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7 Names for Miami’s New Front 7

Kevin Dern

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Special thanks to Travis for letting me post another piece on Locked On Dolphins. If you remember when Travis and I had our Phinalysis podcast in 2016-17 or have read my pieces on here, you know I’m a defensive guy at heart.  And you undoubtedly know that Miami’s defense will be dramatically changing in 2019 so I wanted to share eight names I think Miami fans should familiarize themselves with before the 2019 Draft, which is now less than a month away.

There’s no way I’m going to hit on as many guys as last year in my write-up and this year it’s going to be more challenging to predict picks like Fitzpatrick and Baker like last year.  The main reason for that is that Miami’s new defensive scheme, which is likely a carry-over from what the Patriots were running in 2018, is more focused on phenotypes rather than finding guys who have prototypical size or builds.  What the Patriots seemed to find are guys that have a set of observable traits that fit their defense.  If you remember, when Miami first hired their staff new Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham talked about finding players who 1) use their hands well/are heavy-handed, 2) play with good leverage and 3) play with good eye discipline.

This is related more towards guys who play in the front seven, but it’s applicable at all levels of the defense.  With that in mind I wanted to focus on seven players I think would be great fits in the Dolphins new defense that aren’t necessarily household names.  Let me be clear, there are more than these seven players that will fit with the Dolphins, I just think these seven possess those skills the Patriots…I mean Dolphins…will want to see.  So, with that in mind, here are my seven names for Miami fans to know leading up to the Draft.

L.J. Collier – DE – TCU #91

Obviously, there are other, bigger names like Bosa, Ferrell and Sweat that are also fits for Miami.  Even Charles Omenihu was I guy that caught my eye early in the process.  I remember texting Travis about him watching the Longhorns bowl game against Georgia at the beginning of the year as someone I was impressed with.  I was so impressed with Omenihu that he was my favorite under-the-radar prospect that I thought would be a great fit for Miami, until I dove into L.J. Collier.

I watched him last week and texted Travis that this dude has hammers for hands, and it’s true.  He’s well-built at 6’2” 283lbs with 34” arms and 10” hands.  He’s never going to confuse anyone for Cameron Wake as he ran a 4.91 forty at the Combine, but that’s not really something I think Miami will be concerned about.  Miami dispatched DL Coach Marion Hobby to work out Collier and teammate Ben Banogu privately, and Collier has been/will be coming to Davie on an Official 30 visit, so…yeah, they’re interested.  Here’s why.

1) Sets the edge:  in this play against Texas L.J. Collier sets a hard edge against the Longhorns RT using one arm.  Texas runs a zone-read on 3rd& 1 and Collier keeps his outside arm free and disengages when the back cuts toward him and makes a TFL.

https://youtu.be/Ul4EfIzQOiw?t=70

2) Motor:  against the Longhorns rushing from the other side Collier is going to be double-teamed late by the LG as he tries to counter-move inside against the LT. Using his long arms and heavy hands he’s able to split the double-team and gets a hand on Sam Ehlinger to slow him up enough for his teammates to arrive to finish off a sack.

https://youtu.be/Ul4EfIzQOiw?t=121

3) Work against double-teams:  In this GIF you’re going to see Collier doubled by the Cal LT and LG and he just bulls his way into the LG and drives him into the backfield to get a TFL.

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/IncompatibleFalseCricket-max-1mb.gif

4) Power:  This GIF is from the Senior Bowl practices.  Collier is lined up as a 3-technique over Wisconsin guard Beau Benzscahwel in the pit drill.  L.J. Collier bull-rushes him back 6 yards to the point where the coach and the camera guy have to back up.  Be still my heart.

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/LoneFavoriteCrow-max-1mb.gif

Quick Summary:  In my eyes, there’s not really one player in this Draft Class that can be what Trey Flowers was in this scheme outside of maybe Nick Bosa.  Collier is probably the next closest in my opinion. He’s got the requisite strength and power to play multiple spots along the D-line, much like Flowers.  While he’s not a speed-rusher and doesn’t have much bend or change of direction capability, it doesn’t tend to matter much. Much of the pass-rush pressure that this defense provides is scheme driven.  There are going to be multiple opportunities for him to rush over guards, perhaps even the center, where he can use his long arms and power.  He’s stout as hell against the run and can split double teams with the best of them.   It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Miami considered him if they traded down to the back part of round one, but I think Collier is a great fit as a second rounder for Miami.  Other teams may not value him as highly due to his lack of speed, but his skillset will be very attractive to Miami.

Player Comp:  Courtney Upshaw

Charles Omenihu – DE – Texas #90

Nov 18, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (90) reacts during the fourth quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Omenihu is another of my favorites, and he was right at the top for me in terms of defensive ends for Miami until my dive into L.J. Collier.  Omenihu has the classic 4-3 DE build at 6’5” 280lbs with 36” arms and nearly 10” hands.  I know some have compared him to Trey Flowers, and while that’s not my favorite comparison, I can see why.  Like Flowers and L.J. Collier, Omenihu can play up and down the line.  He can play both left and right defensive end and has shown the ability to reduce inside and play 3 and 4i techniques in the Longhorns multiple front defense.

1) Length:  In this example against USC, you’ll see Omenihu use his long arms to execute a rip move, grab the QB with his left arm to hold him in the pocket then use his right arm to strip the ball to give the Longhorns a 4thdown stop.

https://youtu.be/63KI_HQV4ls?t=15

2) Quickness off the snap:  It’s hard to tell in this look whether Omenihu’s lined up as a 3-technique (I think he’s here) or as a 4i-technique, but either way he crosses the face of the RG and to stop the QB power play for a loss.

https://youtu.be/63KI_HQV4ls?t=23

Omenihu’s quickness is one skill that he has that’s better than L.J. Collier’s, whose reaction times aren’t great.  But, while it worked on this play, you’d like to see Omenihu play with better pad level.

