While the Miami Dolphins' offense and defense both floundered often in 2015, that wasn’t the case for the special teams. They seemed to have everything figured out in the third phase of the game. There is no reason to expect this to change moving forward. Many people overlook special teams but it can make a huge difference in a team’s season and determine quite a few wins and losses.
First and foremost, the 'Phins have found themselves and electrifying return man in Jarvis Landry. As much as I hate the idea of utilizing a star player on returns he has made a strong case for why he should keep the job. We see this all over the league too with guys like Antonio Brown and Adam Jonessitting back there and catching punts. The Dolphins were among the best in the league last season in the punt return game. Miami ranked sixth in the league averaging 10.3 yards per return. Landry also likes to get the ball and go too. Their 16 fair catches were among the fewest in the league and they only fumbled one punt all season. Only three other team had just one fumble and two managed not to fumble any. However, only one of those teams managed to hit the 10 yards per return mark. Landry and the Dolphins also led the league with six punt returns of 20 yards are more. It may not seem like a big deal, but that is a major game changer, especially when your offense is struggling. Miami’s 424 punt return yards were good enough for fifth in the league and were highlighted by a 69-yard Landry touchdown. Picking up chunks of yards like this on special teams can mask deficiencies in other areas of the team. It also helps show just how valuable Juice really is to this team. You can make a strong case he is one of, if not the most valuable wide receiver in his beyond stacked rookie WR class.
Let’s move this conversation to the place kicker. Before we get to field goals, let’s touch upon kickoffs. The Dolphins allowed just 22.1 yards per kick return, which was good enough for eighth in the league. They only allowed 4,396 total kick return yards, which was third best in the league. With that said, those numbers are a bit skewed due to a lack of offensive fire power. When it comes to big plays they did not allow a return touchdown and were tied for second in the league on onside kick recoveries. If you don’t research that stat on your own, it sounds much better.
Andrew Franks wasn’t great, but he is a clear upgrade from Caleb Sturgis. The Dolphins actually attempted the fewest field goals in the league with just 16, and Franks made 13 of them. He was perfect from inside 40 and was 1-of-2 from outside 50 making a season long 53. I feel very comfortable rolling with Franks into 2016, much more so than I would have with Sturgis.
That’s brings me to the Miami Dolphins unsung hero. Punter Matt Darr is unbelievable. Every time it was time to punt, you knew it was going to be a great one coming off his foot. He managed to save the defense and flip field position on an almost constant basis in 2015. Being that the Dolphins punted the ball 92 times last season, an elite punter is a necessity. In his first year as an NFL punter, Darr proved to be just that. His 92 punts was third most in the NFL. His 47.6 average per punt was good enough for fourth in the league. Not one person managed to block one of his punts or return one for a touchdown. Darr managed to pin the opposition inside the 20 yard line 30 times. He was ranked as the third best punter in open-field situations, meaning when punting from between the Dolphins own 1-40 yard line. On 61 attempts his gross average was 50.6 yards, including a booming 70 yarder, showing off his big leg. Darr grades out as the league’s second best punter behind only the St. Louis Rams Johnny Hekker. The fact that this was Darr’s first season as a starting punter makes it all the more impressive. The value of a great punter cannot be understated. Look for Miami to lock the 23 year old up for a long time.
Heading into free agency and the draft, there are a ton of questions surrounding the Dolphins’ offense and defense. Nonetheless, it looks like we should be set for years to come on special teams. Landry, Darr and Franks are all 23 years old. It may be a small conciliation, but it’s a step in the right direction.