We must have traveled back to 2015, because the Miami Dolphins are winning free agency once again.
According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Dolphins are set to sign linebacker Kyle Van Noy to a 4-year, $51m deal (guarantees are currently unknown).
#Dolphins have agreed to terms with LB Kyle Van Noy, source says. Reunited with Brian Flores.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 16, 2020
The deal can’t be made official until Wednesday, 4pm (EST), when the new league year officially starts.
Kyle Van Noy reunites with Brian Flores after spending the past three-and-a-half seasons with the New England Patriots.
Originally drafted in the 2nd-round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, Van Noy has evolved from a backup linebacker to a formidable starter.
Since joining the Patriots, Van Noy has started 45 games and has logged 16.5 sacks, 221 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss (TFL) and 35 QB hits. He only had 1 sack, 16 tackles, 3 TFL and 2 QB hits in his two-and-a-half years with the Lions.
Van Noy joins Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan as the team’s starting linebackers. It’ll be interesting to see what the Dolphins do with restricted free agent Vince Biegel, after tendering him earlier Monday afternoon.
After chastising the team for spending wildly in the past, Dolphins fans seemed content with the moderate deals we were introduced to earlier today (Ereck Flowers and Shaq Lawson for $30m each). Seems the Dolphins just needed a little more time to make their primary moves, inking Byron Jones to a deal that will make him the highest paid cornerback in the NFL and then shortly after announcing the signing of Kyle Van Noy.
— Mike Dixon Sports (@dixon_sports) March 17, 2020
Turning the Machine in the Right Direction
Nearly a year ago, 11 months to be precise, I wrote this piece for Locked On Dolphins: “Small, Important Steps in the Right Direction”. It was me opining on what I felt like were a series of small steps Miami, specifically Chris Grier and the front office had taken in the right direction just after the Draft. At the time, Miami had accumulated a Draft Pick haul of a: 1st rounder, two 2nd rounders, a 3rd, two 4ths, a 5th, two 6ths, and two 7ths. We know war chest has expanded, and Miami’s sure to put that to effective use in just over a month at the 2020 NFL Draft.
So, where are Miami now?
Well, that’s an interesting question, but I’ll attempt to answer it. With a haul of 11 free agents, counting TE Michael Roberts who was signed before the new League Year, Miami’s managed to fill some of the holes the exited 2019 with. Perhaps most important, despite shelling out big money deals, all of them are structured in smart, team-friendly ways. Kudos to Chris Grier and Brandon Shore for that. It’ll pay dividends down the road.
With the Draft still a month away, at least as things stand with the COVID-19 outbreak right now, Miami’s needs have become clearer. Quarterback was always and still is the top priority for the Draft. Running Back is a need still, and there’s a plethora of top notch backs in this year’s class. Offensive Line, obviously. Miami can use help across the board there. With the defensive free agent signings, I’m not sure edge defenders are a need anymore, but I think Miami will still bargain shop there. Safety, specifically free safety, and a true nose tackle round out the needs list. At lest in my mind.
With 14 picks, and Miami probably won’t use all of them to make actual picks – I think some get used in trade ups and some get pushed to 2021 – Miami will likely be able to fill that remaining chunk of needs, which is a great place to be in. Perhaps Miami still shops around a bit in free agency, maybe for O-line depth or a cheap running back, but I think the focus now narrows to the Draft. Since that’s next month, let’s review the free agent crop.
Free Agent Fits
Our pal Travis Wingfield has done plenty of in-depth reporting on all of Miami’s free agent signings, so I’m going to give you my broad stroke takes on what Miami’s added this past week.
Miami added defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah to help set the edge against the run. Kyle Van Noy is an outside linebacker with a sneaky amount of strength and ability to play with heavy hands and good leverage who can help set the edge too. What this means for Miami’s defense is that we’ll likely see more 4-man defensive fronts. Remember, when Brian Flores called the Patriots defense in 2018 his most used for formations were:
4-2-5 (307 snaps)
3-3-5 (226 snaps)*
3-2-6 (132 snaps)
4-3 (97 snaps)
* With the 3-3-5 package, there’s really two versions: The Bear front and the slide front. The Bear front typically included bigger defensive lineman to cover the opponents G-C-G with Hightower and Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy on edges, with Van Noy or Elandon Roberts off-ball. Think of the slide front as really a 4-2 front, but you have an OLB playing as a stand-up DE.
A potential hidden bonus here is that both Lawson and Ogbah have some experience playing in stand-up OLB/DE roles. Shaq Lawson did it some at Clemson and Ogbah had some limited experience in doing so last year with the Chiefs. I think Ogbah was used primarily as a rusher as I haven’t seen snaps of him dropping into coverage from that spot. But he’s been aligned there.
