2022 Dolphins Backfield Breakdown: $5 DVD Bin

by Noah Hills · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

The 2022 Dolphins Backfield Breakdown is part of an offseason series in which I take a deep dive into one NFL team’s backfield and examine the respective rushing performances of the players in it. In doing so, I hope to gain insights into key players from a talent evaluation standpoint, and using that evaluation as a baseline, from a dynasty valuation standpoint. The first installments in the series can be found here.

I’ll start by taking a quick overview of each team’s raw rushing volume and propensity to run the ball. Then, I’ll dive into the player evaluation portion. Before we start, let’s define the metrics I’ll use as part of those evaluations:

Key Metrics

Yards per Carry+ (or YPC+)

The degree to which a player’s raw yard per carry average exceeds or falls short of the collective yard per carry average of all other running backs on his team. Meant to be an overview of a player’s team-relative efficiency.

Box Count+

The degree to which the average amount of defenders in the box that a player faces on his runs exceeds or falls short of the collective average faced by the other running backs on his team. Considering that the outcome of any given rushing attempt is largely dependent on the number of defenders in the box pre-snap, Box Count+ describes the relative degree of difficulty of a running back’s carries.

Breakaway Conversion Rate (BCR)

Quantifies performance in the open field by measuring how often a player turns his chunk runs of at least 10 yards into breakaway gains of at least 20 yards.

Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating (BAE Rating)

Improves upon YPC+ by accounting for the box counts that a player carried the ball against. Looks at team-relative yards per carry against each individual box count, then uses a weighted average (based on total carries against each box count) to generate an overall score. A score of 100-percent indicates that a player is producing exactly the per carry output of his teammates, a score above 100-percent indicates that he is outdoing their per carry output to whatever degree, and vice versa for a score below 100-percent.

Relative Success Rate (RSR)

Measures player consistency using Success Rate, but relative to his teammates and adjusted for the box counts that he faced in the same way that BAE Rating is. “Success” on a given carry is defined by gaining 40-percent of yards needed on first down, 70-percent of yards needed on second down, and 100-percent of yards needed on third or fourth down. A score of 0.0-percent indicates that a player is succeeding on exactly the same percentage of his carries as are the other backs on his team, a positive score indicates that he is succeeding more often than his teammates are, and vice versa for a negative score.

Volatility Rating

Measures the disparity between a running back’s percentile ranks in BAE Rating and RSR in order to indicate how volatile a player’s per-carry performance is. High overall efficiency paired with a low rate of success indicates boom/bust output, while low overall efficiency paired with a high rate of success indicates steady, low-ceiling output. Measures the degree of volatility, not the quality of performance.

Composite Efficiency Score (CES)

Presents a single-metric overview of the quality of team-relative performance a player produced on his carries in a single season. Calculated using the average of a player’s percentile ranks in Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating and Relative Success Rate represents player performance on a 0-100 scale.

Team Rushing Volume

The Miami Dolphins were close to a league-average offense from a rushing volume perspective in 2021, finishing No. 18 in the NFL with 442 total attempts.

According to rbsdm.com, Miami passed the ball more than the raw volume would suggest. On early downs, in neutral game script situations (when win probability for either team did not exceed 80-percent), the Dolphins opted to run the ball just 43.9-percent of the time. This ranked as the No. 7 lowest rate in the league. Given league-wide play-by-play data, they also ran the ball less often than expected in almost every down-and-distance situation, and three percent less often than expected.

Coaching Change

Those offensive tendencies were established with former head coach Brian Flores at the helm. George Godsey and Eric Studesville shared the duties of offensive coordinator for the Dolphins a season ago. Godsey is now gone, and Studesville is now the Dolphin’s associate head and running backs coach. Flores has been replaced by former San Francisco 49ers’ run game and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel. McDaniel’s offensive coordinator will be Frank Smith. Smith most recently served as the running game coordinator and offensive line coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. Before his stint with the Chargers, Smith served as a tight ends coach with the Las Vegas Raiders. Insight into the Dolphin’s potential game plan might be gleaned from examining what McDaniel and Kyle Shanahan did with the 49ers offense the last few years.

