Certain eras last a while in pro sports. Miami Dolphins fans know this well, having enjoyed the entire career of Dan Marino, and much of Don Shula's legendary coaching capabilities. But those days of Hall of Fame eras appear long gone for a franchise that had a mere two losing seasons from 1970-2004. That's a pretty good run.
Last year, however, was pretty bad, as the team lost more games than it won for the second time in three years. The Daunte Culpepper era in South Florida went poorly and quickly, to say the least, and now it's history. The Nick Saban era was supposed to last a lot longer than two seasons and feature multiple playoff berths, but it didn't. And the Ricky Williams era, well, who knows when that will end, if it hasn't already.
Probable Starting Lineup
Key Backups/Position Battles
Where Culpepper goes from here is anyone's guess, but it's clear he won't be in Miami. Fantasy owners should remember Culpepper for the good times, and boy, they were good. The year Peyton Manning went off and broke the record for touchdown passes, Culpepper still topped him in fantasy points. New Dolphins starting quarterback Trent Green never had or will have the mobility Culpepper once possessed, and Green's health is certainly in some question as well, but he's the guy for 2007. The Dolphins selected their signal-caller for the future on draft day, but it wasn't Brady Quinn, it was John Beck. This isn't a traditional position battle, but it should be in 2008.
Brown topped the 1,000-yard mark, but considering his status as a late-first rounder in most drafts, that wasn't enough to satiate fantasy footballers. Brown missed three games with a broken hand and wasn't exactly blessed with the best offensive line or appropriate quarterback play to start with. Brown has a total of 10 touchdowns in his two seasons, and fantasy owners are expecting that production in 2007 alone. All-purpose back Lorenzo Booker -- a former Florida State Seminole -- should help keep Brown's carries in check, but it's up to Brown to prove he can be durable.
Chambers was supposed to have a big season with Culpepper throwing deep pass after deep pass his way, but that never materialized, or even came close. The No. 30 pick in ESPN average live drafts a year ago, Chambers was a huge disappointment who posted his worst numbers since 2002. In fact, he ended up third on his own team in receptions and yards. Welker departed to division rival New England, and Booker could be on the way out after finishing up a third disappointing season with the Dolphins. Rookie Ted Ginn was a surprising pick, but there's no telling how he fits in, if at all, to the passing game. We don't even know if he's healthy after suffering a foot injury in the Fiesta Bowl. Well-traveled wideout Az-Zahir Hakim could be the No. 3 receiver over Ginn, who the Dolphins figure can help immediately on returns.
McMichael was one of the more underrated players at the position during his five-year tenure with the Dolphins, breaking big plays and scoring a handful of touchdowns each year. He encountered some off-field issues before the 2006 season, but they didn't seem to affect his stats. Financial considerations ended up sealing his departure to the Rams. Former injury-plagued Packer David Martin and former Charger Justin Peelle are the newcomers, but that duo combined isn't likely to replace McMichael's production -- especially downfield.
Week 3 @ New York Jets
Week 7 New England Patriots
Week 8 New York Giants (In London, England)
Week 9 BYE
Week 12 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 13 New York Jets
Week 14 @ Buffalo Bills
Week 15 Baltimore Ravens
Week 16 @ New England Patriots
Week 17 Cincinnati Bengals
What to Expect
New head coach Cam Cameron is known as an offensive mastermind and not just from his days in San Diego. Even with his impressive credentials, can he save a unit that averaged a mere 16.3 points per game, better than only three teams? The offense should favor the running backs and speedy wide receivers, but it demands a quarterback who can threaten defenses, like Philip Rivers did. It doesn't mean this system makes the quarterback a statistical star, however. Green came from Kansas City to throw the passes, after a laborious offseason courtship that took months to close.
Fantasy owners found it painful to have Green on their last year. Annually an underrated option that one could draft in the middle rounds and count on for 4,000 passing yards, Green suffered a concussion in the Chiefs' opener against Cincinnati and was never the same. Fantasy owners waited half the season for his return, but after Green pushed out competent Damon Huard he had only one decent game the final seven weeks. The Dolphins obviously think something's still there, but fantasy owners would be wise not expect 4,000 yards or consistent production. Just because Culpepper and his gimpy knee were sacked on seemingly every play doesn't officially mean the O-line was brutal, or that Green is in grave danger. Cleo Lemon is the backup, and in two years Beck should be ready to start. It would be a shame if Green gets hurt again, and either Lemon is forced into action or Beck, seen as a mature 25-year-old, is rushed. Then again, the team's passing leaders since the Marino retired have been Joey Harrington, Gus Frerotte, A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler. Green could be a hero, quickly.
Brown, once again, has the gig to himself at running back -- in theory. But he didn't take advantage of Ricky Williams' absence last season as much as people expected. Still, Brown figures to be a breakout candidate at some point. Cameron won't be able to use him the way he used LaDainian Tomlinson the last few years, but Brown figures to enjoy life a bit more. Second-round pick Samson Satele should start at center, and help solidify the offensive line. Fullback Schlesinger was signed to help open holes as well. A healthy Green and motivated Chambers would force opposing defenses to respect Miami's passing game. Brown could slip out of the first round in most drafts, and if so, he would be a fantasy bargain. I wouldn't waste a draft pick on Williams, who wasn't exactly a CFL star and seems to be no closer to returning to the NFL field than he was a year ago. Patrick Cobbs and Jesse Chatman lurk as deep handcuffs for Brown in case Booker doesn't pan out.
Chambers has plenty of talent, and could easily return to the lofty stats fantasy owners expect of him. A top-10 wide receiver in recent seasons, he's likely to slip out of the top-20 in most leagues this fall, meaning there is significant value to be had. Green annually put up big yardage totals in Kansas City, despite not having premier wide receiver -- the type of player Chambers can be. Booker, Hakim and Ginn aren't worthy of starting in a fantasy league, or even drafting at all. It's also unlikely any of the Dolphins tight ends will be worthy of a selection, though Martin does profile as the kind of big tight end the Cameron system prefers.
Defensively, the Dolphins performed very well last season, keeping the offensively-challenged team in most games, and allowing more than 24 points only three times. Jason Taylor should again be one of the top players selected in individual player leagues, as he's good for double-digit sacks each season. Porter comes from the Steelers and gives the team a pressure linebacker to go with Zach Thomas, making this Dom Capers defense even more dangerous. The Dolphins should again keep the games close, now it's up to the offense.
The Bottom Line
The Dolphins have been through many quarterbacks and five coaches since the Shula era ended in 1995. Cameron, entrusted with a four-year deal, helped develop a number of quarterbacks in his college career at Michigan and Indiana (Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Antwaan Randle El), as well as in his tenure with the Redskins (Gus Frerotte) and Chargers (Drew Brees, Philip Rivers). Green isn't someone he needs to teach again (they worked together with the Redskins), but Beck is, and everyone will be watching since the Dolphins passed on Brady Quinn to select Beck a round later. One might regard this as a rebuilding season in South Florida, but if that was the case, why bring in a 37-year-old quarterback?
I don't think the Dolphins are far away from contending for a playoff spot, and if things fall right their late-December games could be very meaningful. Green is only two years away from being a starting quarterback in fantasy, while Chambers could have merely had an bad season in 2006. Brown's career should continue to get better. For a team coming off a 6-10 season, the Dolphins feature quite a few valued fantasy assets -- including a top-notch defense. This team could not only win more than they lose, but it could also help fantasy owners with a number of value picks.
Eric Karabell covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Eric here.