Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #28 Miami Dolphins

Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #28 Miami Dolphins

by June 23, 2021 1 comment

Over the last two weeks, four teams have been unveiled in the power rankings. The team ranked 31st was a bit of a surprise, but the rest so far have been unveiled with little to no disagreement. Well, here comes another controversial take with the Miami Dolphins coming in as the 28th-ranked team in the power rankings.

Some platforms even have the Dolphins in the mid-high teens, which is a drastic shift from this ranking of 28. Before the insults start, no, I’m not a fan of another AFC East team. I love Brian Flores and Chris Grier as a head coach and general manager combination and their no-nonsense type of culture and how they took control of the team and made sure to build it up for the future. Unfortunately, there are many holes on the roster, which is why the Dolphins rank so low in these rankings.

Be sure to check out all of my in-depth power rankings.

Offseason Recap

The Dolphins finished the 2020 season with a 10-6 record, albeit against teams with combined records of 119-132-1, one of the easiest schedules in the league. Miami is now fully in on Tua Tagovailoa as their franchise quarterback. He snagged the starting job away from Ryan Fitzpatrick before a game against the Rams. After gaining the starting role, Tagovailoa had an up-and-down season that saw him get benched multiple times for Fitzpatrick to bring the team back from the dead and attempt a comeback. Now, Tagovailoa is the main man in the quarterback room, with Fitzpatrick going north to Washington and starting in 2021. Backing up the second-year pro will be Jacoby Brissett, who was brought in via free agency.

Unfortunately, a lot of talent walked in free agency. That includes Davon Godchaux, Kyle Van Noy, Ted Karras, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and many others. The biggest addition the Dolphins made in free agency was signing Will Fuller to a one-year contract. Adding Fuller adds to a receiving core that needed some help but had a few intriguing young options. D.J. Fluker, Malcolm Brown, Jason McCourty, and Matt Skura were some other key additions for Miami in the free agency period.

A year after Chan Gailey was brought in as offensive coordinator, the Dolphins have moved in a different direction. Eric Studesville and George Godsey were brought in as co-offensive coordinators, and Charlie Frye was brought in as the quarterback coach to help mentor Miami’s young quarterback.

  • Overall – 76.91 (28th) 
  • Offense – 73.48 (30th) 
  • Defense – 81.33 (16th) 
  • Coach and Culture – 75 (25th) 
Quarterbacks – 71, 28th (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)

How good Miami will be this season depends on the development of the former Alabama quarterback. Tagovailoa struggled a lot last season, but he did show some flashes that made him the fifth overall selection in last year’s draft. Gailey implemented a scheme more fit around Fitzpatrick last year, so with the new offensive coordinators brought in along with Charlie Frye, hopefully, the second-year pro takes a massive step forward. Miami gave Tagovailoa three new weapons in the offseason, including a former teammate of his from the Crimson Tide, along with some help along an offensive line that desperately needed it. 

Can Tagovailoa Put it Together This Year? 

Compared to the other two quarterbacks drafted early in the first round, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, Tagovailoa didn’t produce close to what the other two did last year. There have been some weird comparisons between who is likely to have a better season between him and Herbert when Herbert has shown he is a franchise quarterback for the Chargers, while Tagovailoa is trying to develop to stay the starter in Miami. With a more difficult schedule in comparison to last year’s against teams that improved, Tagovailoa needs to prove to the front office and coaching staff that he is the franchise quarterback. Things already seem to be a mixed bag with him struggling and throwing for six interceptions one day in practice this past week, then the very next day throwing five touchdowns to no interceptions.

With Brissett as the backup, Miami has a great backup mentor to Tagovailoa along with an insurance policy if Tagovailoa struggles. Last year, he was the backup to Philip Rivers in Indianapolis but was used primarily as a short-yardage runner. Brissett only attempted eight passes last season after an early 2019 season that saw him take over after Andrew Luck‘s surprising retirement. The Dolphins won’t be completely out of contention if he has to start a few games. Reid Sinnett is the only other quarterback on the roster at this time.

Running Backs – 70, 30th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)

It was a surprise to many that the Dolphins didn’t draft a running back on days one or two of the draft. Miami didn’t draft a running back until the seventh round, putting a ton of trust into their group of backs they had before the draft. Myles Gaskin returns after leading the Dolphins in rushing last season with 584. Miami also had Salvon Ahmed, who showed he was more than capable of having some hand in the rushing attack as he had 319 yards in six games. Both of the two had three touchdowns apiece.