During McDaniel’s tenure from 2017 to 2021, San Francisco finished No. 22, No. 11, No. 2, No. 14, and No. 6, respectively, in total rushing attempts. In the same timeframe, they were No. 2 highest in the league in early-down run rate in neutral game-script situations. Only Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans ran the ball more in these situations. Last season, the 49ers ran the ball seven percent more often than expected given the down-and-distance situations they found themselves in.

If the apple falls anywhere near the tree, we should expect the McDaniel-led Miami offense to be a run-heavy attack, at least in desire.

Efficiency Numbers

For the second year in a row, the Dolphins were led on the ground by Myles Gaskin. Behind him, a committee of ancillary players all saw significant work. These players included Duke Johnson, Salvon Ahmed, Phillip Lindsay, and Malcolm Brown. Each of these players had at least 33 carries. For good measure, Patrick Laird added one rushing attempt. Here are the complete rushing efficiency profiles for each of those six backs:

After emerging from relative anonymity to post marks above the 70th percentile in both Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating and Relative Success Rate on 142 carries in 2020, Gaskin was far less effective last season. He was one of only five lead backs across the NFL to average fewer yards per carry than his teammates while running into lighter defensive fronts than those teammates did.

According to Composite Efficiency Score (where he earned an incredible 90.9), Johnson proved the best second option in the league last year and the No. 6 best since 2016. 2021 was the fourth season in his career in which he posted a CES above the 50.0 mark.

The other backs were mostly nondescript. Ahmed had BAE Rating and RSR numbers in the 58th and 56th percentiles, respectively, as a rookie in 2020. However, he fell back down to earth last year. Lindsay has now been terrible on a per-carry basis with three different teams in the last three years after an excellent play early on in Denver. He might be cooked. Brown’s 59th-percentile showing in BAE Rating was his first mark above the 100-percent threshold in that area since 2018.

Laird was unsuccessful on his one carry but has technically posted above-average BAE Ratings in every season of his career.

Now What?

This was a crowded and uninspiring backfield a year ago. There’s a chance we have more of the same in 2022. Johnson, Lindsay, and Brown are now gone. Replacing them are Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel.

Edmonds proved excellent as the lightning to James Conner‘s thunder in Arizona last season. He posted a 162.5-percent BAE Rating that comes in at the 98th percentile. Edmonds is the highest-paid player in this backfield, is probably the most talented, and is likely to be the most heavily used as a result.

Mostert touched the ball only two times last season. However, he’s a guy who McDaniel will be familiar with from their time together in San Francisco. Mostert proved effective in the 49ers’ system as well. He put up BAE Ratings and RSRs both above the 74th percentile in each season from 2018 to 2020.

Michel has had an up-and-down career since being drafted by the Patriots in the first round back in 2018. Last season was one of the worst of his career from a rushing efficiency standpoint. On over 200 carries with the Rams, Michel had a CES of just 38.4. He also posted his third-straight season with a negative RSR.

The other backs currently under contract in Miami are 2021 UDFA Gerrid Doaks, 2022 UDFA ZaQuandre White, and the versatile Lynn Bowden. Doaks performed terribly as the lead runner for the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2020. White worked terrifically in limited work at South Carolina after a dominant 2019 season at Hutchinson Community College.

So Really, Now What?

I have no idea. Edmonds is a dynamic dual-threat player who is probably the best bet to offer consistent fantasy utility in this backfield. However. there’s so much unknown here. If the revolving door at running back in San Francisco is any indication, we might as well pick names out of a hat with the Dolphins. The good news is everyone here is affordable in dynasty. Edmonds’ RB33 price tag is the most expensive among them. Michel, Mostert, and Gaskin are all selected between RB63 and RB83. Everyone else is stone free, as Jimi Hendrix might say.

Final Word

If you’re one of these weirdos who’s drawn to “ambiguous” backfields like Gregory Illinivich’s moth employee is drawn to pediatrists’ offices, you might be all over the shit show that is the Dolphins running back depth chart. A time traveler could tell me literally any one of the dudes mentioned in this article (fuck it, including Hendrix) ended up leading the team in carries, and I’d believe them. Knock yourself out with your little dynasty upside shots on Edmonds and ZaQuandre. However, don’t hop in my Twitter DMs with any questions about this backfield expecting an intelligent response because I have no clue.