The Miami Dolphins had the type of extensive makeover that usually only a plastic surgeon can deliver.
Everything got redone courtesy of a substantial financial commitment from owner Steve Ross, who spent nearly $250 million renovating the roster of last year’s 5-11 team, and the 11 selections made in the 2020 NFL draft.
In this first of this two-part series, we examine who the projected starters are on offense, which young offensive players need the biggest investment, dissect who the long shots are to make the 53-man roster, and project what problems each unit might face in 2020.
Projected starters: Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins to five wins last season while throwing for 3,529 yards and 20 touchdowns. This 37-year-old also led the Dolphins in rushing last season, gaining 243 rushing yards and scoring four touchdowns on 54 carries.
The future: The Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5 this spring with the hope that he’ll spend the next decade-plus making the Dolphins a contender for the AFC East division title and a fixture in the playoffs.
Roster long shot: Jake Rudock spent last season on Miami’s practice squad and could find himself on that unit yet again. But the odds of this former Michigan starter making it to Miami’s 53-man roster are slim.
The breakdown: In Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen and Tagovailoa the Dolphins have three players who could end up starting NFL games. Problem is Rosen’s development stalled last season, and people inside the organization have questioned his commitment to football. Tagovailoa’s surgically repaired hip might need a full season of rest before he’s able to handle the physicality of the NFL.
The problem: Fitzpatrick has only led one team — the 2015 Jets — to a winning season in his 15-year career, which features 139 starts. Don’t be surprised if Fitzpatrick has his typical second-season struggle, coming back down to earth a year after winning over his teammates and the franchise’s fan base. That’s exactly what happened to him in Buffalo and with the Jets.
Projected starters: Jordan Howard, who started 48 games the past four seasons while playing for the Bears and Eagles, will compete with Matt Breida to serve as Miami’s lead back.
The future: The Dolphins don’t have a clear-cut youngster on the roster who can be viewed as future starter, but Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, Myles Gaskin and rookie Malcolm Perry could all push to have their role elevated with strong camps.
Roster long shot: Perry, the Dolphins’ 2019 seventh-round pick, is an intriguing prospect because of how dynamic he was with the ball in his hand at Navy. But this college quarterback, who is 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, isn’t built to handle the physicality of the NFL. Don’t be surprised if Perry spends his first season developing on the practice squad.
The breakdown: The Dolphins have a good blend of thunder and lightning in the backfield because Howard’s and Breida’s skill sets complement one another. Howard is an effective zone runner who makes the most out of running lanes, and Breida, an effective pass catcher, is a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
The problem: Unless Ballage resurrects himself from last year’s disappointing season, when he averaged 1.9 yards per carry, the Dolphins don’t have a youngster in the backfield they can build the rushing attack around. And Howard and Breida aren’t locked up contractually for long.
Projected starters: Mike Gesicki will likely serve as the pass-catching target while Durham Smythe and Michael Roberts compete to be Miami’s in-line tight end.
The future: Gesicki had an impressive second season, particularly in the second half of in the year, when he caught the bulk of the 51 passes, which he turned into 570 yards and five touchdowns.
Roster long shot: Chris Myarick had a productive rookie year on Miami’s practice squad and has a chance to push for a spot on the 53-man roster if he can prove he’s a better blocker than Smythe and Roberts.
The breakdown: This unit is filled with younger players who have upside, but very few are polished when it comes to all the elements needed to play tight end.
The problem: Tight ends haven’t been a big emphasis of Chan Gailey’s offenses over the years, and in order for that to change Gesicki must prove he’s a better in-line blocker than he’s been the past two seasons. Otherwise his presence on the field will telegraph Miami’s intentions — it’s likely a passing play — on most snaps.
Projected starters: DeVante Parker is a clear-cut starter, and Preston Williams will likely compete with Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns for the flanker and slot-receiver roles.
The future: If Williams returns from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last November and picks up where he left off, the Dolphins receiver unit might be the most talented group on the team. This is unit is filled with youngsters with speed and playmaking ability.
Roster long shot: Ricardo Louis was having a strong offseason last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury last summer. The Dolphins re-signed Louis this spring, hoping there is still some meat left on that bone.
The breakdown: This unit has 11 talented wideouts, but only two — DeVante Parker and Allen Hurns — have had productive NFL seasons, carrying a passing attack for 16 games. Everyone else must prove themselves to earn a role in Miami’s rebuilt offense.
The problem: The Dolphins do not have an established slot receiver, but there are plenty of options available. Wilson will have the best chance to fill that role, but needs to learn how to make himself quarterback-friendly. Jakeem Grant struggled learning how to play slot his rookie season, and never got a second chance to play it. Maybe Gailey gives him that. Gary Jennings played slot at West Virginia, and might emerge in his second season. And Isaiah Ford has a chance to turn the volume up on his contribution if he can master Gailey’s playbook quickly.
Projected starters: Jesse Davis, Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras should lock down three of the five starting spots. After that, 2020 first-round pick Austin Jackson will compete with Julien Davenport for the starting left tackle spot, and Michael Deiter will likely compete with Danny Isidora and rookies Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley for the starting right guard spot.
The future: In an ideal world Jackson, Hunt and Kindley, the three offensive linemen drafted in 2020, would emerge as solid starters at some point in their first two seasons. Expect the Dolphins to throw the rookies into the deep end of the pool to determine who can and who can’t swim, taking the same approach with them they took with Deiter last year.
Roster long shot: Isidora, a former University of Miami standout who started three games for the Dolphins last season before suffering a season-ending foot injury, might struggle to make it onto the 53-man roster if he doesn’t have a sensational training camp.
The breakdown: On the positive side, it can’t get much worse than last year’s performance for this unit. The massive makeover — which delivered two free agents and three draftees — should make this unit more forceful in the run game.
The problem: More than any other unit, offensive linemen must work as a cohesive unit to excel. That requires strong leadership. The Dolphins don’t have many established veterans in this group. Flowers is the most experienced offensive lineman, and he’s struggled for most of his five-year career. And Davis, the most experienced holdover, is quiet by nature. Someone has to step forward and become this unit’s vocal leader.
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