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Inside the Film Room – Dolphins New Defensive Scheme

Kevin Dern

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Examining Brian Flores, Patrick Graham’s New Defensive Direction

Like the Easter Bunny, I’m back seemingly once a year for Locked On Dolphins. Hopefully that will change as we get further into the offseason.  The Dolphins season ended with a resounding thud last year and changes are afoot. Matt Burke, who I wrote last year had a lot of things he could do to improve Miami’s defense, failed, and like his boss Adam Gase, is now gone working for his mentor Jim Schwartz again in Philadelphia.

Enter Brian Flores.  I was pretty open to several of the candidates Miami could’ve hired, especially Vic Fangio and Kris Richard, in addition to Flores.  We’ve heard that one of the deciding factors for Steve Ross, Chris Grier and Tom Garfinkel was the list of names on Brian Flores potential coaching staff list.  I think it’s pretty hard to not be at least slightly impressed with the names that Flores has on staff.  Jim Caldwell is impressive.  Plucking Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski from the Patriots on the offensive side and Josh Boyer to run the defensive passing game are also impressive.  He’s got past experience working with Patrick Graham in New England, and Graham and LBs Coach Rob Leonard worked together in New York.  Tony Oden was retained to coach safeties.  So, the question I had was, what could Miami’s defense potentially look like in 2019? I told Travis I was interested in taking on this project, so here it is.

First and foremost, a defense as multiple as the one that Bill Belichick and Brian Flores put together in 2018 is a lot to take in.  I’ve used several sources to put this together.  Those sources include my own charting on NFL Game Pass, James Light (@JamesALight), Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) and a member known as Disgustipate on ThePhins.com message board for information used hereafter. Please, do yourself a favor and check out those guys on Twitter or if you stop by ThePhins – they all have outstanding information.

Overall, while some of their statistical rankings on defense are middle-of-the-pack, they were ranked 7th in points allowed (20.3 per game) and tied for 5th with Denver and Miami with 28 takeaways (18 INTs, 10 FRs). Those two categories, in my opinion, are your money-makers on defense.  While Miami was on par with the Patriots in terms of turnovers, Miami was 27thin the NFL in terms of points allowed per game, giving up 27.1 on average – a full touchdown more than the Patriots.  We all saw the Patriots dominate the Rams in the Super Bowl and held the Chiefs to just seven points through three quarters of the game. We know what the Patriots defense can do when it’s revving on high.

Overview

As far as how it works, my one sentence synopsis would be this: Miami’s new defense will likely be a multiple-front, defensive back-centric malleable defense that can be adjusted on a weekly basis to counter each opponent.

Forget about the debate between 4-3 and 3-4.  It’s archaic in today’s NFL.  Having watched several Patriots games and charting their games against the Packers and Vikings – more on the reasons why in a bit – we’re likely to see this team base out of a nickel defense, and it can be multiple in its formational setup.  One of the things the Patriots do well is they can use various personnel groupings and run different formations out of them.  For instance, they’ll often run three defensive linemen and three linebackers onto the field but will run a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 out of it.

Personnel

Chris Kouffman pulled these numbers, and here are the personnel groupings, formations and snaps from each that New England ran in 2018:

