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Miami Dolphins

Assessing the Depth of the Miami Dolphins

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: MiamiHerald.com

From the depths of hell, we present you with the Miami Dolphins‘ 2019 roster situation.

There was lots of chatter on social media yesterday regarding the overall depth of this team. Plenty of fans wanted to defend the various position groups this team developed, while others pointed out the overall lack-of-talent this team possesses.

While I do believe this team is better than most people give them credit for, they are still just one injury away from being on life support.

We all know injuries happen to every team every single year – it’s a matter of containing them and praying those injuries don’t derail your season.

Shallow History of our Depth

Let’s take 2018 for example:

The moment Vincent Taylor went down, the defensive line relied on other team’s trash to fill the position. Ziggy Hood and Sylvester Williams were invisible on the field; backed up by their combined statistical output of 14 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 tackles for a loss, 0 quarterback hits and 0 turnovers (while active for a combined 16 games).

Once the coaching staff realized that Tony Lippett would be unable to return to form from his torn achilles, we all held out hope that Cordrea Tankersley would evolve as a player. And when he didn’t, we witnessed an avalanche of moves that mightily hurt this defense.

Minkah Fitzpatrick played 3 different positions rather than settling into one. Bobby McCain was taken out of his slot corner position (where he excels), and gave us one of the worst seasons of his career.

We all felt we had a deep wide receiver room last season, and by the end of the year we were relying on Brice Butler and Leonte Carroo.

How did last year’s offensive line hold up when Daniel Kilgore and Josh Sitton went down with season-ending injuries? It didn’t.

What about when Laremy Tunsil had to miss time and the season essentially crashed on us during that Cincinnati Bengals game?

When Ryan Tannehill went down, we relied on Brock Osweiler. And I don’t think I need to repeat what happened in 2017 when Adam Gase virtually admitted the team didn’t have a solution on the roster and attempted to salvage the season by wasting $10m on Jay Cutler.

On paper, everything looks nice and promising – especially when we’re still 3 months away from meaningful football. But the season will provide a different story, and unless the addition of Brian Flores gives us a magical elixir that can prevent substantial injuries from happening, this season will feature some similar detriments.

So just how well will the team hold up?

As many have pointed out, we don’t even know who the 2019 starters will be, so how exactly can we gauge our team’s depth?

That’s where the first problem lies. You can’t have depth if you don’t have starters. You can put bodies into positions and ask them to perform, but if they are consistently overmatched, you don’t have formidable players.

Offensive Depth

The deepest position the Miami Dolphins have is the same position this team has been looking to solve for the past 20 years.

The Dolphins actually have 2 “starting” quarterbacks on this team. If one of them goes down, we have another that can step in and perform as if an injury never happened.

Thing is, you’re going from a bottom-third performer (Ryan Fitzpatrick) to one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league last year (Josh Rosen); but at least you have 2 options that you can say are legitimate.

This isn’t downgrading Ryan Tannehill to Brock Osweiler or Matt Moore, so you can be assured that an injury to one of these players isn’t the most detrimental thing that could happen. But for now, we have no idea what kind of production we’re going to get.

Fitzpatrick has played on 7 different teams for a reason, and Rosen is either a complete unknown or we have to call a spade a spade and call out his 11/14 TD/INT ratio, his 55.2% completion percentage and 66.7 quarterback rating. And if your excuse revolves around the Arizona Cardinals offensive line, what exactly is he getting into with Miami?

(This article isn’t about Josh Rosen’s potential as a franchise quarterback, that’ll be debated plenty this offseason)

Most will say that Miami has depth at wide receiver as well, but that’s stretching it. We reminded you what happened last year, and this year’s team has the same cast of characters at the position. Except this year, two of those players are coming back from substantial injuries, so who knows how they’ll perform.