With the additions of Lawson, Ogbah and Van Noy, Miami’s going to try and be able to find analogs similar to Van Noy himself, more on that in a minute; Ogbah compares pretty well in play style to how the Pats used Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise that year; and Lawson’s versatility might lend him to be used in some, and I stress some, of the capacities in which they used Trey Flowers. With Van Noy, in 2019 he was almost an exclusive on-the-LOS edge LB. In 2018, his duties between being an edge player and off-ball linebacker were about 50-50. I don’t know that we’ll see that, but I think Van Noy’s snaps won’t be as an exclusive edge – he’s so versatile in how he can be used.
As much as I love Khalid Kareem and really like guys like K’Lavon Chaisson, Curtis Weaver, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Marlon Davidson I have a difficult time picturing Miami spending a top-level resource on an edge defender. I think they’ll take a stab on a guy that falls or try and find value later on like Trevis Gipson, Jason Strowbridge, Chauncey Rivers, James Smith-Williams, etc.
No Fly Zone Southeast
I’ll admit, I in no way shape or form saw Miami going after someone like Byron Jones. In fact, I wonder if the Patriots franchise tagging Joe Thuney meant that money Miami might’ve offered to him was “freed up” to pursue other options. And man, did Miami get a nice player in Jones. Yes, he doesn’t have a ton of interceptions, but he does have 20 PBUs the past two years, and 44 for his career – nearly nine a year.
I’m a little dumbfounded that so many Dolfans think this signing means that Xavien Howard is on the trade block. Why would he be? Why would you dismantle a CB tandem this good? I get that X had the legal issue, but that was dismissed. I feel like if Miami wanted him gone, he’d have been gone by now.
What it means having a tandem like Byron and X is that you have a pair of corners that excel at press, can play off man, can both play on either side of the formation, and both can travel to the slot. That gives them some really nice flexibility and the opportunity to get creative with coverages. I’ll be really intrigued if they add a FS that allows Bobby McCain to play in the slot more, like he did in 2015-17. Miami could disguise a lot if that becomes an option.
When you combine Jones with the additions of Lawson and Ogbah up front, and Van Noy as someone who can play on the LOS or off-ball, you have to tip your cap to Miami for adding help at all three levels of the defense.
Depth and Special Teams
Miami apparently isn’t bringing back Walt Aikens, who was their best special teamer the past few seasons. Instead, Miami opted to bring in a trio of damn good special teamers, two of whom were captains. The one that wasn’t, Elandon Roberts, figures to get a chance to play in some packages on defense, just as he did with New England, and is a core special teams guy. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ate some of Chandler Cox’s reps as a fullback either. He’ll be fun to watch on whichever unit he’s getting snaps at.
Kamu Grugier-Hill, a fellow 6th round pick mate of the 2016 Patriots Class with Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts, is an intriguing player. While he might have been a better fit for Miami’s previous staff under Gase and Burke, he’s a fantastic special teamer and has shown well as a blitzer and coverage linebacker. His presence probably means guys like Sam Eguavoen and Calvin Munson are in the danger zone.
Clayton Fejedelem is more a like-for-like replacement for Aikens. A hard-hitting safety who’s a demon on special teams. Fejedelem probably won’t get a lot of looks on defense, especially if Miami ends up drafting another safety, but the bonus with Fejedelem, as compared to Aikens, is if you have to call on him to play on defense, he’s going to be better equipped to handle it.
Improving the Ground Game
I’ll admit, with Ereck Flowers being the first reported signing of free agency, I was a little worried the ghosts of Jeff Ireland and Mike Tannenbaum were summoned by the Tequesta. Flowers reputation carries stains, but he played well the second half of 2019 as LG for the Redskins. I hope Miami leaves him there. Ted Karras comes over after playing as center for the Patriots in 2019. He’s a bigger guy than Daniel Kilgore. He’s smart. He’s tough. He struggles a little in space and with power. I do wonder if Michael Deiter gets a shot to compete with him at the C spot with Flowers at LG, where Deiter played last year.
Both Flowers and Karras will get the opportunity to block for newly signed running back Jordan Howard (a favorite of my wife’s as he’s a fellow Indiana Hoosier). Howard’s a bigger back at 225lbs, but he’s more well rounded than he is a power back. He can catch and be a weapon in the pass game. He’s also pretty savvy with inside and outside zone runs. With Chan Gailey and Eric Studesville working on the ground game, Howard’s sure to get plenty of use.
