The talent has been here all along, but the coaching hasn’t been, until now
Hot, muggy August mornings signal the best time of year for football fans in South Florida. As the Dolphins head to camp, the start of a new season looms on the horizon. This past August — Brian Flores’ first with the Dolphins — we saw a training camp in Davie unlike any before.
Individual drills, focusing on fundamentals and the core basics of the sport (blocking, defeating blocks, tackling, and drilling mental toughness and a mistake-free mindset), the practices featured very few team portions.
Boring as all get out for the fans in attendance, sure, but those foundational bricks have already laid the groundwork for the least-penalized team in the NFL. In the midst of a challenging season, those repetitive, grueling days have resulted in a team that ranks in the top 10 in tackling (9th-fewest missed tackles).
The 2019 Miami Dolphins training camp period was the most important month of Flores’ tenure as the man-in-charge, and it’s already paying massive dividends. The top-of-the-league rankings in the minute, yet crucial details of the game are tremendous, and even more valuable when considering the gems Miami discovered along the way.
Those gems aren’t exclusive to undrafted free agents and reclamation projects. The Dolphins are getting career years out of former top 50 picks in Devante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Raekwon McMillan.
Good coaching with premium talent is the best way to curate household names across the league, but a team without depth is a team that can’t succeed in this league. Uncovering both bonafide starters, and rotational parts from that scrap heap is the most encouraging aspect of Brian Flores’ first year in Miami.
Vince Biegel’s pass rush productivity marks are top 10 at his position from an efficiency standpoint.
Nik Needham was an undrafted free agent who’s gone from Conference USA to holding his own against NFL receivers. Needham’s coming off a two-game stretch where he made 14 tackles, and his first career sack and interception.
Jomal Wiltz was on the Patriots practice squad last season, and now he’s a valuable, versatile part of the defensive backfield. Ryan Lewis, Ken Crawley, Ken Webster have all contributed as in-season defensive back free agent signings as well.
John Jenkins was a cut-down day acquisition, and all he’s done is led Miami in overall Pro Football Focus grade.
Eric Rowe was signed for close to nothing — a one-year, $3.5 million deal back in March. He struggled at cornerback early on, but since moving to a strong safety role — where he covers tight ends and plays a lot in the box — he’s playing some of the best ball of his career.
That list is impressive in its own right, and certainly inspires confidence in the Dolphins ability to succeed in this rebuild going forward. Even for the fan apprehensive to trust Chris Grier and company, it’s impossible to deny the widespread individual growth.
That’s where this next list comes into play. The Dolphins have had talent, and that’s evident by the players that have departed South Florida, and gone onto successful careers elsewhere.
For the sake of continuity and time elapsed relevance, we’ll go as far back as the beginning of the Joe Philbin era. Grier has been in Miami since 2007, but his role in each individual acquisition is impossible to gage. And that remains true even today as Miami — and all NFL teams — act as a gigantic collaboration.
With more than 30 scouts, college and professional personnel directors, a General Manager, Assistant General Manager, and nearly 20 coaches all serving underneath Owner Stephen Ross, nobody outside the walls in Miami knows who is responsible for which move.
To borrow the famed Bill Parcells mantra, the front office buys the groceries. From there, it’s up to the coaching staff to best prepare those ingredients and cook up a winning recipe. From Joe Philbin to Adam Gase, Miami have done very little to take on talent and produce an even better product on the other side.
We start in 2012 with the decision to trade the biggest name receiver this franchise has employed since Chris Chambers left at the 2007 trade deadline.
Brandon Marshall – Marshall was an pro-bowl-level player at every stop except for Miami. His career fizzled towards retirement at the end, and he had a decent stretch in the 2011 season, but his two years in Miami produced the two worst statistical seasons out of the prime of his career. Marshall’s first year with the Bears resulted in a first-team All-Pro selection, a product of 1,508-yard season with 11 touchdowns — topping the two-year total (nine TD) with Miami.