Does DeVante Parker step up in year 5 and with a new coaching staff? Does Chad O’Shea have a legitimate gameplan for an unconventional receiver (Albert Wilson)? Does Jakeem Grant produce more than 228 yards in a season (or more than the 583 receiving yards he’s accumulated his first three seasons combined)?

Preston Williams could be a phenomenal find, but we don’t know what he is yet. Players like Isaiah Ford and Francis Owusu flashed in prior training camps, and they weren’t even worthy of being poached by another team from our practice squad, let alone provide productive playing time when they were in the lineup.

You don’t sign Brice Butler if you think you have depth. You don’t run out Leonte Carroo if you think you have depth. Do the 2019 Miami Dolphins have depth at the position? I’m skeptical, at best.

What does the rest of the offense have? Hope. And hope doesn’t mean you have depth.

I don’t have to waste too much time explaining the offensive line. They only have 2 legitimate starters in Laremy Tunsil and Jesse Davis. You could argue Daniel Kilgore is another legitimate starter, but his presence was more of a negative than a positive last season. Outside of those 3? Hope.

You can say the Dolphins have a deep running back room after drafting Myles Gaskin and signing Mark Walton from the 2018 draft class. They can be excellent players or they can be duds – nobody knows.

Kenyan Drake is a #1 running back and can be considered underrated across the league, but he needs to prove he can be a 1,000-yard back in the NFL. Kalen Ballage can be a solid compliment to Drake, but outside of his 75 yard touchdown run last season, he averaged 3.3 yards-per-carry. Any running back off the scrap heap can muster that.

This isn’t to disparage the potential these players have; but for now, nothing is proven. All we can do is….hope.

The tight end group is basically in shambles. Mike Gesicki had an underwhelming rookie season, but if he evolves he can still become a legitimate threat in this league. Durham Smythe served his purpose as a blocking tight end last season, but doesn’t offer much else in the receiving game. Nick O’Leary and his 86 receiving yards in 2018 don’t raise any kind of concern for opposing defenders or defensive coordinators. And Dwayne Allen is the team’s most-complete player…at 29 years old and after accumulating 27 receiving yards last season.

Having a bunch of possibilities at a position is nice – you want to have options. But options aren’t answers, right now they’re simply….hopeful.

Defensive Depth

Now that we’ve obliterated any potential the offense has, let’s take a look at the Dolphins’ defense. This is where you can form a better argument for where your depth lies.

You can start with the team’s defensive line and realize you have zero starting defensive ends, but a plethora of defensive tackles. A ying-yang of a conundrum that isn’t all that harmonious.

Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor, Christian Wilkins and Akeem Spence provide us with a great group of defensive tackles. There is both depth and starting talent here. Unless Wilkins turns into the next Charles Harris (entirely possible), this unit could survive a terrible injury and still not miss a beat. Not sure if they would still excel during a 16-game stretch if someone went down and they had to continuously rotate to keep them fresh, but for now it seems like this team is just fine at defensive tackle.

Like we just mentioned, there are basically 0 defensive ends on the roster, and you can’t have depth if you don’t have starters.

Linebacker seems like it should be better in 2019 than it did in 2018. Jerome Baker was a great 3rd-round pick, and his evolution as both a linebacker and a pass-rusher will provide this defense with a scary threat for opposing offenses.

Raekwon McMillan should be more comfortable calling plays and leading the defense. Since this is his “year 2”, he should be able to perform while thinking less and reacting more. He’s also in the process of learning a new scheme, so it’s entirely possible we witness another “growing year” for McMillan. Kiko Alonso isn’t the greatest starter, but he’s still a starting-caliber linebacker in this league and is capable of making plays.

This means we have 3 starting linebackers, but we’re discussing depth, not starters. Who’s going to step up if any of them go down?

