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Miami Dolphins

The Three-Pronged Approach to Miami’s Rebuild – The Development Phase

Travis Wingfield

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The draft and free agency catch all the headlines, but these players stand to provide the Dolphins with the biggest boost of all

Worst to first is a common occurrence in the NFL. In a league of ultimate parity, overnight successes are becoming more frequent. And it’s no longer the Cinderella that backs its way into a home playoff game by winning a substandard division; the 49ers will play for a World Championship just 13 months removed from a 4-12 campaign.

The AFC East may very well be open for business again for essentially the first time since 2002. Yes, the 2008 Dolphins fit the criteria of a punchless darling come January, but Tom Brady would return the ensuing fall for an encore to the dynasty that covered the first half of the new century.

The Bills qualified for the playoffs on the back of a stingy defense. Their stay at the party was short-lived as Buffalo were bounced due in large part to a mediocre offense led by a shaky quarterback. Sam Darnold gets more praise than Josh Allen, but he’s been unequivocally worse in his two years as a starter.

For Miami to assert itself into the mix as divisional contender, it simply has to excel in three areas this offseason. Three areas that provide all 32 clubs with an opportunity to improve its caliber from the year prior. Those areas are:

1.) Free Agency
2.) The Draft
3.) In-House Development

The first two are self-explanatory. The draft is the heartbeat of an NFL organization. Free agency can be used to supplement a team on the cusp of greatness, but also to import ready-made scheme fits.

The only way to ensure those first two avenues bear fruit is through coaching and development. And that’s where the third bullet point checks in.

See, the Texans sold their soul for the right to get embarrassed by Patrick Mahomes in the divisional round. The future of that team, despite the presence of an elite quarterback, appears bleak – they have minimal resources to make the necessary upgrades to a defense that simply can’t run with the Mahomes and Lamar Jackson’s of the world.

Commend Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross for his introspective nature last offseason. The ability to take a step back and recognize that his modus operandi was not producing results, and taking the road less traveled to avoid a Texans situation is beyond admirable.

Where Houston have stacked division titles in a weak AFC South, their prompt playoff exits reveal the pitfalls of a plan built on shortcuts. Ross, like all owners, wants a program that sustains success. He avoided the temptation of instant gratification and put his trust in a head coach who in his first year unanimously earned the respect of the league.

Just like the 49ers with Kyle Shanahan, Ross has preached patience to allow Brian Flores to establish his program, and hopefully produce the same unstoppable cog that the 49ers have become as a conference champion.

San Francisco tapped into all three phases of our roster-building tripod to improve the operation. All-Pro Cornerback Richard Sherman arrived via free agency. Nobody else in the league would pay a fullback the cost of doing business with Kyle Juszczyk. His annual salary is more than double the next highest-paid fullback, but is still a drop in the bucket for a player so essential to Shanahan’s scheme.

The 49ers used the draft to curate a star-studded core led by a dominant front four.

Nick Bosa arrived requiring no development – an instant success. But that wasn’t the case for Arik Armstead. It wasn’t the case for 2017 UDFA Kendrick Borne. It wasn’t the case for primary interior offensive line backup Ben Garland, who replaced Weston Richburg in week 15 with almost no fall-off.

These players all satisfy the third, and perhaps most integral pillar of a successful rebuild – in-house development. Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward both produced career-years with high-marks in snaps played. Go up and down San Francisco’s roster and you’ll find a cast of relatively unknowns elevating their respective games to new levels.

That’s where Miami can expedite the rebuild. We know the Dolphins will add blue chips via the draft and free agency. We know they’re going to round out the roster with better depth and produce an unquestionably better roster – in resounding fashion – than the one we saw last year.

Finding Miami’s equivalent of Bourne, Armstead, Ward and the like, requires a certain level of squinting for the casual fan. But for the astute fan, the evidence is there for a presumed jump from several holdovers from Miami’s 5-4 finish to the 2019 season.

LB Andrew Van Ginkel

After starring in training camp, Van Ginkel would spend the first 10 games of his career on the injured reserve. It was well within reason to assume that his rookie season would serve as a medical redshirt, until the final two games.

Van Ginkel played 125 snaps combined in the penultimate Bengals game and season finale in Foxboro. He doubled his quarterback hit-figure (2 to 4) and picked up eight tackles (three for loss). Van Ginkel always excelled blitzing off the edge and falling into the hook zone and flat in coverage, but his run defending raised plenty of questions. In the video breakdown, you see some examples of Van Ginkel absorbing blocks, disengaging, and making plays in the ground game.