Brown comes over from the Rams after having the best season of his career. Even after Los Angeles added Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers in back-to-back drafts, Brown rushed for over 400 yards and averaged over four yards per carry. It is unknown who will likely be the starter this year in Miami, but if I had to guess, Gaskin is the starter with Ahmed and Brown sprinkling in every so often.

Gerrid Doaks was the running back the Dolphins took in the seventh round. With the addition of Brown and the coaching staff being high on Gaskin and Ahmed, it is unknown if he makes an impact during his rookie season. Patrick Laird is the only other name worth mentioning in this section, and he has been a part of the team for two years now. 

Does Anyone Break Out? 

The running back room doesn’t have a true number one back, but three players can carve out a role, and both Gaskin and Ahmed showed flashes last year of what they could do in a lead role.

Pass Catchers – 82, 20th (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense) 
Receivers

Instead of shoring up their offensive line with the sixth pick of the draft, the Dolphins selected Jaylen Waddle to pair up with Tagovailoa. After signing Fuller in free agency, many draftniks thought that the selection of Waddle with Fuller already on the squad was a head-scratcher. Both have elite speed and are deep-threats with injury concerns. With Fuller on a one-year deal, the Dolphins can use him this year and let him walk on the open market again and let Waddle have a bigger role.

DeVante Parker finally had his breakout a few years ago and finished as Miami’s number one receiver last year after he caught 63 passes for 793 yards and four touchdowns. Preston Williams and Parker looked like a tandem that was ready to take the future by storm, but Williams was hampered last season by injuries and only played eight games. In those eight games, Williams caught 18 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns. With the additions of Fuller and Waddle, Williams will now have an even smaller role.

Lynn Bowden was acquired from the Raiders following the draft in a trade. In ten games last year, he had 28 catches for 211 yards. Jakeem Grant returns once again as another speedy deep-field threat along with the lead return man. With those six, it will be difficult to see if any of Robert Foster, Kirk Merritt, Allen Hurns, or Mack Hollins snag a roster spot.

Tight Ends

Miami loves to incorporate multiple tight ends in their offense. While Mike Gesicki doesn’t play as an in-line tight end often, he’s labeled as a tight end. Last season he had 53 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns. Despite that performance, the Dolphins spent a third-round choice on Boston College’s Hunter Long, who is a balanced player as a receiver and blocker. Adding Long to pair with Gesicki and adding in the two receivers they added in the offseason means Miami is doing anything possible to see if Tagovailoa can succeed.

Durham Smythe is similar to Long, except not the same caliber player. Smythe had 26 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Adam Shaheen was once seen as a bust with the Chicago Bears but showed some nice things last year after getting traded to the Dolphins. He finished the season with 12 catches and three touchdowns. With those four, it will be difficult for free agent signee Cethan Carter or any of the others to make the roster.

Running Backs

Gaskin finished with the third-most receptions and yards last season on the team. None of the other running backs factor in much from a receiving standpoint besides Brown. Ahmed could have some potential in this regard, and Doaks only had 36 receptions in his three years at Cincinnati.

Offensive Line – 74.5, 24th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense) 

In ten games, Tagovailoa was sacked 20 times, both as a result of his bad decision-making and poor offensive line play. What’s different about Miami’s offensive line is that the right tackle is a bit more important than the left tackle due to Tagovailoa being left-handed. In the second round of the draft, the Dolphins finally addressed that spot with Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg. Eichenberg doesn’t offer much upside, but it one of the most steady and pro-ready players from the class. At the other tackle spot is still Austin Jackson, who struggled for a lot of his rookie season.

Skura was brought in from Baltimore and projects to start at center. Both guard spots are up for grabs for Robert Hunt, Solomon Kindley, Michael Deiter, and D.J. Fluker to compete for. Hunt and Kindley are the favorites to win the two spots. Hunt played right tackle for most of last season but showed why many in the NFL projected him as a guard instead of tackle.

Behind Eichenberg and Jackson, the tackle depth has a steep drop-off. The two primary backups are Jermaine Eluemunor and Jesse Davis. If one of the two starters goes down with an injury, or if Jackson continues to struggle like he did last year, the Dolphins will continue to have one of the league’s worst offensive lines.

How Improved is the Offensive Line?

