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Miami Dolphins

Defining the Tank and Exploring the Alternatives

Travis Wingfield

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A Message from a Pro-Tanker

The season began as a quiet one for the Dolphins fan base through the four games in September. Social media or otherwise, supporters were mostly able to compartmentalize the 2019 season for what it is — a stepping stone.

Now, the Dolphins are set to host a fellow winless outfit, and the fan base is divided once more. The possibility of a win tantalizes some. The likelihood of a loss brings the others one step closer to the ultimate prize — the top pick in next year’s draft.

We’ll delve into the hypothetical alternative, and what it might have looked like this season, but it’s important to take the temperature of the collective. To self-govern ourselves (myself) by observing the rhetorical situation and how our ideas (tweets) are perceived by others.

One obstacle of covering this sport (this team) for a living is the development of rigid ideas. Inundating myself with the daily activity of the team, the analysis and the all-22; all of it can equate to a sense of entitlement. Platforms in this industry are hard-earned, but it’s equally difficult to avoid becoming a preachy prick that dismisses any idea other than his own.

While I’m adamantly behind the idea of doing whatever it takes to acquire the best quarterback available, I don’t ever think it’s fair to dismiss another’s feelings or emotion attached to the team. That’s entirely the right of the individual.

The sport is entertainment, an enjoyable hobby that we all digest in different ways. The last 20 years — which equates to nearly the entirety of my football fandom as a 31-year-old — has somewhat desensitized me to the idea of a losing season.

Growing up directly in the middle of the century of mediocre Dolphins football has allowed me to open myself up to drastic measures to get this thing fixed. I have longed for even the imaginary scenario where Miami are 10-3 heading into a December game with the Pats, and a chance to clinch home field. How sad is that fantasy? No grand illusions of winning the big game, but rather settling for entering January with expectations. Something that simply hasn’t happened since Lamar Smith’s epic, overtime touchdown run in the 2000 playoffs.

It’s not as though the pro-tank crowd is taking solace in Miami’s defeats; it’s the foresight to recognize that this is beneficial to expediting the rebuild. It’s no different than rooting against the Steelers in pursuit of that draft pick climbing up the board. Of course, there are more preferable routes to get back to the glory that this franchise used to enjoy, nobody is arguing otherwise. It’s the belief that either outcome — winning five games, compared to winning no games — leaves the team in the exact same place, but with one caveat.

A higher draft pick.

There’s no thought about 2019 in this pursuit. It’s entirely, 100%, unequivocally about 2020, and beyond. It always has been. If it all works, this will be a mere, comedic footnote to a new era of Dolphins football.

Alternatives to the Tank

These two topics could’ve stood on their own as independent articles, but I think they work best in tandem. To support the argument of the tank I’d like to look at the likely alternatives had Miami taken an alternative route.

The route defined as maximizing market opportunities. If Miami continues to properly assess it’s own assets, then the likelihood of building a roster capable of sustaining postseason and championship success increases.

Market opportunities. That term should stand out as you comb through that description. Nobody will argue against losing Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and those departures certainly prolong the rebuild. The Dolphins negotiated the situation to capitalize on a rare opportunities (Houston desperate for OL help, Pittsburgh dealing a R1 pick with a backup QB at the reins),  to sell commodities for a price much greater than what Miami paid to initially acquire said players.

The Minkah Fitzpatrick pick is on its way to turning into a top five selection, while Laremy Tunsil brought back more draft picks than some blockbuster quarterback moves.

Those deals should be viewed on a unanimous plane by the fan base. Difficult pills to swallow as talent exits, but an acknowledgement that Miami seized unusually above-market value assets in return.

We good with that?

Then, the issue of the rest of the roster.

Sep 15, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) celebrates after recovering a loose football during the second half against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami’s biggest free agent buy — aside from the unrivaled salary at the quarterback position — didn’t break camp with the team. Nobody received a bigger free agent contract to bring their respective talents to South Beach than Dewayne Allen. He was cut at the conclusion of August.

Devante Parker was brought back, though hit deal was greater than Allen’s, but as far as incoming free agents not named Ryan Fitzpatrick, Allen was the gem of the class, financially speaking.