Tight end Michael Roberts has played just 12 games over the past three seasons due to injuries and poor play. He was traded to the Patriots last year but failed a physical cancelling the trade. Detroit waived him and he was claimed by Green Bay but failed a physical there. He battled weight gain, depression and had his left shoulder surgically repaired. More of a blocking TE, he roasted the Dolphins in 2018, naturally, when Detroit came to Miami. If Roberts plays up to his potential, I think he’s got the ability to challenge Durham Smythe for that #2 TE role – being an inline TE.
Prepping for April
While the Draft won’t have the party that Vegas would’ve offered, that’s the next major step for Chris Grier. Miami needs to get the Draft right. We’re talking 2017 Saints right. We’re talking 2019 Raiders right. Miami has the opportunity to inject a lot of talent, in addition to the quarterback, into this team.
Go figure that the year Miami as FINALLY loaded up on picks, the COVID-19 breakout has forced Pro Days and 30 Visits to mostly be cancelled. And unless something drastically changes in the next few weeks, Miami and the rest of the league aren’t going to have as much operating information as they normally do. Miami will have to rely more on scouting than in the past.
The outbreak also likely puts a dent into each team’s offseason program. Teams will have to head into their offseason programs storming to get ready for the season. Let’s hope Miami doesn’t have a truncated offseason like they did in 2011 under Tony Sparano, which lead to an 0-7 start.
For now, with quarantines in place, there’s likely not going to be a lot happening for the Dolphins between now and the Draft. Hunker down. Watch tape (Game Pass is free). Familiarize yourself with Flores’s scheme. Watch “Humble and Hungry” – I highly recommend it! But above all, stay safe. We can get through this together.
You may recall Travis and I made a trip to Miami last year for the Bengals-Dolphins game. We were credentialed for it, meaning we were members of the media for that day. I think one of the most lasting impressions I have from that trip is just how many pieces work to create the “machine” that is each NFL team. Miami have a lot of great people in place.
I’d only ever been to one other Dolphins game in Miami. That was back in 2010. I don’t remember what Hard Rock Stadium was called at the time; it’s had many different iterations since it was Joe Robbie Stadium. But I remember walking around that stadium thinking it was dumpy. And I’d been to some dumpy stadiums – Old RFK Stadium for a Washington Nationals Game, whatever they call the Coliseum where the Raiders played, and the A’s still call home. Riverfront Stadium – the stadium of my youth. These were the stadiums that Hard Rock rivaled in 2010.
What Mr. Ross and Tom Garfinkel have done to the place is INCREDIBLE! I’ve been to Lucas Oil Stadium and the renovated version of Lambeau Field (2010 and 2016). Those two places are crown jewels. Hard Rock Stadium as it stands right now is nicer than both!
Miami’s building a fantastic new team headquarters and training complex. Travis and I stopped by Team HQ in Davie on our trip to pick up a parking pass for the game. The current HQ is nice (I live in Cincinnati and drive by Paul Brown Stadium daily on my way to work – that’s my comparison, but Miami’s is nicer), but it’s small. This new place is going to be world-class.
Brian Flores the Head Coach. While it’s only been a year with him at the helm, just by being in his presence, hearing him speak and listening to what the players said about him – there’s not a man in that building that wouldn’t run to the TNT Wall for him. Miami’s finally got the Head Coach they’ve longed for since Don Shula strode the sidelines.
The Dolphins have added 11 pieces so far, and the have the opportunity to select a new franchise quarterback in a month. If Chris Grier, Marvin Allen, Reggie McKenzie, Brian Flores, the staff, and the scouts get this right Miami’s going to have built one hell of a machine. Just in time for the post-Tom Brady Era in the AFC East.
It’s a wonderful time to be a Dolfan! All is certainly not right in the world. Not by a longshot. But in these trying times where we all need to cling to some form of solace, the Dolphins are providing one. It’s a small part of my everyday life, but it’s one of my favorite parts. Always has been. Always will be. FinsUp!
The Aftermath: Dolphins 27 Patriots 24
Snap Counts, Grades, Metrics, and Other Phins Notes
As we develop a weekly content schedule for the season, I wanted something to bridge the gap between the Sunday night game breakdown column and the Tuesday film review. So, here we are with a smorgasbord of information, statistics, snap counts, and whatever is prudent to the Dolphins game from the Sunday prior.
We’ll dive into the game data from Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, grab some quotes from the player’s and coach’s pressers, and continue to provide the most comprehensive coverage on the Miami Dolphins you can find.
Since the Dolphins made the jump from the AFL to the NFL in 1970, the team has won four or fewer games just twice (2004 and 2007). The 2019 season promised to join those records in the abyss of this franchise’s lowest points with an insurmountable task Sunday in Foxboro.
Instead, the Dolphins shocked the betting world by overcoming three-score-underdog status for the most improbable win in the NFL in nearly three decades. And they did it by having the third most successful passing day of the season against the NFL’s stingiest defense.
