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Miami Dolphins 2020 Roster Building Preview – Cornerback

Travis Wingfield

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

Foreword:

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.

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Edge/Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties

Cornerbacks

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)
Stats:
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)
Stats:
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)
Stats:
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)
Stats:
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

@WingfieldNFL

Tomorrow: Safeties

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Miami Dolphins

Are the Dolphins Done Reshaping the Roster for 2020?

Kevin Dern

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Unless you’ve been in the deepest of quarantines by now you’ve familiarized yourself with Miami’s offseason moves. The Dolphins brought in 12 free agents, 11 draft picks, traded for a running back, and signed 10 undrafted free agents. That’s 34 new names on the 90 man roster as we [hopefully] gear up for training camp in a month and a half.  Despite all the moves, Miami currently has four roster spots open. That’s 86 spots, not counting Durval Queiroz Neto, who is roster exempt, so the question has to be asked: Are they done for now?

We all know that changes will happen in camp. There could be a surprised UDFA or two that makes the roster. Someone could, and likely will, get injured to free up a spot. But, for right *NOW* are the Dolphins done?

I tend not to think so. So who might they be after? I don’t have any inside information, but from what media information we know, and some of my own speculation, I’ve got four names I suspect Miami might be onto. Two big fish and two guys that might be a little more under the radar.

Logan Ryan
The biggest name thus far Miami has been linked to is former Titans and Patriots Cornerback Logan Ryan. Sports Illustrated’s Alain Poupart had this story on May 14th.

https://www.si.com/nfl/dolphins/news/the-latest-on-the-status-of-logan-ryan-and-the-miami-dolphins-interest

Aside from the obvious connection to Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores, Logan Ryan checks a lot of boxes Miami’s looked for this offseason.  Ryan’s a smart, team-first guy. He’s got position flexibility – able to play on the perimeter or in the slot and he already knows Miami’s defensive system.

But, corners in this league are expensive. It appears that Logan Ryan wants a one-year “prove it” deal. He’s betting on himself and cited Titans QB Ryan Tannehill as one of the reasons why. And per the Miami Herald, Logan Ryan’s agents have told the Dolphins he wants $10M or more for a year. That’s pricey, but Logan Ryan might be worth it; let’s take a look.

In this first clip, you can’t see him at the snap, but he’ll come in from the slot on the offense’s left side and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against the run and stops Nick Chubb for a short gain.

Later in the same game, he gets a sack on Baker Mayfield (Yes, this play was ruled a sack). Ryan will come in from the right side of the screen, again the offense’s left, on a slot blitz. He gets blocked but is able to redirect and chases Baker Mayfield down for the sack.

Finally, in this clip, he plays press man against T.Y. Hilton from the slot. That’s a valuable skill Miami will like. Hilton’s going to try and break outside, but Logan Ryan reads the play, and showcases a nice burst to secure the pick.

Ultimately, signing Logan Ryan gives Miami a proven slot player who can also play man coverage on the perimeter, allowing Miami to matchup their defense however they please. He’d also gives them a buffer from having to having to give Noah Igbinoghene a ton of snaps right off the bat, if they so desire. At worst, you could spoon feed Igbinoghene at first until he’s grasped his role, then you can increase his snaps. And with Ryan looking for a one year deal, that might be amenable to all parties.

Larry Warford
It’s not too often at this stage of the offseason there’s a 29 year old (turns 29 on June 18th), three-time Pro Bowl guard is available. But that’s just what Larry Warford is. Saints Coach Sean Payton once said that he likes his guards to “have mass and ass” in order to keep a clean, firm middle of the pocket for Drew Brees to operate. Well, if there’s one rookie quarterback this year that is built like and operates like Drew Brees, it’s Tua Tagovailoa. And, between you and me, I think Tua’s going to end up playing a lot sooner than people think.

What adding Larry Warford would likely do for Miami is solidify four of the five starting offensive line spots. If Miami signed him, I think it’s safe to assume Miami would have (from left to right) Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras, Larry Warford, and a battle between Jesse Davis and Robert Hunt. That’s a battle that Miami likely would want Hunt to win, as you can keep Jesse Davis as a swing tackle and guard. It would also allow them to bring Solomon Kindley along slowly. I didn’t watch it, but have heard that either Flores and/or Grier compared Kindley to Shaq Mason, who was a project that the Patriots brought along because he didn’t have much pass-blocking experience coming from Georgia Tech’s option offense. Well, with Kindley it gives you a chance to hone his game in total for a year or two while getting a veteran who walks in the door the best lineman the Dolphins would have.

