The Miami Dolphins looked to be on the rise after adding a few key free agents during the offseason. They grabbed Dannell Ellerbe from the Ravens to bolster their linebacking core, brought in cornerback Brent Grimes from the Falcons for depth in the secondary, and, most notably, inked Mike Wallace to a $60 million contract to help along with the progression of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Another important, yet under-the-radar addition for Miami in the offseason, was the signing of tight end Dustin Keller — who will now miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in Saturday’s game against the Texans. Keller, a five-year veteran and former New York Jet, was brought in to replace Anthony Fasano who signed with the Chiefs during free agency.
The tight end is one of the most important positions on a NFL roster. TE’s are no longer asked to only block and be occasional pass catchers, they also need to be proficient at creating miss matches against linebackers and turning 5-yard catches into 12-yard gains. They’re an integral part to the offense and serve as a safety net for quarterbacks, especially young, unproven ones. The lost of Keller may not seem like a terrible blow to Miami on the surface, but having a versatile, pass-catching tight end is vital to a young quarterbacks success.
As a Jet, keller was one of Mark Sanchez’s favorite targets. In 2011, Keller had his best year, grabbing 65 receptions for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns. In 2012, Keller missed the majority of the season due to injury, but still managed 317 yards on 28 receptions. Keller’s skill set is similar to the now incarcerated Aaron Hernandez’. He has the speed of a wide receiver, yet he’s strong enough to hold his own in the run game. The NFL is seeing more and more of these hybrid tight ends, and going into the 2013 season, Keller would have been one of the best in the league. Additionally, if Keller was able to put up those numbers with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback, it’s realistic to expect similar production in Miami with Tannehill at the helm. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Keller wound up finishing the season with 8-to-10 touchdowns if he hadn’t sustained his injury. Over his 5-year career, Keller has averaged 48 receptions, 575 yards, and 3 touchdowns. But with Mike Wallace drawing double teams and freeing up space in the middle of the field, Keller could have improved statistically in all those categories.
With Keller out for the season, Miami will have to go with Charles Clay (2011 draft pick), Michael Egnew (2012 draft pick), or address the need by acquiring a free agent.
Will the loss of Dustin Keller be the determining factor as to whether the Dolphins make the playoffs this year? No. But Keller is a above average tight end, and with Miami’s instability at the offensive line, losing Keller will be a bigger blow than most people realize.