2020 NFL Team Previews: Miami Dolphins
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
Prior to the 2019 season, the narrative around the Dolphins was they could be one of the worst teams the NFL had ever seen. Some thought they might go winless.
Through the first four games of the season, this prediction seemed about right. Miami got outscored 163 to 26 in those games, which is jaw-dropping!
Yet, against all odds the Dolphins managed to win five games. What made it even more impressive is they traded a couple of their best players during the season: RB Kenyan Drake and S Minkah Fitzpatrick.
I think it’s fair to say that rookie head coach Brian Flores got the most out of his players.
With better-than-expected play in 2019 and six draft choices within the first three rounds, things are ready to turn around in Miami.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
The Dolphins have a couple of very likeable guys at quarterback.
You gotta love Ryan Fitzpatrick. He plays with passion and he leaves everything he’s got on the field. Plus, he is fun to watch because he’s willing to take risks. The knock on him has always been the turnovers, which has cost him many wins.
At 37 years old, he surprised many by collecting five wins on a team that seemed to do everything it could to get the number 1 pick in the draft. Despite a poor surrounding cast, Fitzpatrick played admirably and he graded out as the 14th-best QB according to PFF rankings.
When the team kept dumping good players in return for draft picks, many people called it the “Tanking for Tua” strategy. Miami failed to get the top pick in the draft, but instead got the 5th selection. Strangely enough, they still ended up getting Tua Tagovailoa.
Tua is a very good boy and family man. When his college career ended, he went to the Alabama complex to thank all employees that were working there. That shows how great of a person he is.
On the field, the one and only issue about him seems to be his health. He had two ankle surgeries and a dislocated hip.
However, would you prefer drafting a guy that has never been hurt, but with many issues about his game, or a guy whose play is almost flawless, but could be more injury-prone? I’d go with the latter, personally.
If you could describe Tua’s game in one word, it would probably be “quick.” He has quick release, quick feet and he makes quick decisions.
He is very accurate, whether standing in the pocket or on the run. He had the second-highest QBR in each of his last two seasons in all of college football, which is remarkable.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
The Dolphins were historically bad running the ball last year. When your leading rusher is a 37-year-old quarterback who has never been known for his running abilities, you know you are in trouble.
Indeed, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team with 243 rushing yards, while Mark Walton finished second with 201. Those are laughable numbers!
The team hopes free agent acquisition Jordan Howard will be the solution in the backfield. He doesn’t have the look of a three-down back, though.
Howard’s total rushing yards have decreased every year: 1313 as a rookie in 2016, then 1122 in 2015, down to 935 in his third year and finally 525 last season (he did miss six games, but he was still on pace for just 840). He’s not a great pass catcher, which is why you are probably better off spelling him on obvious passing downs.
Howard is a tough runner who can run between the tackles. He has rushed for 30 touchdowns in four years, which is not insignificant.
Can he improve the team’s running game? Of course. But don’t expect him to blow you away.
Given the lack of depth at the position, acquiring Matt Breida was a savvy move. He has averaged 4.4, 5.3 and 5.1 yards per carry in his three seasons, which is very good. He’s a very reliable RB who fell out of favor during the Niners’ postseason run, but injuries slowed him down. A good get for the Dolphins.
Walton is gone after getting arrested five times by the police in a 12-month period. His football career is likely over.
The team tried to use Patrick Laird as the workhorse back down the stretch, but the experiment was a complete failure. He did pretty well in the passing game, but it was a disaster on the ground. He averaged a pathetic 2.7 yards per rush. The undrafted kid out of Cal is not the answer.
If you thought a 2.7 yards-per-carry average was bad, you are about to fall off your chair. Kalen Ballage “outdid” his teammate with a mind-blowing 1.8 yards per rush average. Out of 74 rushing attempts, his longest run was 8 yards. That’s unbelievable!
Myles Gaskin did better than his teammates (which wasn’t that hard to accomplish, to be honest). He was used in the late stages of the season and picked up 133 rushing yards in 36 carries (a 3.7 average). The 7th round pick from the 2019 draft will be in the mix during training camp.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
The emergence of Devante Parker finally occurred in 2019! The team stuck to him after four “okay” seasons and it paid off.