Three quick clips of Larry Warford for you coming up.

First, we’ll see Warford and RT Ryan Ramczyk block up a T-E game. The DT is going to go outside and J.J. Watt comes inside to Warford. They switch it with relative ease and Warford is so big that J.J. Watt can’t generate a pop to knock Warford back and collapse the pocket.

Next, and this one is quick. It’s a jet sweep to Kamara going the other way, but look at Larry throwing bodies out the club! That kind of punch is something Miami haven’t had in a guard since Richie Incognito was in town.

Finally, we see a rep against DT D.J. Reader, who got paid this offseason. Reader’s listed at 347lbs, and someone that large shouldn’t be moved that easily.

Warford gives you size, smarts and strength inside. And, if Miami are going to possibly have a rookie RT in Robert Hunt, that kind of veteran presence can help bring him up to speed quickly. For my money, I’d sign Larry Warford over Logan Ryan since Miami’s Defensive Staff seemed to be able to bring in DBs off the street and get them up to speed enough to start in the same week. Kudos to Josh Boyer for that, but I think there’s more value in bringing in Warford now, and possibly for the next two or three years, than there is for Logan Ryan on a one year deal.

That said, both players would make the Dolphins better and I’m not opposed to Logan Ryan by any means.

Damon Harrison
Okay, so you’ve probably heard of “Snacks” Harrison before. But did you realize he was still out there as a free agent? Kudos if you did. Miami signing “Snacks” doesn’t seem like it’d be in the cards. Harrison is 31 years old, had a tough year last year with injuries in Detroit to the point he contemplated retirement, but hear me out.

Wind the clock back to 2018 when Brian Flores was calling the Patriots Defense. Same defense Miami’s running now. The Patriots had over 1,000 total snaps on defense that year. Danny Shelton played just 31% of them, with 324 total snaps. NT in this defense is a part-time position.

That year the Patriots gave out the following snaps to interior defensive linemen:

Malcom Brown – 456 (43.7%)
Lawrence Guy – 519 (49.8%)
Adam Butler – 379 (36.3%)
Danny Shelton – 324 (31.1%)

With Miami’s drafting of Raekwon Davis, you sort of assume he and Godchaux are going to take on the roles of Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. Christian Wilkins takes on the role of Lawrence Guy, and perhaps Raekwon Davis takes some of those snaps as well to keep him fresh. As of now, I’d expect Zach Sieler to take on Adam Butler’s workload, which was a rotational DT and someone who can be used on passing downs; Sieler has more skill there than Godchaux or Davis in my opinion.

But what if Miami were able to bring in “Snacks” Harrison to take on that NT role? It’d allow you to give Davis more focused snaps and let him use some of his upfield ability to help spell Godchaux and take on that Adam Butler role. It might mean the end for Zach Sieler in Miami, who is on an Exclusive Rights Free Agent Tender for this year. No harm if you move on.

So what would snacks bring to the table? First, like Logan Ryan, he knows the system to some degree having played under Matt Patricia in Detroit. There may be some differences here an there, but he can pick that up, and it’s a specialized role. Two, he’s a proven run-stopper. Even last year with the Lions with all his injuries he was still effective. Let’s take a look.

Here’s a back-to-back play sequence against the Eagles in Week 3.

First, Harrison’s actually lined up at 3-technique against Brandon Brooks, one of the most underrated players in the NFL. “Snacks” will never confuse for Aaron Donald and he doesn’t muster much of a rush, but he stays with the play and gets his hand up to deflect Carson Wentz’s pass.

The very next play is what he does best. Lined up as a true NT, he ushers Jason Kelce away with one arm, plays down the line horizontally and stops Miles Sanders for no gain. That’s what you like to see out of someone who is 6’3” and 350lbs.

Against the Packers you’ll see him as a 3-technique again and he defeats a double-team by Billy Turner and Bryan Bulaga and makes a run stop on Aaron Jones.