HALF DOLLAR – 30 personnel (3 DL, 0 LB, 8 DBs) – 1 Snap
QUARTER – 40 personnel (4 DL, 0 LB, 7 DBs) – 3 Snaps
QUARTER – 31 personnel (3 DL, 1 LB, 7 DBs) – 45 Snaps
QUARTER – 22 personnel (2 DL, 2 LBs, 7 DBs) – 41 Snaps
DIME – 41 personnel (4 DL, 1 LB, 6 DBs) – 82 Snaps
DIME – 32 personnel (3 DL, 2 LBs, 6 DBs) – 162 Snaps
DIME – 23 personnel (2 DL, 3LBs, 6 DBs) – 1 Snap
NICKEL – 42 personnel (4 DL, 2 LBs, 5 DBs) – 307 Snaps
NICKEL – 33 personnel (3 DL, 3 LBs, 5 DBs) – 226 Snaps
BASE – 52 personnel (5 DL, 2 LBs, 4 DBs) – 12 Snaps
BASE – 43 personnel (4 DL, 3 LBs, 4 DBs) – 97 Snaps
BASE – 34 personnel (3 DL, 4 LBs, 4 DBs) – 13 Snaps
HEAVY – 53 personnel (5 DL, 3 LBs, 3 DBs) – 1 Snap
HEAVY – 63 personnel (6 DL, 3 LBs, 2 DBs) – 7 Snaps
HEAVY – 64 personnel (6 DL, 4 LBs, 1 DB) – 3 Snaps

 

For what it’s worth, the Patriots official team depth chart lists them as a 4-3 team.  That said, the Patriots spent 12% of their snaps in a BASE personnel grouping.  The amounts of various formations and personnel groupings alone should make any Dolphins fan excited after three combined years of Vance Joseph and Matt Burke running the defense.

Primary Fronts

To give you a better idea about some of the things you’ll see with the Dolphins defense moving forward, let’s look at some of their key formations.  We’ll start with their sub fronts since they’re predominantly in these looks.

1) Marble– this is one of the Patriots 4-2-5 nickel defenses.  But don’t take that too literally.  More often than not you’ll see a true DE, usually Adrian Clayborn or Deatrich Wise lined up at DE.  You’ll see one true DT, usually one of Malcom Brown or Lawrence Guy teamed with Trey Flowers at the two tackle spots.  The “Buck” is usually Kyle Van Noy or John Simon, both whom usually play as a stand-up DE; that’s where the amorphic aspect comes in as both of those guys are “linebackers” but playing as a DE. And yes, that spot plays a 9-technique.

The Mac (Mc) is usually Dont’a Hightower if he’s inserted head-up on the center and the Money ($) is usually Elandon Roberts.  Though if the Mc is not inserted, those roles are interchangeable. Sometimes you’ll see Roberts off the field and Simon at the Buck, Kyle Van Noy at Mc and Hightower at $.

Patrick Chung is pretty much exclusively the SS, essentially playing like a 4-3 strongside linebacker, and the star is a slot defender.  In the games I’ve watched this has usually been Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson if they use a third corner.  However, the Patriots will use 3 safeties a lot, especially if the offense is in 12 or 21 personnel.  In that situation,   Devin McCourty is usually the second slot defender and Duron Harmon comes onto the field as a middle-of-the-field (MOF) free safety.  If they use a slot corner Devin McCourty stays back at free safety.

  1. Marble Point – this is a variation on the Marble package. The main difference here is that the SS is inserted to play head-up on the TE, with the Buck playing an 8-technique outside the TE. The intention here is to prevent the TE from getting a free release if it’s a pass play, and to have a bigger, more physical player setting the edge against an outside run to the strongside. Teams will try to counter this by having their TE detached from the LOS, flexed out or lined up in the slot.  The Patriots have countered this, by using the Buck player to play WAY outside and help jam the TE and then rush the QB. You can see the example of them doing this to Kyle Rudolph in the video Below.

 

***You’ll also see this stunt below in the Dime Odd front.***

 

  1. Diamond– this front you’re going to see played more with true 3DL 3LB personnel. Typically what you’ll see the Patriots do is have Kyle Van Noy at the $ position, playing almost like a stand-up DE, with Elandon Roberts at the Mc and Hightower as the Buck.  Van Noy is the operative player here as he can be used as a coverage player or pass-rusher; typically if he rushes, he’s doing some sort of looping stunt into the backside A or B gap.  New England would also play John Simon here.

