Iím not ashamed to say that last year I had Miami pegged as a dark horse for the Super Bowl. I felt their defense was more than capable, their offensive line would manhandle the opposition and, with the addition of Brandon Marshall, they had the receivers to make Chad Henneís life easy. Well, I was wrong. The defense more than did itís bit with the emergence of Paul Soliai and Cameron Wake being particular highlights, but the offensive line didnít impose itself the way it was supposed to with injuries to Vernon Carey and Jake Long either taking them out of the lineup or limiting them severely. The biggest problem was at the quarterback spot, where Henne just couldnít get the job done on a consistent basis.
Fundamentally, these offensive issues were what kept Miami from the playoffs, but it wasnít all bad on that side of the ball. Despite bringing in Jeremy Shockey for a visit when he was cut, the Dolphins actually have one of the best tight ends in the league on their roster.
Our Miami Dolphins Secret Superstar? Why itís none other than Anthony Fasano.
Second Saddle in Dallas
Some were surprised when the Dallas Cowboys picked up Fasano in the second round of the 2006 draft. The Cowboys already had Jason Witten on the roster, and it was a high pick to spend on a guy who would be no more than a number two tight end. With then Cowboys coach Bill Parcells seeing a little Mark Bavaro in him, it was a easier to understand, but you figured heíd be playing a supporting role for a long time with Witten still at the top of his game and showing no signs of slowing down.
This proved to be the case for his first two years in the league. Fasano suited up and played in every Cowboys game in 2006 and 2007. With Witten entrenched as the first teamer, Fasano was limited to playing in two tight end sets and picked up a hardly earth-shattering 28 receptions, 269 yards and one touchdown in that stretch. It seemed Fasano was going nowhere as a Cowboy, and this was confirmed before the 2008 draft when he was traded back into the loving arms of Parcells and his Miami Dolphins.
The Man in Miami
It was a second chance of sorts for the then 24 year old. Miami lacked a number one tight end and was starting to use an offense that required their tight ends to do something Fasano did exceptionally well Ė block. The former Fighting Irish TE wasnít going to let this opportunity go, and responded with a tremendous (if under the radar) 2008. So good was it that he finished second overall in our tight end rankings, though this was influenced massively by his run blocking (he had a slightly below average mark for his work as a receiver.) Regardless, a promising year featured more receptions (34), yards (454) and touchdowns (seven) than he ever managed as a Cowboy.
A year later, Fasano had a nightmare start to his 2009 season (fumbling twice in the opener against Atlanta) and his receiving figures for the year dropped off. It was the kind of total that was bound to turn some Dolphin fans against him because 31 receptions, 339 yards and two touchdowns arenít typical No. 1 tight end numbers. It is worth noting though, that the Dolphins do often keep their tight ends in and Fasano stayed to pass block on 28.42% of all Miami passing plays. Fasano did, however, continue as one of the premier blocking tight ends in the league, finishing second overall in our run blocking rankings.
2010 brought with it Fasanoís most impressive receiving season to date, as he finished with figures of 39 receptions for 528 yards and four touchdowns. He did it while still staying into pass block an awful lot (28.71% of all passing plays), missing some time while injured, and maintaining his always strong run blocking. In truth, 2010 was the most complete season in his career. Granted, he rarely stood out (his biggest receiving game, a 107 yard performance against Tennessee, was his only game picking up more than 70 yards,) but Fasano is always going to be that type of player.
What he consistently does well are the things that donít often show up on first glance. Itís being able to go head-to-head with an excellent defensive end like Ray Edwards and block him out of a play like he did in week two. Or taking on Marcus Stroud one-on-one and putting him in his place in a manner that belies the size difference. His play against larger defensive linemen is such that is should come as no surprise that he rarely struggles when matched up with linebackers and defensive backs. Itís this that makes Fasano such a superstar.
Entering year six, heís unlikely to break out and be the next big thing at the tight end spot when it comes to receiving, but heís more than capable there as evidenced by an ability to pick up consistent yardage and find the end zone. The real shame, as we often write, is that tight ends donít usually get the praise they are due when they excel at blocking.
In a game where top tight ends spend just as much time blocking as running routes, itís a hugely important role. So, while there are no official stats for it, players like Anthony Fasano will continue to excel at their jobs and nobody may know it.
At least it makes writing these Secret Superstar pieces easy.