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Miami Dolphins 2020 Roster Building Preview – Cornerback

Travis Wingfield



Looking back, looking ahead, and everywhere in between ahead of a critical Miami Dolphins offseason


This publication has always fancied itself as an unaffiliated extension of the Miami Dolphins operation. In an attempt to arm fans with the researched clues about the team might do — and commentary on what they should do — we like to follow the same timeline as the coaches and decision makers at the facility in Davie.

The time for reflection is now. The coaching staff will be reviewing the 2019 season with an eye on self-scouting, and evaluating the job of every member that donned the Dolphins logo this past fall. The college scouting staff is buried in draft prep, and the pro personnel side is under water searching for potential free agent targets.

Since Locked On Dolphins is the most comprehensive Miami Dolphins outlet in existence, we’ll tackle all three subjects.

1. Reviewing the incumbents
2. Identifying free agent targets
3. Stacking the draft board

And we’ll do it for every position. It’s 10 days of offseason preparation, here on Locked On Dolphins dot com, as well as the Locked On Dolphins Podcast.

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Offensive Line
Defensive Line


All things considered, the defensive backs of the Miami Dolphins outperformed expectations more so than any other area of the roster. The receivers might have an objection to that claim, but on paper, the Miami secondary should’ve never achieved a defensive stop.

The Dolphins — because of the hard reset on the cap, and injuries — used 21 different defensive backs this season. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills used less than half that amount with 10 each. Even a horrendously bad defense like the Jaguars used just 12 defensive backs all year.

Every week, it seems, Miami were picking up cornerbacks and throwing them into the fire. Amidst the chaos, Brian Flores, Josh Boyer and company might’ve discovered some hidden gems. Nik Needham has the look of a potential long-term starting perimeter corner, Jomal Wiltz has the makeup for quality depth, and Tae Hayes had a strong finish to the season.

Sweeping changes are likely to occur in this position group — maybe as many as five new additions. Developing depth from this group and having capable players ready to step onto the field in a pinch could prove invaluable.

Let’s look at the players that made up the ever-changing cornerback position in 2019 in Miami.

The Incumbents

Xavien Howard (Perimeter Exclusive)
Stats: 17 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 117.9 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 56.5 (141 of 213)
Snaps: 322 (28.8%)

Everything that could go wrong this season did for Xavien Howard. The knee issues that have plagued him since his time at Baylor showed up again, forcing the Dolphins to shut the star corner down after the Monday night game in Pittsburgh. Additionally, Howard was involved in a domestic dispute with his fiancé hours after Miami’s victorious season finale in New England.

At his healthy best, Howard is an elite, shutdown corner. He’s physical as all get out. He’ll press at the line as well as anyone, stay in phase up the stem, and then continues the aggression at the top of the route and at the catch point. He’s among the league’s best ball hawks with a better interception per game rate than any cornerback dating back to the end of the 2017 season. Ideally, he’s Flores’ version of Stephon Gilmore.

Bobby McCain (Slot, Perimeter, Free Safety)
Stats: 25 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 107.1 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 61.9 (108 of 175*safeties)
Snaps: 540 (48.3%)

McCain was exclusively at safety this past season. It’s entirely possible that’s where he stays, but he was always best as a slot cornerback, so we’ll move him for the time being. The safety experience only makes him a more valuable entity next year, and he excels in the areas that Brian Flores loves in a corner.

Tackling, ball-tracking, and ball skills are each traits McCain offers in spades, and he’s an unquestioned leader and captain of this defense. There’s an out in McCain’s contract after the 2020 season, so it’s imperative to find a distinct job he can regularly execute for him to be around beyond next year.

Nik Needham (Perimeter Exclusive)
54 tackles, 2 INTs, 11 PBU, 116.6 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 60.8 (106 of 213)
Snaps: 742 (66.4%)

After earning first-team work in training camp, and then getting absolutely victimized in the preseason opener, Dolphins fans couldn’t sell Needham stock fast enough. Serving as the microcosm of the entire Dolphins season, Needham responded to give Miami a quality perimeter corner from out of nowhere.