Parker set career-highs in every possible category, finishing the year with 72 catches for 1,202 receiving yards and an impressive 9 TDs. The former No. 14 overall pick out of Louisville has now established himself as the go-to guy for this squad.
Preston Williams came out of nowhere and dazzled many of us with great play on the field. The tall 6’5’’ prospect out of Colorado State had a good preseason and he quickly earned a starting spot in the lineup. He had an impact right away.
Williams ended with a 32-428-3 receiving line before tearing his ACL, which made him miss half the season. That was pretty unfortunate for the kid.
It seems pretty official now that Allen Hurns will never return as a top wideout in this league. He flashed big time in 2015 by hauling in 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 TDs. Since then, he has not caught more than 39 balls in a season while never topping the 500 receiving-yard mark once. Also, he has scored just two or three touchdowns per season.
Albert Wilson is getting paid way too much money (close to $10 million a year). He’s just a perennial backup receiver. He set a career-high last year with 43 receptions, which is nothing to write home about. He has scored 12 TDs over his six-year career with the Chiefs and Dolphins.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
A couple of years ago, the Dolphins chose Mike Gesicki out of Penn State in the second round of the draft. His rookie season was a disappointment as he only caught 22 balls, none for a score.
He burst onto the scene last year, especially down the stretch. The lights seemed to turn on for him. He flashed his athleticism and he seems bound for a nice leap in 2020.
During the first seven meetings, Gesicki averaged 2.1 receptions for 21.9 yards, while failing to score a single touchdown. Over the final nine bouts, he averaged 4.0 catches for 46 yards. More importantly, he recorded 5 TD receptions.
The backup role goes to Durham Smythe, another 2017 draftee. Unlike Gesicki, he wasn’t picked for his pass catching skills. Indeed, Smythe was one of the top blocking tight ends when he played with Notre Dame in college. That remains his main asset in the NFL.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
Daniel Kilgore started 13 games at the pivot last year. He was, and has always been, a below-average center. Ironically, he earned an almost identical PFF grade as his replacement, Ted Karras, who is coming over from New England.
After making just five starts in three years, Karras made 15 last year after David Andrews was diagnosed with blood cloths. Karras is five years younger than Kilgore, so even though they played at a similar level in 2019, Karras may be the better alternative at center.
The Dolphins had six more offensive linemen playing at least 44% of the snaps. None of them finished higher than 63rd out of 81 qualifiers at their position, which is shameful.
Left tackle Jesse Davis has not been good in any of his first three years as a pro. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon, especially coming from an undrafted player.
Right tackle Julie’n Davenport broke his leg after one game, and returned for the final seven matchups last yera. Much like Jesse Davis, all three of his professional seasons have been pretty bad. When he went out with an injury, J’Marcus Webb stepped in. He graded out as the worst tackle in the entire league. Enough said.
At guard, third-round rookie Michael Deiter played all 16 games. The big man coming out of Wisconsin was largely ineffective, finishing as the third-worst guard in the NFL.
The other guard position was split between Evan Boehm and Deion Calhoun. The latter was an undrafted rookie, and he played like one. As for Boehm, I wish I could be more positive about one of Miami’s offensive linemen, but I can’t. He struggled both in run and pass blocking, and he left to Buffalo via free agency anyway.
The Dolphins attempted to bolster their OL by signing Ereck Flowers. He is viewed as a big first-round bust, but he remains a huge upgrade over what Miami had on their roster. Flowers’ PFF grades have decreased a little bit in each of his past three seasons, but he still finished as the 30th-best guard in the NFL.
Fully aware of the big holes on the offensive line, the team drafted two tackles early in the most recent draft.
First, they made Austin Jackson the #18 overall pick. He has a good shot to become the team’s starting tackle on the blind side, despite being fairly raw. He has good athletic ability, but he could be exploited by other teams due to inconsistent technique issues with his hands and footwork. Hats off to him for saving his sister’s life by donating bone marrow.
The other recent draftee is Robert Hunt, who was picked early in the 2nd round. You could make similar comments about him as Jackson above. He’s got great physical traits, but will require some time to fix some issues about his game. His most likely position in the NFL is right tackle.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but I only envision a small upgrade from this group, as opposed to 2019.