 

  1. Ruby– this front is essentially the same as the Diamond, but you’re going to be playing an extra safety in the box instead of a third linebacker. In the two games I watched Patrick Chung would often play as the Mc here and Van Noy as the $.  Chung would either play as a LB on the edge, buzz up or back and drop into coverage as a robber, or play straight man-to-man against the TE. Devin McCourty would be the other safety in the box with Duron Harmon deep.

 

Other Fronts

1) Extend – okay, Dolphins fans, don’t freak out.  The Patriots defense has some elements of the Wide-9 in it.  After all, Jim Schwartz got at least part of his inspiration to come up with the Wide-9 from watching the Patriots.  Their extend front is used out of their 4-2-5 package, with both DTs playing 3-techniques.  These are usually Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy, with their edge players playing 9-techniques.  These edge players are usually their ends, whichever two happen to be on the field at the time.  Kyle Van Noy and John Simon can also play as stand-up guys on the edge, and the Pats will frequently have both ends standing-up.

2) Dime Odd– as I mentioned before I was able to get a lot of information on James Light’s (@JamesALight) Twitter page.  There is a TON of great info on the Patriots defense there.   This front encompasses one of the Patriots best rush schemes – note the two blitzes below and the GIF against Minnesota.

3) Radar – I honestly have no idea what the Patriots call this front, nor can I find a drawn up schematic for it.  But, one reason I wanted to chart the Vikings game was due to the fact that New England brought back their “playground” defense.  In this front you’ll see Trey Flowers lined up over the center, with three linebackers on the field – Hightower, Van Noy and Simon. They move around pre-snap and then settle into their positions and rush from there.  You’ll see a lot of still frame shots on James Light’s Twitter page.

On this play Minnesota throws a quick screen outside short of the sticks and goes three and out, but you have to wonder if the confusion caused by the Patriots movement pre-snap induces a quick throw.

Use of Three Safeties

What makes the Patriots so versatile is their ability to use three safeties. I noted earlier that one of the sources of information I pulled from was a member on ThePhins.com website known as Disgustipate.  He posted the following, which is the alignments of the Patriots safeties per snap from PFF (Note, I don’t agree with some of the PFF labels):

Devin McCourty

EDGE LINEBACKER – 19
LINEBACKER – 226 (this is essentially lining up as a slot safety in dime packages)
STRONG SAFETY – 27 (box safety)
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 96
SLOT CB – 143
BOUNDARY CB – 143
FREE SAFETY – 354
FREE SAFETY SLIT – 257

Patrick Chung
EDGE LINEBACKER – 152
LINEBACKER – 376
STRONG SAFETY – 2
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 28
SLOT CB – 276
BOUNDARY -120
FREE SAFETY – 15
FREE SAFETY SPLIT – 62

Duron Harmon

EDGE LINEBACKER -14
LINEBACKER -69
STRONG SAFETY -12
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 52
SLOT CB – 27
FREE SAFETY – 230
FREE SAFETY SPLIT -296

***PFF has some very weird labeling with their snaps.  I think these are strictly based on alignment, not assignment.***

You can see why in the following picture as all three safeties – Devin McCourty #32, Patrick Chung #23 and Duron Harmon #21 are all on the field, with Chung down in the box.

This picture is of the Patriots 3-2 front as Kyle Van Noy is the player immediately behind Dont’a Hightower.

Sorting through the Patriots games against the Packers and Vikings, I think a fair quick barometer guide for safeties would be that Patrick Chung is usually going to be the guy in the box in their nickel packages, especially on first and second downs (run downs).  Chung and McCourty were more often the split safeties (i.e. ½ field coverage with two deep safeties).  McCourty is almost exclusively in the MOF or a traditional free safety role until the offense is in third downs.  This is when McCourty would often come down into the box and Duron Harmon would play as a true MOF FS.

How I think this relates to Miami…well, this may be a bit controversial, but looking at the way New England plays their three safeties it wouldn’t surprise me if Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald are both gone sooner rather than later.  I think Miami needs players that are quicker, smarter and more dynamic.  Both Jones and McDonald seem too one-dimensional, especially McDonald who is in my opinion too slow to really work in this defense.