Chase Allen and Mike Hull are formidable backups, but they’re special team’s specialists that otherwise get picked on when they’re in the starting lineup. Quentin Poling was a 7th-round pick in 2018 who remained on the practice squad all year. Nate Orchard is entering his 5th season and is coming from the Seattle Seahawks practice squad. Jayrone Elliot is coming from the AAF. And 5th-round pick Andrew Van Ginkel is a complete unknown. Will he turn into someone like Davon Godchaux or Jay Ajayi (as former 5th-round picks), or will he be stashed on the practice squad by the time preseason is over?

Again, plenty of bodies at the position, but that doesn’t mean you have answers.

Cornerback seems like it’s settled, but that depends on a myriad of factors. Xavien Howard is a stud and Bobby McCain is a great slot corner, but what exactly are you doing with Minkah Fitzpatrick? If he’s going to predominantly play cornerback, you’ve now taken away your safety depth, and if he’s going to play safety, your cornerback group is somewhat barren at best.

We are hopeful Eric Rowe will turn his career around as a former 2nd-round pick, but it’s entirely possible he’s a worse solution than Byron Maxwell was.

Cornell Armstrong and Jalen Davis can evolve into starters or even worthwhile backups for this team, but that hasn’t been proven yet. Torry McTyer was a surprising training camp story last year, but when he was thrust into a starting role he was picked on pretty badly.

Lots of possibilities at this position group, and I can buy the argument that this group is “set”, but I’m pushing my luck here. We’re potential living on (false) hope, and that’s not enough to satisfy my confidence in this group’s depth.

Reshad Jones is overpaid and T.J. McDonald can be a force when placed in the right scheme/position, but he was not a reliable starter for us last year. An aging playmaker (who we all want traded) and an underwhelming strong safety doesn’t give me much confidence in our starting safeties, but I’ll temper my pessimism for a moment and say those two are “fine”.

Behind them? Maurice Smith? I have no idea what I’m getting there. Walt Aikens? He’s a special team’s captain for a reason. We saw what happened to him when he was playing defensive snaps last year. If you think opposing offenses scoring touchdowns means we have depth, then we’ve had the best linebacking group in the NFL over the past decade.

This team has plenty of players that can evolve into legitimate threats. This team has plenty of players that can become menacing starters. This team has plenty of players that can develop into draft steals or solid signings. But what this team doesn’t have are definitive answers.

It simply has hope.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rich

    June 19, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    “you’re going from a bottom-third performer (Ryan Fitzpatrick)”
    — Ryan Fitzpatrick was ranked #9 last year with 100.9 QB Rating. That is top third.

    Ryan Tannehill ranked #20 with 92.7. That is bottom third

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 19, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      Fair point, Rich. If I’m going to use Rosen’s QBR against him I should take note of Fitzpatrick’s QBR as well. Though ultimately, I think there’s a consensus that Fitzpatrick is not a valid answer at QB. He had a stretch where he was the league’s MVP last season – then he bottomed out a bit. That statement applies more to his overall ability to be a QB that can lead us into the playoffs compared to the actual #s he puts up. But you’re right in pointing that out.

  2. Avatar

    Michael Wise

    June 19, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Drama Queen type article.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 20, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Do you believe this team has depth?

  3. Avatar

    Dolfanjoe

    June 19, 2019 at 11:50 pm

    Another fan who has problems believing we are going to win the super bowl. But you are right ! Until you have starters you sure do not know what you have for backups. I think we are looking rather good at wide receiver , we will need a miracle at offensive line . And most of the defense is a total question mark . So yes the pre season is going to be a lot of fun , or pretty worrisome !

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      June 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      I do think our WRs can be/will be alright in the end, but we have to hope that Wilson and Grant return to their prior form. The group is “deep”, but we also thought the Dolphins had one of the best WR rooms in the league when they were running out Stills, Parker and Landry – and we had a bottom-tier offense that season. As for the OL, even a miracle might not be enough – this OL is BAD. Maybe that’s Grier’s tactic to secure us a top-3 or top-5 pick next year to grab that potential franchise QB.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.

A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.

Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).

Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.

Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.

It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.

We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.

 

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