3) Ability to redirect:  In this clip, you’re going to see Omenihu lined up at RDE in one of Texas’s sub-fronts. The Longhorns run a lot of 3-3 and 3-2 fronts (it’s the Big 12, what’d you expect?) and Omenihu is lined up as a 5-technique.  On this play he’s able get inside of the LT and play laterally to stop the stretch zone run for a loss.

https://youtu.be/63KI_HQV4ls?t=241

Quick Summary:  While Omenihu won’t win many races either, as he has a 4.92 forty, he’s more athletic on the field than L.J. Collier.  Omenihu can win with quickness and length off the snap more so than playing with good leverage and heavy hands.  That’s not to say he doesn’t possess those things, he does, just not to the degree of a guy like Collier or Nick Bosa.  His length is something Miami will like, and his familiarity with playing in multiple spots in multiple D-linemen packages will make his transition to this defense easier.  It’s hard to look at him without thinking that he could be a more athletic version version of Patriots DE Deatrich Wise, or some player whose role is akin to that, almost like Jason Jones when he was with Detroit.

Player Comp:  Jason Jones

Jerry Tillery – DT – Notre Dame #99

I had the opportunity to see Tillery play in-person last year as I was able to attend the Notre Dame vs. Stanford game.  I’m not a fan of either team, but one of my friends, a fan of the Irish, said that he thought Tillery would have to play well for Notre Dame to win. Tillery dominated with 4 sacks in that appearance on a defense with a lot of talent, and talent still to come (keep an eye on DE Khalid Kareem #53 if you watch the Irish this fall – he’s GOOD). Tillery looks like a prototypical 3-4 DE at 6’6” 295lbs with 34+” arms and nearly 11” hands.  However, he’s more of a pass-rusher than he is a dominant run-stopper, having racked up 8 sacks in 2018.

1) Pad level:  Despite being 6’6”, when Tillery plays with good pad-level (i.e. leverage) he’s able to split a double-team of the RG and RT and assist on this tackle for loss against Stanford.  He can get into trouble when he plays too high, but this rep is what Miami is looking for.

https://youtu.be/V_MHQHrNJUU

2) Big athlete:  Tillery is athletic and possesses a nice burst off the ball.  He can also change directions much quicker than his size would belie.  On this play, a 1st& goal situation from the 2, Tillery gets cut, gets up and helps tackle Bryce Love for a loss.  Notice how quickly he’s able to move laterally and help Kareem with the stop.

https://youtu.be/V_MHQHrNJUU?t=130

3) Length:  As I mentioned, Tillery is long, and in this rep he’s going to use a long-arm move against the RG to get home and sack K.J. Costello.

https://youtu.be/V_MHQHrNJUU?t=216

4) Eye control:  In this rep against Michigan, Tillery is lined up at RDE.  He doesn’t win in his initial rush but is able to keep his eyes in the backfield and disengages from two linemen to come through and make a strip sack which sealed Notre Dame’s victory over Michigan.

https://youtu.be/Q_pZJkY2iqg?t=110

Quick Summary:  Tillery’s a very intriguing combination of length and athleticism, and while he’s not shaped quite like you’re traditional 3-technique DT, neither is the Patriots Adam Butler (6’4” 300lbs) who has found himself a lot of success as a pass-rushing DT.  Tillery plays the run well when he’s able to keep his pads down, but the ability to rush from the inside and be a cog in some of the rush games the Patriots play that Miami is likely to mimic will make him an intriguing possibility on Day 2.

Player Comp:  Malik Jackson

Armon Watts – DT – Arkansas #90

If there’s one player on this list that qualifies as a “diamond in the rough” it’s Armon Watts.  Watts redshirted his first year at Arkansas, played as a backup in 2015, then played in just 6 combined games in 2016 and 2017 before coming on strong in his final season for the Razorbacks tallying 7 sacks, 8.5 TFLs and 3 forced fumbles.  Watts made a nice impression at the East West Shrine Game and more so than Jerry Tillery, reminds me of Adam Butler who was an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt with a similar build.  Watts goes 6’5” 300lbs with 33” arms and nearly 10” hands.  He’s all over Draft Boards at this time as he’s only got one full season as a starter under his belt, but you can see why Miami met with him down at the Shrine Game.

1) Quickness:  In this rep Watts is lined up in a 2i-technique and steps across the face of the RG and uses a swipe move to get home with a strip sack.  Interior rushing ability is key in Miami’s new defense and considering the amount of stunts they are going to run, this is something they’ll value.

https://youtu.be/jUcTDr83WTA?t=50

2) Hand placement:  In this rep Watts is slow off the snap and the RG gets both hands on him before Watts can get into his rush.  But, Watts is able to re-punch with his right hand and lands it right on the chest plate allowing his power to take over.  Watts gets the RG on skates, runs him over, gets a hand on the QB and gets credit for a sack.

https://youtu.be/jUcTDr83WTA?t=94

3) Hands and hustle:  It’s one thing to get sacks against Eastern Illinois, Colorado State and Vanderbilt, but Watts was able to step up and get home against LSU as well.  In this rep he’s line up as a 1-technique and LSU slides their protection towards his side.  He clubs the LG and hustles to take down Joe Burrow.

https://youtu.be/jUcTDr83WTA?t=126

4) Strength:  Against Auburn’s potent rushing attack, Watts was able to showcase his strength early in the game.  In this clip he’s able to stone a double-team and play laterally down the line to make a tackle for no gain.

https://youtu.be/BjhfIatgUnY?t=37

Quick Summary:  Because of the lack of playing time, I think Watts is firmly a later Day 3 or an UDFA prospect, but you can see talent to work with.  The combination of length, strength and rush ability will remind Miami’s staff of a guy like Adam Butler and with a roster that would currently only need to make five cuts to get to 53 guys, Miami’s going to have an extensive UDFA list.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Watts is someone they look for late in the Draft or give a call to in the UDFA frenzy.

