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Jay Cutler to Miami

As always, training camp and preseason brings it’s share of surprises. This year, Ryan Tannehill re-injured his knee in a non-contact injury in the first few days of camp. Instead of rolling into Week 1 with just Matt Moore and David Fales, Dolphins GM Chris Grier and HC Adam Gase reached out to the one and only (and previously retired) Jay Cutler and signed him to a one-year deal. Effectively taking Cutler out of the FOX Football media booth for a year, the ‘Fins have a month to get Cutler ready to start Week 1.

In 2015, Cutler and now-Dolphin HC Adam Gase spent one year together in Chicago together – notoriously leading to Cutler’s career-best campaign.

Fresh out of his brief retirement, Jay Cutler has just a month to prepare for Week 1 as the Dolphins QB.In that season two years ago, Cutler averaged 7.40 Adjusted Yards per Pass Attempt (adjusts for touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks), easily marking the most efficient season of his career and blowing past his career-average Adjusted YPA (6.70).

The Dolphins’ offensive makeup is effectively not going to change much with the transition of Tannehill to Cutler under center. We know exactly what Gase wants to do. Gase's offenses have finished inside of the top-eight teams in rush rate in back-to-back years – Chicago ran the ball on 47.3% of plays in 2015 (8th-highest) and Miami was 45.9% run-heavy last year (6th-highest).

Even when adjusted for game-script, Gase remains one of the most run-heavy coaches in the league. When trailing by three or more points, the 2015 Bears were the fourth-most run-heavy team in the league (40.9%) while the 2016 Dolphins ran the ball 38.9% of the time (sixth-highest rate).

What’s more, Gase prefers to play slow offense, too. Miami was last in situation-neutral offensive pace (seconds per play) in 2016 and Chicago was 27th in pace in 2015. All of this is fantastic news for Jay Ajayi. Because Gase is so run-heavy regardless of what the scoreboard looks like, Ajayi’s fantasy expectation remains the same with Cutler under center.

However, Ajayi will need to be slightly more involved in the ‘Fins passing game in order to change his win/loss fantasy splits that were present in 2016. Once Ajayi gained the starting gig, he averaged the sixth-most fantasy points per game (PPR) among ball carriers in Dolphins’ wins last year, but he was just the RB29 in per game output in Miami’s losses. Ajayi averaged 3.4 targets per game in ‘Fins losses and just 1.8 targets/game in their wins.

Dolphins Passing Game Outlook With Jay Cutler

While Jay Ajayi’s fantasy backers shouldn’t change their outlook based on Cutler’s signing, the ‘Fins pass catching corps have some intriguing data-driven realities.

Let’s start with a top-down approach.

Jay Cutler is notoriously an aggressive thrower who pushes the ball downfield. In 2015 with Gase in Chicago, that playing style didn’t change. In fact, just 33.1% of the Bears’ pass plays in 2015 with Cutler under center when “short” (between 1-14 yards downfield) into the middle, left, or right portions of the field. That was the ninth-lowest rate in the league.

However, Miami wasn’t too different from a passing scheme standpoint in 2016. 34.2% of the Dolphins total pass attempts went “short” middle, left, or right last season – which is just a negligible change from Gase’s 2015 season in Chicago (33.1%).

Even though Jay Cutler has finished outside of the top-16 signal callers in fantasy points per game in four of his past five seasons – including a QB28 (PPG) finish in 2015 with Gase in Chicago – he has been more than able to support strong receivers in fantasy. In fact, Cutler has probably gotten to the point where he’s a little underrated for his ability to prop up strong wide receiver seasons.

Over the past four seasons in which Jay Cutler has started 11 or more games (2012-15), Cutler has supported a top-15 fantasy receiver in every single season:

Year

Name

PPG Finish

2015

Alshon Jeffery

WR12

2014

Alshon Jeffery

WR13

2014

Brandon Marshall

WR22

2013

Brandon Marshall

WR8

2013

Alshon Jeffery

WR10

2012

Brandon Marshall

WR2

 

Even though we know that Gase wants to run a low-volume, run-heavy offense – it’s clear Jay Cutler can support at least one and perhaps, two, top-tier options in fantasy football.

The DeVante Parker hype pieces will certainly start kicking up now that Cutler is under center – we’re targeting him as long as his cost remains palatable – but any concern over Jarvis Landry’s role may be a little overblown. In 2015 with Gase, Cutler was pretty efficient – in terms of Adjusted Yards per Pass Attempt – compared to the rest of the league when throwing short left and middle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In fact, even though Tannehill has improved in Adjusted YPA in every single season he’s been in the league, Cutler was more efficient in the short areas (left, middle, and right) in 2015 than Tannehill has been over the past three years:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dolphins Just Want to Run

In all, we know that Adam Gase wants to the run the ball regardless of what the scoreboard looks like. However, the biggest threat to Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills fantasy outlook is not a quarterback change. It’s winning.

Do you recall that Jay Ajayi averaged the sixth-most PPR points per game among running backs when the ‘Fins won last year, but he was the RB29 in their losses? The inverse is true for the two main Dolphins’ pass catchers, too – especially Jarvis Landry. Here’s a quick chart showing each Dolphin wideouts average receiving yards per game in wins versus losses over the past two years:

Name

YPG in Losses

YPG in Wins

YPG Difference

Jarvis Landry

81.3

62.3

-19

DeVante Parker

54.6

53.2

-1.4

Kenny Stills

35.1

40.3

+5.2

 

DeVante Parker remains a breakout candidate with Cutler at the helm in 2017, but because Cutler was actually more efficient in the short areas of the field in 2015 compared to Ryan Tannehill, we shouldn’t really be concerned about Jarvis Landry’s outlook, either. In 2012-15 in Chicago, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery combined for six top-24 (WR2 or better) seasons with Cutler under center. Even though Marshall and Jeffery are not cut from the shifty slot receiver archetype like Landry, we know Cutler can support voluminous fantasy receivers.

Still, the Dolphins project to be a low-volume passing offense that will rely on moderately efficient quarterback play. Over the past two seasons as a play caller, Adam Gase’s Bears averaged the eighth-fewest pass attempts/game in 2015 while his 2016 Dolphins threw the second-fewest pass attempts per contest.

If Jarvis Landry’s average draft position begins to dip based on the news, all of the data seems to suggest his biggest ally in fantasy football is losing football games and not necessarily who is under center. Jay Cutler is nothing more than a super late round dart-throw while Jay Ajayi’s outlook remains unchanged.

 

 

Graham Barfield
Senior Analyst

Graham is a senior analyst for Fantasy Guru and works closely with statistics to produce quanitative analysis for complementary weekly content. He will be appearing before the season and during the season on The Fantasy Guru Podcast with John Hansen and Joe Dolan. Be sure to follow Graham on Twitter at @GrahamBarfield.

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