As far as Reshad Jones goes, I think he’s got a better shot to succeed in the defense.  His contractual issues may dictate him staying a Dolphin in 2019, but he’s able to replicate more of what Patrick Chung does than T.J. McDonald…at least as far as the in-the-box stuff against the run.  I think there are a lot of responsibilities that Chung carries out for the Patriots that may prove challenging for Jones – covering backs in man-to-man coverage, covering tight ends, knowing when to buzz/drop late in the quarterback’s cadence, etc.

With this being the case, it would not surprise me one bit to see Miami cut their losses, eat some dead cap, and move on from one or both Jones and McDonald and look to acquire safeties in the Draft to team with Minkah Fitzpatrick. Two names I really like for Miami that you should keep an eye on are Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson of Florida.  Those two names will be interesting to watch in the pre-Draft process, especially if Miami start lopping off pricey veterans.

The Fit Right Now

It should be noted that one of the things that surprised me with the Patriots is the sheer number of players that they play and how malleable some of those positions are.  Take their game against the Packers for example and we see the following players at these positions:

DE: Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Dont’a Hightower, John Simon
DT: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, Danny Shelton
LB: Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, John Simon, Patrick Chung
CB: Stephone Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen
DS: Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Miami’s players and scheme weren’t even close to that flexible under the past two defensive coordinators.  Building this defense will be a project in and of itself, and in my opinion, will likely take more than just one offseason to really get it right.

As I mentioned, New England lists its own team depth chart as a 4-3 defense despite being in a base defense 12% of the time, and of that 12% it’s in a 4-3 most of the time, but not always.  In essence what you’re looking for purely from a positional standpoint is laid out below. I’ll spare you the details of looking into specific traits other than what Patrick Graham outlined last Friday in what he looks for in his front seven players:

1) Play with your hands/be heavy-handed.
2) Good knee bend and leverage
3) Eye discipline

In short this means fundamentally sound and smart players that fit the following roles:

DE: A bigger/longer player that’s likely going to be asked to play 5, 6, 7 and 9 techniques
NT: A nose tackle body type capable of playing 0, 1 (shade), 2i and 3 techniques (more 1 and 3 techniques)
DT: A true 3-technique style player who may also be asked to play 4i and 5 techniques
DE: A 3-4 OLB-esque style of player who can play 5, 6, 7, 8 (yeah, that’s a thing), and 9 techniques
OLB/LB:  A player capable of playing off the ball as a WILL LB or inside in a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 front
MLB: A player capable of playing a traditional MLB or inside in a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 front; may play some SAM
3-4 OLB:  Separate from the position above, but possibly able to be filled by the same player.  Someone who can set the edge from a stand-up position like a 3-4 OLB or play as an off-the-ball SAM

The secondary spots are pretty self-explanatory there, but I think Miami NEED to come out of this offseason with finding a second player that can play as a MOF FS in addition to Minkah Fitzpatrick. 

So, if we’re keeping score at home based solely on the guys that Miami have under contract on the roster right NOW you’re probably looking at going into camp with the following depth chart:

DE: Tank Carradine, Jonathan Woodard, Jeremiah Valoaga
NT: Davon Godchaux, Kendrick Norton, Jamiyus Pittman
DT: Vincent Taylor, Akeem Spence
DE: Charles Harris? Robert Quinn, Andre Branch
OLB/LB:  Jerome Baker, Charles Harris? Chase Allen? Kiko Alonso
MLB: Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Chase Allen, James Burgess, Quentin Poling, Samuel Eguavoen,
3-4 OLB/OLB:  Chase Allen?
CB1: Xavien Howard, Torry McTyer, Jomal Wiltz
CB2: Cordrea Tankersley, Cornell Armstrong, Dee Delaney
Slot: Bobby McCain, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Davis
FS: Minkah Fitzpatrick
SS: Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Walt Aikens

Strikethrough = projected cut due to salary or poor fit reasons.