The final clip for “Snacks” comes when he gets a sack of Aaron Rodgers later in that same game. He’s going to work off a double-team by Billy Turner and Corey Linsley, gets around it, and though he’s out of his pass rush lane he keeps working and dumps Rodgers for a sack.

The knocks against “Snacks” are that he’s older than every player on the Dolphins roster save for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He battled through injuries, contemplated retirement and told ESPN that he was “hell-bent” on getting out of Detroit. Did he not like the system? The coaches? How does that parlay into Miami if he signs here considering Flores and Patricia’s backgrounds intertwine in Foxboro? While I think this signing might be more unlikely than both Logan Ryan and Larry Warford, it wouldn’t shock me given Miami’s defensive scheme and the players that Brian Flores has traditionally seen in that role.

Mike Weber
Going a little off the beaten path here. The Chiefs waived Mike Weber, who was a seventh round draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. Weber rushed for 1,000+ yards as a redshirt freshman at Ohio State, replacing Ezekiel Elliott. An injury in summer workouts the next year opened the door and J.K. Dobbins passed him on the depth chart, but Weber still rushed for 626 yards and 10 TDs that year. He tallied nearly 1,100 yards and nine more TDs as Dobbins backup in 2018, and declared for the Draft.

Going to Dallas, Weber wasn’t going to get much of a shot behind Ezekiel Elliott, especially after Elliott’s contract extension. He also was beaten out by Tony Pollard in 2019 for the backup job. Weber spent time with the Chiefs on their practice squad during their Super Bowl Run.

Weber has yet to collect a carry in the NFL during the Regular Season, so I don’t have clips for you here. My rationale for Miami possibly being interested in Weber is that Miami had a strong interest in J.K. Dobbins during the Draft this year. Weber played in that same offense at Ohio State and put up big numbers as well. In my opinion, he was more physical as a runner, but lacked the explosiveness. He goes 5’10” 210lbs, so he’s bridging the gap in size between Jordan Howard and Matt Breida.

Kalen Ballage hasn’t proven very effective doing much of anything. Patrick Laird is a nice story, but is probably best served by playing on special teams. We didn’t see much of Myles Gaskin in 2019, save for the Bengals game in Week 16, so he’s still a bit of an unknown. With four open roster spots, what’s the harm in bringing in Weber for a look?

We’ll see what Miami does, and they could very well opt to do nothing. But Logan Ryan, Larry Warford, Damon Harrison, are three guys I think they ought to consider. Each of the three, in my opinion, makes the position group on the Dolphins better they moment they walk in the door. Mike Weber would be more of a reclamation project, but I like his odds of competing against Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, and Myles Gaskin for a potential roster spot.

Stay safe and FinsUp!

 

 

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Miami Dolphins

Setting the Edge: Miami’s New Additions Up Front

Kevin Dern

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It’s no secret that Miami’s defense was bad last year. The Dolphins ranked 32nd in the league in points allowed, mostly due to giving up 102 points in the first two games alone. Their run defense, which was an eyesore under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke during the Adam Gase tenure remained problematic in Brian Flores’s first year. Miami gave up 135.4 yards per game, 27th in the league, and 4.2 yards per carry, 22nd in the league. Not good.

Miami’s pass defense wasn’t sterling by any means. Injuries to Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain hurt. Trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t help. But I think we all can appreciate that Miami’s passing defense progressed throughout the year despite having to field a secondary that consisted of: Eric Rowe playing two positions, Nik Needham, Ryan Lewis, Ken Webster, Tae Hayes, Nate Brooks, Adrian Colbert, Walt Aikens, and Montre Hartage at various points.

The Dolphins will have a hopefully healthy Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain back. They signed the premier free agent corner in Byron Jones, drafted Noah Igbinoghene in the first round and drafted Brandon Jones in the third. They also signed safeties Clayton Fejedelem and Kavon Frazier, who have some starting experience in the past with Cincinnati and Dallas respectively. Things are pointing up more solidly in the back end of the defense.

But what about the additions to the front?