Player Comp:  Adam Butler

Enough with the D-line prospects, let’s move onto one of the tougher positions Miami will be tasked with finding over the next year or two.  The Belichick/Flores defense is a hybrid of multiple schemes and one of the components of it is that they still throw some pseudo 3-4 style looks at teams, especially in sub-packages, of which they have many and will play plenty of.  One of the hallmarks of that style is that the Patriots have made use of guys who are 3-4 style OLBs that can play off the ball as well.  Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings will remind people a lot of Dont’a Hightower…when he’s in the Draft in 2020.  There aren’t a whole lot of guys who I’ve seen that can fill that role. As I detailed in my previous piece, I think there are roles for both Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker, and I can see Miami’s staff finding a niche role for Kiko Alonso shooting off the weakside edge in certain looks, but I think Miami would like to upgrade over him. Whether or not they accomplish that this year or down the road remains to be seen, but here are two players that I think Miami would look at to accomplish finding a 3-4 style OLB that can play off the ball.

Justin Hollins – OLB – Oregon #11

Hollins was the Defensive MVP of the 2019 East-West Shrine Game, and that’s where I first notice him.  He was all over the place in that game.  Built more like Kyle Van Noy than Dont’a Hightower, Hollins goes 6’5” 248lbs with 33+” arms and 10+” hands.  He tested very well at the Combine comparing very closely with Anthony Barr.

Like Barr or even Kyle Van Noy, the versatility of Hollins’ game is one reason I think Miami will be onto him.  One way the Patriots have utilized Kyle Van Noy, and even his direct backup John Simon, is as a stand-up DE in sub-sets.  Hollins can be used in the same way with his athleticism.

1) Pass rush:  in this rep, seen from two angle, Hollins is lined up as a stand-up RDE and beats the Stanford LT with a speed rush.  He’s athletic enough to turn back upfield as he’d rushed past the QB to get home for a sack.

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/FancyMiserableGalapagossealion-max-1mb.gif

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/FamiliarGreedyCrane-max-1mb.gif

Because those GIFs aren’t that great, here’s a clip of Hollins getting a sack in the East-West Shrine game.  He’s wearing #48 in this clip.  He’s lined up as a stand-up DE in a 9-technique and beats the LT with an inside speed rush.  Keep in mind this is a Twist-stunt that New England incorporated a lot of that I suspect we’ll see in Miami.  Note that the DT on the same side as Hollins in this play is Armon Watts.

https://youtu.be/yS2SbnOof2Y?t=70

2)  Off-the-ball: In the Shrine Game defenses have to play in 4-3 packages on first and second downs, so Hollins was used as a traditional 4-3 Will LB during the game.  While this rep certainly isn’t the cleanest thing you’re going to see, it shows Hollins patience and eye control in pursuit of the play.  There’s no block to fight off or trash to avoid but I think this rep serves as framework to build that skillset.

https://youtu.be/yS2SbnOof2Y?t=128

3)  Discipline: Miami’s 2019 Defensive Playbook is going to be a lot thicker than what we saw under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke – it’s a very diverse system.  What I like about this rep is that Hollins is able to set the edge against the run, but Arizona State runs a trick play.  Hollins is able to stay at home on the back side and makes the TFL when the receiver reverses field back to his side.

https://youtu.be/NSpyELnO0pY?t=124

4) Balance: In this rep Hollins has a free run off the edge against a FB on a stretch lead play.  Hollins attacks the cut black and uses his hands to defeat it, keeps his balance and makes the tackle for a short gain.  We’ve seen too many occasions where players for the Dolphins who also played at Oregon tried to run around this block and make a play only to allow a big gain.  I like that Hollins stays assignment sound and executes here.

https://youtu.be/NSpyELnO0pY?t=133

Quick Summary:  I’d file Hollins in the category of player that might hold more value to teams like the Dolphins, Lions and Patriots – teams who are running the same, versatile defense – compared to traditional 4-3 or 3-4 style teams. Hollins athletic profile and versatility is something that will likely remind Brian Flores of some of the guys he had in New England.  While I struggled to find many, there are a few reps of Hollins in coverage in the flat, something that Kyle Van Noy was asked to do.  I think Hollins has the frame to add some more weight as I’d like to see him be a bit more physical, but the athletic package he has now is impressive.  Hollins, to me, is a Day to pick for a team like Miami.
Player Comp:  Anthony Barr (Lite version)

Jordan Brailford – DE – Oklahoma State #94

Sep 15, 2018; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive end Jordan Brailford (94) sacks Boise State Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) creating a turnover during the first half at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Brailford is an interesting player who I think might fit the OLB role for Miami as well.  He measured in at 6’3” 252lbs (up from 241lbs at the Shrine Game).  His arms and hands are a little smaller than I think Miami would ideally like at 32.5” and just over 9” respectively.  Brailford played DE for the Cowboys in 2018, but has some experience playing MLB for them as well.

1) Speed:  Brailford lines up at LDE here against Boise State and is able to beat the RT cleanly with a speed-rush.  Brailford hit a 4.65 forty time at the Combine and that burst shows up here or the sack.

https://youtu.be/kiT-GJ4drJY?t=19

2) Off the ball ability:  In this rep, again from the Boise State game, Brailford is lined up as a free-rusher basically playing a pseudo-MLB type of role.  He shoots the gap and makes a TFL against the run.

https://youtu.be/kiT-GJ4drJY?t=59

Here’s another clip of Brailford, this time in an overhang position knifing in to make a stop against the run.

https://youtu.be/kiT-GJ4drJY?t=87

Finally, here’s a clip of Brailford at MLB in a 3-3 package for the Cowboys, showcasing his ability to read his key, pursue and steady himself to make a tackle in the hole.

https://youtu.be/kiT-GJ4drJY?t=147

Quick Summary:  As you can see from the clips there are moments when Jordan Brailford looks like a run-and-hit LB that’d be a great fit for a defense like Seattle.  I think clips like this showcase that he’s got the athletic ability to be tried in the OLB spot for Miami, perhaps with the ability to be a sub-package rusher as well.