Needham has two traits that will keep him in the league for a long time. First, his instincts. He regularly falls off his man and jumps into the passing lane because of his studious prep work.

Second, he has the goods in the footwork department. A smooth operator, Needham has tremendous recovery instincts due in large part to the minimal wasted movement from the most important aspect of the game — the feet.

Jomal Wiltz (Slot, Safety)
53 tackles, 1 INT, 100.1 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 43.7 (196 of 213)
Snaps: 598 (53.5%)

This season was a learning experience for many of Miami’s young players, and Wiltz sits at the head of that table. Wiltz got beat a lot, but he continuously picked himself up off the mat and competed.

Wiltz worked his way up from practice squad nobody to a prominent figure in the Miami secondary. He’s a sure tackler and has corner/safety versatility — those two traits make him a terrific candidate to serve as Miami’s dime back next season.

Tae Hayes (Slot, Perimeter)
7 tackles, 2 PBU, 41.4 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 43.9 (195 of 213)
Snaps: 107 (9.6%)

A Late-December addition, Hayes was thrust into the lineup because of the dire situation at corner for Miami. All hays did was compete to the tune of a passer-rating-against nearing the number for a quarterback continuously spiking the ball into the ground (39.0).

Hayes can play inside and out, and will let you know when he wins a rep. He plays with his hair on fire and loves the trash talk aspect of the game.

Ryan Lewis (Perimeter Exclusive)
24 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 81.9 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 38.8 (205 of 213)
Snaps: 293 (26.2%)

Lewis’ best game came in primetime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, as he showed the mirror technique and pattern matching that will have him the good graces of this coaching staff. The question for Lewis — and many other Dolphins corners — are they talented enough to hold off high-priced imported parts? It’s not likely.

Ken Webster (Perimeter Exclusive)
Stats: 19 tackles, 1 PBU, 97.4 passer rating allowed
PFF Grade: 51.7 (170 of 213)
Snaps: 226 (20.2%)

Like Lewis, Webster’s health wouldn’t allow him to finish the season. A 2019 draft pick of the Patriots, Webster was immediately claimed by Miami after his release. He’s big, long and aggressive, and he’ll need to hone those traits into translatable production to earn a job on the squad next year.

Cordrea Tankersley (Perimeter Exclusive)
Stats: N/A
PFF Grade: N/A
Snaps: 0 (IR)

Tankersley is a match-made-in-heaven for this scheme, but the ACL tear in October 2018 cast some serious doubt over his future. Tankersley was never able to get on the field in 2019, and with just one year left on his rookie deal, time is getting short for the 2017 third-round pick.

Futures Contracts: Rishard Causey
Unrestricted Free Agents: Aqib Talib
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: Nate Brooks, Linden Stephens

Free Agent Market:

The Guy — Byron Jones

To acquire Jones Miami would likely have to match the contract awarded to Xavien Howard this past summer. As unlikely as that seems, Jones is worth it. A premier outside corner, Jones has played essentially every position in the secondary since his first-round selection out of UCONN.

His tackling is superb, his versatility allows the defense to disguise coverages and blitz concepts, and his ball production doesn’t match the skill set he has tracking the football in the air. Dallas is unlikely to bring Jones back, but Miami would be stretching the defensive back budget with an offer to the star corner.

The Reasonable Route — Logan Ryan

We talk all the time about smooth transitions for free agents changing teams. For Logan Ryan, he’d show up for the first day of work with a comprehensive understanding of the system and the program.

The Titans would be foolish to let Ryan walk, but perhaps with contracts coming for Ryan Tannehill, Derek Henry, and Jack Conklin, the underrated corner can shake free. He’s aggressive, he’s an exceptional tackler, and he’s just as good in the slot as he is outside. If he signed up with the Dolphins he’d probably play the slot in nickel and dime packages, and stay on the field in base as one of two perimeter corners.