Yes, the Dolphins improved along the offensive line, but it could have been a lot better. Instead of waiting to take Eichenberg in the second round, the Dolphins could have had Penei Sewell at right tackle. Instead of Skura, Miami had a chance to secure Corey Linsley in free agency. The Dolphins are also hoping on development from Hunt, Jackson, and Kindley in their second seasons.

Run Defense – 77, 26th (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense) 
Defensive Line

Miami finished with the 16th-ranked run defense last season, but the departures on the defensive side of the ball are bigger than they may seem. The front three of Raekwon Davis, Christian Wilkins, and Emmanuel Ogbah are solid. Davis and Wilkins took big steps in their progression last year and seem to be on the right track. Zach Sieler is yet another player on the front line that is stout in the run game. Jonathan Ledbetter, Jason Strowbridge, and Adam Butler round out the defensive line depth.

Edge Defenders

Miami’s defensive scheme is a wild one. They use a lot of multiple looks, and their edge-rushers are very different athletes. The Dolphins used their second first-round selection this season to keep Jaelan Phillips in Miami. The issue with him was his concussion history, and the coaching staff and front office hope the injuries are past him now. He is a solid run defender, and him alongside former Wisconsin Badgers’ Andrew Van Ginkel and Vince Biegel is a solid pass-rush rotation, but both former badgers will struggle against the run.

Off-Ball Linebackers

Jerome Baker got his big pay-day this week. He is one of the most underrated players in the league, and last season had 112 tackles, seven sacks, and three pass deflections and is now paid like one of the best linebackers in the league. Benardrick McKinney was acquired in a trade from the Texans and will line up next to Baker in the middle of the defense. The starting unit is fine, but if any injury were to occur, the Dolphins will struggle in the running game.

Pass Rush – 78.5, 23rd (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)

The Dolphins finished with 41 sacks last season. With Van Noy and Shaq Lawson elsewhere, ten of those sacks are now gone, and more players will need to get their hands on the quarterback this season. Ogbah had the best season of his career last year when he finished with nine sacks. The addition of Phillips improves the unit immensely, and it will be interesting to see how the rookie out of Miami does in the big leagues and if his concussion concerns continue to mount up. The Miami pass-rusher would have been a top-ten pick if it weren’t for his concussion history. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Phillips had an eight-plus sack season during his rookie campaign.

Van Ginkel plays on the opposite side of Phillips and will form a nice three-man pass rush. The former Badger had 5.5 sacks last season, and while he will have a smaller role this season, the Dolphins will surely use him in pass-rush situations. Zach Sieler had 3.5 sacks from the interior of the defensive line and will be a factor from the front along with Wilkins and Davis.

One of the biggest questions in terms of the Miami pass-rush is how Biegel will do. The former fourth-round pick of the Packers was acquired in a trade from New Orleans before the 2019 season. With the front office gutting the team and the pass-rush unit as a whole, Biegel showed that he could be a force on the defensive side of the ball and as a pass-rusher. He started ten games during the 2019 season and was one of the better defensive players on the team towards the end of that season.

Linebackers – 77, 22nd (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)

The duo of Baker and McKinney is solid. Both are good run-defenders, and Baker has shown he can get after the passer after having seven sacks last year. Unfortunately, the depth behind the two takes a steep drop-off. Duke Riley, Calvin Munson, and Elandon Roberts are the only other off-ball linebackers on the squad. While Riley and Roberts have some starting experience, the Miami defense shouldn’t rely on either of the two to play a bunch of snaps this season. If either Baker or McKinney gets hurt, the defense will suffer greatly.

Secondary – 90, 4th (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
Cornerbacks

Miami’s secondary is the best position group on the squad. It has been interesting to see Flores and Grier make the secondary a big focal point since both have started working together for the Dolphins. Xavien Howard is in a contract dispute with the team, just shortly after signing an extension before last season. Howard finished the 2020 season with 20 pass deflections and a league-leading ten interceptions. It is very interesting to see that Howard is holding out, and the front office and coaching staff have made note of it. While he may not be the best cornerback in the league, Howard is one of the top-tier cornerbacks, and Miami will struggle if he doesn’t play in 2021.

Byron Jones was added via free agency before last season and paired up with Howard nicely as one of the best cornerback duos in the league. In his first season in Miami, he finished with 37 tackles, four pass deflections, and two interceptions. Jones missed two games last season with injuries and if he plays all 16 games, expect he and Howard, if he plays for Miami, to continue to be one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. 