The interior players from last season remain largely intact with Davon Godchaux, Christian Wilkins, Jerome Baker, and Raekwon McMillan all returning. Zach Sieler only played in three games but looks promising and his Week 16 performance against the Bengals was arguably the best game for a Miami defensive lineman since Cameron Wake was still on the roster. Kyle Van Noy will likely play a good chunk of his snaps off the ball, as he did under Brian Flores in 2018. Elandon Roberts will at the very least be good depth up the middle.

And the edges of the defense?

First, I think it’s important to distinguish that Miami uses both defensive ends and outside linebackers as edge defenders in different formations. So, to label them all as EDGE players, as seems to be common practice these days, is a bit misleading as it relates to the Dolphins defense. My purpose for this article is to breakdown how the Dolphins got better on the edges this offseason and what we can expect from them in 2020.  Here’s whose on the roster right now:

Defensive Ends
Shaq Lawson
Avery Moss
Emmanuel Ogbah
Jason Strowbridge
Curtis Weaver

*Emmanuel Ogbah, Jason Strowbridge and Shaq Lawson all can play tighter techniques to the ball when called upon (ex: 3, 4i, 4 and in some cases 0).

Outside Linebackers
Vince Biegel
Trent Harris
Andrew Van Ginkel
Kyle Van Noy

*Kyle Van Noy will very likely see snaps off-the-ball as a traditional ILB in addition to edge reps as an OLB. Biegel and Van Ginkel will also get snaps as stand-up DEs (ex: standup 5 or 6 tech in a 3-3-5 Bear front)

If you’ve read my articles on LockedOn before, you’ll know that I believe we’ll see Brian Flores defense really take shape this year. When Flores ran the Patriots defense in 2018, his most used formations were the 4-2-5 (307 snaps), 3-3-5 (226 snaps), 3-2-6 (132 snaps), and 4-3 (97 snaps). Last year’s use of the 3-4 I think was more built out of necessity. Miami’s edge players were bad at setting the edge, and with their ever-changing personnel I think Patrick Graham used more 3-4 looks because it was easier to coordinate. I think this year, with the improved personnel, we’ll see more of what Brian Flores was running in New England in 2018.

One note to consider is that prior to the bye week, we saw more examples of the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 formations, often with the same personnel. Below are several screenshots from Miami’s games in Weeks 1-3.

Standard 4-2-5
DL:  Moss, Godchaux, Wilkins Harris
LB:  Baker, Eguavoen

3-3-5 formation with 4-2-5 personnel
D-line: Moss, Godchaux, Wilkins, Charlton (OLB)
LBs: Baker, Eguavoen

3-2-6 formation with three DEs (Ruby)
D-line: Biegel, C. Harris, Moss
LBs: Baker, Eguavoen

4-3 Over
D-line: Moss, Wilkins, Godchaux, C. Harris
LBs: Eguavoen, McMillan, Baker

* Note Miami will play under and even looks out of 4-3 personnel.

Let’s get one thing straight. Miami’s defense is very multiple. They will play these formations with non-traditional personnel. For example, if we go back to 2018 when Brian Flores was calling the Patriots Defense, watch their Sunday Night Game against the Packers. New England opens that game with 4-2-5 personnel but using three DEs in the grouping. They used Trey Flowers as a 3-technique on 1st and 2nd downs that drive. Miami will do similar things, for instance, they had Taco Charlton line up as an OLB in their 3-3-5 look seen above.

My gut feeling is that this year, Miami’s defense will more closely resemble the 2018 Patriots in terms of what they deploy, both in formations and in personnel packages, than it will resemble anything Miami ran last year post-bye week.

For a more in-depth look at that, I’ll reference you to this piece I wrote in February of 2019 shortly after Brian Flores was hired. Inside the Film Room.

The remainder of this piece will cover the following additions Miami made this offseason and how they will fit: Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson, Kyle Van Noy, Jason Strowbridge, and Curtis Weaver.

As a whole, this group should give Miami much improve ability up front on the edges of the defense. Primarily, Ogbah, Lawson, Van Noy and Strowbridge should provide an immediate shot in the arm for the run defense. The first three and Curtis Weaver should all prove to be better pass-rushers than anyone Miami deployed on the edge last year, be it a DE or OLB.

