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Miami Dolphins 2020 Roster Building Preview – Safeties

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

Safeties

Years of neglect — and awarding mind-boggling contracts — to this position have put Miami in a difficult spot, especially with the safeties acting as perhaps the most important part of the entire defensive scheme. For Brian Flores to get the most of the defense that limited the NFL’s top scoring offense to three points in the Super Bowl, he needs tremendous safety play.

In New England, the Patriots have had the luxury of exactly that, tremendous safety play. It starts with the elite Devin McCourty patrolling the middle of the field for the last decade. Patrick Chung has been exceptional upon his return from a brief stint in Philadelphia, and Duron Harmon is the unsung hero of the group. All three safeties play better than 65% of the Patriots defensive snaps.

Miami have just one of those three parts in Eric Rowe. The former corner was dominant covering tight ends since his week-six switch from corner to safety. Reshad Jones eats up a huge chunk of the cap to miss multiple games each year, and Bobby McCain could still be in the mix if he’s not moved back to cornerback.

Just as this offseason is an opportunity for Miami to completely remake its offensive line and running game, the safety position could use a ground-up rebuild.

And the options with which to execute that remodel are glorious.

The Incumbents:

Eric Rowe
Stats: 81 tackles, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 23 run stops
PFF Grade: 58.9 (125 of 175)
Snaps: 1,071 (95.8%)

The Dolphins were forced to wave goodbye to one of their youngest, most promising players because of the necessity for versatility when the injury bug struck the secondary. Rather than helping the team, Minkah Fitzpatrick asked out of town. Eric Rowe did the opposite.

Stepping in as the primary box safety — responsible for supporting both strong and weak-side C-gaps in the run game, covering tight ends, and playing the hook and flats — Rowe found a career resurrection. He struggled early at corner, but blanked tight ends on a weekly basis.

In four games as a corner, Rowe allowed 14 receptions on 20 targets for 193 yards and two touchdowns. In his new role, Rowe allowed 24 receptions on 45 targets for 227 yards and no scores. That’s a 16.7% reduction in completion rate and a drop in YPA of 4.61 yards.

Reshad Jones
Stats: 27 tackles, 1 PBU, 8 run stops
PFF Grade: 72.5 (42 of 175)
Snaps: 189 (16.9%)

Mysterious injuries have followed Jones the last couple of years, this after a 2016 labrum tear set his career on an ominous course. He hasn’t been the same player since that injury, but he’s essentially stuck in Miami because of a brutal contract extension issued years ago by Mike Tannenbaum.

Steven Parker
Stats: 19 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 1 run stop
PFF Grade: 71.0 (48 of 175)
Snaps: 338 (30.2%)

The highest-graded safety on the team according to Pro Football Focus, Parker made a few big plays, but was a vulnerability down in the red zone. Most times, the single-high safety in this defense can be excluded from the play, but Parker was more active as a run-supporter than some of his contemporaries.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Walt Aikens
Stats: 13 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 run stop
PFF Grade: 51.6 (149 of 175)
Snaps: 103 (9.2%)

Aikens has played more defensive snaps the last two years than initially planned when he was re-upped as the special teams’ captain. Now, without a contract, the Dolphins have to decide if that leadership and third-phase prowess is worth of a multi-million-dollar payday. Aikens consistently makes plays on the coverage teams, but he’s been a liability when called upon for reps at safety.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

Montre Hartage
Stats: 7 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 run stop
PFF Grade: 69.3 (59 of 175)
Snaps: 98 (8.8%)

An all-conference Cornerback at Northwestern, Hartage made a position change early in camp, and worked his way onto the active roster in December. Hartage was involved in some big moments, including a pass breakup on the Patriots final drive in the week 17 win. He’s a smart, athletic player that will be highly-regarded by this staff.

Adrian Colbert
Stats: 20 tackles, 2 PBU, 2 run stops
PFF Grade: 64.9 (85 of 175)
Snaps: 361 (32.3%)

A primary fixture on Miami’s December defensive unit, Colbert brought as much energy to the field as anyone. Largely off the ball and away from the play, Colbert’s stat sheet is barren. His shortcomings were evident, as he struggled to find proper angles against ball carriers. Colbert doesn’t offer much by way of range in the deep third.

