2016 cheat sheet: Miami Dolphins
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
The 2015 season that was supposed to be a confluence of free-agent spending and Ryan Tannehill peaking in his development never came to fruition. The money was callously spent on few big names instead of multiple competent starters, and left the Dolphins with gaping holes at multiple positions (guard and cornerback, most notably). Now Miami is looking to right the ship after a 6-10 disappointment. The offensive and defensive lines have been restocked, and the front office has given Tannehill young talent around him heading into his fifth year in the league.
Three biggest things to know
1. Ryan Tannehill has more talent than ever around him on offense.
Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jordan Cameron, Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi, and a much-improved offensive line: that’s as much talent as the Dolphins have assembled around quarterback Ryan Tannehill in his entire career. He’s also being paired up with Adam Gase, the offensive coordinator of the highest-scoring offense in NFL history. After the lowest-graded season of his career, Tannehill has no excuses in 2016.
2. Secondary still rife with questions.
Out goes Brent Grimes, in comes Byron Maxwell and Isa Abdul-Quddus. That’s certainly a much-needed influx of talent, but at this point, it remains to be seen if it will make a difference. The roster still lacks a cornerback that they can point to and say, “We know he’ll be good.” Maxwell is fresh off a season in which he allowed 787 yards, ninth-most in the league. Across from him, the projected starter is Tony Lippett, who has played all of 221 snaps at cornerback the past four seasons (including college). Miami could still field an effective secondary, but at this time, we just don’t know.
3. Can the D-Line be dominant?
Everyone recognizes the names Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, and Cameron Wake, but at 29, 31, and 34 years old, respectively, will they be the same players everyone remembers? If so, the Dolphins will boast one of the top defensive lines in the league, consistently generating pressure without blitzing. If not, it could be a rough year for Miami, especially considering they still haven’t solved their nose tackle woes from a season ago. Earl Mitchell had the lowest run-defense grade of any DT a season ago while, Jordan Phillips was the third-lowest. At such a key run-defense position, that must improve.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: OL Laremy Tunsil (Round 1, pick No. 13 overall, Ole Miss), CB Xavien Howard (Round 2, pick No. 38 overall, Baylor), RB Kenyan Drake (Round 3, pick No. 73 overall, Alabama)
Signed in free agency: DE Mario Wililams (Bills), DE Jason Jones (Giants), DE Andre Branch (Jaguars), S Isa Abdul-Quddus (Lions), G Kraig Urbik (Bills)
Left via free agency: DE Olivier Vernon (Giants), DE Derrick Shelby (Falcons), RB Lamar Miller (Texans), WR Rishard Matthews (Titans), CB Brice McCain (Titans)
Acquired by trade: CB Byron Maxwell (Eagles), LB Kiko Alonso (Eagles)
Cut: CB Brent Grimes (Buccaneers)
Rookie to watch
Laremy Tunsil, OG, Ole Miss (Round 1, pick No. 13 overall)
10 minutes prior to the draft starting, absolutely no one believed Laremy Tunsil would still be available by the time the Dolphins picked. We all know what happened, though, and Miami was the beneficiary. Tunsil was the PFF’s top-graded tackle, and fifth-overall player, in the draft. He’ll start at guard on the left side as not to hinder former first-round pick Ja’Wuan James’ development, and to say he’ll be an upgrade is an understatement.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Ndamukong Suh, DT, 91.1 overall grade
If you’re looking for someone to blame for the Dolphins’ defensive struggles, don’t point the finger at their big-money free-agent signing. He didn’t “transform the defense like people expected, but it’s impossible for one player on defense to have that kind of impact. Suh simply put up the highest-graded overall season of his career, notching 60 total pressures.
Breakout player watch
Tony Lippett, CB
One could just as easily put second-year wide receiver DeVante Parker here, but almost everyone at least knows about him at this point. Lippett, on the other hand, is much more intriguing. He was a fifth-round pick out of Michigan State a year ago, where he was a wide receiver for the Spartans. It wasn’t even until the last three games of his senior season that he played both ways and saw snaps at cornerback (although he split time there as a freshman, as well). He graded out so well then—and in 137 pro snaps last season—that it’s intriguing that he’s been running with the first-team this preseason.
Base defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)