Emmanuel Ogbah
First things first about Ogbah. He’s big. And he’s long. At 6’4” 275lbs he’s got 35.5” arms and 10” hands. He’s got power and some explosiveness – 35.5” vert and 121” broad jumps. These are things to note about him. Ogbah was having a really nice year with the Chiefs notching 5.5 sacks before an injury cut short his 2019 campaign. He uses that length and power really well to set the edge against the run, and those long arms have come in handy as he’s got 20 career deflected passes.

In this first clip, you’ll see Ogbah (#90) at LDE for the Chiefs. His play recognition here is excellent as he feels the tackle release to setup for a screen. Ogbah slows his rush immediately and looks to get into the pass lane. The Jaguars had a double screen called and Foles goes the opposite way.

Clip number two shows Ogbah’s ability to affect the passing lanes. His rush against Ronnie Stanley seems a bit off, and I think this may have been a game-planned spy attempt as the Chiefs blitz a corner from that side. If it’s not, then Ogbah has good recognition to stop his rush and drop into the passing lane and get his hands up to deflect Lamar Jackson’s pass for an incompletion.

Against the Packers, Ogbah showcases his length and speed in this pass-rush. He uses his long arms well to engage Bryan Bulaga in a bull-rush move. He’s able to start to turn the corner and executes a rip move to free himself and sack Aaron Rodgers.

In our final clip of Emmanuel Ogbah, we’ll see him against the Vikings. Here he’s able to set a hard edge against LT Riley Rieff and he’s able to get upfield enough to force Dalvin Cook to cut inside into traffic where he’s stopped for a short gain.

Overall, Ogbah’s a guy that is going to set a hard edge and has some pass-rush ability. While I get that Dolfans may be upset that 91 isn’t “retired” the way 54 and 99 are, I think it’s fitting as he’ll be deployed like how the Patriots deployed their #91 Deatrich Wise. Ogbah can play on the edge all three downs. He’s long enough and strong enough to play tighter techniques inside. There are a number of reps of him at a 4i-technique being able to stop the run. It wouldn’t surprise me if Miami tries to utilize him as an inside rusher on 3rd downs, much like the Patriots did with Wise. The plus for Ogbah is that he’s a better athlete. He’ll be able to collect some wins as a pass-rusher from 6, 7 and 9 technique looks on 1st and 2nd downs in addition to setting the edge against the run.

Shaq Lawson
Another player coached by Marion Hobby here. Shaq is a player that’s had an odd start to his career. Drafted by the Rex Ryan coached Bills, he wasn’t a super scheme fit there and dealt with some injuries. Starting only 17 career games, none in 2019, Lawson carved out a nice niche for himself in the rotation-happy Bills D-line last year. My thought is that he is going to get opportunities to replicate some of the looks that Trey Flowers did for the Patriots and continues to be put in with the Lions, coached by Matt Patricia, who runs another Patriot-styled scheme.

Our first clip of Shaq is against the Dolphins in Week 11. He’s going to be lined up outside RT Jesse Davis in what you’d call a wide-5 technique. Lawson’s a bit slow off the snap, but he’s able to make himself small and is able to cross Jesse Davis’s face with a quick swipe move and makes a tackle for no gain.

The second clip isn’t necessarily a great pass-rush rep, but the reason I want to showcase it is because of where Lawson’s aligned. He’s in a 3-technique look against RG Evan Boehm. Lawson does a nice job hand-fighting with Boehm, eventually getting free inside despite giving up more than 50lbs to Boehm. This is important because Miami incorporates a lot of the 3-3-5 looks and 3-2-6 looks in passing situations that necessitate DEs being able to play inside. A lot of the pass-rush games, which we’ll see when I talk about Kyle Van Noy, come from a wider edge player coming around into the backside A or B gap. Lawson’s ability to get push in the pocket here is key in executing those games, and in this rep he’s able to get in Fitzpatrick’s face to help force an incompletion.

We’ll move to Buffalo’s week 12 matchup against the Broncos for our next rep. Part of the pass-rush games that is so important in this defense it the ability for players to be able to rush inside and get into A and B gaps. Here Lawson is lined up in a 4-technique over Broncos LT Garrett Boles. He gets a good jump on the snap and is able to cross into the backside A gap, beating the LG across his face to get middle pressure and a sack against Brandon Allen.

