The Miami Dolphins are making moves this offseason. They hired Mike McDaniel as the team’s new head coach, spent big in free agency on an offensive line that was the league’s worst a year ago and traded five picks to the Chiefs for Tyreek Hill before handing him a new contract averaging $30 million a year.
All of this places the pressure firmly on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to perform. Of course, Tua also finds himself in the best situation he has had as a professional — and arguably the first one of genuine viability.
McDaniel comes over from San Francisco, where years of working under Kyle Shanahan has exposed him to a master's degree in one of the league’s most unique offensive systems. Shanahan’s offense belongs to a very prevalent system with a huge coaching tree, but the way he has evolved and developed the system has diverged from the rest of the family significantly.
PFF’s Eric Eager has measured the distinctiveness of each offense and found Shanahan’s to be unique — wildly different from the rest of the league. This includes the systems with which he shared a common relationship. It seems reasonable to expect Miami’s offense to be the closest thing we have seen to that system, since McDaniel has such a longstanding connection with Shanahan.
Tyreek Hill Is A Unicorn
For as much as Shanahan’s offense is unique, so is Tyreek Hill. No other receiver in the game can match his combination of blazing speed and short-area quickness — there may not be another player in league history who compares.
Hill ran a 4.29 40-yard time at his Pro Day in college. One scout in attendance had him at 4.21 on his stopwatch. In high school, he ran a 20.14 200-meter time (the second-fastest high school time ever recorded) and a 10.19 in the 100 meters. Hill has blazing long-speed, but his short-area quickness is what differentiates him from every other speedster the league has seen before.
Other speedsters are often one-trick ponies in the NFL or don’t have additional receiver skills, but Hill has caught 46% of his contested targets for his career and once led the league in that category over a single season. He has thrived both outside and from the slot, where he has a near 50:50 distribution over his career. He’s also had great success when he has lined up in the backfield and handled rushing attempts, though that hasn’t occurred at anything like the same rate it has for Deebo Samuel in San Francisco.
Hill is a unique receiver in the NFL, but his closest analogue may be Jaylen Waddle, his new teammate in Miami.
Waddle is listed at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, the same height and just two pounds lighter than Hill. Waddle didn’t run an official 40 time pre-draft because he was recovering from a fractured ankle but reportedly ran a 4.37 before he even made it to college. His tracking data showed he was also among the fastest players in the country. Like Hill, he has short-area quickness to go along with that long speed, and Miami was feeling out the best way of maximizing his impact during his rookie season.
At times, Waddle was their entire passing offense, catching an endless sequence of shallow drags and quick hitches to move the chains and get him the football. Kansas City had years to develop that use pattern with Hill, but now the Dolphins need to accelerate the process with a new coaching staff for both players.
They also need to figure out how two very similar players fit together in an offense that doesn’t have a great track record of allowing more than one player to shine at any given moment.
McDaniel's last offense utilized two unique playmakers
We know that George Kittle is a superstar-caliber player. In 2019, he finished the season with a 95.0 PFF grade — the highest ever by a tight end — on the back of his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season in which he averaged over 3.0 yards per route run. Kittle was finishing off a two-year stretch as the team’s No. 1 receiving weapon just as the team realized it had unearthed another special talent in Samuel in the second round of the 2019 draft.
This past season, Samuel was the superstar for the team, clearing 1,400 yards receiving as well as another 365 rushing. He had 14 combined scores and was one of the best playmakers in the league, but his performance caused Kittle to fade into the background a little.
When Deebo missed a game in Week 13, Kittle exploded for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Kittle has gained 2.16 yards per route run for his career when Samuel has been on the field alongside him. Compare that to Kittle's career 2.49 yards per route run — he's actually averaging 2.59 yards per route when Deebo isn’t on the field at all. The 49ers weren’t able to get both stars firing at maximum power at the same time, but that’s exactly what the Dolphins are going to have to figure out on the fly with Waddle and Hill.
That’s a task made more complicated by how similar each players is stylistically. At least Deebo and Kittle play wildly different roles within the offense and could conceivably have each hit their ceiling without impinging on the other’s real estate. That’s inherently tougher with players as similar as Waddle and Hill seem to be.
The key for McDaniel and Miami is understanding what Waddle can be at this level. His rookie season was impressive, but it felt like the initial gambit of a strategy that could become far more expansive. Once they understand what Waddle’s role is, Hill can fit in around it, because he has demonstrated that he can win in all ways at all different levels of the defense and from any alignment. Hill can effectively become the foil to whatever Waddle is best at.
The other element critical for the success of the receiving duo is Tua showing the complete game needed to take advantage of what they bring to the table. Tua has a career big-time throw rate of just 2.3%, with an average depth of target 7.2 yards downfield. Waddle and Hill provide explosive big-play threats on every single play, as well as the potential to keep coverage away from each other, but that needs a quarterback willing to attack and target that threat regularly, or it’s just a fancy decoy.
The Miami offense will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2022 season as their new coaching staff looks to build something unique and special as fast as possible. All the while, Tua will look to resuscitate his NFL career now that he finally has some support around him.