The Dolphins entertained current Saints fill-in Teddy Bridgewater, but the Miami native opted to stay in New Orleans as Drew Brees’ backup. Losing games was never the driving point of the offseason model, but rather setting a price point and committing to a linear mode of operation.

The opposing approach is exactly the route Miami took to wind up in this mess. Undoing the nearly $100 million in guaranteed money signed over to the likes of Andre Branch, Kiko Alonso, T.J. McDonald, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Quinn required some accounting gymnastics to reset the books, and give the team a fighting chance in the future.

Eric Rowe, Chris Reed, Tank Carradine — this was store from which Miami were shopping. These players — and their contract demands — jived with the Dolphins first priority of a hard financial reset.

It started with the firing of Adam Gase. In his 2018 season debrief with Stephen Ross, Gase was informed of the new direction. He didn’t agree with it, and the two sides parted company.

So, what if Gase persuaded Ross to maintain the status quo? What would that look like? Of course, the Dolphins could’ve axed Gase, then continued the Band-Aid approach with a new regime. But the jimmies and joes were still lacking, even with better X’s and O’s.

Let’s go name-by-name.

Ryan Tannehill – I don’t think this one requires a lot of explanation. It was time for the organization to end this relationship. If Tannehill had been brought back, the team’s on-field performance improves from what we’ve seen through four games, but the win total doesn’t. The additional $13 million of cash compensation would’ve prevented Miami from rolling money into next offseason by paying the debt in this rebuild season.

Saving money and preventing another seven or eight-win season sounds like a win-win. Tannehill is the Titans backup and has not seen regular season action.

Robert Quinn – Miami also ate dead money on Quinn’s trade, but the cash savings were considerable with the pass rusher’s departure. Miami finagled another draft pick (4th for Tannehill, 6th for Quinn) in addition to clearing out more cash commitments — $20 million between the two.

Quinn has appeared in three games for the Cowboys with four QB hits (he had 15 all of 2018).

Josh Sitton – The team cut Josh Sitton in March. The guard promptly retired from football two months later.

Danny Amendola – Lopping off Amendola’s salary saved the team $6 million in 2019 cash commitments. The receiver has 11 receptions and 147 yards through four games in Detroit.

Dec 30, 2018; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Kiko Alonso (47) leaves the field after being ejected against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Ja’Wuan James – James is a good player, but the concerns with him were always about injuries. After inking a deal with Denver that made him the second highest-paid right tackle in football, James played one game and has been on the shelf since the opener. That brings his games-played-total to 47 out of 69 over the last five seasons. If Miami matched Denver’s offer, they would’ve owed James $17 million in cash this season, and been on the hook for another $15 million in guaranteed cash over the coming years.

Akeem Spence – Spence was a surprise survivor of the original purge, but didn’t make it past camp with the Dolphins. Now, in Philadelphia, the defensive tackle has four tackles and no sacks, or tackles-for-loss, through four games. Miami saved more than $3 million by cutting Spence.

Kiko Alonso – Alonso personified faulty self-scouting among football fan bases. For three years, Alonso was a liability, yet he ate up hefty portions of the cap. Trading Alonso relieved Miami of $3 million in guaranteed money. Alonso has six tackles in five games for the Saints.

T.J. McDonald – Cutting McDonald penalized the Dolphins more than it saved ($1.4 million in total savings), but it removed a player that was not a scheme fit. McDonald worked out for the Raiders in September, but remains a free agent.

Tunsil, Fitzpatrick and Kenny Stills are all performing well in their new cities. Excusing those three players would be disingenuous to the exercise. The point remains, however, that retaining those players wouldn’t have moved the needle beyond a few games for a team that benefitted from cap relief (present and future) and acquired a ransom of draft picks.

Miami saved more than $45 million by parting ways with Quinn, Alonso, Amendola, Spence, McDonald, James and Tannehill.

Together, these 7 players respectively rank 48th, 103rd, 48th, 140th, and three DNQ’s (Tannehill, McDonald and James) at their positions according to Pro Football Focus. With them, Miami was still in need of a roster reconstruction project. With a reward for what? Six, maybe seven wins?

