The Dolphins suffered a huge blow over the weekend when it was revealed that TE Dustin Keller tore multiple knee ligaments in the preseason game against the Texans Saturday night. He also dislocated his right knee and may have suffered nerve damage. Keller balked at, what he considered, a low-ball multi-year deal from the Dolphins in the offseason for a one-year "let me prove my worth" contract. A move that is now looking like a misfire. There is a chance that this injury will not only affect his 2014 status as a free agent, but his career could be in jeopardy.
For those who missed the play that caused the injury, here it is (It's pretty cringeworthy).
With Keller now out, rookie Dion Sims zooms up the depth chart and should take over starting duties after surpassing Michael Egnew earlier in practice. However, Sims isn't the pass-catching tight end Keller is, and was mostly known for his blocking at Michigan State. I'd be shocked if Sims winds up taking the brunt of Keller's lost targets.
So who picks up the slack? Keller was one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league. After doing some fantasy analysis, the answer seems pretty easy: Brian Hartline. Hartline surpassed his first 1000-yard season in 2012. But if you take out the 253 yards he had against Arizona in Week Four, he only totaled 830 receiving yards. He was the team's No. 1 receiver back then. However, he could be the key to keeping the Dolphins' offense afloat as their No. 2.
Mike Wallace has reportedly been struggling to pick up the team's West Coast scheme and has had chemistry problems with Ryan Tannehill. And while No. 3 receiver Brandon Gibson had shown flashes of promise while with the Rams, I don't see him as anything more than a role player this year. Tannehill knows Hartline the most out of the group after using him as his go-to guy last season. Hartline also has the most experience in this offense, something that could wind up coming in handy should Wallace take longer to adjust than previously thought. Hartline also fits better as a No. 2 receiver, the spot he could flourish in after trying, but failing, to be THE guy in 2012.
Trust me when I say Hartline wasn't going to be fantasy football gold before the Keller injury. Most owners were taking him as a late-round flier in the hopes that maybe his new No. 2 role would suit him better . He could match, and maybe top, last year's numbers. Not by much, but it's certainly doable. Having Wallace stretch the field and draw double teams will help. And if Wallace does finally "get it," Hartline's targets could be more consistent than they were last year since he won't see as much attention from defenses. Currently, Hartline's ADP is around the end of the 12th round in 12-team PPR leagues. He's going as the 55th wide receiver off the board. A WR5 is low, but acceptable considering Hartline's past. Now that Keller is gone and some things have yet to take off elsewhere in the passing game, Hartline is easily a WR4 and a decent flex option. I see value here going into the regular season.