Fitzpatrick played very well last year. My opinion may not be very popular, but I’m not convinced the Dolphins will get better QB play in 2020, whether it be from Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa. Tua may turn out to be a great quarterback, but he probably won’t rock the NFL in year 1.
At running back, last year’s backfield was horrific. Acquiring Jordan Howard was a good step to improve the running game, but we’re not talking about a huge upgrade. He’s a subpar athlete who doesn’t play all three downs. In this regard, I like the addition of a versatile player like Matt Breida.
The WR and TE starters remain the same as last year. I’m looking forward to see if Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki can follow up on their nice 2019 performances.
The offensive line was one of the main reasons why the offense struggled last year. Unfortunately, more growing pains are expected in 2020.
Replacing Kilgore with Karras at center is a minor upgrade. Flowers’ addition will have more impact.
The other guys on the line were awful, so the team must hope that the two rookies can step in right away and provide good play. However, both are fairly raw and it’s unlikely that they will be solid right from the get-go.
Last year, the Dolphins scored the 25th-most points in the league and I believe they will finish in the 20-25 range this season.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
Christian Wilkins, who was selected as the #13 overall pick a year ago, anchors the interior of the defensive line. After leading all ACC interior linemen in his last college season with 47 QB pressures, he only recorded two sacks in his first year in the NFL. That’s not a rare occurrence, as it takes time to adapt to the pro level.
Wilkins received a 64.4 PFF grade last year, which put him in the number 68 spot out of 114 DLs. He did a very decent job for a rookie and he’s ready to take a leap in 2020.
His teammate Davon Godchaux finished just a single rank below Wilkins (69th). Much like Wilkins, he played close to two thirds of the snaps. He’s not a threat rushing the passer, but he’s fairly good against the run.
John Jenkins is a rotational piece on the DL. As of now, he has not re-signed with the team and is a free agent.
Miami picked Raekwon Davis out of Alabama in the last draft. He’s projected to have a role this season. He’s an intriguing prospect. He opened a lot of eyes in his sophomore year with the Crimson Tide by racking up 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss (TFL). He looked like a slamdunk future first rounder.
Howerver, his production decreased in each of the next two seasons. As a junior he picked up 1.5 sack and 5.5 TFL, and then just 0.5 sack with 3 TFL as a senior. He has elite physical traits and he can really dominate his opponents, but will that translate into big plays in the NFL? We’ll find out soon.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
The Dolphins had the fewest sacks in the league last year with 23. In order to change the situation, they signed three free agents who combined for 18.5 sacks: Kyle Van Noy (New England), Shaq Lawson (Buffalo) and Emmanuel Ogbah (Kansas City).
Van Noy had two sacks in his first three years in the NFL. He posted 15.5 sacks in the three most recent seasons, including a career-best 6.5 last year. He clearly enjoyed his best season in 2019 with a PFF grade of 84.2, while his previous marks all lied between 45.8 and 70.3.
Shaq Lawson is an above-average player. His pass rushing skills have improved every year since entering the league in 2016 as a first-rounder. His yearly sack totals have been 2.0, 4.0, 4.0 and 6.5. Now entering his prime years, he is a candidate to increase his production even more.
Ogbah is also coming off a career year with 5.5 sacks (despite missing six games!) and a 70.1 PFF grade (40th out of 107 edge defenders). Like Lawson, he is in his mid-twenties so he may not have reached his ceiling yet.
Last year, the Dolphins used four guys at the position. All of them were drafted in 2017, and none of them has had a big impact thus far. Here are each of those guys’ career sack totals (in three seasons): Vince Biegel 2.5, Charles Harris 3.5, Taco Charlton 9.0 and Avery Moss 0.
Charlton may be the only one that seems to have some upside. He led the team with five sacks last year. The knock on him is that he’s a liability against the run. He struggled big time in that area last season.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
Jerome Baker led the team with 126 tackles last year. The second-place finisher was Eric Rowe with 81. In other words, Baker dominated the Dolphins in that category!
That was the only good thing he did for his team, though. He struggled A LOT against the run (he obtained an abysmal 39.2 PFF grade for this aspect of his game) and he was below-average both as a pass rusher and in coverage.
He played 97% of the snaps. Overall, ProFootballFocus tagged him as the 76th-best linebacker out of 89 qualifiers. Ouch.
