Omar Kelly: Ranking the Miami Dolphins’ top 10 newcomers heading into training camp

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Out with the old, in with the new is the way of the NFL.

Rosters consistently evolve as franchise’s labor to get younger, cheaper, and eventually better each offseason.

The Miami Dolphins hope they’ve achieved that over the past seven months with the addition of 34 new players acquired via free agency, trades or the NFL draft.

Here is a breakdown of the team’s top 10 newcomers, in order of importance to the team, and their projected roles.

1. Receiver Will Fuller

Fuller possesses the type of elite speed at receiver the Dolphins haven’t had since Ted Ginn Jr. was on the roster more than a decade ago. But Fuller is a much more polished receiver than Ginn ever was. He has a career average of 14.9 yards per reception and has scored 24 touchdowns in 53 games. That means he scores a touchdown nearly every other game. The biggest concern about the six-year veteran, who signed an incentive-laden one-year deal worth a base of $10.6 million as a free agent, is his durability. However, he was on pace to play all 16 games last season before being suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The hope is that Miami can use Fuller to space the field, keeping safeties occupied while the rest of Miami’s receivers and tight ends attack the intermediate areas.

2. Offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg

The Dolphins coached Eichenberg, a long, lean and polished offensive lineman from Notre Dame, at the Senior Bowl — and were so impressed they traded a 2022 third-round pick to move up and get ahead of the run on offensive linemen that led to seven linemen being taken shortly after his selection with the 42nd pick in the second round. Eichenberg is a technician, meaning he’s the ideal person to put in charge of blocking Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside at right tackle. If Eichenberg can excel at that spot, and hold off veteran offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, it would open up the possibility of Robert Hunt moving inside to guard, which could benefit the Dolphins’ run game. But Eichenberg must prove he can master the blend of speed and power that comes from NFL pass rushers.

3. Inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney

McKinney, a 2018 Pro Bowl selection, has averaged 88 tackles (6.6 a game) in his six seasons, where he started 77 games for the Texans. His 2020 season ended after four games due to shoulder surgery, but the 6-foot-4, 245-pound linebacker is known for his versatility and prowess against the run. The hope is that adding him to Miami’s front seven will help the defense improve against the run, and that he has the versatility to become a three-down linebacker who can open up the playbook for defensive coordinator Josh Boyer because of his ability to fill multiple roles.

4. Outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips

Phillips, a UCLA transfer, had a resurgent season with the Hurricanes last season, recording 45 tackles, eight sacks and one interception in his lone season at UM. He’s an extremely difficult pass rusher for offensive tackles to block because of his power, athleticism, and repertoire of pass-rushing moves and counters. And he has the versatility to drop back into coverage, which explains why the Dolphins have him slotted to be an outside linebacker in their hybrid 3-4 scheme. But Miami will need Phillips to put his hand in the dirt and consistently hunt quarterbacks on third down.

5. Receiver Jaylen Waddle

The Dolphins acknowledged that they were infatuated with Waddle’s playmaking ability for a number of years, going back to when they scoured Alabama film to evaluate Tagovailoa. Waddle’s dynamic speed and run-after-catch ability, which has drawn comparisons to Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, should keep defenses on their heels because he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball when healthy. The hope is that he’s fully recovered from the right ankle injury that limited him in his final season at Alabama. If that’s the case, expect Waddle to emerge as a slot receiver, end-around and drag running specialist who can be a threat on check-down plays.

6. Safety Jevon Holland

Holland was used as a Swiss Army knife in the Ducks secondary, filling several roles in his two collegiate seasons before sitting out as a junior. The Dolphins made him the first safety selected in the 2021 NFL draft because of his football IQ, and playmaking skills as a cover-two safety. He’s expected to replace Bobby McCain, who was released and has since signed with Washington, as Miami’s starting free safety if he can digest the defense quickly and limit mistakes. The hope is that Holland has the fluid hips, speed and ability to turn and run, which will allow the Dolphins to use more exotic coverages on the back end, continuing to play to the defense’s strengths.

7. Center Matt Skura

Skura, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with the Dolphins, started 51 games during his five years with the Baltimore Ravens, including the past 29 at center. Skura, who was undrafted out of Duke in 2016, was one of the NFL’s top-rated centers before he suffered a devastating left knee injury in November of 2019, and started having snapping issues late last season. Skura will compete with Michael Deiter and Cameron Tom for a starting role at center, and his experience level should give him an edge.

8. Defensive lineman Adam Butler

The Dolphins signed Butler, who has played in 70 of the past 71 games for the Patriots, to a two-year deal reportedly worth $9 million, hoping that he’ll help clog running lanes and pressure quarterbacks. Butler produced 17 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 26 quarterback hits in four seasons, where he averaged 451 snaps a season. He’ll share the interior defensive lineman role with Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis and Zach Sieler, and will occasionally play end in Miami’s overloaded packages.

9. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett

Brissett, a former Palm Beach Dwyer standout, will serve as Tagovailoa’s backup, and should only be called into duty if there’s an injury. He’s played in 49 career games and has a 12-20 record in 32 starts going back to his time with the Patriots and Colts. He has thrown for 6,459 yards with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and has a 59.6 career completion percentage. He’s athletic enough to run the run-pass-option offense and is respected as a leader, which means he should welcome a mentoring role for Tagovailoa, who is beginning his second season as an NFL starter.

10. Punter Michael Palardy

Palardy, a former St. Thomas Aquinas High standout who missed the 2020 season because of a knee injury, has played in 55 games in his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers, totaling 243 punts for 11,011 yards and a 40.3 net punting average. He was signed this offseason to replace Matt Haack, who signed with the Bills as a free agent, and will do so unless the Dolphins find a better option on the waiver wire before September.

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