How Jeff Wilson Jr. is impacting the Dolphins on and off field after slow start

The Dolphins gathered together on the field at MetLife Stadium before their Black Friday road game against the New York Jets and watched intently.

At the center of the pregame huddle was running back Jeff Wilson Jr., who was giving an impassioned speech before players broke out into warm-ups.

“It’s kind of just like a vibe thing,” defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said of choosing who gives the speech, “but it’s nice when Jeff gets in there because he’s a psycho, man. I love Jeff. I love hearing from him. He’s all ball, and I don’t know who [ticks] him off before every game or before he touches the ball, but it’s a fun thing to watch him play. So it’s just an energy vibe thing before the game.”

The responsibility of breaking down the pregame huddle has been passed around and has often been filled by front-facing players such as left tackle Terron Armstead and inside linebacker David Long Jr. But there was no better player to give the team its final words before a key divisional game.

“It’s time to go to work,” Wilson said Monday of his message. “It was kind of like Black Friday, kind of like a Black Friday feel to the speech. Normally when you hear Black Friday, it’s crazy, chaotic, everyone’s all over the place, people taking things. That’s kind of just what I told them. We’re [going] to come in here and [going] to make it Black Friday for us on the football field. We’re coming in, taking it home, taking the game, taking everything.”

The Dolphins did just that in a 34-13 win against the Jets, and Wilson had his best game of the season, recording 73 total yards. With rookie De’Von Achane sidelined by a knee injury and Salvon Ahmed out for the season because of a foot injury, Wilson stepped up in the backfield alongside Raheem Mostert.

Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (23) runs with the football during second quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (23) runs with the football during second quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

A ribs and finger injury forced Wilson to start the season on injured reserve and with the success of Mostert and Achane leading the running game, Wilson’s role has been reduced even as he returned from IR. He had just seven carries upon returning in Week 7 and was inactive for Miami’s Week 11 win against the Las Vegas Raiders, which coach Mike McDaniel attributed to Ahmed’s contributions on special teams.

But days before a breakout performance, McDaniel said Wilson was ready for his opportunity to come. And he made the most of it on a short week, as the Dolphins’ 167 rushing yards were the third most the Jets have allowed this season.

“I think the physical presence and the downhill presence when you’re within those white lines is big,” fullback Alec Ingold said. “He’s taken my pregame speeches and blown them out of the water. He brings all of the intention and intensity, and it’s just fun to play for a running back like that, that just plays with a chip on their shoulder, is running hard every single time. It inspires play callers, it inspires an offense, it inspires a team, when you see a guy play with that much emotion and execute. I don’t know if you saw him when he hit that first down with the straight arm. That gives you so much joy when you’re playing because you know it means so much. If it means so much to one person, it means that much to everybody else.”

Wilson, who ran for 392 yards in eight games last season after a midseason trade to Miami, acknowledged last week that not playing as much has been tough. But on Monday, he also expressed the joy he’s had watching his position mate’s success, especially Raheem Mostert, whom he has a close relationship with dating to their time with the San Francisco 49ers.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “Like I said, when you have dreams and you have aspirations to get to a special place, you have to be selfless. Those guys are like my brothers. It’s not like I’m jealous or [envious] of them. I’m actually happy for them, especially Raheem. Everybody knows our story. We’ve been together for so long and to see his journey and see how he’s been cut and left alone and told you’re not good enough so many times to now being one of the best backs in the league this year, that’s just a testament to him and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Achane, I’ve seen him when he was first coming in. He’s an electric guy. He’s hard to keep off the field. It’s not like it’s hard not to be. These are guys who are in the same room as me, on the same team, and not only that, they’re really like my brothers. So it makes me happy to see them go off and it makes me want to be a part of it.”

McDaniel, who worked closely with Wilson in San Francisco as he led the run game operation, said Wilson has a “strong role within the locker room” and has continued to contribute to the team even as his on-field role has been diminished.

Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (23) runs with the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Frankfurt, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (23) runs with the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Frankfurt, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

“He kicked in the door fast and furious when he got here,” McDaniel said. “He’s emotionally charged in competitive moments to a degree that he can bring along other people. And he knew that it was his time. He’d been patient, as patient as anybody that we’ve seen on this team. But now he was going to get the opportunities regardless of how the game played out. Those type of sparks are invaluable down the stretch of a season.

With the uncertainty surrounding Achane’s health and the calendar turning to December, when more games are played in frigid temperatures, Wilson’s physicality could be a boon for the Dolphins as they close in on their first divisional title since 2008.

“That’s been my way ever since I started playing football when I was five years old,” he said. “That was kind of my father’s motto. You take no prisoners and you go out there and when you run, you try to take a man’s will. That’s always something that I’ve always tried to do and is something that has always been a separation to my game. To have the physical part, you definitely need it going to the stretch we’re going to and playing the teams we’re about to face. It’s definitely going to be something that’s needed.”