Italics = possible salary cap cut or questions about injury and/or fit concerns

Looking at the above, you can see Miami’s shopping list this offseason will be extensive.  I won’t dive into that right here right now, but I will be looking to put together a piece on players I think Miami will be likely to target.

@KevinMD4

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Sign Chris Reed

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Looks like the Miami Dolphins have begun replacing the plethora of offensive linemen they either released or let walk this past offseason.

According to the Dolphins official social media account, the team signed offensive guard Chris Reed.

Details of the contract are currently unknown, but with the losses of Ja’Wuan James, Ted Larsen, Josh Sitton and possibly even players like Jake Brendel and Travis Swanson, the Dolphins need bodies to fill out their roster.

After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of the 2015 NFL draft, Reed was placed on the team’s practice squad and wasn’t activated until September, 2016. Over the past three seasons, Reed has been active for 25 games and started 8 of them.

You can’t expect too much from this signing, as Reed is simply expected to compete for depth on the offensive line and it’s possible he doesn’t even make the team out of training camp. Then again, Ted Larsen was originally supposed to be offensive line depth and he ended up playing 1,272 snaps over the course of his two-year Dolphins career.

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Rebuilding Previous Rebuilds

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have accepted the notion that the Miami Dolphins are going to start rebuilding their franchise in 2019 (and as a result, a lot of losing will incur), we have moved on to the optimistic hope that this team is going to build their foundation “right”.

Hope is about the only thing that will temper the frustration that comes with going 6-10 with freshly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as our starting quarterback, so over the next calendar year, you’re going to hear how most decisions are geared towards 2020.

Sure, Fitzpatrick will dazzle us with a couple 400-yard passing games and a few offensive performances that trick us into believing that we don’t need to desperately grab a franchise quarterback, but don’t let those extremely inconsistent anomalies fool you. Miami most definitely needs a franchise quarterback – one that leaves us with minimal doubts at the top of the draft.

Are they going to trade up for one in 2019? Or are they going to, um, conveniently lose in 2019 and attempt to save their assets for 2020, where there’s a chance that four starting-caliber quarterbacks come out of college – all of whom are possibly better than the top-2 quarterbacks in this class: Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray?

As Travis echoed on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins are building a treasure trove of draft picks that will allow themselves to navigate the murkiest of trade waters in either 2019 or 2020. With the trade of Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans netting Miami an extra 4th-round draft pick – along with the assumption that losing Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos will return an extra 3rd-round pick as a compensatory selection – Miami will have the ability to tack on whichever mid-round picks are required to seal the deal for a top-3 draft pick.

But with all of these assets in mind, can we confidently assume that the Dolphins are just one year away from being a relevant franchise that can sustain success? No, not one bit.

Since Chris Grier took over as the Director of College Scouting in 2007, Miami has had 5 drafts in which they have had at least 9 draft picks to work with. Although it’s obvious that not every draft pick is going to pan out, the assumption is that a team should be able to identify enough cheap labor to fill their roster. You don’t need superstars in every round, though it would be nice if the Dolphins drafted even one of them.

Before you get ready to soak in the success of 2020, I’m going to remind you of the somber past we have together. Hopefully, Grier doesn’t allow history to repeat itself:

2007

Chris Grier’s first year on the job yielded Miami with multiple draft steals, but came with an ample amount of draft busts as well.

Whether the selection was general manager Randy Mueller‘s, head coach Cam Cameron‘s, Grier’s, or a combination of the three, the Miami Dolphins shocked everyone by selecting Ted Ginn Jr with the 9th-overall pick in the draft.

Choosing Ted Ginn Jr over Brady Quinn proved to be the correct choice, but was Ginn really the player you wanted to commit a top-10 pick to? Especially when he was coming off of an injury and was seen more as a dynamic kick returner than an elite, #1 receiver?