Despite facing pressure on 31 of his 50 drop backs, Ryan Fitzpatrick took just two sacks, didn’t turn the ball over, and moved the chains 26 times — New England averaged allowing just 15 first downs coming into the game. The Patriots held 10 passers under 200 yards, by Fitzpatrick went over 300 yards, including a game-winning, 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to put the quintessential bow on this trying season.
The Dolphins made winners of all bettors on their season win total (which never eclipsed 4.5 wins, even before the trades of Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Minkah Fitzpatrick). They made fools of all the analysts that called their effort — their entire operation — a disgrace to the game. And in doing so, the Dolphins forced New England into a game on Wildcard Weekend for the first time since the 2009 loss to Baltimore.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite starting just 13 games, posted his third-highest yardage total in his 15-year career. The Dolphins finish 27th in total offense, 12th in passing, last in rushing, and 25th in scoring.
Miami finishes with the 18th-most efficient red zone offense in the league, and the 34.3% third down conversion rate ranks 28th in football.
The team’s defensive rankings dipped to irreparable levels in the first month of the season. Allowing better than 30 points in each of those four games, the Dolphins defense only allowed 30 or more points in four of the final 12 (this excludes Buffalo’s onside kick return that gave the Bills 31 points that day).
Sunday was Miami’s best effort. The Dolphins used eight defensive backs for a total of 301 snaps in the win. Seven of the eight players (Eric Rowe the exception) were either undrafted rookies, or players that were acquired in-season for the Fins.
The result, an 88.4 passer rating for Tom Brady — on-track with his season mark, but nearly 10 points lower than his career figure in that department.
Miami finishes the season 30th in total defense, 26th in passing, 27th in rushing, and last in scoring. The Dolphins red zone defense finished 27th in preventing touchdowns, and the 41.8% third down conversion rate allowed ranked 24th in the NFL.
Flores’ defense finishes 11th in blitz frequency, 21st in knockdown percentage, and last in hurry rate, pressure rate, and sacks. The Dolphins 109 missed tackles were 10th most in the league, but nobody was on the field more than Miami’s defense.
The “Takes No Talent” mantra was effective. The Dolphins had the fourth-fewest penalties assessed for the fourth fewest yardage total in the NFL.
|Player||Snaps (% of Offensive Snaps)|
|QB Ryan Fitzpatrick||68 (100%)|
|RB Patrick Laird||61 (89.7%)|
|RB Samaje Perine||6 (8.8%)|
|FB Chandler Cox||1 (1.5%)|
|WR Devante Parker||67 (98.5%)|
|WR Albert Wilson||67 (98.5%)|
|WR Isaiah Ford||53 (77.9%)|
|WR Mack Hollins||2 (2.9%)|
|TE Mike Gesicki||51 (75%)|
|TE Durham Smythe||27 (39.7%)|
|OL Julie’n Davenport||68 (100%)|
|OL Michael Deiter||68 (100%)|
|OL Daniel Kilgore||68 (100%)|
|OL Shaq Calhoun||68 (100%)|
|OL Jesse Davis||68 (100%)|
|OL Adam Pankey||8 (11.8%)|
Miami’s health along the offensive line was sustained through the final game, as all five starters played wire-to-wire, yet again. Pro Football Focus credited the Patriots with 19 pressures, but other outlets say that number was in the 30’s.
Julie’n Davenport led the way with five, and Michael Deiter had four pressures allowed. The challenging season for the left side of the line comes to a disappointing end.
Jesse Davis closed out a strong December to emphatically state his case for the right tackle position next season and beyond. Davis surrendered two pressures, both hurries. In the month of December, Davis allowed only 10 total pressures (7 hurries, 3 hits, 0 sacks) and committed just one penalty during the final two months of the season.
Shaq Calhoun’s only pressure allowed was a sack, and he finished with the second-best run blocking grade in the game (Dieter #1).
Adam Pankey’s eight snaps came exclusively in heavy packages (six offensive linemen on the field). Pankey was clean in four pass pro reps, and his four run blocking snaps earned him the highest run-blocking grade on the team (aside from Durham Smythe).
Smythe closed out the year strong as a run blocker. He graded higher than 70 on PFF in that department in three of the final five games with a pair of elite grades.
Mike Gesicki averaged 5.3 yards after the catch, but just 5.0 yards per target.
Devante Parker was nearly unstoppable, largely against the game’s premiere cornerback. Parker caught eight of 11 targets, averaged 4.3 yards after the catch, and averaged 12.5 yards per target. Parker caught seven of nine targets against Stephone Gilmore for 119 yards and five first downs. Gilmore entered Sunday allowing just 6.5 yards per target, Parker got him for 13.2 YPT.