Lots of Depth 

Noah Igbinoghene was one of Miami’s first-round picks last year, and he didn’t play much due to the depth in the secondary. The former Auburn Tiger only had 13 sacks and two pass deflections last season. One of the main reasons why Igbinoghene didn’t play much during his rookie season was because of Nik Needham. Needham has been a pleasant surprise since joining the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent a few years ago. Miami even felt so confident in him to extend him this offseason. In a move that surprised many, the Dolphins brought in McCourty. McCourty isn’t the player he once was but offers depth and veteran insurance in the locker room that desperately needs it on the defensive side of the ball. 

In another surprising move, the Dolphins signed Justin Coleman as a free agent. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff gets all of Howard, Jones, Igbinoghene, Needham, and Coleman on the field. Coleman was the starter at nickel for the Lions and Seahawks recently and was one of the best defenders for the Lions in 2019. 

After those five, the Dolphins also have Jamal Perry, Terrell Bonds, Javaris Davis, Tino Ellis, and Jaytlin Askew. There may only be one or two roster spots available for any of these players to make the team. 

Safeties 

Miami’s safety group is an intriguing one. Eric Rowe is the oldest of the bunch and can play almost anywhere in the secondary. Last year, Rowe finished second on the team in tackles with 91 and had 11 pass deflections and two interceptions. Brandon Jones was a third-round selection last year and had a great rookie season that went almost unnoticed by the media. 

It seemed like Flores and the coaching staff thought adding another safety was the right move, and Miami selected Jevon Holland in the second round as a result. Holland was the first safety selected in the draft and projects to be the starting free safety. Like Rowe, Holland can play multiple roles for the Miami defense. It will be interesting to see if Miami rolls with Jones and Holland when allowed to move on from Rowe. 

Clayton Fejedelem and Trill Williams are the only other players of note in the room. Williams can play cornerback and safety and shouldn’t have gone undrafted. Miami has a deep secondary, including five cornerbacks that can play a lot of snaps. 

Coach and Culture – 75, 25th (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
Offense

The combination of Godsey and Studesville offensively changes things for the young quarterback and offense as a whole. It is nice to see the front office gathering players around Tagovailoa, but it seems as though there was always someone better for the Dolphins to take than they did. Jackson is a sore spot on the left side of the offensive line, and the coaching staff is praying that the youth along the offensive line develops a lot heading into their second seasons. The Dolphins rank 29th in offensive coach and culture. 

Defense

Flores has brought the New England-style culture to Miami. Grier and Flores continue building the team through their vision and don’t care what anyone else thinks. The Dolphins have an experienced and fantastic secondary, but that is led by an asterisk with the ongoing saga between the front office and Howard over his contract situation. There is a blend of youth and veteran leadership on the Miami defense. The Dolphins rank 19th in defensive coach and culture. 

Season Outlook

The Dolphins are relying on second-year players to make massive jumps in their development this year, and it starts at quarterback. Tagovailoa struggled against losing teams last year, and with a new offensive scheme, there could be some more learning curves to endure. Overall, the schedule this year is a lot harder than it was last year. 

A Difficult Schedule Awaits 

The Dolphins kick the season off against the new-look Patriots on the road. In Week 2, Miami goes against the Bills, who were just one game away from making the Super Bowl last season. An easier game against the Raiders on the road in Week 3 before a home game against Carson Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts before a match against the Buccaneers on the road in Week 5. 

A Week 6 game in London against the Jaguars will be a fun one to watch along with a Week 7 match against the Falcons. Miami gets their final game against the Bills out of the way in Week 8 before a test against the Texans at home. Starting in Week 10, the Dolphins schedule ramps up a bit with games against the Ravens, Jets twice, Panthers, and Giants, before the final three-week stretch against the Saints, Titans, and Patriots. 

According to Odds Shark, the Dolphins have an over/under of nine wins this season. I would be smashing the under in this scenario. Miami had an uber-easy schedule last year en route to a 10-6 finish. With Tagovailoa seemingly already on the hot seat and the coaching staff deploying a new offensive scheme, it will take a while for the Dolphins to get into a groove. With every team in the division getting better, the Dolphins relying on many young players, and their best player currently in a holdout, Miami is in for a rough season. 

Season Prediction: 5-12

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