Is that satisfactory?

It’s up to you to embrace the new operating procedure in Miami. It’s nuanced, it’s consistent, and yet it promises nothing — but after two decades of enduring positively nothing, I’m willing to try something new.

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Damon Williams

    October 9, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Another great piece!

    • Avatar

      Rick Vesser

      October 9, 2019 at 11:58 am

      Hey Travis, loved the article. Everyone should see this to help possibly seeing the Dolphins mgmt thinking & finally acting responsible in making right decisions. From a Dolphin Fan in N. Idaho, thanks for putting it out there!

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Miami Dolphins

Tua Yards Away, One Step Closer – Miami-Washington Week 6 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins 2-Point Conversion Fails, Team Falls to 0-5

It’s difficult to imagine a better game-script for the Dolphins fan that finds him/herself in the cumbersome position of rooting for better draft positioning. A chance to win on the game’s final play, a strong effort and overall improvement, but the ultimate prize remains unspoiled for a team in transition. For the first time this season, the box score didn’t tip heavily in the opposition’s favor.

 

Stat Dolphins Washington
Total Yards 271 311
Rushing 84 145
Passing 187 166
Penalties 5 (45 yards) 6 (56 yards)
3rd / 4thDown 5/16 (31.3%) 2/11 (18.2%)
Sacks For 0 5
TOP 32:39 27:21

 

The Dolphins were dead in the water under the direction of second-year quarterback Josh Rosen. His three quarters of work produced a pair of interception, five sacks and three points from the Dolphins offense.

Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The fired-up Fitzmagic passed for 132 fourth quarter yards en route to two Dolphin touchdown drives. The final play of the game — a failed two-point conversion dropped by Kenyan Drake — was the third bizarre play in critical situations during Miami’s ferocious surge.

A common play in today’s league — especially from Chad O’Shea’s New England influence — Drake short-motioned into the formation behind a pair of bunched receivers. The throw was a little bit off Drake’s back hip, but the back never secured the ball, ending the play before it had ever a chance.

On an earlier third down and nine, nine-year veteran Center Daniel Kilgore rolled a snap to Fitzpatrick that killed the drive. The possession prior, Fitzpatrick threw a hook-up route over the middle to Mike Gesicki, who had already been thrown to the ground. If any of those three plays is executed, Miami probably comes out of this game with a victory.

Though out-gained for the fifth-consecutive game, the Dolphins moved the chains 21 times to Washington’s 13 first downs. Miami also won the time-of-possession battle for the first time, and scored multiple touchdowns in a game for the first time.

There was enough energy and excitement to fulfil the quota for an admirable Dolphins effort, but the scoreboard not only keeps Miami in the driver’s seat for the first pick of the draft, it essentially gives the Dolphins a two-game buffer over Washington.

With strength of schedule serving as the only draft order tie-breaker, Washington’s likely greater S.O.S. means that if both teams finished with the same number of victories, the higher pick would go to Miami.

The only team left in Miami’s way is the 0-6 Cincinnati Bengals.

Let’s get to the individuals.

Quarterbacks

Last week, on The Locked On Dolphins Podcast, I referenced an article that featured quotes from prominent NFL Draft busts at the quarterback position. Joey Harrington and Brady Quinn discussed the difficult circumstances surrounding their respective insertions into the league. To summarize, they both feel that situations can ruin quarterbacks.

That feels prevalent in the case of Josh Rosen. From an armchair evaluator that was never big on Rosen’s game, the flaws he’s exhibiting have been developed. Consistently lifting his feet upon release, stepping out of clean platforms and into traffic, the kid has no trust in his surrounding parts or his own ability to dissect the defense.

His timing remains late, he’s not managing the pocket and finding space even at the level he was three weeks ago, and everything looks like a challenge for him in this offense.

Rosen will start going forward, I suppose, but this is broken quarterback that needs some time in the shop.

Fitzpatrick was excellent. He provided that classic, bearded spark that rejuvenates the team in a pinch. He was on-time, accurate, and navigated the same pass protection with no issues (no sacks, no turnovers).