Our final clip of Shaq Lawson comes from the Bills vs. Patriots Game in Week 16. You probably already know what it is. Lawson’s lined up in a 5-technique and reads the fake jet sweep play and is able to stop Sony Michel for a big loss. He’s able to fight inside of the double-team block by the LT and WR from a nasty split. This shows Lawson’s get-off and is play recognition skill. He makes a great play tracking this down from inside. At worst, even if he misses the tackle, he’s mucked the play long enough for the CB to be able to force this back inside where it’s going to get a very minimal gain if anything.

Overall, I think Emmanuel Ogbah might end up being the better of the two DEs signed for Miami. Especially at the start. But I think there’s more to unlock with Shaq Lawson. If Marion Hobby can get him to work on his explosiveness of the snap and getting that more consistent, that will go a long way toward helping him. He’s a strong end capable of lining up in tight techniques like 3, 4i and 4. He’s shown ability to rush interior gaps, and that ability may lend itself to doing some, let’s say unique, things that Trey Flowers got to do with the Patriots, like playing a 0-technique in some of their LB heavy nickel looks and in their “playground”/radar defense. While I’m not sure Lawson will get looks like that off the bat, I think that’s something feasible down the road a bit if he can make his get-off more consistent and continue to develop his hand fighting abilities.

Kyle Van Noy
The Dolphins had to, HAD TO get better on the edges of the defense. Case in point they signed two DEs and drafted two more. Brian Flores spoke after the Draft about how players not filling the stat sheet doesn’t mean they had a bad game.  I believe that was in reference to Miami drafting Raekwon Davis. But it could be applied to Kyle Van Noy.

Van Noy may be the most important free agent signing and his impact will likely be rivaled only by Byron Jones for the hidden benefits they bring to the defense.  Why do I say this? It’s because of the many different things Brian Flores and Josh Boyer will be able to do on defense because of Van Noy.

First, he’s able to play ILB, and play it quite well. He can do this in 4-2-5 looks where he’s paired with someone. He can do it in 3-3-5 looks where he’s the guy.

Here you can see him lined up behind Adam Butler in a 3-3-5 look. The interesting thing to note here is that the Patriots had 4-2-5 personnel on the field with Deatrich Wise, Butler and Adrian Clayborn up front. They used Trey Flowers as an OLB in this look opposite Dont’a Hightower.

You want him to rush off the edge? No problem. Here in this GIF you can see the Patriots “playground” defense. Van Noy will be on the left side and rushes outside the left tackle.

In this clip against Dallas from 2019, we’ll see the Patriots in a 2-4-5 look (which is a 4-man front, but with OLBs instead of DEs. Miami rain this a lot against Philly and in Week 17 against the Patriots last year). Jason Witten shifts over to Van Noy’s side and Kyle is able use his arms, get extension and maintain good leverage to set the edge and help with the tackle as other defenders arrive to make the stop. Textbook!

Going back in time to 2018 against the Vikings, I want to give you two plays that were back-to-back in the game. First, we see Van Noy lined up over the RT. At the snap he’s going to drop into the short middle and read Kirk Cousins. He follows Cousins’ eyes to TE Kyle Rudolph and Van Noy just sits down in the zone right in front of him and Adam Butler gets a sack. That’s a hidden play there because Rudolph was open until Van Noy flowed that way.

But the real treat to Van Noy’s game is his prowess with pass-rush games. This is the very next play. The Patriots are in their 3-2-6 look, Diamond, but have RE Adrian Clayborn lined up head-up on TE Kyle Rudolph, whose got a short split. Clayborn helps reroute him at the snap then rushes (something we could see Ogbah and Lawson do?). But watch Van Noy here. He’s going to be lined up off-ball over the Vikings RT. He feints a rush upfield, stops and then loops around to the backside A gap. Adam Butler and Dont’a Hightower crash towards the strongside to effectively set “picks” (Ogbah, Lawson, Raekwon Davis, Wilkins) to allow Van Noy the free run at Cousins. Van Noy unloads on him and forces an incompletion.

He doesn’t notch a tackle, sack or pass deflection. Merely a pressure here. But his ability do run these pass-rush games is OUTSTANDING. Watch the 2018 AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl victories.

