2022 NFL Previews: Miami Dolphins

It is usually never a bad thing for an NFL team to be constantly talked about. It means they are staying relevant and will be an interesting team to watch during the season. It is definitely better than being the team that no one can even team five players on. The exception to that rule is this season’s Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins can’t seem to stay out of the headlines, but it is always for off-the-field issues. I am not going to talk about those here because this is all about the on-field product but that does not mean I am ignoring them. At the end of the day, this franchise needs to be better both on the field and off it.

The player that also needs to be a lot better this season is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. This is it for Tagovailoa, he will either earn the long-term starting quarterback spot or will likely be looking for a job with one of the other 31 teams. Miami has actually managed to be somewhat successful recently (they finished 9-8 last year) but in order to make the next step, Tagovailoa must stop holding them back.

I am actually still a believer in the young quarterback. I think he has had an unusual start to his career and has not responded very well to it so far but he still has the talent and ability to become a very good NFL starting quarterback. Unfortunately for him, my opinion doesn’t matter. He’s going to have to prove it to the Dolphins’ coaching staff and front office.

Tagovailoa is set up for success this year so there will be other excuses if he doesn’t live up to expectations. The team went out and traded a bunch of picks for wide receiver Tyreek Hill, one of the most game-breaking players in the league.

His elite speed will really open the field up for Tagovailoa and give him a world-class deep threat that he can air the ball out to. He will also still have wide receiver Jaylen Waddle who is fresh off of breaking the rookie records for receptions in a season. Waddle could be a number one receiver in an offense, so having him as the second option gives Tagovailoa plenty to work with.

Miami also has one of the best young tight ends in the game in Mike Gesicki. He is an insane athlete for the position and has already demonstrated a good connection with Tagovailoa.

There are also plenty of useful weapons throughout the depth charts such as wide receivers Mohamed Sanu, Cedrick Wilson, Lynn Bowden, Preston Williams, rookie Erik Ezukanma, and tight ends Hunter Long and Adam Shaheen. Long story short, if Tagovailoa doesn’t play well this season it’s his fault.

The Dolphins also bolstered the running game so that they can take some pressure off Tagovailoa through the ground attack. They brought in running backs Chase Edmonds to likely take over the starting role and running backs Sony Michel and Raheem Moster to pair with Myles Gaskin as reserves.

Moster could be especially valuable because he is already familiar with new head coach Mike McDaniel’s offensive system because they both are coming over from the 49ers. That experience in the scheme could either give Moster a leg up on earning more snaps and touches or allow him to mentor and teach the younger guys who are new to the system.

The last thing the Dolphins did to help out their young quarterback is to make significant additions to the offensive line. In Tagovailoa’s defense, the Miami offensive line was arguably the worst in the league last year so it was a legitimate excuse for his underwhelming play.

The Dolphins signed left tackle Terron Armstead and guard Connor Williams to come over and take over at their respective positions. Armstead was one of the most sought-after players in the entire free-agency period so it was a big win for them to sign him. It did cost them quite a bit but if it leads to a more secure line and better quarterback play it will be worth it.

Williams will also join a group that is bringing back almost all of the key pieces, although they didn’t perform very well last year. So Miami will have plenty of options for the final three starting spots between Greg Little, Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg, Michael Deiter, and Solomon Kindley. The offensive line probably won’t become one of the best units in the league but if it can at least improve to average then that would be a massive improvement.

One area where the team was average last year was the defense. Average isn’t necessarily the most desirable adjective for a team to have but it is better than nothing. It is also acceptable because it was a young group but at some point, maybe this year, the defense will have to make major improvements if the Dolphins want to be taken seriously as a team.

The talent is there for the defense to be successful, especially in the secondary. Miami’s cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones has the potential to be one of the best in the league. Howard has been one of the game’s premier ballhawks, grabbing 15 interceptions over the past two seasons, and Jones has been a great shutdown corner at times, like his last season in Dallas. If both of those guys play their best football at the same time then it will be hard for opponents to throw on them.

