayi to play on Sunday, but you’d have to believe he won’t keep Ajayi in the game any longer than he has to, particularly after 28 tough carries last week.

Similarly, with the Dolphins’ bye week eliminated by Hurricane Irma, the Dolphins will now play 16 weeks straight without a break. The players weren’t particularly happy with this development, but it’s out of their hands. One of the ways the coaching staff plans to deal with the situation is by giving players — like Ajayi and other veterans — small breaks whenever possible. This could well be one of those opportunities if Miami gets out to a comfortable lead against the Jets.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Ajayi will bust out for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and you’ll be ruing the day you read this silly fantasy article. It wouldn’t surprise me.

But the point is this: Even the easiest, most obvious fantasy decisions — like starting a Pro Bowl running back against the worst run defense in the league — don’t work out all the time. And there are a couple of reasons why this one might not.

***

Dolphins confident they can win close games — and they have

Miami Dolphins’ go-to guy in the red zone? No one

Miami Dolphins Friday post-practice updates

Six Miami Dolphins rookies describe game ‘I’m going to remember the rest of my life’

Fantasy Fins: DeVante Parker has major upside in Week 2 vs. Chargers

This looks like it s finally DeVante Parker s time. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

It’s been said before, and it bears repeating.

Third-year Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker is due for a breakout season, both on the field and in the hallowed halls of fantasy football.

As a savvy fantasy player, you’re no doubt aware that Week 1 saw several largely unknown wideouts post huge fantasy numbers: your Kenny Golladays of the Lions, your Cooper Kupps of the Rams, and your Bennie Fowler IIIs of the Broncos.

Parker is far more established than any of those three, having been a first-round pick (14th overall) of the Fins in 2015 — none of the aforementioned three were drafted before the third round — and posting 56 catches last season for 744 yards and four touchdowns. Solid numbers.

But not spectacular.

[Related: Miami Dolphins’ DeVante Parker: Goal is 1,000+yards]

So what’s been the issue his first two seasons as a pro? Injuries, largely, and an offense focused on the run game.

What’s different this time around? Several key factors.

First, quarterback Ryan Tannehill will miss the entire season, so who steps in under center? Gunslinging veteran Jay Cutler. That alone is reason for Parker owners to rejoice.

Cutler has been quick to praise the 24-year-old Louisville native since joining the club, saying at one point that Parker is a “faster Alshon [Jeffrey]. He’s got a lot of range…. He’s got great hands. Then, he can burn you up if you’re flat-footed.”

In limited time during the preseason, they’ve proven their compatibility with a jump-ball toss from Cutler that Parker turned into a 72-yard reception against the Eagles.

My esteemed colleague Joe Schad pointed out back in June that “Parker is 6-feet-3, 212 pounds, and he can run and he can jump and he can make all the catches and is a threat to score at any time, at any of three levels.”

With that size, it’s not unfair to guess that Parker could become Miami’s primary red-zone threat, too.

“Oh,” adds Schad, “and he’s healthy.” That’s factor No. 2.

When asked during OTAs what made him think Parker was ready for a step up, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said, “It’d be consistency. He’s run fast every day, where last year it was kind of up and down. One day you’d think you had a Hall of Famer and the next you weren’t sure if he was going to make it to the game. Just his health and staying consistent. I think his routine and how fast he’s played has been really, really different from last year.”

Head coach Adam Gase told the Post he sees a “hungry” Parker this season.

And what do you feed to hungry wide receivers? Targets.

As Schad pointed out in a later story, Parker — at least thus far in his career — hasn’t gotten nearly as many targets per game (6) as, say, Jarvis Landry (8.5). But on the flip side, Parker averages far more yards per catch (15.1) than Landry (10.6).

Parker may be more of a fantasy risk than Landry, but he also has more upside. And in a fast-moving, no-huddle Dolphins offense that may well try to outscore many opponents this season, that upside looks pretty appealing.

***

[Miami Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi aiming to erase inconsistency, surpass 1,272 yards]

[Fantasy Fins: Which Miami Dolphins are worth your fantasy pick?]

[Miami Dolphins name five team captains for 2017 season]

Fantasy Fins: Which Miami Dolphins are worth your fantasy pick?

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) talks with Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (14) during Miami Dolphins minicamp at Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida on June 14, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

As the NFL regular season approaches, fantasy football is ramping up and draft day is approaching in leagues around the world.

Last year, Jay Ajayi came largely out of nowhere to storm up fantasy leaderboards to become one of the most productive, most highly coveted running backs in the league. Here’s a look at which Miami Dolphins players you should consider adding to your fantasy team this season:

Jay Ajayi
Yahoo rankings: No. 4 RB, No. 8 player overall

If you blink you’ll likely miss him, as Ajayi is expected to be taken near the top of fantasy drafts in 2017. Buoyed by a pair of 200-yard games, Ajayi became a fantasy football powerhouse from Week 6 on last season, earning a steady diet of carries while finding the end zone in seven contests. Ajayi also hopes to be a larger part of Miami’s passing attack, giving him added value in PPR leagues.

>> Miami Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi “200 percent better” at this now

Jarvis Landry
Yahoo rankings: No. 29 WR, No. 66 player overall

Landry came on strong at the end last season, turning in two 100-yard receiving games, sandwiched between an 11-catch game against Baltimore and a nine-catch game in Week 17 against the Patriots. Miami’s most reliable offensive target caught at least three passes in every game last year and had seven or more receptions seven times. Though he has yet to become a prolific touchdown threat, Landry’s reception numbers alone make him a valuable fantasy option.

DeVante Parker
Yahoo rankings: No. 30 WR, No. 62 player overall

If Jay Cutler’s words and Parker’s preseason performance are any indication, Parker may be a terrific fantasy sleeper pick. Since his arrival in Miami, Cutler has been effusive in his praise of Parker, even going so far as to call the young receiver a “faster Alshon [Jeffrey].” In limited action together in the preseason, Parker and Cutler have shown glimpses of explosiveness. Parker may become Miami’s primary red-zone threat, which makes him worth the risk in fantasy leagues.

>> More evidence unicorn DeVante Parker could be Jay Cutler’s bestie

Julius Thomas
Yahoo rankings: No. 16 TE, No. 146 player overall

Thomas is a high-risk, high-reward option who should still be available late in most fantasy drafts. After an underwhelming stint in Jacksonville, Thomas could be headed toward a fantasy resurgence with Miami. While he may still fall short of his back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons in Denver in 2013 and 2014, having Cutler under center should raise his value back into the middle of the pack among tight ends. Fellow tight end Martellus Bennett saw 128 targets with Cutler as his quarterback for the Bears in 2014. While those numbers may not be realistic for Thomas, getting even half that number should bode well for his value.

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