Free Agent Market:

The Guy — Justin Simmons

Simmons’ career trajectory suggest that he has a lot of great football years on-deck. A third-round pick in 2016, Simmons went from sub-package player to full-blown all-pro. He’s snatched multiple picks in all four years with a career-high four in 2019, he broke up 15 passes, two tackles for a loss and 93 total tackles this season.

Simmons is beloved by the guys at Pro Football Focus. He was the number-two graded safety this season operating primarily in the deep third, but also plenty adept at playing the robber role. He played 521 snaps as a free safety, 371 in the box and 154 in the slot. Versatility is key.

The Reasonable Route — Anthony Harris

The very next player on PFF’s safety grades, Harris is hardly a consolation to Simmons. He played 1,132 snaps this season with 588 coming at free safety, 266 in the box and 160 at slot. Harris didn’t allow a touchdown and picked off seven passes despite just 20 pass targets in his direction.

Heralded for his instinctive nature and early recognition of route concepts, Harris could be the quarterback of Miami’s defense. He’ll get guys lined up correctly, and then he’ll go make the biggest play of the game — he’s the ultimate weapon back there.

The Sleeper — Tavon Wilson

Where Harris and Simmons are prized, day-one signings, Wilson offers similar versatility, but at a significantly discounted rate — and the production will come at a severe reduction as well.

Wilson did a little bit of everything for the Lions this year scattering 960 reps across the board. He was in the box the most (499), but deep as the free next with 157 snaps. He can play the slot and out wide.

Other Notable Free Agent Safeties:

Player 2019 Team
Von Bell Saints
Devin McCourty Patriots
Rodney McLeod Eagles
Jimmie Ward 49ers
Karl Joseph Raiders
Nate Ebner Patriots
Jordan Lucas Chiefs
Clayton Geathers Colts

 

The Draft:

The Guy — Antoine Winfield Jr.

Every year, we (draft people) circle a few players that we like more than others. This year, for me, that’s Winfield. He is everything you want in a football player. Smart, quick, instinctive, ball skills, fundamentally sound tackler, sticky in coverage — he is the quintessential Brian Flores defensive back.

Flores was asked about some of his favorite corners when he was first hired. Coach raved about long-time Vikings and Bills great, Antoine Winfield Sr. Pops recreated a better version of himself with this do-it-all safety, who is just as great blitzing the edge as he is matchup a downfield shot for an interception.

The Reasonable Route — Ashtyn Davis

Flores is also a sucker for the good story, and few are better than Davis’. From walk-on to potential first-round pick, Ashtyn Davis is the ultimate temperature changer. His mindset and work ethic latch on to the rest of the locker room and lifts the expectation of everyone within earshot.

With outrageous range, Davis provides the defense with a terrific final line of defense. He closes distances in a hurry — whether he’s erasing a passing lane or cutting down a ball carrier — and pairs that range with elite processing. He’s a hitter, but needs to clean up his tackling just a hair. Davis played everywhere in a variety of coverage responsibilities for the Bears defense.

The Sleeper — Julian Blackmon

A two-time All-Pac 12 cornerback, Blackmon switched positions in Kyle Whittingham’s defense without pause. As a result, the Ute defense added an all-star performer to the safety position. Lining up almost exclusively as a deep safety this season, Blackmon still found a way to demonstrate his versatility. He started blitzing more late in the season, and wound up with the first sacks (1.5), and forced fumbles (2) of his career.

The range and ball skills are what made the position change possible — he nearly doubled his career total this season with four picks. To play safety at the next level, Blackmon will probably need to add some weight, and there were some growing pains with some nuances at the position (namely his angles), but his versatility will rank high on Miami’s board.

Travis Wingfield’s 2020 Safety Draft Rankings:

(Rank) Player School
1. Antoine Winfield Jr. Minnesota
2. Xavier McKinney Alabama
3. Ashtyn Davis Cal
4. Grant Delpit LSU
5. Shyheim Carter Alabama
6. Julian Blackmon Utah
7. Brandon Jones Texas
8. J.R. Reed Georgia
9. K’Von Wallace Clemson
10. Kyle Dugger Lenoir-Rhyne

 

Every year I pencil in multiple safety acquisitions, yet never see them play out in the actual offseason. From my professed love for prospects like Derwin James, Budda Baker, Darnell Savage, Juan Thornhill and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, this year feels like the payoff.

There are two elite safeties currently on the free agent market. If both Simmons and Harris return to Denver and Minnesota respectively, then we first look to the college team down the road from Harris in Winfield. Or Alabama’s Xavier McKinney — either way, there are bountiful premiere options for the position both in free agency and the draft.

The next layer of the draft is just as promising. Ashtyn Davis might find himself in the first round before it’s all said and done, and Julian Blackmon checks all the boxes for this defense as a potential third-round, or even third-day pick.

Miami’s current safety situation is dire, so this seems like the year to finally remake the position. A decision on Reshad Jones has to come at some point, but his contract remains impossible to move. There’s a chance Miami pays him to sit on the bench this season — which wouldn’t be much of a departure from the norm, he’s missed 25 games the last four years.

A homerun in this area, this offseason, could set Miami up at the most important position in its defense for the foreseeable future.

2020 Safety Prediction:

1. Justin Simmons
2. Eric Rowe
3. Ashtyn Davis
4. Julian Blackmon
5. Walt Aikens

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Daniel Meehan

    January 17, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Travis, thank you for all these previews.I’m actually going to make my own predictions before free agency and see how close I’m to,your predictions
    Thanks again for all you do.

  2. Avatar

    Papapickett

    January 17, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Simmons might reset the safety market. Id prefer he doesnt do that in Miami, especially if hes playing the single high.

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Miami Dolphins

Local Residents Sue Miami Dolphins over F1 Race Track

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: MotorSportWeek.com

This may be the last thing on the mind of Miami Dolphins fans everywhere, but there seems to be a prominent legal battle taking place in South Florida.

A new Formula 1 race track was recently approved (by a 6-6 vote) to be “built” around Hard Rock Stadium, with races beginning in 2021.

While city officials press to approve the new track, local residents are up in arms about the potential race. F1 cars are notoriously loud, and as we mentioned above, these races aren’t contained within an arena or stadium.

City officials believe this will bring in additional revenue for Miami and the surrounding area, as annual races are expected to be held around Hard Rock Stadium for the next 10 years. The local populous is arguing that these races are too loud for local streets, and will cause an enormous amount of disturbance and will be detrimental to the environment. Overall, this will cause a “serious degrade to their quality of life.”

Just so you can have a reference, F1 engines tend to run between 130-145 decibels. If you go to a concert and stand relatively close to an amplifier, you’re only dealing with about 100-110 decibels. The average lawn mower is about 90 decibels. Needless to say, these engines are LOUD.

Unlike NASCAR, Formula 1 (F1) race tracks are essentially “created” using local roadways that are already in place. Though there is obviously a lot of preparation that goes into “creating” the course (to ensure the safety of racers and fans alike), no new venues need to be built.

With that said, the City of Miami Gardens and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross are attempting to host the race solely on Hard Rock Stadium grounds. Given Ross’ ownership in the land surrounding Hard Rock Stadium, it’s possible this race doesn’t officially occur on any public roads.

To give some background, Stephen Ross attempted to buy F1 a couple of years ago, but the sale ended up going to another group. Though he didn’t win the bid, he reached an agreement with the new owners and is now one step closer to making the Miami Grand Prix a reality.

Tom Garfinkel, President and CEO of the Miami Dolphins, issued the following statement on behalf of the approved 6-6 decision:

This recent vote was the biggest hurdle potentially preventing the Miami Grand Prix from happening. Though the legal battles aren’t over, it seems unlikely that the decision to host F1 races will be reversed.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Sign Tight End Michael Roberts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are beginning to bulk up the depth of their roster as they head into free agency.