Running Backs

The most interesting factoid from this position group came from Kenyan Drake’s post-game presser. Mark Walton began the game as Miami’s starting back, and Drake revealed that the two-point conversion play call had been repped all week by the Dolphins apparent new starter, and former Hurricane, Mark Walton.

Walton, after blowing a pass protection assignment on Miami’s first possession, was the most creative runner for the Dolphins. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry, a season-high for a Phins back, on six carries. Walton’s production was greater in the passing game. He caught another five for 43 yards, giving him 75 yards from scrimmage on the game.

Drake consistently churned out yards as well (10 for 40). He added six receptions for 30 yards — he and Walton’s 15 targets made up more than a third of Miami’s target-share.

Then, there’s the forgotten man, Kalen Ballage. He had three carries and no pass targets. Though Ballage bulldozed into the end zone on a goal line plunge, he has been almost entirely phased out of the offense. He’s essentially a short yardage back at this stage — can’t catch, can’t play tailback in this offense.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

It was a lot of fun to see the Dolphins receivers make some plays in a functioning offense. Devante Parker’s touchdown reception was an extremely difficult catch sliding into the end zone (go out in your backyard and try to catch a ball at your knee caps in a full sprint).

Preston Williams catch-rate remains atrocious (caught 2 of 6 targets Sunday), but his 21-yard stab on Miami’s final touchdown drive put the offense in scoring range.

Mike Gesicki is coming on, and I will not shut up about out from now until further notice. The athletic ability to catch contested balls up the seam should not be underplayed, and that catch he made to start that final drive was a godsend for this offense.

We’ll have more to say about the other tight ends in the film room session on Wednesday’s podcast.

Offensive Line

Another week of shuffling, another week of heading back to the drawing board — or is it? With Rosen in the game, the line was manhandled (five sacks). Once Fitzpatrick entered, the quarterback remained clean, and the offense produced at a rate better than league average (13 points on four drives, more than a point better than NFL average).

Jesse Davis was a tough watch at left tackle before the injury, and things did not get better working on the right side. He’s frequently a beat slow, and can’t gain the necessary depth to take on elite speed rushers. And calling Ryan Kerrigan’s speed rush elite at this stage is probably generous.

Michael Deiter remains a considerable work in progress. His tendency to get out over his skies, which makes him vulnerable to tackles that can rush effectively with lateral agility, shows up on tape each week.

J’Marcus Webb continues to struggle with speed rushes off the blindside edge, but that should be expected. After all, Webb was a street free agent. Miami found a way to help him as much as possible, but the leaks from the other side caused Miami to dial up even more max protection.

Isaiah Prince is serving the role that I always thought was best for him — sixth lineman when the formation goes heavy. I’m intrigued to look at the job he did in that role today, but I don’t have that evaluation ready just yet.

Defensive Line

Christian Wilkins is getting better as this season goes along, and that should realistically be the most important development on the roster. Wilkins’ ability to collapse pockets from the inside will determine what kind of line this group is going to be on the other side of the rebuild. He’s not getting many opportunities to do it just yet, but he’s showing up every week with impressive reps against good players.

Taco Charlton has replaced Charles Harris at the left defensive end position. We’ll have snap counts tomorrow, but Charlton is a fundamentally sound edge defender that typically funnels things back inside — something Harris struggled to grasp for 2.5 years.

John Jenkins put a nice move on Washington Left Guard Ereck Flowers, but was quiet for the rest of the game.

Linebackers

Raekwon McMillan is probably the team’s MVP to this point. He’s a decisive run defender that finds his fit and explodes through contact. This staff has discovered the best route for McMillan to be an effective player, and he’s rising to that challenge.

Jerome Baker was better in this game. He was able to put pressure on the quarterback at least a couple of times from my count, including a nifty inside move on Washington’s Left Tackle.

Vince Biegel is an interesting rush-package player — he was in the Washington backfield at times.

Deon Lacey was with Miami in camp a few summers back. He went to Buffalo and contributed on special teams, but he’s back in South Florida doing the same thing for the Dolphins.

Defensive Backs

Xavien Howard practiced throughout the week, but didn’t play Sunday, and the impact was palpable. Washington Rookie Terry McLaurin made big plays in Howard’s absence, including a touchdown against his replacement, Ken Webster.