Want one more? Okay, fine you’ve got me! This is in the Super Bowl victory over the Rams on a 3rd down in the first half. The Patriots are lined up in a 4-2-5 look, their marble concept (DB inserted over the nasty split or TE) and Van Noy is the MLB. He simply sits in the underneath zone and takes away two different receivers – almost like a spy. Then Jared Goff scrambles and Van Noy explodes to chase him down for a 14 yard loss on a sack!

I expect Kyle Van Noy to be featured in multiple roles in this defense. Remember the picture of Miami’s 4-2-5 look way at the beginning? He can play either LB spot in that look – outside where Eguavoen is or as the MLB where Jerome Baker is. He can play ILB in 3-3-5 looks. He can set the edge as an OLB in 2-4-5 looks. You can use him in all manner of ways in pass-rush games. And regardless of where he plays, he’s very smart! You’re going to get good reps out of him. Knowing this system already will likely propel him into a leadership role on the defense, which in my view, will help younger guys like Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan and Andrew Van Ginkel. He can make sure they’re on top of their alignments and assignments and give them a living, breathing example of what it means to be a smart, tough and physical player. Do I sound like Coach Flores yet?

Jason Strowbridge
If you’ve followed me on Twitter leading up to the Draft, you know I’ve mentioned Strowbridge frequently as someone I’ve liked for Miami. And getting him in the 5th round is a bit of a steal in my opinion. He took on a role as a DT and 3-4 DE at North Carolina, getting minimal reps as a DE in a four man D-line. With the Dolphins, I think he’ll slot into the same position as Emmanuel Ogbah and be a part of the rotation behind him.

His experience playing tighter techniques as a Tar Heel will be one thing Miami will likely try to build on in pass-rush packages. Here’s a clip from Voch Lombardi’s film review of the Senior Bowl with Strowbridge rushing as a 3-technique.

Our next clip of Strowbridge comes from the Tar Heels Bowl Game against Temple. We’ll see Strowbridge lined up at LDE in a 4-man line. He’s able to use an arm over move to defeat the TE and uses his explosion to get into the gap ahead of the pulling guard and help make a TFL.

In this clip against Virginia Tech he’s able to use quickly recognize that both the RG and RT down block and he’s able to get inside of the TE who’s trying to reach him and gets inside of the backside guard pulling. That play recognition is key and he’s able to make a tackle for no gain. Strowbridge doesn’t always exhibit the greatest get off/explosiveness off the snap, but when he does, his eyes take him to the ball well.

In our final clip, we’re looking at something subtle that I think the Dolphins will appreciate. Remember Kyle Van Noy’s pass-rush against the Vikings from above? Well, it’s plays like this from the front line that allow those pass-rush games to happen. Here we see Strowbridge lined up at 3-technique to the near side. He rushes from the B gap to the A gap and is able to occupy the RG and the C, allowing the LB to have a free run at the QB. While the LB fails to make the sack, you can see how this translates to what Miami will be wanting to do.

Jason Strowbridge will need some coaching up, there’s no denying that. But his length, power and experience playing tighter techniques will come in handy. I think his workload will steadily increase as the season moves on. But at first, I think he can help spell Ogbah at Big DE in 4-man lines and might give Miami something as an interior player on 3rd down pass-rush packages.

Curtis Weaver
I think most people are aware of the “good player, bad body” stigma that Curtis Weaver’s carried throughout the Draft process. Daniel Jeremiah said as much when Miami selected him. Weaver could be a tremendous value pick for the Dolphins. I haven’t seen Boise State a lot, but Weaver seems to be strictly a stand-up DE, and I’d think that he’d be that for Miami starting off. Think Chris Long at the end of his run with the Patriots. Weaver can be a 3rd down pass-rusher right off the bat. But I think he’ll need to learn to play the run better in order to earn more snaps.

In our first clip we’ll see that Air Force brings a wing-back into pitch phase to fake an option play. Weaver is the stand-up DE nearest to us. He’s able to read that the motion player isn’t getting the ball before he fully steps into his rush. He uses a rip move to get around the RT and does a nice job turning his rush path into the QB.