Vontae Davis – The infamous grandma phone call request will never be forgotten, but Vontae got the last laugh on Miami. After three promising seasons with the Phins, Davis’ next four in Indianapolis produced two pro-bowls and 12 interceptions.
Karlos Dansby – This move was a double whammy, as it was made to create space for all-time free agent bust in Dannell Ellerbe. Dansby didn’t make any pro-bowls after leaving Miami, but his first season in the dessert was a smashing success. He picked off four passes (two for touchdowns), broke up 19 passes, made 12 TFLs and registered his second-highest sack total of his career with 6.5.
Sean Smith – Smith infamously made a public comment during the Seahawks rise to prominence in 2012 about Richard Sherman and the freedom of Seattle’s cornerbacks within that scheme. Smith was promptly allowed to depart via free agency, but didn’t break the bank with the Kansas City Chiefs. Fresh off his new three-year, $18 million deal, Smith’s first year in KC resulted in an 84.7 passer rating against. Then, in 2014, Smith was PFF’s 6th-highest graded corner (Davis was 2nd.)
Tony McDaniel – Arriving via a conditional pick in 2009, McDaniel earned his way from the bottom of the depth chart into a rotational role. Then, in 2013, he left for Seattle and his career took off. His Pro Football Reference Approximate Value metric was never higher than 3 with Miami. His first two years in Seattle, McDaniel had an AV of 9 and 7. He made 94 tackles those two years, 12 more than his four-year total with the Dolphins.
Nolan Carroll – A fifth-round pick in 2010, Carroll took some time to develop his game. Just as he did, the Dolphins allowed the Maryland product to walk in free agency. Carroll never became a lockdown cornerback, but he was a key role player for three years with the Eagles, starting 27 games his final two years there. His contract with Philadelphia paid him $5 million over two years — plenty affordable for cornerback depth.
No notable losses. Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Randy Starks never had jumps in production in their post-Miami careers.
Olivier Vernon – Vernon received a monster contract from the Giants, but an extension could’ve reduced Miami’s cost on the hometown product. Drafted out of The U, Vernon’s breakout season happened in his contract year, and pushed Miami out of the market to bring him back entirely. Vernon’s highest AV mark in Miami was 8; his first season with the Giants nearly doubled that with an eye-popping 15 approximate value figure.
Lamar Miller – Another Miami native, Miller never took the league by storm the way some assumed he would, but he signed a cheap deal to move to Houston after the 2015 season. This is more of a nod to the Dolphins scouting staff to find a good player in the fourth round.
Rishard Matthews – Miami used a first-round pick on Devante Parker the year before, but that premium pick could’ve been used elsewhere if Miami were capable of self-scouting their own receiver corps. Matthews first season in Tennessee was the best of his career. His 945 yards and nine touchdowns were both career highs.
Billy Turner – A left tackle at North Dakota State, Turner was shuffled about the offensive line before flaming out in embarrassing fashion through a difficult 1-4 start to the 2016 season. Turner went on to start for the Broncos, where he impressed the Packers to the tune of a four-year, $28 million deal this past offseason.
No notable departures
Ndamukong Suh – The original signing was probably never a good idea, but Suh was an integral part of the Rams run to the Super Bowl last season. Again, this piece is to prove that Miami has done plenty to acquire talent over the years.
Mike Pouncey – Pouncey was a shell of his former self at this stage. Injuries were always the primary issue with Pouncey, but he was a first-round pick in 2011 that played in four pro bowls. There isn’t a football fan on earth that wouldn’t sign up for that return on the 15th pick in the draft.
We can’t write the final story on Laremy Tunsil or Minkah Fitzpatrick yet, but those two, along with Kenyan Drake, provide Grier with quite the endorsement of the 2016 NFL Draft. Fitzpatrick wasn’t a part of that class, but Xavien Howard was, and he remains in Miami.