J.C. Jackson emerged as one of the game’s premier slot corners this season, but that meant nothing to Isaiah Ford. Ford caught four of five targets against Jackson, three of which moved the chains.
Ryan Fitzpatrick came up aces in every possible category. His 75.3 passer rating while under pressure was his low-mark. He hit a 112.3 passer rating when not pressured, and a 92.0 rating against the blitz. He completed 3-of-7 passes beyond 20 yards for 76 yards. His 99.6 total passer rating and 7.8 yards per pass were the third highest marks against New England this season (Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson).
Once again, Patrick Laird averaged the fewest yards after contact (1.9 Sunday). Samaje Perine finished with a 3.2 average, and Fitzpatrick landed at 3.0 on his scrambles. Two of Laird’s 11 runs moved the chains.
|Player||Snaps (% of Offensive Snaps)|
|DL Christian Wilkins||43 (70.5%)|
|DL Davon Godchaux||36 (59.0%)|
|DL John Jenkins||28 (45.9%)|
|DL Zach Sieler||12 (17.6%)|
|DL Charles Harris||9 (14.8%)|
|DL Avery Moss||2 (3.3%)|
|LB Jerome Baker||61 (100%)|
|LB Andrew Van Ginkel||60 (98.4%)|
|LB Trent Harris||56 (91.8%)|
|LB Calvin Munson||40 (65.6%)|
|LB Sam Eguavoen||15 (22.1%)|
|LB Deon Lacey||1 (1.6%)|
|DB Nik Needham||61 (100%)|
|DB Eric Rowe||61 (100%)|
|DB Adrian Colbert||61 (100%)|
|DB Tae Hayes||40 (65.6%)|
|DB Nate Brooks||30 (49.2%)|
|DB Walt Aikens||28 (45.9%)|
|DB Montre Hartage||20 (32.8%)|
|DB Steven Parker||6 (9.8%)|
|WR Mack Hollins||1 (1.6%) lateral play|
Christian Wilkins earned PFF’s top grade for Miami. He did it without a pressure on the quarterback, but both of his tackles were run stops. Davon Godchaux made four tackles, all for run stops. John Jenkins had the only pressure from the defensive line (a hurry), but he was the 20th-graded player on the team.
Jerome Baker had the worst grade of all Dolphins defenders. He had one pressure on six pass rush snaps, made seven tackles (one for a run stop), and missed one.
Andrew Van Ginkel had the best day as far as I’m concerned. He ended with seven tackles, four for run stops and two for loss. He hit Brady twice and allowed just four yards receiving.
Tae Hayes arrived in Miami less than two weeks ago. Sunday, he pitched a shutout with no catches on six targets.
Trent Harris filled up the stat sheet with two pressures and the lone sack on Brady. He made five tackles, four for run stops, and missed one. He was tabbed for the coverage on the 38-yard touchdown pass to Elandon Roberts, but that was a team bust.
Eric Rowe finished out his strong season with a big day. He allowed just seven yards receiving and picked off Brady taking it the other way for six.
Chris Grier and Brian Flores Speak, Assistants Fired, and Putting Miami’s 5-4 Finish in Perspective
After an 0-7 start with a point differential of -161 points, the Dolphins and their depleted roster were left for dead. Closing the season over .500 wasn’t enough for a miracle playoff push, but the future is layered in hope because of the path Miami took to find those five victories — two of which were over eventual division champions in the month of December.
There were 198 starts to be had in those nine games. From the chart below, you’ll see that in-season free agent signings/trade acquisitions, along with undrafted rookies, made up 40.9% of Miami’s 198 starts during that time — players that were passed over by every team, left only for Brian Flores’ Fins.
|Player Arrival Method||Starts Weeks 8-17|
|Incumbent from 2018||75 starts (37.9%)|
|In-Season Free Agent Addition||45 starts (22.7%)|
|Pre-August Free Agent||19 starts (9.6%)|
|Undrafted Rookie||19 starts (9.6%)|
|Rookie Draft Pick||17 starts (8.6%)|
|In-season Trade Acquisition||17 starts (8.6%)|
|Futures Contract Signing||6 starts (3%)|
|Total Starts||198 Starts|
This chart sparks encouragement for a coaching staff that found a way to play winning football with those figures, but it also signals dramatic change. The approach to free agency and roster building was a focal point of the end-of-season presser for Flores and Chris Grier, as they addressed the media on Black Monday.
Both were asked about the offseason approach with the free agent spending cash and bevy of draft picks. In their typical Patriots descendant form, both passed the buck on saying anything of value. Grier and Flores both stated that having the money doesn’t mean you have to spend it, and they emphasized being judicious with the salary cap.
The best quote came from Grier who stated, “we’re going to add a lot of good players.” Expect the roster to see a significant overhaul this winter and spring.
