NFL Power Rankings | 25. Miami Dolphins
Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in AFC East.
IT would be remiss at this point of the Power Rankings to not mention the passing of legendary coach, Don Shula. Shula led the Dolphins to all five of their AFC Championships and their two Superbowl wins in 1972 and ’73. Shula leaves us as the winningest Head Coach in NFL history.
He remains the coach responsible for the only undefeated season in league history, a Hall of Famer for his contribution to the sport and a true legend of the game. He was a bastion of leadership, exceptional teacher and mentor and will be greatly missed by all.
Rest in peace, Coach Shula.
There is a renewed sense of optimism in South Florida heading into the season. After almost fluffing an apparent tank job last season by scraping out 5 wins, including a first over New England in Foxboro’ for the first time in 11 years, Miami fell back to the fifth spot in the draft. Due to other teams’ needs however, they still got their man: Tua Tagovailoa.
Tua time is set to commence in Miami Gardens in 2020. After initially being thought of as a potential number one overall pick, Tagovailoa ‘fell’ to number five overall due to concerns over a serious hip injury sustained during the college football season. Injury concerns aside, Tagovailoa has the potential to flourish into a franchise cornerstone for a team who, after a number of years in the wilderness, have positioned themselves to gradually lift themselves out of the doldrums. Years of poor coaching, bad trades, cap mismanagement and the dominance of the Patriots in the AFC East have relegated the Dolphins into insignificance on the national stage. Something is brewing though and there is a feeling that now is the time for ascension as the presence of Tua and second year Head Coach Brian Flores brings a renewed sense of optimism to the franchise.
Flores’ astute coaching was the main reason why Miami surged late in the year, instilling a real fighting spirit after severe initial struggles earlier in the year. Some growing pains may endure into this season however, as Flores attempts to blend experienced new signings such as Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Ereck Flowers, Emmanuel Ogbah and Byron Jones into a youthful squad.
Van Noy in particular brings a winning spirit that Flores knows all too well from their shared time together at New England. Van Noy should instantly become a leader in the linebacking corps that includes the emerging Jerome Baker, Vince Biegel and the added depth of free agent signings Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts.
The defensive line should also be a strength as the Dolphins look to build around Christian Wilkins. Davon Godchaux will start alongside Wilkins on a line that will have more competition from a depth standpoint this year thanks to the draft picks of Jason Strowbridge and the athletically gifted Raekwon Davis. Davis is an exciting pick and has a build reminiscent of Calais Campbell. If he can become half the player that Campbell is, then he will be a fixture on the Dolphins line for years to come.
Davis and Strowbridge can sit behind veterans Lawson and Ogbah who will fly off the edge, as the unit should stay fresh deep into the year. High priority UDFA Benito Jones should make the roster as backup to Godchaux.
Finally, look out for rookie Curtis Weaver to make an impact as a rotational end too. The 2019 Mountain West Player of the Year was an outside linebacker in college, but projects more as a 4-3 DE in the pros. Limitations in coverage and the depth that the Dolphins have at OLB will dictate his fit in year one.
Byron Jones was the marquee free agent signing for Miami this offseason. The cornerback agreed a massive five year, $82m contract and will become the highest paid corner in the league. Jones will form a terrific tandem will the arguably more talented Xavien Howard. Howard has had injury issues and will hope to start afresh this season. If so, the pair will be among the best in the league with rookie Noah Igbinoghene manning the slot. Completing the defensive backs unit are likely safety starters, Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe. This could be an area of weakness with Clayton Fejedelum and Adrian Colbert signed as uninspiring depth pieces.
Back on offense, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is experiencing somewhat of a late career renaissance. He is known to believe that his best football is still ahead of him and he appears to be brimming with confidence. Last year, he operated the offense effectively and with the assuredness of a veteran QB despite being hindered by a diabolical run game. Fitzmagic may be the reason for a Tua redshirt year, or he may come back to earth due to an unproven and incoherent offensive line.
Guard Ereck Flowers and center Ted Karras have been signed and will expect to start but have never been above average starters. Miami will expect Austin Jackson to start at left tackle, but the rookie is an incomplete prospect coming out of college and will need to learn quickly. Robert Hunt, drafted in the second round, is an inspired pick and could either slide straight in at right guard or challenge Jesse Davis for the right tackle spot (Tua’s blindside if he starts at any point during the season).
Jordan Howard and Matt Breida have been signed and will provide a solid one-two punch at running back and an upgrade on the insipid ground game from a year ago.
DeVante Parker experienced a real breakout last season. The highly drafted pass-catcher finished 5th in the league for wide receiving yards and will look to build on this and become an elite number 1 target for whoever starts under center for the Fins. It should be noted that four games of his 1,200-yard season came against two of the league’s top corners in Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White whom he dominated on occasion.
In addition to the promising breakout of Parker was the development of second year tight end, Mike Gesicki. Gesicki hauled in five touchdowns and almost 600 yards and is developing into a real threat down the seam. Durham Smythe will continue to be the blocking tight end and Michael Roberts has been signed as an experienced blocker to boost both the running game and free up Gesicki to do what he does best.
All in all, the Dolphins roster has the potential to start to make waves and with two first round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft there is much to be excited about. Youth and major upheaval on the roster will mean that the current crop will need time to bed in and so the playoffs remain just out of reach for now. Miami will however be aiming for another victory over New England and to fire some warning shots across Buffalo’s bows. It will not be long before alarm bells start ringing among the rest of the established AFC elite.
Current 2021 NFL Mock Draft Prediction: DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami.