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Miami Dolphins 2020 Roster Building Preview — Running Back

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

Running Backs

Any time the team’s leading rushing is a 37-year-old quarterback, change is probably on the horizon for the running back room. Heading into the new decade, the Dolphins are in dire need of a ground-up remodel at running back.

What started off as perhaps the most promising position heading into the season became one of utter catastrophe. Kenyan Drake finally realized his potential…in a Cardinals uniform. Kalen Ballage broke a record for the fewest yards per carry for a back with a qualifying number of snaps in a season, and the Miami native — Mark Walton — was arrested for the fourth time inside of a year.

Miami ended the season utilizing an undrafted free agent (Patrick Laird) better than 80% of the offense’s snaps, and wound up last in the league in rushing average and yards. The Dolphins seventh-round pick, Myles Gaskin, showed promise late, but his season came to a premature end thanks to an ankle injury. The Dolphins eclipsed 100 rushing yards three times all season and were held under 50 yards on four occasions.

The position must improve, dramatically. Eric Studesville is one of the most respected run-game coordinators, but he was left with little to work with come Christmas time. Miami needs to find players that can contribute in all facets of the offense. Luckily, there are a crop of rookie backs set to descend upon Las Vegas for April’s draft.

Before that, the incumbents.

The Incumbents

Kalen Ballage
Stats: 74 carries, 135 yards (1.8 YPC), 3 TDs, 14 receptions, 63 receiving yards
PFF Grade: 58.2 (99 of 132)
Snaps: 253 (24% of the Dolphins offensive snaps)

Ballage was given every opportunity to become the bell cow this offense so desperately needed, and it never materialized — not even close. His creativity is lacking, his lateral agility even more so, and he was an adventure trying to catch passes out of the backfield.

It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Ballage as he enters year-three. He’s a pet project of Studesville (their relationship dates back to Ballage’s HS days) and costs almost nothing to keep, but his unceremonious season ended on injured reserve. He’ll probably get to camp, but he might not break August with the team.

Patrick Laird
Stats:
62 carries, 168 yards (2.7 YPC), 1 TD, 23 receptions, 204 receiving yards
PFF Grade: 52.4 (124 of 132)
Snaps: 291 (27% of the Dolphins offensive snaps)

Something of a cult hero for his preseason work, and occasional nifty tackle eluding, Patrick Laird wound up with pedestrian numbers. The running game was in utter shambles by the time he took over, but he didn’t make much out of the opportunities he did have. He caught a screen pass with a convoy in front in the Patriots game, but it was that play that really highlighted his lack of explosion (second video).

Laird will compete for off-the-bench duty in 2020. He’s cheap, he’s a diligent worker, and earned the admiration of the staff from undrafted free agent to December regular.

Myles Gaskin
Stats:
36 carries, 133 yards (3.7 YPC), 1 TD, 7 receptions, 51 receiving yards
PFF Grade: 57.4 (102 of 132)
Snaps: 125 (12% of the Dolphins offensive snaps)

Just as Gaskin was getting cranked up in the Bengals win he took a significant injury to his ankle, forcing him to miss the final game. Gaskin produced four consecutive 1,200-yard seasons in college, and was showing the vision and short-area twitch that made him a difficult tackle at the point of attack.

As it stands right now, Gaskin is the most talented back Miami has on its roster. That’s a glaring indictment of the talent in the RB room, but also an endorsement of Gaskin. He’ll be in-line for work off the bench this season.

De’Lance Turner
Stats: 4 carries, 6 yards (1.5 YPC)
PFF Grade: DNQ
Snaps: 5 (1% of the Dolphins offensive snaps)

Turner played six snaps all season. The Alcorn State product began his career in 2018 with the Ravens, where he ran the ball once for four yards, and caught it twice for 17 yards. It’ll be an uphill climb for Turner to make the 53-man roster.

Chandler Cox (Fullback)
Stats: N/A
PFF Grade: DNQ
Snaps: 83 (8% of the Dolphins offensive snaps)

A healthy scratch three times, Miami could look to replace its seventh-round selection and rookie fullback this offseason. Chan Gailey’s varietal offense could use a flexible piece like Cox, but the jack-of-all-trades from Auburn didn’t materialize during his rookie season in Miami.

Samaje Perine — Restricted Free Agent

Veteran Market

The Guy — Derrick Henry

Henry leads an underwhelming class of running backs. Given what he’s produced for the Titans offense, to propel the team into the divisional round, it would be a stunner if the team doesn’t dump a pile of cash on his front lawn this offseason.

If he does hit the market, Miami could simply purchase its ground game. Henry is a load with homerun hitting ability. He’s a menace for tacklers and has a cumulative impact as the game wears on.

The price tag will be in the stratosphere of the game’s top backs (Ezekiel Elliot at $15M per year), and that might not be in Miami’s organizational philosophy to pay that to a position that has been devalued in the last decade.