Eric Rowe had his best game as a Dolphin. He showed recovery speed and made plays on the football a couple of times.

The same was true of rookie Nik Needham. After his call-up from the practice squad, Needham had a pass breakup and didn’t allow any catches on the day.

Reshad Jones was active against the Washington run-heavy attack. He picked up nine tackles and was a regular in the backfield.

Bobby McCain’s had a good day that included a crucial pass break-up in the end zone, but it was his profanity-laced interview post-game that caught reporter’s attention. Expressing this frustration should come as no surprise for a team captain that pours his all into this game.

Recap

The Fitzpatrick jolt should provide fans with some confidence in the coaching and the plan going forward. Suddenly, the passing concepts were effective, Miami found chunk plays to the backs, and Gesicki was unlocked up the seam.

Brian Flores’ and Patrick Graham’s defensive structure has been sound for the most part this season, and the defense’s effort was good enough to win. Washington scored 17 points on 12 possessions Sunday. The rush scheme, and consequent effort to fill those vacated areas, made life difficult on Washington’s antiquated offensive attack.

The Dolphins simply have to get better in multiple areas from a talent standpoint. The quarterback play, the offensive line, the interior rotation and edge rush, and secondary all need an infusion of players. The draft capital will allow Miami to put premium assets into those groups, then, and only then, can we adequately judge this Dolphins staff.

The Steelers are railroading the Chargers currently, so the dream for a pair of top-three picks will be put on hold, for now.

Miami’s battle with Cincinnati for the top pick could come down to a week 16 showdown in South Florida. The Bengals do have dates with Pittsburgh, the Jets, Dolphins, and up-and-down Browns to round out the season.

Given the Dolphins weak S.O.S., a victory shouldn’t interrupt the Miami’s collision course with the first pick next April. Washington’s remaining slate features only two more losing teams — it’s difficult to find another win for a team that survived a last-minute scare from the NFL’s unanimous doormat.

A win today would’ve made the path to the first pick treacherous. The loss instead, however, keeps Miami in the catbird seat to land Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

@WingfieldNFL

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NFL Draft

Scouting College Football’s Top 2020 QB Prospects – Week 7

Travis Wingfield

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Recapping Week 7 of the College Football Season

During the college season, here on Locked On Dolphins, we’re going to keep an eye on quarterbacks all throughout the country. Our primary focus will be on the big four, the options that Miami will likely choose from with an early pick in the 2020 draft.

Those quarterbacks are:

Tua Tagovailoa Scouting Report
Jake Fromm Scouting Report
Justin Herbert Scouting Report
Jordan Love Scouting Report

2019 Week 1 Recap
2019 Week 2 Recap
2019 Week 3 Recap
2019 Week 4 Recap
2019 Week 5 Recap
2019 Week 6 Recap

*LSU’s Joe Burrow has been added to the prospect watch list.

We’ll go in chronological order from when the games were played.

Justin Herbert vs. Colorado,Win 45-3
Stats: 18/33 (54.5%) 261 yards (7.9 YPA) 2 TDs

Regardless of what happens throughout Justin Herbert’s professional career, he will flash moments of brilliance. The consistency of those spurts, however, remains uncertain. When the defense reacts according to the play call, it’s over. Herbert’s ability to quickly drive the ball down the field excites scouts everywhere.

The issue of inconsistency remains, well, consistent. Lapses in accuracy, proper mechanical alignment and anticipatory throws raise concerns over Herbert’s ability to translate at the next level. When there’s no urgency, everything is rosy. Herbert can adequately process and adjust his throw type when he’s free of adverse circumstances.

When Herbert is forced to speed things up — get away from an unexpected free rusher, anticipate a route opening up against the leverage of the defense — errors occur. Balls on the wrong hip/shoulder, late throws into tight windows, there’s a lack of trust in what he sees post-snap.

The upside is difficult to ignore, but those issues have to become hardwired corrections for Herbert to ever realize that potential.