We might look back on these trades of Tunsil and Fitzpatrick as catastrophic failures, but both will always hold superiority to Miami’s decision to part with so many of the names we just mentioned. The Dolphins received premium compensation for both players, including quarterback prices for Tunsil.
Now, with almost no considerable resources on his roster, Brian Flores is getting similar production from his stripped-down squad than what Adam Gase got the last two years. And Gase did it with far more money and accolades scattered throughout the locker room.
These types of blunders stretch all the way back to Rob Ninkovich, and Evan Mathis before him. The hope, with Brian Flores and his unique ability to develop players acquired off the scrap heap, is that those days are gone.
If they are, with all the premium resources Chris Grier, Marvin Allen, Reggie McKenzie and the entire front office has to work with, the Dolphins can quickly become a team to be reckoned with for years to come.
Local Residents Sue Miami Dolphins over F1 Race Track
This may be the last thing on the mind of Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, but there seems to be a prominent legal battle taking place in South Florida.
A new Formula 1 race track was recently approved (by a 6-6 vote) to be “built” around Hard Rock Stadium, with races beginning in 2021.
The F1 Miami Grand Prix will showcase Miami-Dade and Miami Gardens to the World. See new track below – world-class racing w/o using 199th St, and no racing during school hours. We hope the County Commission will support our effort to deliver this huge global event to you! pic.twitter.com/VqF5AnPMJT
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) January 21, 2020
While city officials press to approve the new track, local residents are up in arms about the potential race. F1 cars are notoriously loud, and as we mentioned above, these races aren’t contained within an arena or stadium.
City officials believe this will bring in additional revenue for Miami and the surrounding area, as annual races are expected to be held around Hard Rock Stadium for the next 10 years. The local populous is arguing that these races are too loud for local streets, and will cause an enormous amount of disturbance and will be detrimental to the environment. Overall, this will cause a “serious degrade to their quality of life.”
Just so you can have a reference, F1 engines tend to run between 130-145 decibels. If you go to a concert and stand relatively close to an amplifier, you’re only dealing with about 100-110 decibels. The average lawn mower is about 90 decibels. Needless to say, these engines are LOUD.
Unlike NASCAR, Formula 1 (F1) race tracks are essentially “created” using local roadways that are already in place. Though there is obviously a lot of preparation that goes into “creating” the course (to ensure the safety of racers and fans alike), no new venues need to be built.
With that said, the City of Miami Gardens and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross are attempting to host the race solely on Hard Rock Stadium grounds. Given Ross’ ownership in the land surrounding Hard Rock Stadium, it’s possible this race doesn’t officially occur on any public roads.
To give some background, Stephen Ross attempted to buy F1 a couple of years ago, but the sale ended up going to another group. Though he didn’t win the bid, he reached an agreement with the new owners and is now one step closer to making the Miami Grand Prix a reality.
Tom Garfinkel, President and CEO of the Miami Dolphins, issued the following statement on behalf of the approved 6-6 decision:
— F1 Miami Grand Prix (@f1miami) February 20, 2020
This recent vote was the biggest hurdle potentially preventing the Miami Grand Prix from happening. Though the legal battles aren’t over, it seems unlikely that the decision to host F1 races will be reversed.
Miami Dolphins Sign Tight End Michael Roberts
The Miami Dolphins are beginning to bulk up the depth of their roster as they head into free agency.
According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Dolphins have signed tight end Michael Roberts. The exact terms of the contract are currently unknown.
#Dolphins are signing former #Lions TE Michael Roberts, source says. Roberts had four workouts the past week and more on the docket but will sign with Miami. Missed last season with a shoulder injury that nixed a trade to the #Patriots. Healthy now. 3 TDs in 2018 and can block.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 19, 2020
Originally a 4th-round pick by the Detroit Lions, Roberts has served mostly as a backup tight end; accumulating 146 yards on 13 receptions in 23 active games between 2017-2018.