Player Comp:  Shane Ray – I admit, I ripped this comp straight from Lance Zierlein, but it makes too much sense.

Raekwon McMillan was recently on “The Audible”, the Dolphins team podcast.  Great kid, great interview, and he’s going to be really good.  This defense will lend itself nicely to him.  One thing that John Congemi, who was co-hosting that day, mentioned after the interview is that he’d asked McMillan off-air about Coach Flores. Raekwon stated that he’d asked Coach Flores about who he should watch when looking at Patriots film.  The answer:  Dont’a Hightower.

If you remember my previous piece about the Patriots system, I thought that McMillan might be a guy used in Hightower’s role when lined up between the OTs.

If that is the case, there will be times that Miami will line up Raekwon McMillan in spots other than as a traditional MLB.  Rather than a long-winded explanation, the easiest thing to do is watch some Patriots film and take note of all the places Dont’a Hightower lines up.  It happens, trust me.

But, for Miami to have that flexibility, they may need another option to play at MLB.  This would be doubly true if the end up moving on from Kiko Alonso at some point before the season.  I think that if they go that route, they’ll want someone in the fold to be able to play that spot in addition to using Jerome Baker and perhaps Chase Allen there. That brings us to our last player, a true LB.

Te’von Coney – LB – Notre Dame #4

The Dolphins have met with Coney who is a local guy from Palm Beach Gardens and he’s a pretty good football player to boot.  Here are some reasons why I think Miami might have him in mind, especially if they end up trading back and netting a surplus of picks.

1) Eye control and ability to disengage: Michigan is going to run a classic power in this rep.  Coney recognizes the play, sees that Karan Higdon is going to wind back the play and he fills the hole, disengages the pulling guard, and makes the tackle for a short gain.

https://youtu.be/0Uf13eb8JBk

2) Click and close:  In this rep against Ball State the Cardinals are going to run a play action with a delayed release by the TE in the bunch formation. Coney honors the run action but quickly recognizes it’s a play pass and stays home and reads the TE’s late release. He’s able to click and close quickly and make a TFL in coverage.  On it’s face, there’s nothing that’s spectacular about this play in any fashion, Coney just does his job.  Where have heard that before?

https://youtu.be/0Uf13eb8JBk?t=44

3) Fluidity in coverage: In this rep against Stanford Coney covers the Stanford TE on a short out route.  Notice how he doesn’t take any false steps, doesn’t waste any steps, and then he’s able to undercut the route and comes up with an interception.

https://youtu.be/0Uf13eb8JBk?t=114

Quick Summary:  At 6’1” 234lbs Coney’s measurements aren’t on the large scale and he’s got adequate athleticism, but one of the traits you see with him is that he’s got a knack for reading plays and getting off blocks to make tackles.  He’s not flashy, but he’s assignment sound, which will be huge with this coaching staff.

Player Comp:  Kevin Minter

As you’re aware by now, Miami’s new defense will be pretty DB-heavy.  As such, there’s going to be a need for Miami to start looking to replace guys like Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald, as well as to find a middle of the field (MOF) safety to use.  This system will use a lot of three safety looks and with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s prowess in the slot and ability to play in multiple spots, Miami will likely need someone else who can play as a deep MOF safety. That’s a whole different ball of wax. With that being the case, look for another piece focusing on DBs leading up to the Draft.

Editor’s Note: Kevin is currently finishing up his defensive back preview column, and we will conclude his draft series with a podcast on Sunday evening (4/15). Follow Kevin @KevinMD4

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Adam Roe

    April 11, 2019 at 10:23 am

    great stuff!

  2. Avatar

    Tien

    April 11, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Whats your thoughts on Christian Miller he has the length and bend as well

    • Kevin Dern

      Kevin Dern

      April 18, 2019 at 8:19 pm

      I like Christian Miller as a player, but I think he’s more a true 3-4 OLB than a fit for what Miami’s going to end up doing. I think Miami will want someone who can also play off the ball in addition to playing like a 3-4 OLB. Harder to find those guys, but in this year’s class I’d look at: Justin Hollins, Tre Lamar, Jahlani Tavai, and Kaden Elliss.

  3. Avatar

    Chris J. Ephgrave

    April 14, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Seriously high quality breakdown and information. 7 more guys to keep my eyes out for 👊💯👊

    • Kevin Dern

      Kevin Dern

      April 18, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      Thanks, I appreciate it Chris!

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Scouting Reports

Face of the Franchise Series: Tua Tagovailoa

Travis Wingfield

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Two decades removed from his retirement, the Miami Dolphins are still in-search of Dan Marino’s replacement

Foreword:

7,091 days, 308 games. That arduous, ceaseless waiting period spans the time from Dan Marino’s last buckle of the chin strap, to present day. The Packers and Colts were fortunate enough to hand the ball from one legend to another without skipping a beat. For Dolphins fans, Marino’s retirement coincides not only with the turn of the century, but with the downturn of the once winningest franchise in professional sports.

Chad Pennington’s 2008 MVP runner-up season sits a mere blip on the radar of futility. Ryan Tannehill teased fans for five years before an injury brought all hope to a fiery end. Daunte Culpepper was the worst consolation prize ever contrived and John Beck, Chad Henne, and Pat White each qualify as second-round busts.

The misery feels perpetual yet, somehow, not defeating. At least the Dolphins got the bat off the shoulder this offseason by taking a crack at Josh Rosen, but his rookie tape leaves plenty to be desired. A first-round signal-caller is the odds-on-favorite for Miami in next April’s draft; a class brimming with quarterback talent.

