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2020 Team Report: Miami Dolphins

Last updated: Sat, Sep 5

Offensive Philosophy

The 2019 Miami Dolphins entered the season amid much chatter that they were trying to intentionally tank to draft a quarterback high in 2020, and their early performance did nothing to dissuade this belief. In the four weeks before the bye they were outscored 163 to 26, the worst scoring differential through four games since at least 1940 and more than twice as bad as the second-worst team in the league. They entered their bye as a national punchline. It was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to their offense, which exited the bye with nothing to lose and played like it. After scoring just 26 points through four weeks (with a high-water mark of just 10 points), the team averaged more than 23 points per game in the last twelve, topping 14 in every game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was set loose, and while he made plenty of costly mistakes, his risky gambles paid off often enough to keep the Dolphins talent-starved roster competitive. It's a good thing, because as bad as Miami was, running the ball simply wasn't an option; the Dolphins finished last in carries and rushing yards and 31st in yards per carry. Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing with just 243 yards and the team's best running back was Kenyan Drake, who averaged just 29 yards and was traded to Arizona after six games. The Dolphins obviously hope they've improved their defense enough to make running an option again in 2020, bringing in proven ballcarriers Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. But they would benefit from retaining a bit of the devil-may-care passing game that made them such a dangerous underdog late last year.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backup(s): Tua Tagovailoa [R], Josh Rosen

Starting QB: While Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter now, we are fully expecting first round pick Tua Tagovailoa take over if the team struggles. However, Tagovailoa dislocated his hip last November and may need more time to be fully ready, so as it stands right now, Fitzpatrick will probably get the nod. Fitzpatrick is coming off a decent season for Miami, though that translated to only five wins. Often, Fitzpatrick follows a good season with a mediocre or bad one, and this particular Miami squad doesn't look ripe with talent to begin with, making the chances of a repeat season an unlikely one, even if 3,529 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 62% completion percentage and a 7.03 yards per completion average isn't exactly a lofty bar to clear. Fitzpatrick is a poor man's Brett Favre, with a decent arm, a gunslinger mentality, but less accuracy. If he is the starter come the beginning of the season, there's a good chance Miami will continue to be mired in mediocrity.

Backup QB: Selected with the fifth pick overall in the 2020 NFL Virtual Draft, Tua Tagovailoa fits in with the recent NFL trend of dual-threat quarterbacks. While he's a good runner, don't get distracted by the flash, because he's also a solid passer with a quick release, an arm that can make all the throws and a willingness to stay in the pocket and scan the field. The two ankle and one hip surgery is a concern, and that could push the Dolphins to keep him on the bench for the year, unless late in the season Fitzpatrick and the team have imploded and a change is needed. None of this bodes well for Josh Rosen who found himself in two poor, unsupported situations in two years. Still, he's yet to show much of the promise he had coming out in the 2018 NFL Draft. Even last season head coach Brian Flores said Rosen would be the starter the rest of the season after Week 6, and then named Fitzpatrick the starter. It's clear that if he is going to have another shot it will have to be earned by putting in the work as a backup. Rosen has struggled with completion percentage and pass accuracy, and has shown little improvement in two years. Again, that may be a coaching problem, but the Dolphins absolutely don't trust him as a starter. He may stick around in Miami just to give the Dolphins insurance against Tagovailoa's health but clearly the team doesn't think he can cut it as a starter.

Running Backs

Starter: Jordan Howard, Matt Breida
Backup(s): Patrick Laird, Myles Gaskin
Fullback(s): Chandler Cox

Starting RB: A shoulder injury cost Jordan Howard six regular season games when he was in Philadelphia last season, and he didn't see action in the Wild Card game, but Miami still thought enough of him for a two-year contract. Howard runs tough and can chip away at yards, but isn't a super-explosive back who will hit many big runs. He's a workman like back who, before last season's injuries had totaled 3,368 yards and 24 touchdowns He can get the work done, and even that much is more than the Dolphins had last season and there isn't much behind Howard to challenge him for the job right now. His one serious challenge might come from the recently arrived Matt Breida, who the Dolphins acquired during the NFL Draft. The downside with the former San Francisco 49er is he's rarely not injured, though his toughness is unquestioned and he plays through the injuries. It's likely that Breida will provide the speed to Howard's physicality, which will limit both of their production but also keep Breida off the trainer's table.

Backup RBs: Patrick Laird was the leading rusher for Miami last season with a grand total of 168 yards and a 2.7 yards per carry average. On the plus side he did it in six games, but he never showed enough strength, speed or ability to overcome sub-par blocking and a team playing from behind a lot. Myles Gaskin saw minimal work last season before being injured in Week 16. That game was the high point of his rookie season, as he carried the ball 16 times for 55 yards and a touchdown, but after a solid career at the University of Washington, his NFL future looks average as he lacks the athleticism and overall ability to be more than a bench back.

Fullback: A seventh round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Chandler Cox was mostly a blocker in college and that's what he did for Miami in the rare occasion where he was active.

