State of the Franchise: Miami Dolphins
As we continue our series of looking over the state of each franchise, we’ll make a stop in sunny Miami Florida. The Dolphins had a confusing year in 2019, to say the least. They started it by trading for Josh Rosen, a first-round pick by the Cardinals in 2018. But then right before the season started, they traded away young franchise left tackle, Laremy Tunsil. The Dolphins proceeded to lose each of their first 7 games before beating fellow cellar dwellers the Jets. Luckily for the Dolphins being outscored 163-26 over the first four games of the season would be their low point. They tried both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen over those first four games, but nothing worked. Then something clicked. For the next 3 contests, they played competitive games against the Redskins, Bills, and Steelers before getting that first win against the Jets. After the Dolphins first win of the year the Fitzmagic started to take over and they went on to play above .500 ball over the final 9 games. Finishing 5-11 on the season they slot into the 5th spot in the 2020 draft order. The Dolphins are sitting pretty, for a rebuilding squad, heading into the new decade. They have 3 first-round picks in the coming draft and have young talented players on both sides of the football. They also have a Bill Belichick protege, Brian Flores, running the sideline. Though the season started roughly down in Miami there has been nothing but encouraging signs over the 2nd half of the season. And though the record might not reflect it there should be hope amongst Dolphins fans as a first-time head coach leads a young roster into the 2020s. The future, some might say, is as bright as the sundown in Miami.
Players 25 and Under: “The Future”:
As with any rebuilding team, the ideal scenario is to have a roster chalked full of young, high-upside guys. Landing these high-upside young players is maybe the most important factor in rebuilding a franchise, well outside of landing a franchise quarterback but we’ll get to that later during the draft section. But we must mention the one young QB who is already inhouse for the Dolphins. This is Josh Rosen a former first-round pick by Arizona who the Dolphins traded for prior to the 2020 season. The Dolphins gave up their 2nd round pick in the 2019 draft to acquire Rosen, which gave many the impression they liked what they saw from him coming out of UCLA. Rosen has played 20 games over his first two seasons, 6 in Miami and the stats have not exactly jumped off of the page. He has thrown 12 TDs and 19 picks and only for 2854 yards. There are also rumors swirling that the Dolphins are looking to select a certain QB out of Alabama this draft. But I still think there is a future of Rosen in the NFL, whether that is in Miami or not. Rosen still possesses the talent that made him a first-round pick, and if the Dolphins decide to go a different direction for a young QB Rosen should still get another shot with another rebuilding franchise.
One of the most promising young players on the defensive side of the ball is LB Jerome Baker. He was a third-round pick by the Dolphins in 2018, and he saw the majority of the playing time at outside LB in 2019. He was seen as a quick but possibly undersized LB coming out of Ohio State, but it has not seemed to have much effect on his production. Baker has played in every game over his first 2 seasons, starting 26 of them. This past season he made 124 tackles, bringing him to 203 over his short career. Given his size getting into the backfield has never been his strength but he still managed 4.5 sacks to go with 9 QB hits over the last two years. The Dolphins look like they’ve found a very nice player and it seems as if he’ll be manning the middle of the Dolphins defense for years to come. Next, we will turn out sights to another young LB on the roster. That is Andrew Van Ginkel. Unfortunately for the Phins and Ginkel, his season was shorted before it even started. Ginkel suffered a foot injury before week 1 but managed to work his way back to play by week 12. Given the fact that he only saw 6 games of action during this rookie season, he managed to put up an impressive rookie campaign. He even showed the Dolphins enough for them to give him a start in week 17. This topped off the 6-game stretch that saw his playing time slowly increasing over time. Next year will be a big one for Ginkel, he was a slightly older prospect coming out of college so he’ll need to prove he deserves starting minutes and I think he will. Another young stud, the highest-drafted of this group, is DT Christian Wilkins. Selected off that legendary Clemson DL from a year ago Wilkins proved the Dolphins correct for using a first-round pick on him. He started 14 games during his rookie season, and while racking up high stats has never been his thing, he still managed to break through the line to bring down the QB twice to go with 56 combined tackles. In college, his high in sacks was 5.5 during his senior season, so he is more of a high floor prospect than on that will be in contention for DPOY anytime soon. That being said if he can continue to develop, he’ll be on Miami’s DL for many more seasons. So far, this gives us our 3rd young defensive player. But we’re not stopping there, we have our 4th defensive player in Raekwon McMillan. An inside LB, also out of Ohio State, McMillan was a 2nd round pick in 2017. McMillan was on his way to improving on an already impressive rookie season before a hamstring injury caused him to miss 3 games. His ability to get to the ball was one of his biggest pluses coming out of college and this has continued while playing for the Dolphins. This man is a tackle machine and looks to be a lock for 100+ combined tackles over his time in Miami.