Grier made it clear that the team didn’t have to find the quarterback this year. He also danced around a question that was framed specifically towards Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The question was about considering injury prone players, and Grier eluded to gathering the information so they can make that decision when the time comes. He also said he expects Ryan Fitzpatrick to be in training camp, along with Josh Rosen, but made it clear that feeling is in regards to today, and they are only concerned with today.
Asked to define the progress about the first year of this massive rebuild, Grier intimated the success of laying the ground work and foundation and how [Flores] excelled in accomplishing that task.
A reporter asked Flores if the assistants will be back — which we learned shortly thereafter that Miami dismissed OC Chad O’Shea, OL Coach Dave Deguglielmo, and Safeties Coach Tony Oden. He declined to answer on the future of Jim Caldwell, and stated that everyone in the organization is being evaluated, even coach Flores himself, “I probably should’ve thrown some more red flags throughout the course of the season,” Flores said with a wry smile.
Big takeaway here is that someone is hiring Josh McDaniels to be their HC and he was planning on plucking Schuplinski (Dolphins QB coach) who was headed to Indy with McDaniels. Miami did what they had to do to keep Schuplinksi. https://t.co/yZQvRXWAoQ
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) December 30, 2019
Flores repeated the importance of adding players with high character. Grier was asked about Flores’ involvement in the roster building through the offseason, to which Grier replied, “He’ll be heavily involved. Brian does a great job of talking about the types of players he wants. With the players we brought in throughout the season. Brian has been very open to working through the roster, waiver wires and claims we’ve been doing. I don’t think it works without the collaboration of working together. He’ll be involved as he has been since day one.”
Flores was asked what pleased him the most about this season, and his answer referred to the team’s mental toughness up against adversity. “Dealing with disappointment or defeat, it either breaks you or makes you stronger. It made us stronger and I’m really proud of that,” Flores said.
The turning point of the season, Flores said, was the Washington game when they re-inserted Fitzpatrick back into the lineup.
The final question dealt with the early morning arrest of injured star Cornerback Xavien Howard. Flores was visibly annoyed by the situation, and only went as far as to say they are still gathering information, even with regards to Howard’s future in Miami.
Defensive Backs to Keep An Eye On
Picking up from where we left off after the 7 Names for the Defensive Front 7 the Dolphins secondary figures to receive a bit of a makeover as well over the next year or two. While it doesn’t possess as many holes as the front seven, I think Brian Flores will want to address it to get the types of players he needs to execute the Patriots-style defensive I detailed in my deep dive earlier this year. The plus factor is that the secondary comes with one of the team’s two blue chip players, cornerback Xavien Howard. If my hunch is correct, Minkah Fitzpatrick seems like the leading candidate to assume the Devin McCourty role and become the second blue chip player in the defensive backfield in short order.
Bobby McCain should return to the slot exclusively this season, barring injuries to others, and his play should go back to the level he was at in 2017, though he might see fewer snaps given the propensity of the defense to use safeties as slot defenders – more on that later.
In addition to Howard, Fitzpatrick and McCain, Miami have Eric Rowe who has played in this defense the last three years. He’s versatile, having played both cornerback and safety, but he’s played in just 21 of 48 games over that span. Bear that in mind. Cordrea Tankersley, whom many forget was very good as a rookie, should fit better in this defense than he did in Matt Burke’s, but the “if” with him is his injury recovery and when he’ll be available. The corner spot after Tankersley is a collection of guys with limited experience, but with other needs Miami may be inclined to roll with that group in 2019.
The safety position is another matter. While there are certain aspects of the defense that will suit Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald, I think it’s relatively easy to look at those guys and see that they likely aren’t great fits for what Miami will want to do. Contractual situations may have a hand in keeping both around longer than the coaching staff may like. Because of that, I do wonder if it would preclude Miami from drafting a safety like Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram, my favorite safety in the draft, because his role would likely be like both Jones and McDonald.
What I think Miami will be on the lookout for, given the sheer number of needs in the front seven, are guys that can play middle of the field (MOF) safety, as well as some split safety. I think the most important thing for Miami is finding this player, so they have the flexibility to use Minkah Fitzpatrick in different situations like the Patriots use Devin McCourty. If the Dolphins trade back and acquire multiple picks, they may view themselves as having enough currency to address the strong safety spot as well. This would likely assume that they’re able to move on from Jones and/or McDonald during or after the Draft.
So, if the Dolphins are wont to make changes, here are some prospects I think they will consider.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson – Safety – Florida #23
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson looks the part of someone that Miami will be onto in this year’s Draft. As a sophomore in 2017, CGJ played more true free safety looks. In 2018, you’ll see a lot more of him in the slot. Position versatility is something this staff will like. Let’s take a look at some of the things they ought to like about him.