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeVante Parker, Preston Williams
Backups: Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford, Mack Hollins, Lynn Bowden Jr.

Starting WRs: The landscape continues to change, as Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson opted out of the season as of Aug 5. Hurns didn't do a great deal in his first year in Miami, but as the No. 3 receiver, his departure leaves an opportunity for one of the backups to step up. As far as the remaining two starters, like many Dolphins and ex-Dolphins, all DeVante Parker needed to reach his potential was the absence of former Dolphins coach Adam Gase. After three years of unfulfilled promise under Gase, Parker eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, equaled his touchdown total from the first four years of his career and also finished with career highs in targets (128), yards per reception (16.7) and catches (72). A rookie quarterback might impact that somewhat negatively, and the Dolphins played from behind often, which inflated his numbers, but if Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter and the Dolphins defense remains porous, Parker may not see much dropoff. He's got the speed an ability to continue to succeed now that he is in an offense which fits him better. Preston Williams was lost to a torn ACL in early November but is expected to be cleared by the end of the preseason. If he hasn't lost a step due to the injury, Williams will have a good chance to remain the second option, and an outside threat for Miami. His ability to make tough contested catches and his size make him a valuable option in a passing offense featuring either inaccurate veteran quarterbacks or a rookie.

Backup WRs: Albert Wilson opting out isn't the end of the world - he was already going to have to fight for a roster spot - but as the depth behind him isn't outstanding, and No. 3 receiver Allen Hurns also opted out, it's hard to tell who might emerge as not just a top backup but as a potential No. 3. Jakeem Grant missed significant time for the second season in a row, this time hurting his ankle in late November, while coming off surgery on his leg. He has performed well on special teams, and that is probably his best bet to remain on the roster. Isaiah Ford we re-signed to a one year deal in March after some strong play down the stretch last season when the injury bug hit the Miami receiving corps. A thin frame and a lack of speed have been a concern, so he will need to continue to stay healthy and improve his game, but like all the receivers, is no lock to make the final roster. Mack Hollins is a journeyman who has continually missed time due to injury and while he has good size and speed, he has never turned that into anything resembling positive impact. Gary Jennings was picked up off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks last season, played in one game for Miami while contributing nothing and then injured his shoulder celebrating a Jakeem Grant kick-return touchdown. Ricardo Louis missed 2019 with a knee injury after missing all of 2018 with a neck injury. The Dolphins likely extended him as a camp body and a potential emergency option given how many receivers were hurt in 2019.

Tight Ends

Starters: Mike Gesicki
Backups: Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick, Adam Shaheen

Mike Gesicki showed improvement in 2019, scoring five touchdowns and catching 51 balls for 570 yards, sometimes working out of the slot. The third year tight end has tremendous athleticism and showed improved route running last year, and could be a sizable part of the offense in 2020 if he continues to improve at that rate. Durham Smythe is a blocking tight end first and foremost, and did a solid job with that in his first two seasons in the NFL. he Dolphins gave up a conditional sixth for Shaheen, who was a massive, athletic small school second round pick for Chicago in 2017, who hasn't been able to stay healthy. Chris Myarick was an undrafted rookie last season who was a practice squad player in 2019.

Place Kicker

Jason Sanders: The Dolphins at least have a kicker on a rookie deal, but sometimes you get what you pay for. Sanders, a 2018 seventh-round pick, couldn't stay at his high rookie year accuracy level and fell off to making only 23 of 30 field goal attempts, among the worst rates for a full-time kicker last year. He also made only 5 of 9 attempts from 40-49 yards, but did miss only one extra point for the second straight year. He also recovered his own onsides kick in one game, was part of the best trick play of the year, and had seven field goals in a 22-21 loss to the Jets. He'll go undrafted in every fantasy league and the Dolphins could look for a replacement if he struggles during the season.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jakeem Grant, Preston Williams

When the Dolphins gave a large extension to receiver Jakeem Grant last offseason it seemed to suggest plans to get him more involved either on offense or on special teams. Instead, Miami scaled back his role in both phases, taking Grant off of punt returns three weeks into the season. Grant is the best bet to return kickoffs in 2020, but fellow receiver Preston Williams will continue to push him for punt return duties.

Punt Returners: Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant

When the Dolphins gave a large extension to receiver Jakeem Grant last offseason it seemed to suggest plans to get him more involved either on offense or on special teams. Instead, Miami scaled back his role in both phases, taking Grant off of punt returns three weeks into the season. Grant is the best bet to return kickoffs in 2020, but fellow receiver Preston Williams will continue to push him for punt return duties.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Austin Jackson, LG Ereck Flowers, C Ted Karras, RG Michael Deiter, RT Jesse Davis
Key Backups: OL Robert Hunt [R], OT Julien Davenport, OL Adam Pankey, OL Shaq Calhoun, OL Keaton Sutherland

"It's a rebuilding situation in Miami as there are three new starters (at least) this season. The team invested a first-round pick in left tackle Austin Jackson from USC and a second-round pick in Robert Hunt from Lousiana. Left guard Ereck Flowers was signed from Washington during free agency, and these moves should solidify the left side. At center, Ted Karras was signed from New England to replace Daniel Kilgore. Hunt should push both Michael Deiter at right guard and Jesse Davis at right tackle.

