In 2019 the Miami Dolphins had 58 different players that were listed as starters for at least one game and played the majority of snaps in those games. A few of those players only started 1-2 games but most over 5 games. Of the 58 only 16 were starters for 10 or more games. (and three of those 16 were the P, PK, & LS) So as you can see there was a lot of shuffling around for the Miami Dolphins roster and playing time. 16 of those players are no longer currently on the team. However, through free agency and the draft they added 16 players that will likely either be starters or strong challengers early on. Last week I broke down each of the offensive positions. This week I will be going through each of the defensive positions, who is the likely starter, who is the likeliest to give them a run for their money, and who can be written in pen.
Last week I started with the offensive line so this week I’ll start at the same spot on the opposite side of the ball and work up the levels of the defense. An important thing to note is that Miami runs multiple different looks for their defense. Sometimes it’s a 4-3-4, others it’s a 3-4-4, and still other times it’s a 3-2-6. To keep things “simple” I will break it down in Miami’s base of 3-4-4.
Left Defensive End – 2019 starters: Avery Moss & Taco Charlton. 2020 projected starter: Emmanuel Ogbah
Taco Charlton with fewer starts was by far the better of the two starters from 2019 was cut one week after the 2020 draft. Avery Moss who was listed as the starter for 8 games was underwhelming, to say the least. Moss recorded 0 sacks and only 25 tackles in 16 games. However, after the free-agent signings of Emmanuel Ogbah & Shaq Lawson, this one becomes a hard one to predict. Both Ogbah and Lawson are great run defenders, which is a huge plus for Miami with how terrible the Dolphins were defending the run in 2019. With Lawson’s skill at also defending in pass coverage, it would seem like the ideal decision would be to have Ogbah lining up as the starting defensive end and Lawson as the starting left outside linebacker. Look for rookie Curtis Weaver to make this battle a little extra fun in camp as well as pushing for playing time during the season. After being predicted by many to go somewhere in the 2nd – 3rdrounds of the draft he fell all the way to the 5th round and may very well end up being the steal of the draft. In 2018 Weaver had 43 tackles, 15 for loss, and 9.5 sacks. In 2019 all three of those stats went up to 52 tackles, 19.5 for loss, and 13.5 sacks yet 2019 was seen as a down year with many saying he regressed having put on weight and looked slower.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) July 2, 2020
Defensive/Nose Tackle – 2019 starter: Davon Godchaux. 2020 projected starter: Davon Godchaux
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald stated in a recent piece of his that in 2019 Davon Godchaux was the league-leading interior defensive lineman in tackles within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage. He was also the number 2 lineman in total tackles with 75 behind only Cameron Heyward’s 83. Since entering the league in 2017 he has the 8th most tackles of all DTs and 2ndamong all DLs from the 2017 draft class. Rookie Raekwon Davis will push for playing time especially when Miami is in a four-man front but he, nor anyone else, will be taking the starting job from Godchaux this year. 2020 happens to be a contract year for Godchaux so look for an extra special season from him as he tries to earn a big new contract whether it be from Miami or elsewhere.
Right Defensive End – 2019 starter: Christian Wilkins. 2020 projected starter: Christian Wilkins.
Christian Wilkins was a monster coming out of Clemson. Wilkins 56 total tackles were first amongst all rookie defensive linemen. 9 better than next leading rookie DL Bosa’s 47. Let me say that again… Wilkins had NINE more tackles than any other rookie defensive lineman including NICK BOSA! Now I’m not Brian Flores but I can all but guarantee you Wilkins is not losing his starting job in 2020!
Left Outside Linebacker – 2019 starter: Sam Eguavoen. 2020 projected starter: Shaq Lawson.
2019 “starter” Sam Eguaven only started 6 games here. The other 10 games were started by a mix of several different players. When the player with the most starts at any given position plays in all 16 games but only starts less than half of the games you have a problem. Furthermore, you should not go into the next season expecting that player to remain the starter. Luckily for Miami, they have two great options: 2020 free agent signing Shaq Lawson or 2019 starter on the right side (more on that later) Jerome Baker. Lawson was signed as a defensive end but in a 3-4 defense, he should be your starting left outside linebacker or left rush linebacker. Baker will be the top challenger and your likely “starter” when Miami is running a 4-3-4 look.
Left Inside Linebacker – 2019 starter: Raekwon McMillan. 2020 projected starter: Raekwon McMillan.
Raekwon McMillan is going to have his work cut out for him to keep his starting spot. McMillan is top tier when it comes to run defending linebackers. In coverage though? He struggles, mightily! Enter Kamu Grugier-Hill. Grugier-Hill, the former Philadelphia Eagle, is now one of Miami’s best and fastest coverage linebackers. Last season McMillan was already coming out on many obvious passing downs making his chances of winning the starting gig harder as Flores loves dynamic guyswho are valuable at more than one thing. Miami was ranked 27thagainst the run last season so his run-stuffing and Miami’s dire need to improve against the run may be the one thing that saves his starting gig.
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— 𝕋𝕙𝕖 𝕊𝕒𝕞𝕖 𝕆𝕝𝕕 𝔻𝕠𝕝𝕡𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕤 𝕊𝕙𝕠𝕨 (@SameOldDolphins) July 5, 2020
Right Inside Linebacker – 2019 starter: Vince Biegel. 2020 projected starter: Jerome Baker.
