2020 was an important season for the Miami Dolphins, who were able to run trials of all major units. The team finished 10-6 yet missed the playoffs in a heartbreaking fashion. Nevertheless, many players and position groups showed they can play a pivotal role in the long-term success of the South Beach football franchise.
Here is a full analysis on every noteworthy aspect of the 2020 Dolphins season.
What Went Right
When looking at what went right in 2020, all eyes go to the defense. The unit forced an NFL-best 29 turnovers and 18 interceptions while also tallying 41 sacks (10th-best). When looking at their drive outcomes, the stats clearly indicate that the Dolphins had one of the most powerful units. 15.6 percent of Miami defensive series ended in a turnover, which was the highest mark in the NFL. They also allowed their opponents to score on just 30.7 percent of drives; this mark was the fourth-best in football and is a drastic difference from teams like the Minnesota Vikings or Las Vegas Raiders, who both allowed scores on over half of their drives.
The running back room wasn’t dominant, but it certainly outperformed expectations. Myles Gaskin emerged as a candidate for team MVP if he can stay healthy, while Salvon Ahmed also showed flashes of potential as at least a complementary back to Gaskin. The tight end game also came on strong late in the season as Mike Gesicki proved himself as a franchise player.
From a special teams perspective, the entire unit had a great showing. Kicker Jason Sanders was the highlight of the unit, connecting on 36 of 39 field goals, including eight of nine from 50-plus yards out. He was also perfect after touchdowns, hitting 36 of 36 extra-point tries. Sanders is considered one of the biggest snubs of the season after missing selections to both the Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro.
Shifty returner Jakeem Grant turned heads and earned a selection to the Second-Team All-Pro list. Additionally, punter Matt Haack didn’t explode but still finished above-average. He ranked seventh in the league in punt yards (3,040) and sixth in punts finishing inside the 20-yard line (26),
Brian Flores also had another strong season as the team’s head coach. The second-year commander has cemented himself as one of the best head coaches in football and is likely one Super Bowl away from launching his name into the top tier.
What Went Wrong
The biggest concerns for Miami came on offense. Tua Tagovailoa managed a 6-3 record in 10 games but tossed for just 11 touchdowns and 1,814 yards. He showed great mobility but ran for just 103 yards; this could be Flores’s way of maturely transitioning the rookie to the NFL, but it was a major step back from Tagovailoa’s incredible rushing success in college.
The wide receiving corps was also a major frustration. The unit was clearly a concern heading into the season, but DeVante Parker‘s struggles coupled with a season-ending injury to Preston Williams made the situation a lot worse. The Dolphins’ lack of preparedness in the passing game was likely one of the major factors that contributed to Tagovailoa’s shaky transition to the NFL. While the absence of training camp surely hindered the receiving core, it is obvious that the unit needs to improve in order for the offense to click next season.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Xavien Howard
Howard is the clear choice for this award. He started all 16 games, logging 51 tackles and one forced fumble. More notably, he led the league in both sacks (10) and passes defended (20). Howard was selected to his second Pro Bowl and was a vital part of a Miami defense that was one of the best in the league. The 27-year-old is under contract for four more seasons and should continue to play a pivotal role in the rise of the Dolphins.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Robert Hunt
Four months ago, it would have been a shock to see any name other than “Tua Tagovailoa” here. However, Tagovailoa struggled when he played, often finding himself being replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick in high-pressure situations. It is far too early to give up on Tagovailoa, but he didn’t do enough to earn Rookie of the Year awards on his own team. Rather, Robert Hunt, a second-round offensive lineman, deserves the honors for his reliability in the trenches. After a quiet start to the season, Hunt started 11 of Miami’s last 12 games, appearing in 720 snaps (68 percent) throughout the year. He helped open up a running game that emerged as a threat while also being called for just five penalties. Hunt is a critical member of a young Miami offensive line that could set up Tagovailoa for success in the future.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Raekwon Davis
This one is a no-brainer. The team’s best rookie this season, Davis impressed in 16 games (12 starts). The second-round nose tackle out of Alabama made 40 tackles and two quarterback hurries through 538 (52 percent) of the team’s snaps. Like Hunt, Davis started the year quiet but quickly rose into a talented lineman with the chance to become a pivotal franchise player. Look for Davis to further build on his success when the team reconvenes next season.
Biggest Surprise – The Entire Defense
Miami witnessed a lot of pleasant surprises in 2020. Andrew Van Ginkel, Salvon Ahmed, Myles Gaskin, Mike Gesicki, and Jason Sanders all exceeded expectations and contributed to the team’s success. However, when truly looking at surprises, it’s impossible to shake the vision of the Dolphins’ defense. Entering the year as a mid-range unit (at best), Miami erupted defensively, forcing turnovers left and right to give the offense a better chance at scoring. (That is, of course, if the defense didn’t simply take the turnover to the house themselves.) It’s tricky to tell what this unit’s ceiling is, but they should continue to improve in the offseason. Ideally, this will lead to another big (or even bigger) campaign in 2021.
Biggest Disappointment – Tua Tagovailoa
As mentioned already, Tagovailoa is not a bust. It is far too early to declare such an idea. With that said, he was still South Beach football’s biggest disappointment of the season. Once thought of as a surefire No. 1 pick, an injury coupled with Joe Burrow‘s rise to fame forced Tagovailoa to land with the Dolphins at No. 5 overall. Ryan Fitzpatrick opened the year as the starter and was cruising before Brian Flores handed the keys to Tagovailoa. He showed some good, but he also put forth a lot of bad. Rather than throwing interceptions, he struggled to construct long drives. In turn, this led to punts that put the football back into the hands of opponents. This could be blamed on a lack of weapons. However, it was also evident that Tagovailoa himself wasn’t the speedy threat that we all saw at Alabama.
One Burning Question
Can the Miami brass supply Tagovailoa with what he needs to win?
There is only so much that Tagovailoa can control. Beyond his mechanics, his weapons severely let him down this season. The running back room was solid when healthy, but the ongoing injury dilemma left inconsistency in the backfield. Meanwhile, the receiving corps was a major disappointment as Parker struggled and Preston Williams was equally woeful before his season-ending injury. The good news? Miami looks set at running back and tight end. However, they need a lot of help at wide receiver. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been linked as a candidate to sign with the team during free agent, though a more likely scenario would be drafting Heisman winner and Alabama star wideout Devonta Smith with the third overall pick in April.
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