If patience truly is a virtue, then Dolphins fans have waited long enough. The collective has earned the right to unanimously appoint the next hero of professional football in South Florida. No more arguments, no more debates; just an unequivocal beast of a quarterback capable of willing the aqua and orange to victory on any given Sunday.

The same way #13 did for so many years.

Over the summer we will look at the top quarterback prospects entering the 2019 college football season.

We start with the consensus number-one player, as we sit 10 months out from draft night, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Tua Tagovailoa 2018 Film Study

Searching for a third consecutive appearance in college football’s championship game, Tua Tagovailoa enters his junior campaign as the most decorated quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012.

“He does a lot of things you can’t coach — [he] sees the field, throws accurately, [he’s] athletic. He’s got a really unique package.” An anonymous NFL scout told AL.com. “He anticipates throws. He can really visualize a throw. Guys don’t have to be open, he sees openings before they happen.”

Jim Nagy, the Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, made his proclamation that Tagovailoa would’ve been the first pick this April were he draft eligible. He was not. And so he returns to Tuscaloosa to pilot yet another loaded Crimson Tide team under the watchful eye of both Nick Saban and the entire NFL community.

What Sets Tagovailoa Apart:

Accuracy and Natural Throwing Motion –

After just a couple of throws, it’s easy to decipher whether a passer is natural or conditioned. Whether on traditional drops and, or setting up on the move, Tagovailoa’s arm shows natural elasticity. This trait makes him a threat on structured set-ups, moving left or right, and when attacking the line-of-scrimmage.

The ability to drop the arm angle without sacrificing accuracy is what sets great quarterbacks apart from the good ones — especially in the modern NFL. Regardless of the circumstance, Tagovailoa finds his way back to proper mechanics, using his base to drive the football.

Everything is hard-wired across Tagovailoa’s mechanics. From his feet to his eyes, and his hips to his shoulders, his proper alignment creates impressive torque and spin on a variety of different throw-types (touch, drive, deep). Tagovailoa is the best deep ball thrower on the planet not named Russell Wilson.

Light Feet, Escapability, Poise Under Duress –

A lot of quarterbacks excel at the professional level without seamless weight-transfer. Legends like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger make up for heavy feet with anticipation of the rush, landmark identification of the rusher, but also the poise to pick up the route progression under pressure.

Tagovailoa has that inherent poise trait, but he couples it with effortless capabilities to freely glide in crowded areas. His sound, initial lower-half mechanics put him in a position to drive off his plant foot. This puts him in a position to climb, or throw drive-leg out and flea the pocket laterally.

This marriage of exceptional traits makes Tagovailoa a difficult passer to sack, a legitimate big-play scramble threat, and most importantly, a dangerous off-script play maker.

Processing and Cerebral Aptitude within the Structure of the Offense –

Alabama’s offense is loaded across the board. Opposing defenses often have to send pressure packages to rattle Tagovailoa, but his skill set usually renders those attempts futile. The Bama offense is chocked full of NFL concepts with three-man combinations and full-field reads.

Tagovailoa not only identifies and understands most pre-snap coverages and post-snap rotations, he knows which route combinations are designed to attack those particular coverages. His photographic-like memory allows him to blindly read the backside of a play and rip through his progressions in a flash.

Designed-Run Package –

There aren’t many superlatives needed for this bullet point; Tagovailoa can scoot.

Focused Areas of Improvement:

Short Memory –

Tagovailoa’s shortcomings feel like nitpicking — he’s exceptional. One universal knock on his game is the back-to-back underwhelming showings in the two championship games this past season. Tagovailoa showed a minor penchant to let bad play cavalcade and attempted to press his way through some struggles.

This wasn’t frequent enough of an occurrence to call it a habit, and that’s to be expected from a 21-year-old, but it’s something to watch this upcoming postseason when Bama is inevitably in the hunt once again.

Drive Throws –

Tagovailoa’s arm isn’t on the level of Matthew Stafford, but it’s more than adequate for the professional level. His anticipation prowess helps mask the lack of velocity on field-side drive throws, but the difficulty of those throws increases at the next level (elite athletes all over the field will do that).

Again, this is nitpicking. A good coordinator can work around something like this, but it’s a common throw in the NFL that could potentially prove problematic for Tagovailoa.

Getting Healthy –

The biggest gripe I found with Tagovailoa’s poor performances (poor relative to his early-season magic act) was the limitations of nagging knee and ankle injuries. Tagovailoa hurt the knee mid-season, and the ankle injury in the SEC Championship Game required surgery. The lingering effects were apparent in the National Title Game against a ferocious Clemson defense.

Two injuries in one season is the beginning of a red flag. Another season of nicks and bruises could give scouts pause regarding Tagovailoa’s long-term durability.

Potential Fit with the Miami Dolphins:

Tagovailoa’s anticipation, processing, and recognition of leverage and soft spots in coverage makes him a fit in any scheme. Miami’s offense, under former Patriots Assistant Chad O’Shea, figures to feature a lot of variety devised to attack that particular week’s opponent.

The Patriots controlled, short passing game is indefensible at its peak, and that’s Tagovailoa’s true ceiling. His pre-snap prowess would help Miami attack vulnerable matchups and keep the offense on-schedule. Tagovailoa’s deep ball could finally unlock the true potential of Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant.

In New England, the Pats built shot plays into the structure of the regular offense. Tagovailoa’s attention to detail and general feel for the flow of the game can give the play caller (O’Shea) a set of eyes on the field to relay tendencies and weaknesses.

Conclusion:

Tagovailoa is the apple of every scout’s eye this college football season. His first colligate action — as a true freshman — was a heroic, championship rescuing performance on the game’s biggest stage. Since that game, Tagovailoa’s ascension has continued on the track of a generational prospect.

Tagovailoa is going to be the first player to hear his name called next April, should he declare (he’s eligible to return to Alabama for 2020). The Dolphins will likely have to obtain the first pick to get a crack at the Heisman hopeful.