The Sleeper — Brian Poole

The lone keeper of the Jets cornerback group a year ago, something would have to go terribly wrong for the Jets to let Poole walk. Or perhaps he asks for too much money, and in that event, the Dolphins probably stay away. Poole is strictly a slot corner and he’s been steady in that role.

Other Notable Free Agent Cornerbacks:

Player 2019 Team
Chris Harris Jr. Broncos
Jimmy Smith Ravens
Bradley Roby Texans
Ronald Darby Eagles
Darqueze Dennard Bengals
Eli Apple Saints
Daryl Worley Raiders
Rashaan Melvin Lions


The Draft:

The Guy — Jeff Gladney

Only Okudah (CB1) has better feet than Gladney. The smooth transition and weight-transfer skill set allows him to pattern match, mirror, press, play off, and fire out of a back pedal with ease. He will need to learn to use his length better at the next level, he’s not great at rerouting.

Although Gladney is best in coverage, he rarely misses a tackle. He has the long-speed to stay in phase on takeoff routes outside, and does well to clear his hips and change direction to keep up with the shiftiness that slot receivers present. The inside-outside versatility puts him atop Miami’s board in this exercise (sans Okudah since I believe he’s a top 5 pick).

The Reasonable Route — A.J. Terrell

Terrell had the task of a lifetime in the National Championship Game. Drawing Ja’Marr Chase is enough to make any corner look silly, but Terrell competed and had his share of wins in the matchup.

For such an aggressive, long, press-man corner, Terrell can flip the hips and transition well enough to win as a man-cover corner. He’s a smart player that can get a little bit grabby, which will draw more flags in the NFL, but he’s exactly the prototype Miami wants in its man-heavy defense.

The Sleeper — Damon Arnette

A copy-and-paste approach from Terrell’s write-up would suffice here for Arnette. Overlooked because of the presence of Okudah and Shaun Wade in that Buckeye defensive backfield, Arnette took considerable strides this season in Columbus.

Arnette will challenge every route at the three critical points — off the line, at the top of the stem, and at the catch point. He’s a sound tackler, but isn’t real interested in fighting off blocks. He’s more athletic than most players with his play-style which should bump his draft stock come April.

Travis Wingfield’s 2020 Cornerback Draft Rankings:

(Rank) Player School
1. Jeff Okudah Ohio State
2. Jeff Gladney TCU
3. Kristian Fulton LSU
4. A.J. Terrell Clemson
5. Trevon Diggs Alabama
6. Bryce Hall Virginia
7. Jaylon Johnson Utah
8. Damon Arnette Ohio State
9. Cameron Dantzler Mississippi State
10. C.J. Henderson Florida


This position will be interesting to follow as the Dolphins could take a variety of routes towards the solution. Signing Logan Ryan essentially fixes the position — if we are to assume that Howard is healthy and McCain returns to the slot — and the same could be true of drafting Okudah with the fifth pick, or one of the other top corners later in the first round.

Instead, I believe the Dolphins will rely on their greatest strength in the coaching staff, the ability to get production from the position with minimal investment. It’s expected that Needham takes another step next season, but Miami should still invest in competition for the former UTEP Miner.

Arnette, Terrell, Gladney, Diggs, and Johnson all make a lot of sense on day-two of the draft. Or the Dolphins could opt to go after a mid-tier free agent like Eli Apple or Rashaan Melvin.

And we’d be foolish to dismiss the possibility of Josh Boyer finding another gem from the 2020 undrafted free agent class. Or perhaps that surprise player is already in house. Above all, Miami will probably utilize more safeties, making the need to acquire multiple corners obsolete.

2020 Cornerback Rankings (Listed in Order of Snaps):

1. Xavien Howard
2. Bobby McCain
3. Damon Arnette
4. Nik Needham
5. Jomal Wiltz
6. Tae Hayes
7. Trajan Bandy


Tomorrow: Safeties

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina



Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina



Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina



Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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