The safety position is a different story because there aren’t any proven studs like Howard and Jones but there is a ton of potential. Firstly, safety Jevon Holland was a revelation for Miami in 2021. As a rookie, Holland started 13 games and made himself known as one of the best defenders in the rookie class. He will now be joined by fellow second-round pick Verone McKinely, whom he was teammates with at the University of Oregon. McKinley has exceptional ball skills and a nose for making big plays so he will pair nicely with Holland.

The Dolphins also have safety Brandon Jones who finished fourth on the team in tackles last with 79 while starting 13 games. He could certainly play an important part in the defense once again. Throw in safeties Clayton Fejedelem, Eric Rowe, and Sheldrick Redwine and you have the makings of a pretty deep and talented position group.

The same thing can be said for the linebacker position as well. Miami has linebackers Jerome Baker, arguably the best player on the Dolphins’ defense last year, Elandon Roberts, Duke Riley, Andrew Van Ginkel, and rookie Channing Tindall to play off the ball while linebackers Melvin Ingram, Jaelan Phillips, and Brennan Scarlett help out with the pass rush.

The pass rush has actually been pretty effective for the Dolphins and even though it is far from being dominant, the potential is there for the unit to be a lot better in 2022. The biggest reason is that Phillips will have more experience and should be an even better player this year. He posted 8.5 sacks as a rookie last year, showing the potential lead pass-rusher ability that got him drafted in the first round.

Miami also added Ingram to beef up the pass rush, which is something he has been known for throughout his career. He certainly has been slowing down as he has been getting older but he still has the ability to make big plays, especially if he only has to play as a situational pass-rusher or in limited snaps.

The Dolphins won’t be needing too much from Ingram because they already have defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah in place. Ogbah has been a surprisingly productive player in Miami, posting the two best seasons of his career in 2020 and 2021 when he recorded nine sacks in each season. The dolphins didn’t realize they were getting a potential lead pass-rusher when they signed Ogbah but they are definitely happy with what he has done given that they resigned him to a four-year deal this offseason.

The most physically-gifted player on the Miami defense, and maybe the entire team, is defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. He is an unusual athlete for his size (six-foot-four, 310 pounds) and it has helped him develop into a high-quality interior defensive lineman. He was at or near the top of the team’s leaderboard in sacks, tackles, and tackles for loss, demonstrating his all-around impact at the position.

He also has a good running mate in fellow defensive tackle Raekwon Davis. He doesn’t have the same statistical impact as Wilkins but he uses his size (6-foot-seven, 335 pounds) to plug up the middle of the defense and let Wilkins do his thing. Additionally, the Dolphins have defensive linemen Zach Seiler, John Jenkins, and Benito Jones to round out a solid unit.

Realistically, the Dolphins have an uphill climb to even get to the same 9-8 record that they posted last year. Much of that is due to the loss of previous head coach Brian Flores who was a really good coach that probably got more out of the team than most could have. That is no disrespect to McDaniel, who could end up being a fantastic coach of the Dolphins, but it is his first year and the team is not exactly a proven winner.

But ultimately, Miami is Tagovailoa’s team this year and it will go as far as he is able to take them. A good season from Tagovailoa paired with an improved defense could definitely see this team end up with a winning record, but even that is a bit of a reach. I think Tagovailoa does have a good season, but not necessarily a great season, but the Dolphins still end with an 8-9 record.

I think the pieces are in place for this team to be a contender at some point down the line, just not this year. They are still a bit off from the better teams that have legitimate playoff, or better, aspirations this year. The offensive line may still hold back the offense while the defense needs a few more playmakers before they can be a top-10 unit.

All in all, I expect a fun year from the Dolphins. They certainly have the chance to play spoiler and bit a couple of better teams that overlook them. But when it comes around to the postseason, I think Miami will be on the outside looking in.