Jake Fromm vs. South Carolina, Loss 20-17 (OT)
Stats: 28/51 (54.9%) 295 yards (5.78 YPA) 1TD, 3 INTs

The first 54 minutes of this game were a struggle from Fromm and the Georgia offense. After early success that has Fromm accomplishing whatever he wanted against the Gamecock defense — man or zone — Fromm’s decision making and location went south during a 42-minute scoring drought.

The good version of Fromm showed anticipation, timing and location on point, as they all typically are. Fromm’s interception on a throwaway attempt to close out the first half started a cascade of poor football. His accuracy waned, his normally perfect communication with the receivers went awry, and Georgia trailed with just six minutes to play at home against an inferior football team. Fromm also lost a fumble on a failed quarterback-center exchange on the doorstep of the red zone.

Executing a 96-yard, game-tying drive when he had to have it speaks highly to Fromm’s character. The NFL will present adversity, and Fromm has showcased the ability to overcome hurdles. Still, at the end of the day, he made too mistakes for Georgia to win this game.

One week after elevating his draft stock ahead of Justin Herbert and Jordan Love, Fromm comes back to earth and makes one thing abundantly clear — there’s a big gap between Tua and the rest of this class.

Tua Tagovailoa at Texas A&M, Win 47-28
Stats: 21/34 (61.8%) 293 yards (8.62 YPA) 4 TDs, 1 INT

On a day where Tua wasn’t as finely tuned as we’ve come to expect, he surpasses A.J. McCarron for the career touchdown passes record at Alabama with another four touchdown day. Tua’s second touchdown was a classic example of his pre-snap acumen, post-snap mechanical alignment, and precise ball location against an A&M blitz. Quickly getting to his spot and setup, Tua throws it right in behind the blitz and right on the bullseye for a big play.

The fourth touchdown was a fantastic anticipation strike to Henry Ruggs. Tagovailoa’s trust in his own eyes and processor allows him to anticipate better than any passer in the country.

He also showcased his fluid pocket mobility. Whether it’s escaping, or climbing up and wading through the trash, the only thing more dangerous than Tua on-script, is the improvising version of Tua.

The trust can lead to some mistakes and easy turnovers, however. Tua’s interception was a carbon copy of one of his INTs in the SEC Championship Game in 2018 against Georgia. Tua checked his backside read and attacked play side with the information he gathered. He was wrong in thinking the safety was bailing out. Instead, the safety robbed a dig route from Jeudy, and Tua was late with the football for an easy pick.

There were additional accuracy issues (available in the video thread) in the game, but not by a significant margin. Typically, when he makes a mistake, he erases the wrongdoing on the next play. Tua can play better, certainly, but I sometimes wonder if we hold him to an unrealistic standard.

A career 9:1 TD:INT ratio will do that (81 TDs, 9 INTs).

Joe Burrow vs. Florida, Win 42-28
Stats: 21/24 (87.5%) 293 yards (12.2 YPA) 3 TDs

Kirk Herbstreit said it best early fourth quarter after Joe Burrow beat another Gators blitz. Herbie referred to Burrow having all the answers for the looks Florida threw at him, and it led to a strong, efficient performance.

Burrow not only threw on-time and on-target within the structure of the offense, he navigated murky pockets and extended plays with big results.

Burrow’s growth in year-two in this offensive system makes for a master attacking the middle, intermediate portion of the field. Dropping the ball in behind linebackers and underneath the safeties, Burrow’s accuracy on crossing routes leads to big plays after the catch for the talented Tigers receivers.

Burrow forced his way into this discussion. The big four have become the big five and Burrow could wind up top-three if he continues this success.

Recap

We’re entering the portion of the season where we can begin to compare common opponents. Fromm earned his way into QB2 status with steady, consistent play through six weeks, but Fromm had his ugliest showing of the year Saturday.

That three-interception performance comes against a defense that Tua carved up for 444 yards and five touchdowns. The already significant gap between QB1 and QB1 increased after the performances of Tagovailoa and Fromm this weekend.

Herbert has nothing to prove against inferior foes. His physical talents are too much for poor defense, especially units that are poorly coached like Colorado. For Herbert to enter QB2 status, he’ll have to show out in adverse circumstances — something he really hasn’t done in his career.