In the New England finale, Van Ginkel registered an 89.0 coverage grade and all four of his tackles came within two yards of the line-of-scrimmage. The week prior against the Bengals, he graded a season-high 68.0 against the run, adding two more run stops (tackles within 2-yards of the LOS).

RB Myles Gaskin

An average of 3.7 yards per carry won’t keep a back employed in the NFL for long, but proper context demonstrates Gaskin’s value down the stretch. Kenyan Drake was at 4.5 YPC, and Mark Walton 3.8, but neither of those two matched Gaskin’s ability to create his own yardage.

Gaskin averaged 3.2 yards after contact (yards gained after forcing a missed tackle). Drake averaged just 2.49 and Walton 3.08. Both of those players departed Miami mid-season, leaving just Kalen Ballage and Patrick Laird in the backfield stable with Gaskin. Ballage rushed for 1.8 YPC and 1.49 yards after contact on average. Laird went for 2.7 and 1.8 after first contact.

Gaskin has been a production machine since he arrived on campus in Seattle at the University of Washington. Four straight years of 1,200-plus rushing yards were a product of his crafty running, excellent vision, and ability to change the angle on tacklers in a pinch. His production in impossible circumstances to close the season bodes well for his projection next year and beyond.

WR Isaiah Ford

The sun was about to set on Isaiah Ford’s career as a Dolphin late into the 2019 campaign, but as so many of his teammates did, Ford took advantage of the unique opportunity afforded to this young Dolphins roster. Every day in training camp, Ford was out with Kenny Stills taking extra reps at the end of practice, working on his timing with Ryan Fitzpatrick. It took a while, but that chemistry finally synced up in December.

Originally, it appeared the effort was all for not; Ford had two catches through 13 weeks. Over the final four games Ford caught 21 passes, and his efficiency was considerable for a player who’s production was primarily from the slot. He caught 72.4% of his targets for an average of 8.1 yards per target. His 2.00 yards per route ran ranked 43rd in the NFL and his catch-rate ranked inside the top 40.

iOL Michael Deiter

Rookie offensive linemen struggle as much as any other first-year players – it’s a massive adjustment. Deiter was drafted with the expectation of solidifying the left guard position, a tall order for a third-round pick. Amidst the struggles, Deiter showcased some strengths – none more notable this his durability. Deiter started 54 consecutive games at Wisconsin and would’ve been in the lineup for all 16 in 2019, but was benched for the Jets game.

There’s some nastiness to Deiter’s game. He’s proficient at the second level, primarily on combination blocks. Some seasoning, and better play on both his inside and outside post, should accelerate the learning curve of one of the best linemen in Wisconsin history.

DL Zach Sieler

Claimed off waivers from the Ravens, Sieler played the final three games for Miami, starting one in week 16 against the Bengals. Sieler went off in that game. He registered a sack, seven tackles, two passes defensed, five run stops and three quarterback pressures.

Sieler exhibits all the traits that translate to success in this Dolphins defensive scheme. He’s enormous at 6-6, 290 pounds. He’s long with 34-inch arms and an athletic profile that ranks in the 90th-percentile in most metrics for interior defensive linemen.

DL Jonathan Ledbetter

Playing his last down in week-one, Ledbetter is a forgotten man by many Dolphins fans. After earning a starting job through camp and preseason, the undrafted rookie produced from the word go. Ledbetter made four run stops in his lone showing, two QB pressures, and a sack in his NFL debut.

Ledbetter won in the same way Sieler did late in the year – length and strength. He’s a quality candidate to play the heavy end position, vastly improving Miami’s run defense on the edge.

DT John Jenkins

Jenkins might not belong on this list as he steadily contributed all year, but because it was mostly dirty work that goes unrecognized, we’ll give the big fella his due. He’s not a premier pass rusher by any sense, but he’s a tree stump that can slant and twist better than his athletic profile would suggest.

Jenkins’ 70.8 overall PFF grade ranked second on the Miami defense (of players with at least five games played).  He made 21 run stops on 274 run-play downs – a run-stuff percentage of 7.7%, per PFF.

DB Jomal Wiltz

The metrics will not bode well for Wiltz, but there’s plenty of tape to point to upside with this young defensive back. He played safety and slot, showcasing the versatility required to excel in Brian Flores’ defense.

Wiltz was a sure-tackler that could present value as the sixth defensive back in dime packages. He can play off the ball, come down and cover man-up, and his ability to rally serves the defense well on third-down-and-long.

CB Tae Hayes

The sample size is small, but Hayes showed the confidence and skills to play cornerback in the modern era. Hayes allowed three receptions on 16 targets in his two games with the team.

In addition to the coverage skills, Hayes made three tackles within two-yards of the L.O.S., and he defended two passes. Playing primarily on the outside (90 snaps), Hayes does play inside as well (16 reps in the slot).

