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Miami Dolphins

Potential Injuries Miami Cannot Afford in 2018

Travis Wingfield

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Potentially fatal blows –

The “next man up” adage serves as a sort of juxtaposition in the NFL. On one hand, rosters are expected to prove flush with talent beyond the starters. Yet, on the other, each team has an Achilles’ Heel that would sink even the Brad Pitt’s of the league.

Miami weren’t alone in enduring a lost 2017 season. While Green Bay and Houston saw their franchise quarterbacks play a handful of games, the Dolphins were without Ryan Tannehill for every snap of an agonizing year.

Russell Wilson played all 16 for Seattle, but the debilitation of the team’s hallmark defense saw a five-year playoff streak come to an end.

The construction of the Dolphins’ 2018 roster could, by-and-large, mitigate the damage done over the course of a grueling fall, except at one position… again.

Philadelphia’s short-term success with a backup quarterback throws a cog into what has been the norm for decades – lose your signal caller, lose your season.

No team epitomizes that theory better than Adam Gase’s Dolphins. The presence of David Fales, Brock Osweiler and Bryce Petty not only makes Ryan Tannehill the most important person in the organization, his health is the key to fielding a competitive outfit.

That much we know. In year’s past, an injury to the o-line would cripple the entire offense. Losing Jarvis Landry or Jay Ajayi would compromise the make-up of the Miami’s attack. With a deeper group full of capable of fill-ins, Gase and Chris Grier have assembled a better contingency plan in the nightmare-event that last August repeats itself.

Still, in a game predicated on finite resources, no roster is safe from the dreaded injury-bug. These are the top five players Miami can least afford to lose in 2018.

1.) Raekwon McMillan
Expected team LB total snap count – 2,200
Miami Dolphins Projected Linebacker Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Raekwon McMillan MIKE/Primary ‘Backer 1,000
Kiko Alonso (36/39) Base ‘Backer 500
Jerome Baker Nickel ‘Backer 500
Terence Garvin Pass Down Specialist 150
Chase Allen Run Down Specialist 50
Stephone Anthony Depth 0

*PFF Grade not included is the player didn’t play enough to qualify.

Miami ran arguably the most antiquated defense in the league in 2017. Linebackers taking 2,523 snaps was near the league’s highest for the position, ushering in extra defensive backs at an alarmingly low rate.

Moving forward, that should change. Six defensive backs all worthy of playing-time will create more flexibility. Gone are the days of linebackers taking 15-yard spot drops or playing man-up in the slot.

Still, the importance of Raekwon McMillan can’t be overstated. My personal expectations were tempered coming into his rookie-year, but the details of the Pete Thamel Yahoo story raised the standard.

Quickly earning the job as the MIKE ‘backer last camp, his season-ending ACL-injury threw the entire position into a state of flux.

McMillan’s return is expected to be greeted with a heavy work-load. Ideally, he’ll eat half of the projected snap-total on his own. If he goes down again, Kiko Alonso is elevated to that role, Jerome Baker gets thrown into the fire, and one player from the depth group (Terence Garvin, Stephone Anthony, Chase Allen) will be promoted to a more prominent role.

2.) Laremy Tunsil
Expected LT Snap Count – 1,000
Miami Dolphins Projected Left Tackle Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade Role Projected Snap Count
Laremy Tunsil (72/83) Starter 1,000
Sam Young (44/83) Swing Tackle 0
Eric Smith Emergency Tackle (PS) 0

*PS denotes practice squad

Sep 17, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Laremy Tunsil’s two years in Miami have been something of an enigma. A premier left tackle in college, Tunsil spent his rookie season at guard where he acquitted himself nicely. His second season was a struggle, but his traits lead ‘Phins fans to believe the LT position is locked down for the foreseeable future.

A smooth kick-slide, a natural bender and exceptional feet, Tunsil’s production didn’t match the potential in 2017. The disaster season was spearheaded by penalties and the left side’s complete inability to pick up stunts. The hope is that a steady veteran (Josh Sitton) manning Tunsil’s inside post will precede a dramatic improvement.