Sam Eguavoen does not look like a long-term solution. He’s an undrafted guy who played a bit over 50% of the snaps. He did a decent job in coverage and rushing the passer (3.5 sacks), but his tackling abilities are awful.
Raekwon McMillan has a better shot to become a full-time LB in the league. The second-round pick from the 2017 draft has had two similar years as a pro thus far. He has yet to post a sack in the league and he’s not very good in coverage, but he’s an excellent run stopper.
The Dolphins signed a couple of free agents to try to boost the position.
First, Kamu Grugier-Hill is coming over from Philadelphia. He’s never been an every-down player. He has one career sack and one career interception in four seasons. He’s an average linebacker at best.
Secondly, Miami acquired another former Patriot: Elandon Roberts. It’s unclear what he can bring to the table. Last year he played sporadically at linebacker and at fullback on offense. He’s a former sixth-round pick who has never had a breakout season in any of his four professional seasons.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
The Dolphins had a lot of money to spend in free agency and a good chunk of that money went to Byron Jones, formerly of the Cowboys. They made him the highest-paid cornerback in the league.
Jones is super athletic and he has missed just one game out of 80 since being drafted 27th overall in 2015. Don’t be fooled by his lack of picks (just two career interceptions); he is very good at shutting down opposing receivers. According to PFF rankings, he was the 14th-best performer at the position last year.
A year ago, Miami made Xavien Howard the highest-paid CB. They now have a lot of money tied up on cornerbacks with the Jones-Howard duo!
Howard’s 2019 season was plagued with knee injuries. In his previous two years, he picked off a total of 11 passes. He is also very good against the run, so the team is set with Jones and him.
The Dolphins picked Noah Igbinoghene out of Auburn late in the first round of this year’s draft. Both of his parents are former Olympians (track athletes) from Nigeria. Noah is a raw prospect, but he is a hard worker. He is often seen working out by himself late at night. You can tell his parents were good role models, and that’s why he has a great work ethic.
The reason he’s a raw prospect is because he’s a receiver-turned-cornerback. He only played two full seasons at cornerback. Obviously, he’s a great athlete, but he still needs to learn how to play the position.
Nik Needham and Jomal Wiltz were two undrafted rookies last year, and neither did well. They seem to be on their way out.
Ryan Lewis also contributed to the team, but was even worse than Needham and Wiltz.
3.5 Safeties (S)
Eric Rowe finally played a full-time role for the first time of his five-year career. Did he do well? I’ll let you be the judge: his 58.9 PFF grade ranks him #73 out of 87 safeties. He was “okay” in all phases of the game (run defense, pass rush, coverage), but not great at any of them.
Bobby McCain started nine games last year before his season was halted by a shoulder injury. He has been a below-average player throughout his career since being drafted in the 5th round back in 2015.
When McCain went down, Miami signed Adrian Colbert off Seattle’s practice squad. He did his best, but just like his teammates he was not super effective.
The team drafted Brandon Jones in the third round, but the reports on him don’t seem very optimistic. He’s viewed as a potential #3 safety in the NFL. He has a big heart, but he’s limited as a coverage guy and his instincts are not that great.
The team also has Steven Parker who played as a reserve last year. The undrafted player from Oklahoma may not see the field often in 2020.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
Miami allowed the most points in the NFL last year. It cannot get any worse in 2020 and let’s evaluate the changes that have been made.
Not much improvement is expected at safety since the team will field the same bunch of guys as last year. At linebacker, adding Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts won’t have much impact since neither of them is particularly good.
The interior of the line could improve a bit with Christian Wilkins now having one year of experience under his belt. He and rookie Raekwon Davis might put more pressure on opponent’s quarterbacks.
The bigger improvements are more likely to come from the edge defenders and at cornerback. Van Noy, Lawson and Ogbah represent a vast upgrade over what the team had last season. The boost may be even more significant at CB following the signing of Byron Jones and the return on the field of Xavien Howard, who missed most of the 2019 season. The backups were plain awful last year.
In conclusion, this group still seems below average because of big question marks at linebacker and safety. However, I do envision a moderate upgrade compared to last year, thanks to some key free agent acquisitions.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Miami Dolphins are expected to win 6 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Dolphins won more or less than 6 games.
The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 3rd-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams.
As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.
The top 10 picks, which includes the Dolphins, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!
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