With the 2022 NFL season fast approaching, the South Florida Sun Sentinel takes a look at 10 storylines to watch for in a 10-part series ahead of the Miami Dolphins’ first day of training camp, which is set for July 27.
Simply landing left tackle Terron Armstead in free agency was already a home run pickup for the Miami Dolphins, but then they one-upped themselves the very next day by acquiring star wide receiver Tyreek Hill in a blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The move for the speedster who has made six Pro Bowls in six NFL seasons catapulted Miami from merely addressing an area where improvement was needed to significantly striving to take its offense to the next level.
But will Hill, who has 6,630 career regular-season receiving yards and 56 touchdowns while being a perennial postseason performer with the Chiefs, be able to make the same impact on the Dolphins offense?
The Chiefs have been a juggernaut the past several years between Hill, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and a running game. The Dolphins, on the other hand, haven’t been top 10 in points since 2001 or top 10 in yards since 1995.
The hope is that Hill’s insertion as likely the greatest offensive playmaker Miami has had this side of prime Ricky Williams is a key in altering that recent history. That, along with strides from third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and second-year wideout Jaylen Waddle plus the mind of new coach Mike McDaniel and his running game, can flip the misfortunes on offense that have become all too synonymous with the franchise over the past two decades.
But if Hill can’t produce anything close to what he did in Kansas City, it will be an indictment on what surrounds him in Miami.
The Dolphins don’t need Tagovailoa to be Mahomes or McDaniel to be Andy Reid or tight end Mike Gesicki to be Kelce. But if Hill draws added attention from opposing defenses and Tagovailoa can’t get him the ball or the other playmakers don’t keep coverages honest, it could make for a long season after Miami invested five draft picks and $120 million over four years for Hill.
As the Dolphins get set to report to training camp on July 26, Hill spent the offseason getting acclimated with Tagovailoa. The two began throwing and catching early in the offseason workout program, and Hill was a consistent participant through voluntary organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. Hill has talked up his new quarterback.
“At first, I thought it was going to be something crazy, the ball going all over the place,” Hill said after an OTA session, “but Tua actually has probably one of the prettiest balls I’ve ever caught in my life. It’s very catchable.”
To some, Hill may have gone over the top with some of his praise for Tagovailoa this offseason in what has been an obvious attempt to instill confidence in the quarterback. On his new podcast, he said Tagovailoa has an edge over Mahomes in accuracy, while Mahomes has the better arm. Many took it as a blasphemous notion to even say Tagovailoa has an advantage in any aspect of playing the position.
Tagovailoa’s arm strength is the primary concern when it comes to whether Hill can maintain his prior levels of production. With Hill’s elite speed, he’s going to get open deep. There’s no question about it, regardless of certain coverage schemes he’ll face. When that happens, will Tagovailoa consistently hit him in stride deep or will Hill have to wait for those long passes, allowing a defender to catch up and break up the play?
Tagovailoa has prioritized improving his strength in the offseason, and being another year removed from the devastating hip injury that cut his college career short in November 2019 should help him create the torque necessary to deliver the deep ball. Teammates and Tagovailoa’s new offensive coaches alike have agreed he can make any throw required of him this offseason.
The Dolphins also won’t be so reliant on the long pass. McDaniel’s offense will feature the run game and an outside-zone scheme that can have Armstead be another version of San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams, which McDaniel had at his previous stop as offensive coordinator and run-game coordinator. A revamped backfield sees Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel now in Miami, plus fullback Alec Ingold.
The passing game will emphasize yards after catch, so Tagovailoa can get the ball to Hill, Waddle and slot receiver Cedrick Wilson underneath in space, and some effective play design can create lanes for them to have open field once the ball is in their hands.
When Hill arrived in Miami, one thing that appealed to him and agent Drew Rosenhaus was the way McDaniel utilized 49ers wideout Deebo Samuel in innovative ways, including in the ground game. Something similar could be in store for Hill with the Dolphins.