2019 Draft Review:
Here we’ll take a look back on the 2019 draft and how the players selected have done in their first season in the Dolphins organization.
1.15 DT, Clemson, Christian Wilkins. Now, we don’t need to spend too much time on Wilkins here because we’ve already hit the highlights. But this man has been everything the Dolphins expected coming out of a powerhouse program like Clemson. His stats might not jump off the page after his first season, but his impact was felt. Now obviously the Dolphins would love for him to turn into an elite tackle who gets into the backfield multiple times a game, but there is something to be said for a player with as high of a floor as Wilkins. Many teams would be thankful to have a player with Wilkins talents and would’ve happily spent their 1st round pick on him if the Dolphins hadn’t.
3.13 OG, Wisconsin, Michael Deiter. Without a 2nd round pick after it was traded for Josh Rosen, arguably the most productive player from this Dolphins draft class was their 3rd round pick, Deiter. He came into the Dolphins OL room and simply started his career in the league by playing in all 16 games and starting 15 of them. There were only two games in 2019 that Deiter did not play 100% of the offensive snaps. He showed great discipline, something that is very impressive for a rookie guard, picking up only 3 penalties. For a guy that played 93% of the snaps, this is very impressive. The Dolphins should be feeling very good about snagging a talent like Deiter in the 3rd round.
5.12 LB, Wisconsin, Andrew Van Ginkel. The Dolphins dove back into the Wisconsin well with their 5th rounder pick. Unfortunately for the Dolphins Deiter is where the production stopped for this rookie class. I, of course, am not saying that players like Ginkel don’t possess the talent to be productive in the coming seasons, but as far as 2019 goes the first two picks were about it. Van Ginkel only played in 6 games this season, but when he did, he showed promise. He gained the start in the season finale and should be going into 2020 in line for an uptick in playing time. Whether he continues to improve into a full-time starter-level talent, or slots in nicely as a career backup, Miami still has to like what they’ve seen from their 5th rounder.
6.28 OT, Ohio State, Isaiah Prince. Prince turned out to be a wasted pick for the Dolphins. He played in 4 games this year for Miami, even getting the start in weeks 4 and 6. But the Dolphins clearly did not see the talent they wanted from him. He had lots of experience on the big stage, playing at Ohio State, and had insane measurables at 6’7” 305 pounds, but it seems as if his upside caused the Dolphins to move on.
7.18 FB, Auburn, Chandler Cox. Miami selected Cox out of Auburn to play the role of the hard-nosed FB ready and willing to hit blockers coming off the OL. And while Cox never touched the ball for the Dolphins this season, when he did see the field, he played the role he was drafted for. It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins decide to keep Cox into next season, but with a thin running back room, it does seem hard to justify letting Cox go. Especially when his role is that of the hard-hitting FB, there is next to no expectations of his putting up stats. But for a late-round pick who never made a huge impact it can be hard to stay on and NFL roster.
7.19 RB, Washington, Myles Gaskin. After rushing for over 5000 yards and 57 touchdowns in college Gaskin clearly has the talent to make an impact on an NFL roster. Unfortunately, he did not see playing time until week 10 and an injury cut his season short during the Week 16 matchup against the Giants. But when he was on the field, he was looking like he was ready to produce. During his 7 games, he did play he was handed to ball 36 times and rushed for 3.7 yards a carry. This was good for 133 yards, oh and he also scored his 1st career touchdown earlier in the game he was hurt during. The Dolphins will have a crowded, but maybe not so talented, running back room going into next season with the likes of Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, DeLance Turner, and Redskins has been Samaje Perine. It also must be mentioned that, because of the lack of star talent in the room, the Dolphins are being linked to potential early round running backs in this draft class as well. But Gaskin showed enough this season to at least secure the 3rd running back role if he plays well in preseason. A first-round pick, Laird and Gaskin? Now that’s not a bad running back trio at all.
