Ryan Fitzpatrick led the 2019 Miami Dolphins in rushing yards with 243. Let that stat sink in, along with the fact that Fitzpatrick is the Dolphins’ quarterback, and the depths of Miami’s running game woes become more clear.
The Dolphins will be active in pursuing upgrades at running back this offseason. Fixing the offensive line will help solve some problems, but so will adding reliable and effective backs.
“Running backs come in all different shapes and sizes,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “Chan [Gailey], he’s done a really good job of fitting the scheme to the different players he’s had. Yeah, he wants somebody who is fast, breaks tackles and can block. He’s got to protect. We’re looking for all of those things.”
A significant reason why Flores lured Gailey out of retirement to become his offensive coordinator was to improve the run game. The hope is that the teaching ability of Gailey and running backs coach Eric Studesville can help lift up the offense from ranking last in 2019 at 3.3 yards per rush (and 72.2 a game) to an effective complement to whoever starts at quarterback in 2020.
That change needs to stem from a big talent influx.
The Dolphins’ running back room took a lot of hits in 2019. Kenyan Drake was traded to Arizona. Kalen Ballage had a disappointing season. Mark Walton was charged with domestic battery and subsequently released. The season ended with two rookies — Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin — as the lead ball carriers.
The Dolphins hope to land a long-term running back in the first three rounds of the draft, a source told ESPN. Miami has three first-round picks and two second-round picks.
Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Florida State’s Cam Akers and Utah’s Zack Moss are among the top backs in the 2020 draft class who could be Day 1 or Day 2 picks and have drawn notable interest from the Dolphins.
Miami seeks running backs who can carry the load and get the tough yards while also being an asset in the passing game.
The Dolphins haven’t drafted a back in the first two rounds since taking Daniel Thomas (No. 62 overall) in 2011. Don’t be surprised if that changes in April.
The biggest name to watch here is Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon is expected to test the free-agent market, per ESPN’s Josina Anderson. The Dolphins are expected to check on his price, and Gordon has interest in Miami, according to sources.
Gordon, who turns 27 in April, was mentioned among the top NFL backs a year ago. An ineffective holdout, Austin Ekeler‘s breakout season and Gordon’s lackluster play after his return might dampen his contract value. But ultimately, Gordon is still a three-down back who can help lead an effective running game.
The Dolphins might decide a big monetary commitment at this time isn’t feasible, so one option could be signing a mid-tier running back option such as Carlos Hyde, Jordan Howard or former Dolphin Lamar Miller to pair with a rookie.
Another player worth mentioning is veteran Frank Gore, who wants to play his 16th NFL season in 2020. He would love an opportunity to return to the Dolphins — for whom he played in 2018 — and the Miami native is willing to accept a change-of-pace back/mentor role with a rookie like he did in Buffalo in 2019, a source told ESPN.
Two veteran running backs coming off disappointing seasons — David Johnson and Todd Gurley — could become available in trades this offseason with their teams likely needing to give up assets in order to shed the players’ guaranteed salaries. Le’Veon Bell is another player who could fall into this category, but the fit and need to trade with a division rival makes less sense than the other two options.
Johnson, 28, has two years left on his deal with the Arizona Cardinals, with $10.2 million in fully guaranteed salary in 2020. Johnson, who had 345 rushing yards in 2019, became expendable after the Dolphins traded Drake to Arizona in late October and Drake emerged as the lead back. Johnson remains one of the NFL’s best receiving backs.
Gurley, 25, has four years left on his deal with the Los Angeles Rams that essentially guarantees him $22 million over the next two seasons. There are still unknown questions about a knee issue that has bothered him over the past year-plus, but Gurley has three seasons of 1,100-plus rushing yards and 10-plus touchdowns and hasn’t rushed for fewer than 857 yards in his five-year NFL career.
The Dolphins could be buyers again in this trade situation. With an NFL-high $88.5 million in salary-cap space, the Dolphins have the money to eat either contract, knock out a need for an accomplished veteran running back and collect a draft asset.