Love was off this week; perhaps the bye week we’ll supplement his familiarity in yet another system. Burrow has passed all of his tests this season, but he still has a way to go before he’s even considered a one-year wonder.

Half way through the college football season, my quarterback big board goes:

  1. Tua Tagoavailoa
  2. Jake Fromm
  3. Jordan Love
  4. Joe Burrow
  5. Justin Herbert

@WingfieldNFL

Additional Prospect Video Threads

Alabama Linebacker, Anfernee Jennings

Oklahoma Center, Creed Humphrey

Oklahoma Wide Receiver, Ceedee Lamb

Oklahoma Linebacker, Kenneth Murray

LSU Edge, K’Lavon Chaisson

Penn State Edge, Yetur Gross-Matos

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins Aren’t Tanking, They Just Suck

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty of people want to tell you that the Miami Dolphins are tanking, and depending on how they’re looking at it, they’re either entirely right or woefully wrong.

You see, each player on this football team is attempting to put forth their best effort. They are trotting onto the field branding aqua and orange with the intent of being as successful as they can be.

There may be particular instances where a player prioritizes their health over a few extra yards, but overall, they aren’t going out there just to collect a paycheck.

These people have played football their entire lives. It’s insulting to assume they aren’t trying to maximize the one thing they’ve passionately performed since they were a toddler.

It’s also insulting to assume that this fanbase is so oblivious and naive that rooting to lose means they are not a “real fan”.

When linebacker Jerome Baker called out Dolphins fans (that are actively rooting for a “tank”), he was making a fair point, but he did so without acknowledging what these fans are actually rooting for deep down.

There isn’t a single fan that genuinely enjoys losing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that fans are rooting for one miserable season with the hope that it breeds 10 successful ones.

But Baker is right, the players are performing as hard as they can. They’re pridefully going out there and trying to build their resumes for the other 31 teams to see. These snaps will be meaningless in a few weeks (when the Dolphins are unofficially eliminated from the playoffs), but you can’t sell that to a person looking to boost (or, heck, just ensure) a paycheck going forward.

The thing is, the performance that these players are putting out there is the reason why Miami is not just 0-4, but historically one of the worst teams in NFL history.

The front office may have helped create this mess, but they aren’t the reason why people assume the players aren’t trying.

A Surprising Development

2019 was supposed to be a season filled with growth and progress. Establish who your building blocks are, and mold them into a youthful core that can lead the new franchise quarterback to victory.

But all of that growth and progress we expected to see has been virtually nonexistent. In fact, there have been more “surprises” than there have been developments that we can rely on. And while that’s great for the players we had lower expectations for, it speaks minimally for either the players we expected to develop, or the coaching staff we expected to develop them.

Raekwon McMillan has been Miami’s best linebacker so far this season. Though we have to provide the caveat that it comes with a limited snap count, McMillan has been a force in the running game. Did McMillan have too much on his plate last year? Did he finally (fully) recover from his torn ACL in 2017? Is he flourishing without the expectations? Is this really just a flash in the pan?

It’s hard to pinpoint why McMillan has improved so much this season, but this is a welcomed site to see. I’m not expecting 2020 starting middle linebacker or even an elite talent from the former second-round pick, but McMillan has gone from an afterthought to a necessity on this 2019 team.

With just 121 snaps (compared to Sam Eguavoen‘s 251 and Jerome Baker’s 279), I hope defensive coordinator Patrick Graham finds a way to incorporate McMillan a bit more.

After watching the Washington Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals for 5 weeks, fans are legitimately concerend that Josh Rosen will win too many games this year. While judging Rosen has always been one of the primary objectives of 2019, it was only 3 weeks ago that we expected Ryan Fitzpatrick to start a majority of the season because Rosen wasn’t picking up (or processing) the playbook well enough.

If it weren’t for so many dropped passes, Rosen would have a handful of highlights that make you think he’s the guy. Instead, those drops may be an omen that the Dolphins franchise quarterback isn’t currently on the roster.

But this is where the surprising storylines end. There have been plenty of other surprising developments in 2019, but none of them have been good. It’s these (lack of) developments that further explain why everyone believes the Dolphins are tanking.