As far as cap space goes heading into this offseason, well, the Dolphins have boatloads of it. They really will not need to try and free up much space by cutting veteran players, but even so we’ll take a look at two possibilities. The two guys we’ll look at are players who are able to be cut this offseason without any cap hit to the Dolphins in 2020. So, if Miami decides they’d like to free up more space for a potential impact free agent. These two guys would be selected to head out of town. The first player is starting C Daniel Kilgore. Yes, Kilgore is currently the starting C for the Phins, and teams are not normally in the business of cutting their starting center. While Kilgore has carved out a nice career for the 2011 5th round selection, he has never truly been an impact player. There is a scenario that the Dolphins decide saving 3.5 million is worth a camp battle for the starting center spot heading into 2020. They could select a center in one of the first 4 rounds and have them compete with the 3 other players currently on the roster who can play center. This player might be saved by the fact that the Dolphins have essentially no pass rush to speak of, but Taco Charlton could be on the way out of town. Charlton was looking like he might be on his way out of the league, as a 2017 first-round bust, before he landed in Miami for 2019. He had a career revival of sorts this past year during which he set a career-high in sacks with 5, which was more than both of his first two seasons combined. He is set to be paid 1.8 million next season and if the Dolphins are looking to save some money Charlton could be a target as they would not have to eat any of the money in 2020. But as I said the fact that he was the leader in sacks for the Dolphins in 2019 with a whopping 5 sacks means that he’ll probably be back in Miami for 2020, and the Dolphins will be hoping he will continue to add on to the production he started to show in 2019.
There is one under the radar player that I would like to see the Dolphins bring back in 2020. Clive Walford was once a player, in his first two seasons in the league with the Raiders, who was looking like he might become a TE with a lot of receiving upside. Over those first two years, he caught 61 passes for 688 yards. But the injury bug has not been kind to Walford. He played in 13 games in year three and only played in 8 over the last two seasons. While Mike Gesicki had a breakout this past season the Dolphins shouldn’t be looking to bring Walford back with the expectation of him being the starter. After all these injury problems Walford will come cheap and he’ll bring with him the talent that caught 61 passes and the knowledge that comes with being a 5-year vet in the league.
The 2020 Draft
The Dolphins’ plan heading into 2019 was to tank. Miami has been the most open of any NFL team that I can remember about their tanking. The worst kept secret was that they were tanking in hopes of landing Tua Tagovailoa the Quarterback out of Alabama. And while the Dolphins did a little better than they had hoped and so they landed at the 5th spot in the draft. But landing at the 5th selection went perfectly with the rise of Joe Burrow and Tua’s injury. Burrow’s rise meant that a QB needy team about the Dolphins will be looking Burrow’s way (the Bengals), and the injury meant that there is now no pressure to even win next season allowing another season of tanking for a high pick in Miami. Tua is coming in at the perfect time in the Dolphins rebuild. They have a young core and a young head coach, now all they need is a franchise QB, and Tua would be just that. But I have to mention at least one other player because who knows how Tua’s injury might impact him pre-draft. Though the reports on Tua have been encouraging we need to mention OT Andrew Thomas as well. Thomas has been a starter for the past 3 seasons at Georgia, one of the biggest programs in the country. There are some questions about his ability to pass block, but overall Thomas is seen as a high upside tackle with the potential to lock down the LT spot for a team for the next decade. If the Dolphins fall in love with Thomas, or Tua’s injury causes concern, the fact that the Dolphins have 3 first-round picks in the draft could mean they take the player they feel most comfortable with and take a flier on the QB later in the first.
Look back on the 2009 Draft
One of my favorite things to do is take a look back at the franchise 10 years ago and see how the ‘09 draft class played out.
1.25 DB, Illinois, Vontae Davis. This was the best player selected by the Dolphins in 2009. Unfortunately for them most of his production did not come with the Dolphins. He played 3 years in Miami and 10 overall in total. With Miami he was a consistent presence on the field, only missing 3 games. Davis picked off 9 passes during his time in Miami and would go on to snag 22 during his career. After his time in Miami Davis spent 6 years with the Colts before playing his final season, 2018, in Buffalo.