If they do, the fortunes of this Miami Dolphins organization will change for the foreseeable future.

@WingfieldNFL

Up Next: Georgia Junior, Jake Fromm

Additional Videos

Anticipation and recognition of three-man route combination

Perfect back-shoulder ball

Footwork to help mitigate immediate pressure

Off-script dynamics

Poor ball placement costs Bama a TD

Rare occurrence where Tua doesn’t account for backside robber coverage

Finds a passing lane, resets and throws a strike

Rare mental mistake

High-level anticipation

Aerial assault on display

One of Tagovailoa’s six interceptions

Push up, avoid pressure, throw an accurate ball

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Miami Dolphins

How did the Miami Dolphins shape up in Lindy’s NFL Preview?

Shawn Digity

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Miami Dolphins Xavien Howard USA Today Sports
Star cornerback Xavien Howard. Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

Lindy’s has released its annual NFL Preview. It not only covers each individual team but ranks all the best players at each position. There were some surprises, good and bad, but overall, the Miami Dolphins did not get a lot of recognition.

Lindy’s NFL Preview made its rounds on the Twittersphere on Wednesday, and with it came plenty of disagreement. The preview breaks down all the NFL rosters and ranks all the position groups of each team. So, did the Miami Dolphins fare very well with any of the position rankings? Let’s dive in and find out.

Let’s start with the quarterback. The list has three categories: Pocket Passers, All-Purpose, and Best of the Depth. I’ll give you second to think about which category might have a Dolphins QB.

Did you guess Josh Rosen in the Pocket Passer category? I hope not, because that’d be dead wrong. The winning answer is Ryan Fitzpatrick in the penultimate slot in Best of the Depth. In this case, he’s ranked fourth out of five in that category. He falls in between Jacoby Brissett and Blake Bortles.

Now, let’s move on to the pass catchers. The first ranked wide receiver on the list is Kenny Stills and he comes in at 15th on the rankings for the Deep Threat category. He’s tied with Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins, but at least Stills made the first tier (The Ones). The next tier (The Twos) starts at 16 with Oakland’s Tyrell Williams.

DeVante Parker is the next name to make it on the list. He’s listed at sixth in The Twos. Parker and Stills were the only two Fins WRs to make the cut, which shouldn’t come across as a major plot twist since the Miami Dolphins receiving corps isn’t full of world beaters.

The next position on the list was tight ends. You might already know which direction this is headed since the Dolphins currently have a dearth of tight ends that is made up of B-list veterans and untapped-potential second-year players on the depth chart. Neither Mike Gesicki or Durham Smythe were mentioned, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

Nick O’Leary didn’t make the list, either, but Dwayne Allen did. Allen landed on the list at third on the Best of the Depth portion of the list. Allen falls between Virgil Green at two and Cameron Brate at four. The upper echelon rankings featured 16 other tight ends, which leaves an overall ranking of 19 for Dwayne Allen.

Don’t get bent out of shape from the first three categories, the best is yet to come. But not for the running backs. There was no mention of a single Miami running back in any of the three groups: The Ones, All-Purpose, Ground-Based, and Best of the Depth. That doesn’t speak well of the Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage duo.

On to the offensive line, the rankings were separated into five categories: center, left and right guard, and left and right tackles. The Dolphins had two total representatives in those five categories. And one of them wasn’t even on the team a month ago.

Laremy Tunsil is the obvious one and he made it to number 13 on the left tackle list. That seems criminally low to me. Tunsil was behind the likes of Carolina’s Taylor Moton, Atlanta’s Jake Matthews, and New Orleans’ Terron Armstead.

The only other entrant on these rankings was Jordan Mills, who was signed earlier this year after the Buffalo Bills let him hit free agency.

Lindy’s Preview also ranks the top five passing games, running games, and offensive lines for both the AFC and the NFC. I’ll just rip this bandaid off right now; the Dolphins weren’t in any of them.

Let’s move on to the defense; that ought to lighten the mood, somewhat. There’s not anything to mention in the 3-4 Ends/Tackles, Nose Tackles, 4-3 Ends, 4-3 Tackles, 3-4 Inside Linebackers, 3-4 Outside Linebackers, 4-3 Middle Linebackers, or 4-3 MIKE Linebackers

Let’s just skip ahead to the WILL Linebacker rankings to get our next Miami Dolphins plug. And in this case, we’ve got two names: Kiko Alonso at five and Jerome Baker at nine. That’s an encouraging thing to see after going nine categories without seeing any Dolphins. I’m also surprised that I didn’t see any mention of Raekwon McMillan, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Another surprise was that there was no Miami safety named, either. Neither Reshad Jones nor Minkah Fitzpatrick made the cut, but I expect the latter to make his presence felt in the near future.

The biggest, and essentially only, bright spot in the Lindy rankings was Xavien Howard coming in at number one for all the corners. You read that right. While it’s certainly up for a lot of debate whether Howard is truly the best corner in the game right now, I’m not going to argue with it. I’m just going to rest on my laurels on X being recognized as the best by someone and be on my merry way.

Another smaller and less-expected surprise was the Dolphins being ranked in the AFC Best Linebackers. They came in at fourth in the conference and nine overall. That speaks volumes of the potential of the position group, namely Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan.

 

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Miami Dolphins

Ranking Miami Dolphins Starting Quarterbacks (since Dan Marino) #10-1

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen both likely to start for the Miami Dolphins this year, we’re about to scream “blackjack!” when it comes to how many starting quarterbacks the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.

No, this doesn’t win you any kind of jackpot, nor does it pay out 3-2 odds if you’re ever-so-lucky. This just means that the Dolphins have yet to solve the elusive quarterback riddle since they used to be the best quarterback-centric team of the 20th-century.

As we depicted in our #19-11 starting quarterbacks list, below is a basic chart of every starting quarterback Miami has had since that fateful 1999 season.