Here are a few players taken shortly after Ginn was picked #9: Patrick Willis (11), Marshawn Lynch (12) and Darrelle Revis (14). I was going to include Lawrence Timmons (15th-overall), but I don’t think Miami fans are going to think too fondly of that linebacker (though let’s be honest, he was still a better pick than Ginn).

But the Miami Dolphins had 10 draft picks in 2007, and should have been able to build a team with more than just a failed 1st-round pick, right? Alas, this is what they graced us with that year:

Paul Soliai in the 4th-round and Brandon Fields in the 7th-round ended up being phenomenal choices for the Dolphins, as both players combined to play 227 games with Miami. Even Samson Satele was a good selection in the 2nd-round; Miami just doesn’t understand their own talent and allowed Satele to be a good starting center for two other teams instead of their own.

The rest of that draft class? Combined to be active for 32 games with the Dolphins. All of which were off the team by the start of the 2008 season.

2008

Coming off of a 1-15 season that felt less like a rebuild and more like a purgatory, the Dolphins were now poised to genuinely begin their ascension with the 1st-overall selection in the draft.

The thing is, Miami’s biggest mistake wasn’t selecting Jake Long with the #1 overall pick, but bringing an archaic Bill Parcells on board to build a team for the future.

Parcells figured there was no sense having a franchise quarterback if there was no one to protect him (the opposite logic of what the Dolphins did with Ryan Tannehill throughout his career), and selected Jake Long to protect whoever’s blindside.

You might be able to excuse Parcells for selecting a potential hall of fame left tackle (for the first four years of their career) over Matt Ryan, since Miami did have 8 more draft picks that year. Instead, this is how the draft shook out:

Kendall Langford was a solid player on the Dolphins defensive line throughout his rookie contract, but other than Jake Long he was the only player to plug a hole on the roster. You can say Chad Henne played prominently for the Dolphins, but we all know he was a detriment more than a solution, and even forced Miami to pick yet another quarterback in the 2nd-round the following draft.

Phillip Merling gave us that exciting interception against Brett Favre and the New York Jets the year Chad Pennington led the team to the playoffs, but other than that, he was basically an extra 1st-round pick that ended up being a complete bust.

After two years and 19 draft picks, the Dolphins should have set themselves up to be a young team worth reckoning with. Looking back, there were really only 5 players that filled a capable roster spot: Satele, Soliai, Fields, Long and Langford. For reference, NFL rosters held 52 players…

2009

After two failed drafts and nearly 19 wasted draft picks, the Miami Dolphins actually got a draft right. This comes with the caveat that it’s the third-consecutive year in which the team is selecting a quarterback in the 2nd-round, so it tells you just how lost the Dolphins really are.

Pat White was a fascinating college athlete to watch, but he had no business being a quarterback in the NFL. The football community was stunned to see White selected so high, but the Dolphins envisioned a quarterback that could complete their wildcat offense and keep opposing defenses confused at all times.

The only confusion White caused was on Miami’s offense, because the playbook was extremely small for the limited quarterback, and the offense was stale at best.

Miami’s best selections came from Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. The team also envisioned having a pair of young, cheap, shutdown corners to give Tom Brady, Brett Favre and whoever the Buffalo Bills had hell. And they were really onto something for a little bit, but Joe Philbin‘s inability to handle egos mixed with some immaturity on the player’s side “forced” the Dolphins to trade Davis and allow Smith to leave in free agency.

At the time, this was a very good draft, but looking back at it, it’s just some more disappointment:

Brian Hartline received a contract extension with the team and probably outperformed all of our expectations. Maybe it speaks to the lack of playmakers the Dolphins have had over their history, but Hartline has the 7th most receiving yards and 9th most receptions in Dolphins history. We can knock the extension as a separate topic, but selecting Hartline in the 4th-round was a very good draft pick.

Chris Clemons ended up playing 80 games with the Dolphins and served as a valuable depth player for 5 seasons.