Roberts was placed on injured-reserve towards the end of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury, and was traded to the New England Patriots for a conditional 2020 7th-round pick prior to the 2019 season. Due to medical reasons, the trade was voided a couple of days later.
The Green Bay Packers claimed Roberts off of waivers, but he was subsequently released by the Packers two days later for failing a physical. Roberts was not active for any games in 2019.
Signing Roberts doesn’t necessarily mean the Dolphins aren’t going to pursue tight ends in free agency or in the draft. Mike Gesicki is the only “lock” to make the 2020 roster, as Durham Smythe‘s blocking ability might not survive if the Dolphins find themselves in an advantageous situation at the position.
Look at this as a way for Miami to get ahead of evaluations.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) June 13, 2019
A second Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football
(Locked On Dolphins) – Last week, Person A dazzled us with their blind mock draft, and now we’re back with the next entry in the series.
Person B is ready to go with their mock.
Keep in mind that all the blind mock draft contributors have little to no knowledge of the NFL.
I had all the contributors standardize their boards and the process so that everyone was on an even playing field.
They all used The Draft Network’s mock draft simulator with seven rounds, the predictive board, and had to choose the players manually.
Without further ado, here’s Person B’s mock draft.
(1) 5. Tua Tagovailoa – QB, Alabama
(1) 18. J.K. Dobbins – RB, Ohio State
(1) 26. Terrell Lewis – Edge, Alabama
(2) 39. Lloyd Cushenberry III – iOL, LSU
(2) 56. Xavier McKinney – S, Alabama
(3) 70. Rashard Lawrence – iDL, LSU
(5) 135. Chase Claypool – WR, Notre Dame
(5) 144. Justin Herron – OT, Wake Forest
(5) 147. Terrell Burgess – S, Utah
(6) 165. Lamar Jackson – CB, Nebraska
(6) 177. Jacob Breeland – TE, Oregon
(7) 223. David Reese II – LB, Florida
As I did with Person A, I reached out to Person B to get their reasoning behind the selections.
Me: “I noticed that you took Tua [Tagovailoa]. What led you to that decision with the fifth pick?”
Person B: “I knew the Dolphins wanted to get a QB, and Tua has been talked about so much that I just went with him.”
Me: “Which of your other selections did you feel particularly good about?”
Person B: “I need you to send me the link to my draft. I forgot who I picked since it took five attempts.”
[resends mock draft to Person B]
“I like my J.K. Dobbins pick. O-H-. And Rashard Lawrence. Because I figure he’s pretty good since LSU was really good this year.”
Me: “Your picks are really good. I’d put yours ahead of Person A. But it’s almost suspiciously good. Did you put your thumb on the scale somewhere along the line?”
Person B: “Well, by my 5th attempt (1 and 2: I didn’t select manual mode, 3: I didn’t pick 7 rounds from the drop-down menu, 4: I completed, but the site froze, and I lost everything), I figured out that I should probably pick from the top of the list first because if you don’t then those players just go like hotcakes.
So, I just matched up the positions the Dolphins needed to fill with the players highest on the list, and if I recognized a name or team, I would select them over someone I had never heard of.”
Me: “OK, well, we’re all out of time. Do you have any parting messages for Dolphins fans?”
Person B: “Well, I think the Dolphins are on the right track, and I hope that all of the true blue fans who have hung in with them for all these years will get to see another Super Bowl in the near future. GO FINS!”
And that wraps things up with Person B.
What are your thoughts on Person B’s mock draft? Leave a comment or tweet your thoughts at me directly on Twitter (@DIGITYnodoubt).
Tune in next time for Person C’s mock…
- Local Residents Sue Miami Dolphins over F1 Race Track February 20, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Sign Tight End Michael Roberts February 19, 2020
- A second Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football February 19, 2020
- Top 5 Miami Dolphins of 2019 February 14, 2020
- A Miami Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football February 12, 2020