Team Defense

The Dolphins had a miserable year on defense. They sacked the quarterback a scant 23 times and forced only 16 turnovers. Finishes at 30th in yards allowed and 32nd in points allowed tell the story. The rebuild is on as the team signed Byron Jones to give them the best outside corner combo in the league along with Xavien Howard, Kyle Van Noy to boost the linebacker group, and Shaq Lawson to provide edge rush. The plethora of draft picks yielded a high ceiling third corner (Noah Igbinoghene from Auburn at #30), a strong athletic interior defensive lineman (Raekwon Davis from Ohio State at #56), and a safety to replace Rashad Jones (#70 pick Brandon Jones from Texas). The defense is still very much a work in progress and they are often the last unit picked in very deep drafts, but they could improve as the season goes on and merit some matchup or DFS consideration.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Christian Wilkins, DT Davon Godchaux, DE Raekwon Davis
Backups: DE Jason Strowbridge, DT Jonathan Ledbetter, DT Zach Sieler

Starting DL: The Dolphins depleted any depth they had at the defensive end position when they traded Charles Harris and released Taco Charlton, both former 1st round picks, on consecutive days in late April. The types of players they have point to a clear reliance on a 3-4 base defense this year. That means last year's top pick Christian Wilkins will likely move to defensive end on early downs, but he could remain inside in passing situations. Upgrades made to the back seven could help him develop into a low-end DT1 this year, but his fantasy value will take a hit if league hosts move him to DE. Davon Godchaux has been a capable starter early in his career and his tackle production has been trending upwards as he enters a contract season. Raekwon Davis was taken in the 2nd round out of Alabama and should enter camp as the favorite to start, but he could be pushed by Emmanuel Ogbah.

Backup DL: Jason Strowbridge was taken in the 5th round but could find himself in a key role early on. Jonathan Ledbetter and Zach Sieler both provide some depth with limited upside.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Kyle Van Noy, ILB Jerome Baker, ILB Raekwon McMillan, OLB Shaq Lawson
Backups: ILB Elandon Roberts, ILB Sam Eguavoen, ILB Kamu Grugier-Hill, OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, OLB Vince Biegel

Starting LBs: This group received an infusion of talent in free agency, led by the addition of Kyle Van Noy. He proved himself as a strong all-around linebacker in New England who rarely left the field, but his tackle numbers were somewhat underwhelming at times. Jerome Baker is the key to this unit and looks like one of the few long-term building blocks in place. Although slightly undersized, he has the range to make plays all over the field. Raekwon McMillan remains limited in coverage and often sits in nickel packages as a result. He seems best suited to a run-stopping role on early downs, which will cap his playing time and fantasy production. Shaq Lawson was another free agent addition, but he may not fit well as a 3-4 outside linebacker after playing 4-3 defensive end for his entire career. Lawson is excellent at holding the edge while defending the run but doesn't offer much as a pass rusher.

Backup LBs: Elandon Roberts is a versatile player who can backup both inside linebacker spots and contribute in nickel packages. Sam Eguavoen made a successful transition from the CFL last year and could also be in the mix for a starting job. Kamu Grugier-Hill could see some time in subpackages but his main contributions will likely come on special teams. Emmanuel Ogbah hasn't fully lived up to his potential but he's a serviceable edge rusher on a team that desperately needs more of them.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones, SS Brandon Jones, FS Bobby McCain
Backups: CB/S Eric Rowe, CB Noah Igbinoghene, CB Ken Webster, S Clayton Fejedelem,

Starting DBs: The Dolphins may have the best starting cornerback tandem in the league. Xavien Howard seemed to take a step back last year but also didn't have much to work with given how bad the team was around him. He's a former All-Pro and shutdown specialist, although he could be facing a suspension for a domestic violence incident that is still pending. Byron Jones signed a massive contract in free agency to leave the Cowboys. While he's also a shutdown specialist, Jones offers little as a playmaker with just 2 career interceptions in 5 seasons. At safety, longtime starter Reshad Jones will likely be replaced by rookie Brandon Jones, a 3rd round pick out of Texas who profiles as a box safety who can play near the line of scrimmage. Bobby McCain has worked as a nickel back in the past but will likely contribute more as a deep safety, which also limits his fantasy potential.

Backup DBs: Eric Rowe moved over from corner to safety last year and may serve as the starting strong safety until Jones is ready to take over. Noah Igbinoghene was drafted 30th overall and projects as the team's primary nickel back once he gets acclimated to the NFL. Ken Webster was a late-round pick who flashed some potential. Clayton Fejedelem is an experienced backup and valuable special teams player.