Tunsil has been largely dependable as a pro (three games missed in two years). But in the event of another shower incident, the Dolphins can go to Sam Young in a pinch.

Extended time, however, could signal a serious problem for Miami. Young, better suited to play right tackle, had his struggles with elite rushers in 2017. Aside from abuse issued by Von Miller and Khalil Mack, Young was a capable backup.

3.) Bobby McCain
Expected Nickel Snap Count – 750
Miami Dolphins Projected Nickel Corner Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Bobby McCain (59/120) Nickel Corner 750
Minkah Fitzpatrick Free Safety/Backup Nickel 150 (as a nickel)
Torry McTyer Depth 0
Jalen Davis Depth 0

The eyes immediately jump to the impressive backup listed behind McCain, but it’s the ripple effect of the secondary that earns nickel a spot on this list.

Fitzpatrick is a more than capable replacement, but taking him out of the free safety role puts Miami back in the same bind it was in last season. Limiting the versatility and causing a litany of coverage concerns, Miami is criminally thin at slot corner.

McCain broke out in 2017 ranking 9thamong slot corners in passer-rating-against. He enters a contract year in 2018 and his pay depends on his health, as well as sustaining last year’s performance.

4.) Minkah Fitzpatrick
Expected FS Snap Count – 1,000
Miami Dolphins Projected Free Safety Depth Chart

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Minkah Fitzpatrick Never Leaves the Field 1,000
T.J. McDonald (59/89) Dime Safety/Pseudo-LB 300
Maurice Smith Depth 0
Walt Aikens Depth 0

Similar to losing McCain, a Fitzpatrick injury puts Miami’s defense right back into 2017. The experiment with Reshad Jones and his poor man’s carbon-copy, T.J. McDonald, worked so poorly that Miami spent the 11thpick on the draft to rectify the problem.

Although at a drastically reduced rate, McDonald will play in 2018. The 300 projected snaps could increase if Miami gets exotic with different packages or desperate because of injuries.

5.) Cameron Wake
Expected DE Snap Count – 2,450
Miami Dolphins Projected Defensive End Depth Chart

 

Player (2017 PFF Grade) Role Projected Snap Count
Charles Harris (30/64) Starter 600
Cameron Wake (19/64) Starter/Pass Rush Specialist 550
Robert Quinn (43/46) Pass Rush Specialist 500
William Hayes (14/64) Run Defense Specialist 450
Andre Branch (57/64) Depth/Pass Rush 150
Cameron Malveaux Depth 50

The overall projected snap count increases from the idea that the Dolphins will continue to kick their ends inside on nickel downs.

October 21, 2017 - Miami Gardens, Florida, U.S. - Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) celebrates a fourth-quarter sack at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sunday, October 22, 2017. Final score: Miami Dolphins 31, New York Jets 28 (Photo by Andres Leiva/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

October 21, 2017 – Miami Gardens, Florida, U.S. – (Photo by Andres Leiva/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

While Miami’s roster is talented and deep at this position, removing Wake’s production takes the group from a dominant force to mere paper tigers. Wake has been a picture of consistency and one of the more under-valued edge-rushers in NFL history.

Regularly a menace to opposing right tackles and a double-digit sack artist, Wake’s track record is the only sure-fire resume in this bunch. The hope that Robert Quinn finds rejuvenation in a defense that complements his skillset, or that Charles Harris takes a quantum leap, is just that – hope.

While losing Kenny Stills or Reshad Jones would be crushing, the Dolphins have competent aid at both receiver and strong safety. Miami’s offensive line has assembled its deepest group in more than a decade. The running backs are interchangeable, not from a skill stand-point, but from a functionally point-of-view.

And though Cameron Wake is listed in the integral players column, the Dolphins’ army of edge-rushers provide more relief than in the past. Tannehill and McMillan returning from season-ending-injuries, while simultaneously holding down two essential roles on this incarnation of Miami Dolphins’ football, is cause for concern.

Surviving August without catastrophic injuries would automatically vault 2018’s training camp to superior ground of 2017’s pre-season.

*Knocks on wood

@WingfieldNFL

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