1) Range – In this clip from 2017 against Florida State CGJ is lined up out of the shot as the play starts. As the play develops, you’ll see him cover from the hash to outside the numbers against a corner route and separate ball from man.
Here’s another example of it from Florida’s Peach Bowl win over Michigan. In this clip, CJG starts out as a slot defender and peels back off the deep over route to undercut the backside post route and get a pick.
2) Play Recognition – Play recognition can be hit-or-miss with CGJ at times. I’m not sure if it’s more a coaching issue at Florida or he’s a beat slow to click and close on some plays, but when he gets it right it often leads to success on the play. Here against Tennessee the Vols will run a bubble screen with the back behind the line of scrimmage. CGJ is able to read the play, defeat his block and notches a TFL.
You can see another example of the same type of recognition on a similar play against LSU.
3) Open-field tackling – Not every defensive back excels at tackling in space. But with CGJ, it’s pretty solid, and having played some slot, which puts you in space, will have served him well. In this rep against Georgia on a 3rd & Goal, CGJ is lined up as the backside safety. He’s able to close and stop Deandre Swift on the draw play and save a TD with a nice open-field tackle.
CGJ does it again here against Missouri QB Drew Lock. What’s impressive is that he runs around the block instead of playing through it and takes an inside angle but is still able to track down Lock.
Quick Summary – Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is a 2nd round pick through and through. There are traits that are there to work with, but he’s not quite there yet. As I mentioned, there are times when he’s a beat late in coverage or recognizing the play. There are plays where he’ll run himself into blocks or away from contact, but when he gets it right, he gets it right.
Amani Hooker – Safety – Iowa #27
Next we move to the B1G and Iowa safety Amani Hooker. He’s built and plays a very similar to role to Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and that’s why I think Miami might be onto him. He has experience in playing as a free safety and in the slot, like CGJ, but might possess better play recognition.
1) Recognition & Click-and-close – In this rep against Iowa State, Hooker is lined up as a split safety. He reads the power play and flies up in run support. Yes, David Montgomery is able to spin away from his tackle somewhat, but the recognition and hit by Hooker allows his teammate to clean up the play for a gain of just a yard.
Just for fun, he does it again the very next play and helps get in on the tackle. https://youtu.be/8R4fAG-zapE?t=32
Here, against Northern Illinois, Hooker is able to use his eyes and recognizes a second dig route and gets himself a pick. The Huskies are lined up with formation to the left with Iowa in zone. Hooker smartly passes the seam route along to a deep safety and comes across with the first dig route, but the QB never triggers. Hooker reads the QB’s eyes and drifts back to the deeper dig route and snatches a pick.
2) Run support – A bit later in the Northern Illinois game, Hooker will show his ability to support the run off the edge. Lined up as a strong safety against a double TE look, Hooker is responsible for the edge and times his run blitz well. He makes sure to honor the jet sweep motion and comes down hard to make the stop for what should have been a safety.
Against Illinois, Hooker will make a nice play against the option. Here he’s lined up as a slot safety. He reads the play, defeats the block and makes a TFL, and he does it like it’s shown in the textbook.
3) Coverage Recognition – In this rep against Maryland, Hooker drops deep in a Cover 2 Zone look, reads the QB (who apparently didn’t watch his film on throwing a corner route against Hooker) and gets a INT.
Against the Purdue, Hooker is the slot defender on this rep. Here he’s able to meet the receiver at the top of the stem, read the skinny post and undercuts it for another interception.
Quick Summary – If you could fuse Amani Hooker’s recognition and instincts with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s athletic ability, you’d have a helluva safety. But make no mistake, Hooker can ball. His lack of elite speed and athleticism will have to be considered – you can gameplan around that on defense – but he’s got a role as an all-around safety who is smart and physical.
Mike Edwards – Safety – Kentucky #7
The Miami Dolphins signed a free agent from my hometown of Cincinnati already this season (Tank Carradine, Taft High School). If they were to draft Mike Edwards (Winton Woods High School) they’d have another Cincinnatian. Edwards is smaller than both CGJ and Amani Hooker, but played in a similar role for the Wildcats. He’s met with Miami leading up to the Draft, so let’s see why the Dolphins may like him.
1) Tackling – Despite his 5’10” 205lbs frame, Edwards is a very good tackler. On this rep against the Florida Gators, he’s lined up in the slot, almost playing as a linebacker, and he’s responsible for the hook zone. No one enters, so he reads the quarterback and finds the Texas route being run by Jordan Scarlett. Yes, Scarlett drops the pass, but Edwards’ recognition causes that and Edwards still delivers a nice pop.