With the additions of Kyle Van Noy & Shaq Lawson in free agency as the likely new starters on the outside, Jerome Baker will likely kick inside. Vince Biegel will still push for playing time especially when Miami plays in a 4-3 look with Lawson sliding up to DE and baker kicking back out to OLB. But with Baker being the 12th top tackler amongst all linebackers in 2019 and being on the field for 97% of Miami’s defensive snaps (compared to Biegel’s 56%) his value is too great to be on the bench in 2020. Free-agent addition Elandon Roberts, another great run stuffer, will likely look to push Biegel as the man when Baker kicks outside or even possibly push McMillan/Grugier-Hill at LILB.
Right Outside Linebacker – 2019 starter: Jerome Baker. 2020 projected starter: Kyle Van Noy.
Kyle Van Noy was my top target heading into free agency in 2020. His 6.5 sacks with New England were better than anyone on the Miami Dolphins in 2019. His 15 QB hits and 58 pressures also go to shows how much he has used a pass rusher. I almost feel wrong giving Van Noy a position. Not because he is undeserving but because he is so good and can lineup just about anywhere. He’s not just a top tier pass rusher though. You can throw him into coverage or ask him to defend the run. By the way, he maybe even better as a run stuffer than a pass rusher. He was the 5th best run-defender on the edge last year! Oh, and on top of that he allowed just 86 yards in his 86 pass coverage plays in 2019. That’s one-yard per play in pass coverage. I’m only listing Van Noy here as his 4 years $51M contract suggests, at least for this season, he has no competition for his starting position, wherever Miami decides to line up this jack-of-all-trades is yet to be seen.
Left Cornerback – 2019 starters: Xavien Howard, Ken Webster, & others.
The past two seasons Xavien Howard has been Miami’s left cornerback. In 2018 he had 7 interceptions which were tied for first place with Bear’s Kyle Fuller & Falcons’ Damontae Kazee. Howard accomplished that while only playing in 12 games compared to Kazee’s 15 & Fuller’s 16 games. That 4 games missing is a negative trend for Howard. In four years he has only played in 16 games just once going 7, 16, 12, & 5 respectively. No one is going to be challenging Howard, the 3rd highest paid CB in the league for his starting spot. But if he can’t stay on the field they may not need to. Nik Needham and Noah Igbinogheneare the top candidates to fight for this spot should Howard not be able to suit up.
Right Cornerback – 2019 starters: Eric Rowe & Nik Needham. 2020 projected starter: Byron Jones.
The Dolphins opened the 2019 season with Rowe as the starting right cornerback but after Reshad Jones went down with an injury Rowe moved to SS and Nik Needham was called up from the practice squad and more than held his own becoming Miami’s top cornerback for the majority of the 2019 season. While Needham has tons of potential Miami was not ready to go into the 2020 season with him as their starter opposite Howard. Flores’ defense is built around stellar secondary play and so Miami went out and signed Byron Jones in free agency making him, for about three days, the highest paid CB in the league. (Darius Slay signed a larger per-year contract) Jones since coming into the has remained relatively healthy so you can look forward to him locking down the right side of the field in 2020 with no threat to his starting spot.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) July 6, 2020
Strong Safety – 2019 starters: Reshad Jones & Eric Rowe. 2020 projected starter: Eric Rowe
2019 started with longtime Dolphin Reshad Jones at strong safety, however, he only lasted four nonconsecutive games, starting in just weeks 1, 4, 6, & 11 before heading to IR where he ended the season and his 9-year Dolphins career. Eric Rowe, who didn’t play well at all at right CB played exceptionally well after switching over to SS. He blankets tight ends and even had his first pick 6 coming in week 17 against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. That week 17 victory not only spoiled the Patriots’ bye week for the playoffs but also ended Tom Brady’s regular-season career in New England in a loss. This was also Miami’s first victory in NE with Tom Brady as the starting QB. Eric Rowe will go into 2020 as the presumed starter however Miami added Brandon Jones in the 3rd round who could challenge for playing time at SS if Rowe struggles in his second season with the Dolphins.
Free Saftey – 2019 starters: Bobby McCain & Adrian Colbert. 2020 projected starter: Bobby McCain
Bobby McCain was Miami’s starting free safety until an injury sent him to the IR. In 2020 McCain should be, at least into the preseason, as the starter. In the offseason, Miami added Byron Jones’ Cowboys teammate Kavon Frazier who is expected to challenge for snaps at FS. Dolphins 3rd round pick Brandon Jones who played 285 snaps at free safety in 2019 at Texas. McCain played well enough at free safety in 2019 but he is also an excellent slot/nickel CB. He should be Miami’s expected starter at FS but depending on how the preseason goes he could always move back to his former position allowing Frazier & Jones to battle it out. Dark Horse candidate here is Steven Parker who had 4 starts for the Fins in 2019. His most memorable play came in the victory against the Colts when he ripped the ball out of TE Eric Ebron’s in the Endzone. He also had a nice pick of Sam Darnold during the Dolphins loss to the Jets at MetLife stadium.
Now I know that is already 11 starters, but I wouldn’t be doing due diligence if I did not address the slot/5th & 6th Defensive Backs. Miami, as well as New England, runs a lot of plays with 5-6 DBs. (NE depth chart lists 2 CBs, 2 safeties, and a DB) 2019 for the Dolphins saw several different players in this extra DB spot like Wiltz, Lewis, Crawley, etc. 2020 will see no fewer players fighting for and getting significant playing time here. Nik Needham is the most likely starter for the slot/5th DB spot, but both 2020 draftees Brandon Jones and Noah Igbinoghenesaw significant time in the slot at their respective schools in 2019. Tae Hayes, who only played the last two games of 2019 for the Dolphins, was a major contributor in those wins. FinallyCordrea Tankersley, former 3rd round pick could challenge for playing time, if he makes the roster as he hasn’t played since week 8 of the 2018 season.