This can be deemed a good draft for the Dolphins, but the problem is, we’re excited the team was able to find 3 starters. While every team would love to say they found 3 starters in each draft, the Dolphins didn’t have much of a roster around those guys, which meant the team hadn’t rebuilt much of anything up to this point.

A budding franchise looking to sustain success is going to need more than a good #3 receiver to escape mediocrity.

2012

2012 was another very good draft for the Dolphins that saw virtually no sustained success going forward. This is the point where you have to wonder if the Miami Dolphins legitimately try to win or if they’re fine creating media headlines and bringing in ad revenue.

Ryan Tannehill was the first 1st-round quarterback the Dolphins selected since Dan Marino back in 1983. Between all of the excitement and optimism, fans were sold on the fact that Tannehill was going to turn the team around (after he firmly learned the quarterback position). His old coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, was set to be his offensive coordinator, so you know Miami was really building this thing right because, you know, “chemistry”.

7 seasons later, and there are no surviving members of the 2012 draft class. In fact, only one of them made it past year 4 (Tannehill) – which also happens to be the same number of players eventually arrested from this draft class (Jonathan Martin).

How can a team sustain success when the team doesn’t sustain any of their successful players?

Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller proved to be great risks that Jeff Ireland took. Coming right out of the Dolphins backyard from the University of Miami, Vernon and Miller were underclassmen that Ireland saw potential in. And he was right.

Both outperformed their draft status and earned themselves wealthy contracts in free agency. This goes back to the argument that the Dolphins are incompetent when it comes to signing their own draft picks, so overall, this draft doesn’t seem like much, but this draft could have been much more than a free agent payday for 3 of their selections.

Rishard Matthews was one of the best 7th-round picks in Dolphins history, but Philbin’s deadpan personality placed Matthews on the bench for most of his rookie contract rather than the starting lineup ahead of players like B.J. Cunningham and Legedu Naanee.

As of 2019, the Dolphins are still looking for a player at every position from the list of 2012 draft picks (QB, RT, DE, TE, LB, WR and DT). You can say Miami doesn’t need a running back, but that’s also the easiest position to find and it’s not even like the team currently has a solidified running back room anyway.

2013

Identifying a “can’t-miss” athlete in an inactive market, Jeff Ireland made one of the best draft-day trades of the century and traded the team’s 1st-round pick (12th-overall) and 2nd-round pick (42nd-overall) to move up to #3 overall. That kind of trade would be unheard of today, where those top picks are commodities that you have to pry away with current and future draft capital.

So what did the Dolphins do with their robbery? Select a stellar athlete with a history of demons that rivals that of Josh Gordon.

Dion Jordan was built to be a football player, but he never actually wanted to be a football player. He wanted to escape reality and realized this was a profession he was good at. Fortunately for Jordan, but unfortunately for the Dolphins, Jordan took 5 years to mature past all of those inner turmoils and emerge as a defensive threat.

But like the theme of this article, his success doesn’t benefit the Miami Dolphins one bit.

Dion Jordan wasn’t the only player to fail Miami’s expectations yet perform better elsewhere.

2nd-round pick Jamar Taylor was always hampered by injuries and was shipped to the Cleveland Browns for a 27 slot draft boost in the 7th-round (a farcry from #54 overall). Dion Sims was a solid backup and blocking tight end before cashing in with the Chicago Bears. Mike Gillislee was a decent kick returner who has seen a good amount of success as a running back with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Even Caleb Sturgis was viewed as a “bust” and has since played 36 games for other teams.

You could argue that Don Jones was Miami’s best draft pick behind Dion Sims that year, and that’s only because he was a very good gunner on special teams.

Truth is, the Dolphins have had plenty of opportunities to rebuild and yet, years later, here we are, still trying to rebuild. So now that Chris Grier has ultimate control, will this be the rebuild the Dolphins finally turn it around? 6th time’s a charm, right?