In this play, Edwards is lined up on the edge, much like how the Patriots have used Patrick Chung. In effect, he’s almost playing SAM LB on this rep because of his alignment. That’s interesting to note. Texas A&M runs a power toss play. Edwards simply blows past everyone and stuffs Trayveon Williams for a 4 yard loss.
2) Versatility – Edwards also has reps as a FS for the Wildcats. I wanted to show an example of him switching roles in-game. This play is on the same drive as his TFL against the Aggies. Here he rotates from a MOF safety in single-high to a split safety. No one attacks the seam or deep middle, so he’s free and comes up in support of the quarterback scrambling. He doesn’t make a play here, but I think it’s worth pointing out he’s assignment sound as both a safety and as a slot defender.
In this rep against Georgia Edwards is lined up as a split safety. Here you can see him support the run as he comes up to assist on a tackle of Elijah Holyfield in a goal-to-go situation. I like his feistiness to come up and try and deliver a hit here. Not every safety will do that, especially those that are undersized.
3) Ball awareness – Edwards has 10 interceptions to his name as a member of the Wildcats and one of the main reasons for that is his ability to get around the football. Here against Tennessee as a deep safety he’s able to track the deep ball, time his jump against a bigger receiver and break up the pass.
Edwards does it again in this example on a deep ball from Jake Fromm against Georgia knocking this ball away from the 6’2” Jeremiah Holloman on the post route.
Sometimes is just better to have great reflexes. Edwards grabs this pick-6 off a deflection. There are two other interceptions that Edwards nabbed in his career off deflections.
Quick Summary – As we know, Miami’s got a lot of needs in the defensive front seven and pretty much every offensive line position other than Laremy Tunsil ought to be set in pencil at this point. So, if that’s the case and Miami pushes finding a safety back a round or two, Mike Edwards would be a guy I’d love to nab in round 4 or 5, if he’s there. His versatility and tackling ability are things that stand out and will be needed in this defense. I also like the fact he’s shown to be comfortable adjusting his role mid-game. That is something that will likely be required in Miami’s new defense, especially with he skills of Minkah Fitzpatrick and a talented slot corner in Bobby McCain on the roster. If Miami drafted Edwards, he should be able to carve out a nice role as a 3rd safety playing MOF duties or as another slot defender who is capable of blitzing. He’s got a lot to like.
Miami may not be strictly in the business of finding a safety in this Draft either. They’ve looked at a slew of corners up and down the Draft. I had planned on doing prospect write-ups on a pair of corners, just like the safeties above. The two guys I was planning on were Ka’dar Hollman of Toledo and Donnie Lewis Jr. of Tulane, but to be honest, there’s really not much available film to breakdown on them. So, rather than showing a clip or two of each, I’ve got something else. For the past few Drafts I’ve done a breakdown of the players the Dolphins have met with leading up to the Draft and tracked “Official 30 Visits”.
So, with that in mind, here are a list of the corners and safeties Miami have met with. Keep in mind, these are just players that I’ve been able to confirm.
Deandre Baker – Georgia
Greedy Williams – LSU
Byron Murphy – Washington
Rock Ya-Sin – Temple
Julian Love – Notre Dame
Trayvon Mullen – Clemson (30 visit)
Jamel Dean – Auburn (30 visit)
Isaiah Johnson – Houston
Sean Bunting – Central Michigan
Derrick Baity – Kentucky
Jimmy Moreland – James Madison (30 visit)
Blace Brown – Troy
Ka’dar Hollman – Toledo (30 visit)
Montre Hartage – Northwestern
Donnie Lewis Jr. – Tulane (30 visit)
Xavier Crawford – Central Michigan
Jhavonte Dean – Miami
Rishard Causey – UCF
Derrek Thomas – Baylor
Juan Thornhill – Virginia
Jaquan Johnson – Miami
Mike Edwards – Kentucky
Sheldrick Redwine – Miami
Corrion Ballard – Utah
Tyree Kinnel – Michigan
John Battle – LSU
Robbie Grimsley – North Dakota State
Again, Miami may very well (and hopefully has) met with multiple other players at the safety position. But I would expect that Miami comes out of the Draft with at least 2 DBs.
Lastly, to close this one out, I mentioned this on the podcast and on Twitter, but I’ve been able to get myself more free time to write so please stay tuned for me pieces from me in the future.
- Turning the Machine in the Right Direction March 22, 2020
- Free agency opens; Reshad Jones, Mike Hull lead Miami Dolphins cuts March 18, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Bring On Another Ex-Patriot, Sign LB Elandon Roberts March 18, 2020
- Miami Dolphins sign center Ted Karras March 18, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Bolster Their Running Backs, Sign Jordan Howard March 17, 2020