DB Montre Hartage

A late-season practice squad call-up, Hartage took something of a redshirt year to learn a new position. A two-time All Big 10 cornerback, Hartage moved to safety early in camp working behind Bobby McCain.

His tackling grade checked in at a whopping 86.5 – the product of not missing a tackle in his 98 reps. Hartage allowed 34 receiving yards on six targets, showing a penchant for recognizing route concepts and beating the receiver to the football. He made a pass breakup on the Patriots final drive in that season-ending upset victory.

LB Sam Eguavoen

It was a difficult start for the CFL product. Eguavoen, the surprise star of training camp, struggled with the physicality of the NFL game early on, but started to flash in the areas we assumed he would late in the season.

Eguavoen is a passing-down specialist. He has enough burst to be effective as a blitzer (evident by his 23 pressures and 5 sacks on 232 pass rush downs), and he’s no slouch against the pass. Eguavoen allowed just 110 yards on 17 pass targets and had three positive coverage grades in the month of December.

It’s unrealistic to expect each of these players to make a noteworthy stride in 2020. Even if just half of that list takes its game up a notch or two, Miami’s ability to compete when the injury bug hits, to be flexible in its game plan from week-to-week, and to win regularly on special teams will improve dramatically.

What’s more, none of this accounts for potential steps taken by more high-profile players. Christian Wilkins in year-two is an exciting prospect. Vince Biegel – once his contract is sorted out – flashes a lot of promise. Mike Gesicki produced at a pro-bowl level post-bye week. Eric Rowe has a full offseason to prepare as a safety, where he was aces in 2019. Nik Needham can go from darling UDFA to bonafide number-two corner. Albert Wilson will be two years removed from the hip injury and Xavien Howard returns from the injured reserve.

If there’s one thing Brian Flores proved in his rookie season, it’s the ability to get a sum that is greater than its parts. Winning better than half of the final nine games is an accomplishment for most teams, especially one with a roster that resembled something the XFL will produce in its inaugural season. Flores’ work in his rookie year is the ultimate feather in the cap for a coach that was recognized across the league and media landscape.

The in-house development is the great unknown. Simple math tells us that Miami will find fits in the draft and free agency by the law of averages. Having that security in the player-development aspect of the program is the surest way to achieve Mr. Ross’ vision.

A vision that will produce an annual contender in South Florida.

@WingfieldNFL

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Vance

    February 3, 2020 at 11:13 am

    There is a lot of dubious claims in this article when was the AFC east stronger than the AFC south in the last three seasons if not longer? New England has easily won the AFC East for many seasons and no other team has been a contender while every AFC south team has been a contender some time in the past three years.

  2. Avatar

    Papapickett

    February 3, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    This article assumes jumps to be made forward but if half instead take steps backwards we could be worse off. Like Gruden says, youre either getting better or getting worse but youre never staying the same. All in all a good article. Every guy flashes something though. Thats why they get the call. To be more fair half the video couldve shown what things these players need to improve on.

  3. Avatar

    DBCooper

    February 5, 2020 at 8:10 pm

    Great write up, thanks for the info & analysis.

    Been watching NFL since the 50s & believe my strength is analysis … not prediction.

    Ross grades a 1 on the 10 scale, & the organization & success reflects it. Ross has made poor choices & sticks with them too long. That’s why the whole org smells like az consistently.

    Our drafting over 2 decades has ave. 4 on the 10 scale, that’s why we’ve been so mediocre (2016 is the only good draft). Every fan & TV Pundit always says B+, but D is more like it & reflects our record/success. Look at the teams at the top & review their last few drafts & this becomes VERY obvious. Look at Buffalo, SF, KC, etc.

    I live in Silicon Valley & watch the 69ers closely. Here’s a few sausage ingredients that aren’t well publicized. Fans in the know wanted to pick a QB last year, & were livid they “had to take” Nick Bosa as there were NO QBs for #2. They were right, but it was a wonderful backfire. Shanahan has shown he’s not the brightest bulb, but outlasted the twit GM Balke (just rehired … aaaaiiiieeee). Along came Lynch who talks too much & had some early big busts. The guys wouldn’t talk with each other they had so much hate. They’d be on a TV Presser, lynch yapped like crazy & Shanahan kept quiet & gave him the stink-eye. Well, 2020 & they’re both geniuses & love each other … can’t make this stuff up!!

    Oh, Gawd do we need a great draft … please make it THIS year!!
    Still not sure about this coach & his brains/strategy … should know in a year or so. I do like that he has a clear vision & not afraid to kick anyone in the nutz who gets in this way … gawd, give him wisdom!!

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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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