The Reasonable Route — Dion Lewis

When Tennessee inevitably inks Henry to a massive payday, that will likely be the end of Lewis in Nashville. He carries a big cap number (with an out this offseason) and his production has significantly since departing New England. The drop-off was more so a function of the offense in Tennessee. He’s a pass catching back, first and foremost, and he saw his targets cut in half this year.

Lewis presents a high catch rate (81.5% career) and a considerable average (7.4 yards per catch). He’ll turn 30 in September, but he’s been a sidekick his entire career, so Miami could likely squeeze the last out of him in a short term contract. The familiarity with the staff is a bonus.

The Sleeper — Chris Thompson

Again, this free agent class is set in the abyss. Kareem Hunt is an option, but he’s a restricted free agent and his off-field issues might make him untouchable. Thompson has produced as a receiving back with Washington in the past, but he’s got injury issues and he’s nearing the dreaded age-30 season.

Other Notable Free Agent Running Backs

Player 2019 Team
Melvin Gordon Chargers
Carlos Hyde Texans
Peyton Barber Buccaneers
Bilal Powell Jets
Jordan Howard Eagles
Gus Edwards (ERFA) Ravens
Matt Brieda (RFA) 49ers

The Draft

The Guy — J.K. Dobbins

There is an absurd amount of dynamic backs in this year’s draft — in the double digits. This group stands to challenge the dynamic 2017 class that brought us six pro-bowlers.

In fascinating contrast, the value for this class is not in the first round. Quality backs will slip deep into day two, so Miami have to find the delicate balance between the best back and the best value.

The former distinction belongs to J.K. Dobbins. He’s been a monster since his first game as a true freshman serving as the fill-in for Mike Webber. He does everything. Home run hitting speed, an angle eraser in the open field or short areas, low pad-level and leg drive to churn out tough yards, and a total problem for defenses in the passing game.

Dobbins went off in this year’s College Football Playoff game against Clemson, punctuating a 2000-yard rushing season. He compiled 5,104 yards from scrimmage and 43 touchdowns in his Ohio State career, and averaged 6.2 yards-per-carry.

The Reasonable Route — Jonathan Taylor

No back in college football is better suited to handle the rigors of a prominent workload than Jonathan Taylor. He carried the football 926 times (with 42 receptions) in his three years at Wisconsin, and produced utterly ridiculous numbers.

Taylor was 23 yards shy of 2,000 in his freshman season — that would’ve pushed him beyond 2K in three consecutive seasons. This past season was his worst in terms of average as he stumbled to a 6.3 YPC mark (some stumble). He rarely left the field for the Badgers offense, but there are a couple of question marks. He caught just 16 passes his first two seasons, but emerged this season with 26 grabs. He’s not the most precise runner and might struggle to create separation on choice routes, but that’s not to say he can’t develop that aspect of his game.

Then there’s the fumbling issue. Taylor turfed the ball 19 times in three seasons — that can’t happen in the league. He’s also going to face the question about worn down tread on the tires. But that might be why he’s available in the second round. From there, Miami can run him into the ground for four years and pass on a second contract.

He’s a tone-setter that could excel in the Miami humidity and help create the balance the Dolphins offense desperately needs.

The Sleeper — J.J. Taylor

A.J. Dillon garnered serious consideration here, and Taylor might be closer to a UDFA than draftable prospect, but he’s instant offense. Taylor is never going to be an every-down back, but his elite athletic profile and compactly built lower half allows him to absorb contact and pick up huge yardage after contact. Give this electrifying runner one crease and he’s gone.

Taylor’s a dynamic mismatch in the passing game, and a willing pass protector, though he’s better suited to chip due to his size. He can flex out wide and go to work on linebackers in coverage.

Travis Wingfield 2020 Running Back Draft Rankings:

(Rank) Player School
1. J.K. Dobbins Ohio State
2. D’Andre Smith Georgia
3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire LSU
4. Zack Moss Utah
5. Jonathan Taylor Wisconsin
6. Cam Akers Florida State
7. A.J. Dillon Boston College
8. Eno Benjamin Arizona State
9. Lamical Perine Flordia
10. Ke’Shawn Vaughn Vanderbilt

 

The options are endless for Miami at this position. A case could be made to import three or four players with the intent of each contributing in one way or another, as no incumbent carved out a definitive role in the 2019 season.

Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor and J.J. Taylor could conceivably all be draft picks, and there are a handful of names in between that should excite the Dolphins fan base, but there’s also the free agent route. Big money could land perhaps the best back in football should Tennessee lose its marbles and let Derrick Henry shake free.

Regardless of which route the Dolphins brass takes, the running game should be the focus of the offseason. Miami’s incumbent quarterback and pass catchers are plenty good enough — top half of the league, even. The lack of running game made Miami entirely one dimensional, and it’s a scary thought for the rest of the AFC East if this offense gains balance.

2020 Running Back Prediction:

Starter — J.K. Dobbins
Back 1B — Dion Lewis
Off the bench — Myles Gaskin
Off the bench — J.J. Taylor

@WingfieldNFL

Tomorrow: Wide Receivers

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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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

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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

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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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