According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Dolphins have signed tight end Michael Roberts. The exact terms of the contract are currently unknown.

Originally a 4th-round pick by the Detroit Lions, Roberts has served mostly as a backup tight end; accumulating 146 yards on 13 receptions in 23 active games between 2017-2018.

Roberts was placed on injured-reserve towards the end of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury, and was traded to the New England Patriots for a conditional 2020 7th-round pick prior to the 2019 season. Due to medical reasons, the trade was voided a couple of days later.

The Green Bay Packers claimed Roberts off of waivers, but he was subsequently released by the Packers two days later for failing a physical. Roberts was not active for any games in 2019.

Signing Roberts doesn’t necessarily mean the Dolphins aren’t going to pursue tight ends in free agency or in the draft. Mike Gesicki is the only “lock” to make the 2020 roster, as Durham Smythe‘s blocking ability might not survive if the Dolphins find themselves in an advantageous situation at the position.

Look at this as a way for Miami to get ahead of evaluations.

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Miami Dolphins

A second Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football

Shawn Digity

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J.K. Dobbins 2020 NFL Draft
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

(Locked On Dolphins) – Last week, Person A dazzled us with their blind mock draft, and now we’re back with the next entry in the series.

Person B is ready to go with their mock.

Keep in mind that all the blind mock draft contributors have little to no knowledge of the NFL.

I had all the contributors standardize their boards and the process so that everyone was on an even playing field.

They all used The Draft Network’s mock draft simulator with seven rounds, the predictive board, and had to choose the players manually.

Without further ado, here’s Person B’s mock draft.

(1) 5. Tua Tagovailoa – QB, Alabama
(1) 18. J.K. Dobbins – RB, Ohio State
(1) 26. Terrell Lewis – Edge, Alabama
(2) 39. Lloyd Cushenberry III – iOL, LSU
(2) 56. Xavier McKinney – S, Alabama
(3) 70. Rashard Lawrence – iDL, LSU
(5) 135. Chase Claypool – WR, Notre Dame
(5) 144. Justin Herron – OT, Wake Forest
(5) 147. Terrell Burgess – S, Utah
(6) 165. Lamar Jackson – CB, Nebraska
(6) 177. Jacob Breeland – TE, Oregon
(7) 223. David Reese II – LB, Florida

As I did with Person A, I reached out to Person B to get their reasoning behind the selections.

Me: “I noticed that you took Tua [Tagovailoa]. What led you to that decision with the fifth pick?”

Person B: “I knew the Dolphins wanted to get a QB, and Tua has been talked about so much that I just went with him.”

Me: “Which of your other selections did you feel particularly good about?”

Person B: “I need you to send me the link to my draft. I forgot who I picked since it took five attempts.”

[resends mock draft to Person B]

“I like my J.K. Dobbins pick. O-H-. And Rashard Lawrence. Because I figure he’s pretty good since LSU was really good this year.”

Me: “Your picks are really good. I’d put yours ahead of Person A. But it’s almost suspiciously good. Did you put your thumb on the scale somewhere along the line?”

Person B: “Well, by my 5th attempt (1 and 2: I didn’t select manual mode, 3: I didn’t pick 7 rounds from the drop-down menu, 4: I completed, but the site froze, and I lost everything), I figured out that I should probably pick from the top of the list first because if you don’t then those players just go like hotcakes.

So, I just matched up the positions the Dolphins needed to fill with the players highest on the list, and if I recognized a name or team, I would select them over someone I had never heard of.”

Me: “OK, well, we’re all out of time. Do you have any parting messages for Dolphins fans?”

Person B: “Well, I think the Dolphins are on the right track, and I hope that all of the true blue fans who have hung in with them for all these years will get to see another Super Bowl in the near future. GO FINS!”

And that wraps things up with Person B.

What are your thoughts on Person B’s mock draft? Leave a comment or tweet your thoughts at me directly on Twitter (@DIGITYnodoubt).

Tune in next time for Person C’s mock…

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