The Miami Dolphins fan base has been begging — nay, pleading for two plus years now.
“Please, for the love of Csonka and Morris, invest in your running back room, Miami Dolphins.”
And while it took a head coaching change and the import of new lead man Mike McDaniel to get the team into the headspace to actually do it, here we are. The Miami Dolphins are no longer a team that is being constructed to pass in order to set up the run. Their running back stable is complete… for now.
The Dolphins’ history is rich with potent rushing attacks that have helped to grind down the opposing defense in the South Florida humidity. Those 1970s dynasties led by Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris were bred in smash mouth football. The initial import of Ricky Williams saw an 1,800-yard rushing season and, of course, the emergence of the ‘Wildcat’ attack, complete with Ronnie Brown and Patrick Cobbs. That inaugural season of Williams’ was the last of Miami’s consecutive winning seasons until 2020 and 2021.
Today’s Miami Dolphins don’t quite have the same iteration of rushing concepts but McDaniels’ Shanahan-based system appears ready to bring the surge of a ground attack back to the Dolphins. With the anticipation of a lot of wide zone rushing concepts, Miami added their third running back of the offseason this evening with former first-round draft selection Sony Michel.
The irony of adding Michel is that the Dolphins appeared ready to gobble up Michel last offseason off of waivers or free agency if not for a New England Patriots trade to the Los Angeles Rams. And Michel, with the absence of Cam Akers for most of the season, made good on the Rams’ trade by rushing for 845 rushing yards on 208 carries (4.1 yards per carry). He, along with Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds, give the Dolphins a level of depth they haven’t had in the backfield since those aforementioned days of Brown, Williams and Cobbs.
Expectations are important here. Should we expect Michel to suddenly produce like the first-round running back he is? No, of course not. His athletic profile isn’t overly dynamic and explosive plays haven’t really been a part of his formula through the first four seasons of his NFL career. But he does bring a little something that Miami didn’t have on their roster amid the rebuilding effort of the room.
Mostert has blinding speed to the edge; he thrived with McDaniel as the run-game coordinator before injuries took their toll the last few seasons. And Edmonds brings dynamic receiving skills and a high level of bounce to the backfield as a dynamic runner who can run inside or outside and has logged 96 receptions over the last two seasons combined. Michel? At 215 pounds, he’s the hammer between the tackles. Now, on any given week, Miami’s running back room appears to be ready to exploit matchups at a much, much better rate than in 2020 or 2021, when the Dolphins were looking to Myles Gaskin as the primary option.
Gaskin, a 7th-round draft choice in 2019, has been fine in passing situations; or at least he was until his pass protection waned this past season. The Dolphins’ backfields of the last two years have boasted Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Patrick Laird, Duke Johnson, Jordan Howard, Malcolm Brown and Phillip Lindsay as lead ball carriers in various stretches of time. The most successful backs of that stretch were Gaskin in 2020 and Duke Johnson in 2021 — and the vast majority of the backs have been 200 pounds or less. Yes, Jordan Howard and Malcolm Brown are bigger backs — but they totalled 61 carries for 158 yards (2.59 yards per carry!) behind a porous offensive line that couldn’t manufacture the clear running lanes their frames needed to get into the second level.
So what will make Michel different? Talent helps, both in Michel’s abilities himself and on the line in front of him. Brown’s poor play featured a left side of the line that touted rookie Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson and the team’s backup centers for the first half of the season (returning starter at center Michael Deiter missed Weeks 4 through 12 last season). Howard’s line featured Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras on the left side.
Terron Armstead, Connor Williams and Deiter are currently penciled in from left tackle through center this upcoming season; comfortably the best left side of the line Miami has had since 2016 when Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil and Mike Pouncey held court.
But for the backfield, Mostert, Edmonds and now Michel are automatically Miami’s top three options. Edmonds and Michel manufactured 1,880 yards from scrimmage last season alone. A Dolphins backfield hasn’t topped that level of production since 2011 when Reggie Bush was a 1,000-yard rusher. And, as has already been stated, the skill sets differ enough that Miami will have options for any given week and any given gameplan.
The pleas of Dolphins fans have been heard. It turns out that General Manager Chris Grier does indeed have eyes for investing in ball carriers. It’s almost like when Dr. Seuss unveiled that the Grinch did indeed have a heart. But this shouldn’t come as much of a shock — Grier is notorious for shopping for groceries in accordance with the recipe on the menu. And with a new dish (a zone-based rushing attack) on deck for the upcoming season, Grier has shopped early and often — culminating with the addition of Michel in the immediate aftermath of the 2022 NFL Draft. Perhaps there’s a clue there as to which running back serves as Miami’s ‘Great White Buffalo’ of this year’s draft. Grier described a back coming off the board shortly ahead of a Dolphins pick that prompted McDaniel to “fall out of his chair”. Or maybe it doesn’t. But it does reveal that the Dolphins are plenty aware of the shortcomings their pint-sized running back room held at the end of the season.
And now the rebuild can be considered complete. For now. If the team’s season goes well, it stands within reason that a star ball carrier might make sense for the team next offseason. Mostert is here on a one-year deal. Edmonds signed for two. And it’s hard to believe that Michel inked a long-term contract — that much isn’t clear at this time.
Fantasy football players might hate it. But rest assured, Miami Dolphins fans likely love it. The running back room is no longer a void of hypotheticals and instead, features a slew of capable options on any given week.
It’s about damn time.
- Sep 25, 2023
- Aug 30, 2023