2.11 QB, West Virginia, Pat White. Coming out of West Virginia White was the ultimate dual-threat QB in college. He was the definition of a freak athlete. To go along with being the 44th overall pick in the NFL draft, he was also selected three separate times for the MLB. Over 4 seasons at West Virginia he passed for 6,049 yards, had 56 TD passes with only 23 interceptions. He also rushed for 4,480 yards and 47 TDs. Despite this there were many questions about his ability to play QB in the NFL, so the Dolphins attempted to move White to WR. Despite all of this athletic ability, White could not make the transition. He spent only 2009 with the Dolphins rushing for 81 yards. 2009 was his only season in the NFL.
2.28 DB, Utah, Sean Smith. Another solid pick by the Dolphins from this draft was Smith. At 6’4’’ Smith was a bigger DB coming out of Utah so there were questions about whether his size would slow him down, but Smith managed to carve himself out a 9-year career in the league. As with Davis earlier, Smith would also only spend a short time in Miami. He played for the Dolphins for 4 seasons, putting in arguably the best season of his career in 2012. He snagged 2 picks while also forcing 3 fumbles. After the season he managed to land a 3 year 18-million-dollar deal with the Chiefs, ending his time in Miami.
3.22 WR, USC, Patrick Turner. Turner played himself in the early round conversation with a very impressive senior season at USC. He caught 10 touchdowns as well as receiving 741 yards. The Dolphins liked what they saw in Turner and made him the 2nd WR prospect they took in the first 3 rounds of this draft. Unfortunately for the Dolphins Turner was also the 2nd WR to bust in this class. Turner would also spend one season in Miami, playing in 2 games. He never recorded a catch for the Dolphins. He would spend the next 3 seasons with the New York Jets, and finish his career with 10 catches for 110 yards and 1 TD. Not what the Dolphins were looking for from their 3rd round pick.
4.8 WR, Ohio State, Brian Hartline. The lowest drafted on the Dolphins WR picks in this draft, Hartline would end up having easily the best career of the bunch. And though the main memories of Hartline’s playing days are probably something along the lines of ‘oh right, he was kind of good that one year in fantasy’, Hartline ended up with a solid stat line by the time he called it quits. He played in Miami for 6 seasons with his best season coming in 2012. Including 2012 Hartline went for over 1000 yards twice over his 6 years with the Dolphins. While never a huge touchdown guy he finished with 14 of them after catching 2 in his final season, spent with the Browns, in 2015. Hartline is currently the WR coach at Ohio State. Who knows, we might see him back in the NFL before too long.
5.24 TE, Monmouth, John Nalbone. The Dolphins’ attempts to bolster their pass-catching core continued in the 5th round, they also continued to fail. Nalbone played college football at FCS level Monmouth and perhaps just could not make the adjustment to the NFL’s size and speed. Nalbone played in 2 games for the Dolphins in 2010 after spending the whole 2009 season on the practice squad. He was cut after 2010 and would spend the next 2 seasons bouncing around from practice squad to practice squad. He spent time with 6 different teams over those 2 seasons before he called it quits.
5.28 DB, Clemson, Chris Clemons. The Dolphins were clearly targeting 2 positions in this draft. They wanted DBs and pass catchers, the pass-catching picks did not turn out so well, but the DB picks were the best of the draft. Clemons is the only player who could arguably be as good as Davis. For being a 5th round pick he was clearly the best value of the draft for Miami. Clemons spent 5 seasons with Miami, the first 3 were as a backup, and he started 2012 and 2013 at Safety. Though Clemons never became a star, like Davis and Smith before him they all put in very solid careers in the NFL.
7.5 LB, Weber State, JD Folsom. Though Folsom was not a pass catcher he did end up making a similar impact as them. He spent 2009 in Miami also only appearing in 2 games. Folsom was an older, after completing a 2-year mission trip in college, small school, late-round pick so the chances of him sticking around were always going to be slim. Folsom did manage to record 1 solo tackle during his two games played, so at least he didn’t retire with all zeros on the back of his card.