Note: Games Started, Starting Record and Winning % only depict regular season #s (not like there are too many playoff numbers to add). Passing TDs, INTs, Passing yards and Completion % take into account every regular season throw by that quarterback, whether they were a starter or if they came in as a backup.

A couple things to keep in mind with this list:

  • Rankings are based on a multitude of aspects:
    • What did the player cost?
    • What was their lasting impact with the team?
    • Their overall statistical performance and starting record with the team

Check out who cracked the list of top-10 “best” starting quarterback since Marino retired. Take note of the fact that it’s pretty freakin’ easy to accomplish, all you needed was a winning record (in just 40% of the cases, that is) and a positive TD/INT ratio to do so. Yeah, it’s been that bad, Dolphins fans:

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Whether it’s losing records, terrible completion %, pathetic TD/INT ratios or overall incompetence, these quarterbacks are the reasons we have so many nightmares when we think of the starting quarterback position as a whole. It’s thanks to them that we believe less-than-stellar quarterbacks are the best “solutions” we’ve had this 21st-century.

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10) Chad Henne

Chad Henne doesn’t crack the top-10 because he was good. In fact, the only positive highlight I can remember is him throwing a perfect touch pass to Ted Ginn Jr. over three New York Jets defenders.

Outside of that one touchdown pass, as well as the “duel” he had with Tom Brady to open the 2011 season – when Brady (517 yards) and Henne (416) broke the NFL record for most combined passing yards between two starting QBs in a game with 933 (ironically enough, they broke the record previously held by Dan Mario and Ken O’Brien – 927 passing yards) – Henne was a lost cause in Miami.

Essentially destined to be a backup, Henne never amounted to much. Rumor has it, the Dolphins wanted to grab Joe Flacco in the 2008 draft, but ended up getting outsmarted by Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens. Leaving Miami with the next-best option (and apparently, an option they didn’t really want).

As a “waste” of a 2nd-round pick, Henne finds himself below most of these journeymen, even if he accumulated more starts and starting numbers than the rest.

9) Jay Cutler

Smoking Jay Cutler.

He was entertaining for the rest of America, but in the eyes of every Dolphins fan, he was a waste of $10m. It’s one thing if the team “had” to spend the money, but Miami could have carried over that $10m and set themselves up for a better 2018 season. Instead, Adam Gase thought he could salvage the season by luring Cutler out of retirement.

What a mistake.

Cutler was just as good as he was with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. That is, he was completely underwhelming. Outside of outdueling Tom Brady in Week 14 of the 2017 season, Cutler is best known for not giving a single ***k during his Dolphins tenure. And why would he? Why risk injury when you can ride off into the sunset with an easy 8-figure paycheck?

You could have given me $10m and I would have been just as successful as Jay Cutler was. In fact, I would have won 0 games for the Dolphins, and that would have actually been more productive than Cutler’s 6-8 starting record.

The world thanks you for existing, Jay Cutler. Miami Dolphins fans do not.

8) Joey Harrington

At the expense of a 5th-round draft pick, the Miami Dolphins acquired one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

As if his 18-37 starting record with the Detroit Lions wasn’t enough to deter the Dolphins, it seemed like Miami really wanted to overpay for mediocre starting quarterbacks in the mid-2000s. What started with A.J. Feeley eventually took them down the path of Joey Harrington and Trent Green.

There’s a reason why these quarterbacks were available, and it’s not because their trade partners had someone like Philip Rivers waiting in the wings.

Harrington could land anywhere on this list and you wouldn’t be wrong with your placement. Accumulating a 5-6 record during his time as a starting quarterback with the Dolphins, Harrington threw 12 touchdowns to go along with 15 interceptions and a 57.5% completion percentage. He wasn’t as bad as he was in Detroit, but he was just as worthless to this organization as he was to the Lions.

That is, he was a complete waste of time.

Harrington was actually one of the most controversial placements for me. I could have placed him somewhere in the bottom-10 and it would have been justified. My main reason for including him this high has to do with the overall number of games he started. If any of the quarterbacks below him had started 11 games, I feel like their statistics would be even worse than they already were (a big assumption to make, I know).

Jay Cutler and Chad Henne get lower ranks due to their cost, not their overall numbers.

7) Brock Osweiler

Here’s a man who nearly saved a Dolphins season after Ryan Tannehill injured himself (yet again).

Though his play was erratic, and each throw was an adventure in-and-of-itself, Brock Osweiler was (almost) what you wanted in a backup quarterback. A guy who wouldn’t sink your season if he had to spot-start a few games, and costing just $880k against the cap, his value is what propels him above most of these other starting quarterbacks on the list.

His stats don’t tell the entire story of how his starts went, but the only negative here is his 2-3 record. Everything else? Like I said, just what you want out of your backup.

Due to the Houston Texans vastly overpaying him, Osweiler has turned into a league-wide joke, but that shouldn’t nullify his admirably average performance with the Dolphins in 2018.

Any excuse I get to include this video in a post, I will take advantage of it every. single. time:

6) Damon Huard

Like Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard is a product of having a phenomenal team around him.

That 5-1 record is a sick joke when you look at the potential those Dolphins’ teams had. And when it comes down to it, it was pretty evident that the Miami Dolphins didn’t have much potential to work with at the starting quarterback position.

Huard infamously replaced Dan Marino in that fateful 62-7 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars – Marino’s last game in a Dolphins uniform. Ironically, Jay Fiedler replaced Mark Brunell during that game and had a better statline than Marino and Huard combined (click here at your own risk).

Huard was essentially a holdover until the Dolphins found a new franchise quarterback (which they still haven’t found). It’s not that Huard did anything wrong (which is why he’s #6 on our list), it’s more the fact that he didn’t do much right.

Place Huard on the same teams Ryan Tannehill had, and you’re looking at a much lower ranking.