Lack of Player Development

It all started somewhat shockingly before the season began when Vincent Taylor was cut. The former 6th-round pick was expected to be a starting defensive tackle for the next couple of years; instead, he was removed from the roster entirely with little explanation why.

Different coaching staffs have different philosophies and playing styles, but Taylor was a productive player with plenty of potential. Whether it was his attitude or the shape he was in when he reported to camp, Miami found a reason to remove a budding talent. Can’t blame the players for taking talent off the roster.

Linebacker Sam Eguavoen was expected to become a future starting linebacker for this team. And while he’s still raw, he hasn’t shown the same level of potential that fellow former CFL transfer Cameron Wake displayed when he joined Miami.

Next to John Denney, Jason Sanders was the only player you had unwavering confidence in.

Sanders has missed as many kicks through 4 games than he did in all of 2018. After making 18 of 20 kicks (and 35 of 36 PATs) in 2018, Sanders has made just 4 of 7 FGs so far this season. Are we adding kicker to the list of holes this team has to plug in 2020?

Jerome Baker hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype. Is it the extra work stacked on his plate? Is it just a sophomore slump?

We expected Baker to be a jack-of-all-trades linebacker who could cover the pass, stunt the run and rush the quarterback. So far, he seems a bit over his head. Granted, he receives minimal help around him, but this defensive front isn’t that much weaker than last season’s.

It’s safe to say that we all expected Baker to be a bit better at this point. If you’re going to “call out” the fanbase for cheering on long term success at the expense of short term misery, you better make sure your performance gives those fans a reason to think otherwise.

If Baker was meant to do everything up front, Bobby McCain was expected to be a Swiss army knife in the secondary. Not only has that experiment been subpar, but it appears more and more like McCain is a player without a position rather than a player that can do it all. It just makes me wonder what McCain “could have been” if the coaching staff left him in his natural slot cornerback position all these years.

After receiving a 4-year, $24m contract extension this offseason, Jakeem Grant has gone from a threatening #3 receiver – and a menacing kick returner – to a player that becomes cringeworthy when the ball is in the air. There isn’t a single person reading this that is confident when the ball is headed in Grant’s direction. Yet, just last month we felt we had a competent wide receiver for the next 3+ years.

There was LOTS of hype around Kalen Ballage when camp broke this offseason. He looked faster, quicker, more-toned and ready to take the #1 running back role from Kenyan Drake. Instead, Ballage has contributed more touchdowns to the opposing team than he has recorded himself. His 1.5 yards-per-carry (YPC) isn’t entirely his fault, as the offensive line in front of him is pedestrian at best, but that logic doesn’t seem to fit Drake’s 3.6 YPC or Mark Walton‘s 3.9 YPC.

I don’t need to tell you that Ballage has been a disappointment, I think we’ve all come to that conclusion the moment he ducked away from an RB screen pass coming his way.

What the Fans Want

Fans are tired of witnessing performances like this.

Every team has draft picks that flame out, but the Dolphins seem to load up on under-performing players. Is it this team’s “culture”? Is it terrible ownership? Is it terrible scouting?

Easily enough, 20 years of mediocrity can be summed up by the quarterback position. And right now, there are two entities that have identified that obtaining an elite quarterback solves ineptitude: fans and the Front Office.

If you were to say that the players are tanking, you’d be terribly wrong. If you were to say that the intellectual minds that make decisions for the Miami Dolphins are tanking, you are absolutely right.

You don’t trade away a cornerstone left tackle, your best wide receiver, your most-experience linebacker, and a handful of other assets if you’re trying to win as many games as possible.

Reshad Jones and Xavien Howard may not miss as many games if every game was crucial.

These are active decisions made (or heavily suggested) by the Front Office. They’re not asking the players to under-perform, they’re doing a good job of that themselves.

When all is said and done, it’s possible this coaching staff is the reason for the lack of development. They could all be in over their heads, and Brian Flores is just a temporary band-aid that allows the next coach to reap the benefits of stocked draft picks and abundant cap space.

I understand that it’s deflating to watch your team’s fanatics root against you, but their apathy isn’t the most disappointing part of the 2019 season. Give the fans a reason to cheer, and you might actually be reciprocated with applause.

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