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Miami Dolphins

Free Agent Analysis: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Travis Wingfield

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Buckle up, Phins Fans – the Fitzmagic Roller Coaster is coming to your town

Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his eight NFL team following a circuitous route that spans 14 seasons as a professional football player. The journeyman stopgap heads to America’s retirement home on a two-year contract that starts at $11 million and could escalate to $20 million if unspecified incentives are met.

Though details of the contract’s structure are not yet available, it’s a near certainty that the bulk of the money will be paid out in year-one. With the Dolphins eating a chunk of dead cap, and pushing assets down the road, this move not only helps Miami get closer to the salary floor, it secures a sturdy backup quarterback for the 2020 season.

Whether it’s Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm or any other quarterback prospect, Fitzpatrick has been heralded for his calm demeanor and approach to providing this very important element to his past teams.

Barring a trade-up for one of the top two prospects in this draft Fitzpatrick will be under-center when the Dolphins open the season on the second Sunday in September. Only one September ago, Fitzpatrick was on an unprecedented roll for a quarterback of his caliber – of any caliber, really.

After the three-game stretch of consecutive 400 yard outputs, Fitzpatrick throttled into a nosedive throwing for less than 250 yards in four of his next five starts. Cumulatively, his passer rating on the season was 100.4, but he failed to eclipse the 90.0 mark in all but one of his final six starts.

The strengths and weaknesses of Fitzpatrick’s game are abundantly clear. Where the flashes with Ryan Tannehill provided false hope, Fitzpatrick is an open book – it only takes a couple of games of all-22 to figure out exactly who he is.

First, the strengths. I’ve talked at length about the importance of a backup quarterback providing the locker room and huddle with a sense of comradery. Whether it’s this season or next, Fitzpatrick will eventually be relegated to the number-two QB. The Ewing Theory suggests that the rest of the roster can elevate its game when the backup enters the lineup, but that typically only applies when said backup is likable.

That clip also showcases the gamer-mentality of Fitzpatrick. With reckless abandon, he’ll take a hit for his team in a way you’d never want your franchise quarterback to play.

As for Fitzpatrick the starter, the strength of his game is also his biggest weakness. He trusts his eyes as much as any quarterback going right now and will let ‘er rip without hesitation. There’s a hint of Matt Moore in his game where he evaluates pre-snap and makes quick decisions based on the leverage of the defense.

The first touchdown of the season for Tampa Bay provides a terrific example of Fitzpatrick’s ability to move the defense with his eyes and hips. The clip also showcases his strength as a play-action passer when given a comfortable pocket.

There’s a reason he’s been on eight teams in 14 years, however. That anticipation, coupled with sloppy mechanics, gets him into a lot of hot water. If the defense is at all nuanced, and capable of disguising coverage, he’s going to turn the ball over a heck of a lot.

Randomly, the ball will sail as he is prone to rushing his setup and spraying bullets all over the field. Pressure in his face only amplifies this shortcoming.

All things told, this was the best veteran option available both in terms of playing time and veteran mentor to the inevitable draft pick coming in a year or two. There will be equal parts excitement and sheer frustration with Fitzpatrick playing in Miami.

As far as the Tank for Tua conversation, this signing likely solidifies that Miami will not be the worst team in football. I’ve argued that they would never reach those valleys to begin, even with a rookie or Luke Falk under-center. I believe too strongly in Brian Flores and the staff he has assembled for this team to lose a number of games in the teens. Fitzpatrick at least gets Miami out of the massive hole of unworthy NFL quarterback territory.

Ideally, the Dolphins find their quarterback straight away and never have to start Fitzpatrick. The more likely outcome is that he starts the season and puts the Dolphins in a tough spot regarding the playing time incentives in his contract.

This signing is great from a financial standpoint right now, but if the Harvard product (had to get it in) starts hitting those contract escalators, that would not be ideal.

@WingfieldNFL

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