5) Matt Moore

The golden boy for much of the Dolphins fanbase, Matt Moore was never anything more than an overhyped backup quarterback.

Clamoring for Moore to start is all the evidence you need to notice how far this franchise has fallen since Dan Marino retired. It was more-than-evident that Moore wasn’t the answer at quarterback, but the backup quarterback is always the most popular player on your football team.

Moore didn’t offer us much hope, but he did solidify the Miami Dolphins playoff berth during the 2016 season. Taking over for an injured Ryan Tannehill after the former 1st-round pick led the team to a 8-6 record, Moore was tasked with keeping the Dolphins afloat for the final 3 games of the season.

And by George, he did just that. Winning 2 of the final 3 games of the season, Moore helped the Dolphins earn their first playoff berth since the 2008 season.

The thing is, Miami most likely would have made the playoffs if Ryan Tannehill remained under center, bringing forth the question whether or not Moore was worthy this entire time or if he was just in the right place at the right time.

Retrospect tells us, he was definitely in the right place at the right time.

4) Gus Frerotte

Gus Frerotte is probably the most-boring quarterback on this list.

Not speaking personality wise (RoboHenne was a thing for awhile), but Frerotte was just a generic starter for this team. Accumulating a 9-6 record as a starter the one year he was with the Dolphins, Frerotte was just another journeyman quarterback making a pit-stop in Miami.

Throwing for 2,996 yards, 18 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a 52% completion percentage and a 71.9 quarterback rating, there’s really isn’t much to say about Frerotte. He wasn’t horrible, and his starting record reflects the last remnant of those stellar Dolphins teams from the early-2000s.

3) Jay Fiedler

The main reason Dave Wannstedt and his Ron Jeremy mustache failed as the Dolphins head coach.

How do you establish one of the greatest defenses since the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Monster’s of the Midway team and not advance to the AFC Championship game at least once? Answer: Jay Fiedler is your quarterback.

Forever underwhelming Dolphins fans and eternally wasting the early-2000s Dolphins teams, Fiedler was a “competent” quarterback that prevented Miami from reaching their well-deserved apex as an organization.

A 66/63 TD/INT ratio says virtually all you need to know about Fiedler’s potential. Every time you thought the team would take a step forward, you’d come to realize that they were just stuck in neutral.

Fiedler has the honor of being the last Dolphins quarterback to win a playoff game, but was it really Fiedler that earned that honor, or was it the phenomenal teams he was playing with? (rhetorical question, we all know it was the teams he played for).

And the most disappoint part is, when all is said and done, he’s the 3rd-best starting quarterback this team has had in the 21st-century. Ouch.

2) Ryan Tannehill

We all want to bury Ryan Tannehill as a starting quarterback for this team, but is it because he was such a terrible player? Or is it because we are dealing with 20 years of futility and he was just another failed “answer” at the position?

Tannehill cost this team a 1st-round pick, but drafting him really wasn’t the wrong decision. Yes, Miami should have went with their gut and drafted Russell Wilson, but we can’t fault the team for trying to solve the most important position on the gridiron. Since Marino, Tannehill was the first (and only) quarterback the Dolphins have drafted in the 1st-round. If you’re going to be cheap with the most-vital position on the team, you deserve all the failures that come with it.

Tannehill is easily the second-best quarterback the Dolphins have run out there since Marino retired, and it’s not even that close. If Tannehill played with the same teams Jay Fielder had, he would be staring at a better starting record and a much better statline than he currently has. Truth is, Tannehill is the unfortunate byproduct of a franchise that has been inept for so long.

We have rightfully concluded that you can’t bring back a quarterback who has “failed” for 7 years, but is it entirely his fault? Yes and no.

Yes, Tannehill wasn’t “good enough” to lead the Dolphins to the promise land that is productive postseason football, but he wasn’t all that detrimental to the franchise either. The most detrimental thing you can say regarding RT17 is that the team took too long to move on from him. Not his fault.

A b******t tackle during the 2016 season meant Tannehill was unable to “lead” the team to the 2016 playoff berth. Allowing him to reaggravate the knee injury in 2017 was both the fault of the team’s medical staff and his own doing for insisting he avoid surgery and heal his knee naturally (this is the same medical staff that convinced Nick Saban that Daunte Culpepper was a better option than Drew Brees; exactly how much trust do you have in them?).

If it weren’t for the fact that Tannehill’s Dolphins’ career was simply average, he would be the number one quarterback on this list. And that says all you need to know about the team’s anemic answer(s) at the position.

Tannehill threw for 20,434 yards, 123 touchdowns and just 75 interceptions – all while accumulating a 62.8% completion percentage – better than every quarterback on this list except for Chad Pennington‘s 67.6% completion percentage (known for his ability to be a game-manager, and his ineptitude to throw a deep ball) and Brock Osweiler’s minimal playing time (63.5% completion percentage). Thank you bubble screens.

1) Chad Pennington

Here you have it, Dolphins fans. The only glimmer of hope we’ve experienced over a two-decade stretch. Unless you count Jay Fiedler failing to bring Hall of Fame talent far into the playoffs during the early-2000s, we all clamor to that one season Chad Pennington had.

We easily forget that Pennington was on the Dolphins’ roster for 3 years of his career, mainly because his deteriorating shoulder prevented him from playing meaningful football throughout that time.

Instead, the best quarterback the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired gave us one magical season. ONE!

Don’t get me wrong, going from 1-15 to 11-5 is one of the most impressive story lines any team experienced in the 21st-century, but it wasn’t enough to solidify the quarterback position for this team. It wasn’t even enough to earn the Dolphins a playoff win – losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wildcard game that 2008 season.

The runner-up MVP – and one of the most-accurate passers in NFL history – threw 4 interceptions that Wildcard game, giving the Dolphins virtually no chance at succeeding. That playoff game epitomizes the Dolphins 21st-century. Just when you think we’ve taken the next step, we get smacked in the face and put back in our place.

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