This clip showcases Weaver’s strength. Here he’s able to split a double team for a sack.

In the final clip with Curtis Weaver, we’ll see him use his length to set the edge against the run. Marion Hobby will be charged with coaxing this ability out of him more consistently. But when he does, this will help him see more reps.

How all these pieces come together should be very fun to watch. Miami now has a pair of Big DEs – Ogbah and Strowbridge and a pair of Rush ends in Lawson and Weaver. Kyle Van Noy will be playing himself. We’ll also likely see guys like Vince Biegel, Andrew Van Ginkel and Raekwon McMillan get some snaps on the edge as Brian Flowers wasn’t shy about having those three play on the edge last year.

Another added benefit to this, could be that we see Christian Wilkin’s pass-rush potential unlocked more in his second season. With some of these new edge additions able to rush from multiple spots, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wilkins benefit on twists across the line.

While I won’t make any predictions on which of these guys leads the Dolphins in sacks, I will make two others:

1) These edge defenders will help Miami’s run defense improve. A lot.

2) In terms of pass-rush and the totality of the defense, this group of guys will allow Brian Flores and Josh Boyer to run the defense the way they want to and not be constrained into boiling it down like they did in 2019.

That final point is something we as Dolfans should all be very excited about! #FinsUp

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade Charles Harris to Atlanta Falcons

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are replacing former first-round picks with late-round prospects.

According to Jason Butt, the Falcons beat writer for The Athletic, the team has traded former 1st-round pick (22nd-overall in 2017) Charles Harris to the Atlanta Falcons for a conditional 7th-round draft pick in 2021.

Current conditions are unknown, but they’re expected to involve Harris either making the final roster, or being active for a certain number of games in 2020.

Trading Harris comes less than 24 hours after the Dolphins released fellow 2017 1st-round draft pick (28th-overall to the Dallas Cowboys), Taco Charlton. It was widely debated which of these pass rushers the Dolphins would draft that year, naively missing out on a much-better talent (drafted 30th-overall) in T.J. Watt.

Taco Charlton ironically ends up joining the Dolphins last year after being released by the Cowboys, and instantly saw more action than Harris. In 10 games with Miami, Charlton logged 396 defensive snaps (39.6 per game); in 14 games, Harris played 429 (30.64 per game).

Charles Harris showed promise his rookie season, but was never able to grow as a pass rusher. During his three years in Miami, Harris combined to accumulate: 3.5 sacks, 34 solo tackles, 10 tackles for a loss (TFL), and 23 quarterback hits. Think Cameron Wake had a down year for the Tennessee Titans last season? In the 9 games he was active for, Wake was still able to get 2.5 sacks and 11 QB hits.

Even more detrimental than his lackluster pass rush was Harris’ inability to set the edge in the running game. Infamously being flushed out on big runs, Harris was a liability on first & second down, and couldn’t generate the necessary pass rush on third down. The team tried their luck at outside linebacker, but the results were just as disappointing.

Teams can never have enough pass rush in today’s NFL, making defensive end a premium position to solve. That said, when Harris was drafted in 2017, Cameron Wake was still performing at a high level, and the team extended Andre Branch to a 3-year, $24m deal less than two months before the NFL draft. Defensive end wasn’t necessarily a need, and seeing such limited production from Harris only exemplifies our disappointment over the last decade.

A likely candidate to be cut after the team drafted defensive ends Jason Strowbridge (154th-overall) and Curtis Weaver (164th-overall) in the 5th-round, receiving compensation for Harris is a pleasant surprise, and speaks to the type of shrewd moves general manager Chris Grier has made over the past year, including:

  • The Laremy Tunsil haul.
  • The additional 2nd-round pick Miami acquired from the New Orleans Saints in the 2019 draft that led to them drafting Raekwon Davis.
  • The additional 6th-round pick they received from the Seattle Seahawks for the 5th-to-last pick in this year’s draft; which, at the bare minimum, is a 50-slot jump.

Miami now has 11 draft picks in 2021, with additional draft picks coming in rounds 1, 2, 6 and 7. And this doesn’t take potential compensatory picks in mind.

A new era is certainly blossoming under Brian Flores; unfortunately, it’s evident there wasn’t much of a foundation for him to build off of.

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