DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins failed to land a feature running back high in the NFL draft for the second consecutive year, and the fans' groans were nearly audible inside the team facility. It was the most common gripe in what was considered by most to be a strong Dolphins' 2021 draft.
That means, once again, the keys to Miami's backfield belong to Myles Gaskin, who is one of the offseason's biggest winners in terms of securing his role as well as fantasy football upside. And, he is not complaining about the Dolphins' decision-making process, either.
"Above my paygrade," Gaskin said with a laugh. "I don't think drafting a back or bringing in a back would have changed anything for me. I'm trying to compete with myself, compete with others obviously; but definitely compete with myself, make sure I'm the best running back I can be come the end of July whenever camp starts, and then leading up into the season. I don't think bringing on anybody changes my routine."
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier was more blunt in his assessment of the position: "When you draft on need, at times you reach for stuff and start trying to appease what some people may think about it."
Over the past two seasons under coach Brian Flores and two different offensive coordinators, the Dolphins finished 32nd in 2019 and 22nd in 2020 in rushing yards per game. So, it's clear why running back is a need.
Ranking near the bottom of the league in rushing is not good enough, and it doesn't help Miami has not allocated significant resources to fix the issues. Dolphins co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville noted an improved run game is a major "area of focus" as the offense comes together this season.
Of all the issues with the Dolphins' run game in recent years, Gaskin hasn't been one of them. A 2019 seventh-round draft pick out of Washington who might have been lucky to make the final roster as a rookie, Gaskin put in the Dolphins' most productive offensive individual performance in 2020 under Studesville's tutelage. His status as Miami's lead back this season, as of now, is secure.
More good news for Gaskin is the Dolphins haven't made any serious pursuit toward signing one of the free-agent running backs as of early June, a source told ESPN, outside of a failed waiver claim of former Detroit Lions back Kerryon Johnson in May.
So, it's time to stop worrying about replacing Gaskin and look at why the Dolphins trust him to lead their backfield again.
Gaskin finished 11th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage per game (97.2), besting a group that includes Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
When active for 10 games last season, Gaskin was slotted as a RB8 for fantasy football purposes. He finished in the top 17 of all running backs in fantasy points over his final six games. What set him apart was his receiving ability. He finished seventh among all running backs in receiving yards thanks to a great 87% catch rate (second among all backs) and 8.3 yards per target (first).
"The big thing about Myles from at least last year and going from Year 1 to Year 2 for him was his growth in football and what he learned and how dependable he became for what we needed done," Studesville said. "He's prideful, he's professional, he comes in and gives you a day's work. He works at it. He wants to be a really good player. ... Myles is going to put his best foot forward and give you everything he has and that's what gives him a chance."
Gaskin, 24, is undersized (5-foot-10, 194 pounds) and often overlooked (24 running backs were drafted ahead of him in 2019). But thanks to a huge Year 1 to Year 2 jump, all he did was produce on the field in 2020.
When he missed six games last season because of knee injuries and contracting COVID-19, Gaskin felt he "hurt the team and hurt myself in my own eyes." Gaskin, who totaled 584 rushing yards and 388 receiving yards in his 10 games played, was on pace to top 1,500 yards from scrimmage if he had played all 16 games.
"I'm better. Just more better in the mind, better just physically, just ready to go," Gaskin said. "I know what I'm looking for. I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses, and I'm trying to get those all to [become] strengths and even my strengths are even stronger."
In an effort to stay healthy and prove he can last 16 games, Gaskin began training early this offseason in Seattle, working on Pilates, knee and ankle health and stability workouts. He played at least 69% of offensive snaps in every game he was active last season. With better durability, perhaps that number rises.
The Dolphins hope other offensive improvements such as added speed from wide receivers William Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle, an improved young core with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and a stronger offensive line will open more lanes for Gaskin.
Flores has talked about his expectations for the Dolphins' new players to force "defenses to make that decision" on whether to load the box or play deep to defend speed. Last season, it wasn't much of a choice: Miami's opponents mostly loaded the box. Gaskin is relishing in the fact that this season's playbook under Studesville and fellow co-offensive coordinator George Godsey is "much different" than last year.
Behind Gaskin, free-agent signee Malcolm Brown has a fan in Flores and could earn short yardage and goal-line responsibilities. Second-year back Salvon Ahmed should add speed and depth to the backfield, with rookie seventh-round pick Gerrid Doaks and incumbent Patrick Laird competing for playing time behind them.
Another strong season for Gaskin would go a long way toward erasing "running back" from the Dolphins' long-term needs.