DAVIE, Fla. — Will Fuller V pauses and chuckles. After years of taking questions from reporters, the new Miami Dolphins wide receiver was asked a simple question that he might not have heard before. Why do people love deep touchdown passes?
“It’s a quick-scoring, exciting play,” Fuller responds. “Who doesn’t like those fast, quick touchdowns that put points on the board fast?”
In their biggest free-agent splash this offseason, the Dolphins signed Fuller to a one-year, $10.625 million deal with another $3 million in incentives. It sent a clear message that Miami likes fast, quick touchdowns, too, so anticipate them playing a much bigger role in the 2021 Dolphins’ offense.
Fuller’s arrival is great news for starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the offense. Miami had one of the NFL’s slowest offenses in 2020, and perhaps the biggest criticism against Tagovailoa was his lack of deep-ball production. A lot of that had to do with the Dolphins’ dependency on jump-ball wide receivers who are great red zone targets rather than speedy weapons who can create big plays on their own.
Fuller’s elite speed (he ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the 2016 scouting combine) should open up the Dolphins’ offense for Tagovailoa, whom Fuller calls an “electric player.” Fuller said they have already exchanged text messages and calls about setting up workouts in Miami soon.
“My tape speaks for itself. I’m a vertical threat,” Fuller said. “I bring an element to the Dolphins’ offense that can help other guys out and help this team continue to get better and help them to win.”
The numbers tell the story. Fuller, 26, averaged 3 yards of separation in 2020, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which would have been by far the best among Dolphins’ starters last season. Fuller’s separation numbers would have ranked second on the team overall, falling slightly behind wide receiver and return specialist Jakeem Grant (3.1).
The Dolphins’ top three wide receivers, including DeVante Parker (1.7 yards, tied for lowest), Mike Gesicki (2 yards, fourth lowest) and Preston Williams (2.2, tied for 10th lowest), each finished in the bottom 10 of qualified wideouts in average separation last season.
If healthy, and that’s a big caveat given his frequent battles with injuries including several hamstring strains, Fuller is a perfect fit for the Dolphins’ offense. On every play, Fuller is a field spacer who threatens defenses with his speed even when he is not targeted. Parker, Gesicki and Williams remain important playmakers, so Fuller’s presence should get each of them more freedom to eat as well. It will work vice versa, too, as defenses will be hard-pressed to double any of them given they all provide varying matchup issues.
“I have the underneath skill set, too, but that’s what makes things a lot easier for me is just having the ability to score on any given play,” Fuller said. “That opens up a lot of things underneath for me, so I use that to my advantage.”
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) March 20, 2021
New Dolphins co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville gain a lot of flexibility using Fuller’s speed as an asset on the outside and in the slot. The run-pass option is expected to be a significant part of the offense, so Fuller’s quickness adds another layer of conflict for the defense.
Fuller averaged 12.5 air yards per target in 2020, per NFL Next Gen Stats, a figure that led the Houston Texans and would have led the Dolphins. Tagovailoa, a former standout at Alabama, is used to speedy receivers who can separate. He excelled with a precise deep ball plus great timing and accuracy on short and intermediate routes.
The receiver caught 53 passes for 879 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020, the latter two would have led the Dolphins despite Fuller playing 11 games because of a performance-enhancing drug suspension. He still has to serve one more game of it in 2021, though he assured the Dolphins it was a one-time accident.
Miami could still draft one or two offensive playmakers with its two first-round picks (Nos. 3 and 18). Alabama receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts are among the top pass-catching options with Alabama’s Najee Harris, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams and Clemson’s Travis Etienne among the top running backs. Landing one in each group would complete Miami’s top offseason priority to surround Tagovailoa with more elite players.
The Dolphins are off to a good start because Fuller’s arrival is a boost to coaches, offensive players and especially Tagovailoa.
Plus, Dolphins fans might be the biggest winner, yet. Who doesn’t love deep touchdown passes?