Training Camp Preview Part 3: Defense

Last Year Ranks (Ranking out of 32 Teams)

PPG: 30.9 (32nd)

YPG: 397.8 (30th)

Passing: 262.4 (26th)

Rushing: 135.4 (27th)

As with the offense, there was the defense.  The Dolphins started many late-round picks and UDFA on defense last season.  Some of it by choice, some of it by injury.  This unit was bad in the first 4 games last year.  Giving up a total of 41 PPG in the first 4.  After the week 5 bye, thing did get better, not by much, but I am looking for a bright spot!  The front office made significant strides to provide Brian Flores and the defensive coaching staff the tools to succeed in the system.  I firmly believe that this was a great offseason/draft that addressed the needs of the defense: edge setters against the run, pass rush from all angles and versatility.  Let’s jump into the defense and see what has improved on paper and the camp battles that follow, PFF Grades in (Bold):

Draft Watch: Shaq Lawson – Clemson Tigers Official Athletics Site

Shaq Lawson from Clemson, coming over from Bills to Miami in FA

Defensive End:

Shaq Lawson (67.8)

Emmanuel Ogbah (70.1)

Tyshun Render (R)

Jason Strowbridge (R)

Curtis Weaver (R)

You may notice that this list is a bit small.  The Dolphins have more pass rushers than this, however, they are listed as OLB, we will get to those guys in a bit.  Let’s start with the upgrades.  The Dolphins ended the Charles Harris experience by sending him off to Atlanta for a late round pick. Avery Moss didn’t get it done either and was shown the door.  In comes former Buffalo Bills DE Shaq Lawson.  Lawson was used on a roational basis in Buffalo and promptly had his best season ever as a pro.  After dealing with injuries early on in his career, Lawson played 15 games and accumulated 6.5 sacks with 32 total tackles.  He also provided 18 QB hits and 13 tackles for loss.  He is good at setting the edge and allowing LB’ers to clean up on running plays.

The team didn’t stop there, also adding free agent Emmanuel Ogbah.  He also had a tough start to his career due to injuries but put together a good campaign in KC last season, racking up 5.5 sacks in 10 games with 32 combined tackles, 11 QB hits and 6 tackles for loss.  The pairing of both these men gives the Dolphins the disrupters they are looking for.

In addition to the veterans added in FA, the Dolphins doubled down in the 5th round, getting Jason Strowbridge from UNC and trading up for Curtis Weaver from Boise State.  Weaver, who was projected by most to go at least in the 2nd round fell to the 5th.  He finished his career at Boise with 47.5 tackles for loss and 34 sacks.  He is a disrupter who can play with his hand in the dirt or as a stand up OLB.  The team has him listed as a DE for now.  Strowbridge is more of a developmental player who found success his final 2 years, racking up 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.  Look for both these players to be in the rotation on defense as well as special teams.

Tyshun Render was brought in as an UDFA from Middle Tennessee State who had a good career, racking up 19.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in his career.  Render will have an uphill battle to make the roster, but practice squad is not out of the question, depending on how camp goes.

Camp Battle:  None.  This seems logical that Lawson and Ogbah are the starting EDGE players with Curtis Weaver and Jason Strowbridge getting reps. Brian Flores uses a ton of players as pass rushers, so the OLB group could be used in situational rushers.

Defensive Tackles:

Christian Wilkins (64.4)

Davon Godchaux (64.1)

Benito Jones (R) 

Raekwon Davis (R)

Durval Queiroz Neto (N/A)

Zach Seiler (76.2)

Ray Smith (N/A)

Defensive tackle is a position that Brian Flores believes he can slide to the outside on passing downs. (VERSATILITY, REMEMBER!).  Christian Wilkins comes into his second season as one of the leaders in this group.  It took him a few games, but man is he fun to watch.  Heck,  he even can score touchdowns on offense!  If Wilkins can make a big step in year 2, this unit will look much more formidible.  Davon Godchaux has been consistent since his rookie season.  He comes into a contract year looking to cash in, so expect big things.  He is a great run stuffing specialist who should anchor the middle of the DL.

The Dolphins went out and drafted Raekwon Davis with their second pick in the second round.  Brian Flores was shown on TV and couldn’t contain his excitment.  Davis, when focused, is a very strong interior defender.  If he can develop some pass rushing skills, he will be used in a variety of ways, particularly on 3rd down.  Benito Jones is an undrafted FA who will be fighting for a spot with Zach Seiler and Ray Smith.  Seiler had a small sample set last season but made the most of his opportunities.  Ray Smith is coming over from San Francisco after he was waived.  The Dolphins made the claim and he will be fighting for a roster spot.  Durval Queiroz Neto is a developmental player from Brazil, who will most likely continue to be on the practice squad as he is part of the NFL initiative to promote the game to other countries.

Camp Battle:  The 4th DT spot is up for grabs.  With Wilkins, Godchaux and Davis locks, the 4th and final DT spot looks to be between Seiler, Smith and Jones.  While I personally believe the edge goes to Seiler, don’t be shocked to see Smith beat him out.

Kyle Van Noy made a few things clear in his press availability ...

New Dolphins LB celebrates a Super Bowl win


Kyle Van Noy (84.2)

Jerome Baker (46.1)

Raekwon McMillan (63.9)

Vince Biegel (69.8)

Sam Eguavoen (50.6)

Andrew Van Ginkel (58.2)

Kamu Grugier-Hill (60.1)

Elandon Roberts (59.9)

James Crawford (62.8)

Kylan Johnson (R)

Calvin Munson (61.1)

This is a big group.  As I mentioned and most of you already know, Brian Flores LOVES versatility.  All these guys are capable of rushing the passer as well as being a coverage LB.  There were plenty of additions to this group.  The carry overs of Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel, Sam Eguavoen and Andrew Van Ginkel.  It was a tough year for all parties, particularly for Jerome Baker who regressed from his 2018 campaign.  He looked more comfortable late in the season so the expectation he will be back on track this year.  Raekwon McMillan is a 2 down, run specialist who struggles at times in coverage if asked to do so.  However, he was becoming a more well rounded LB as the year progressed.  Vince Biegel was resigned this offseason with a tendered agreement.  After coming over in the trade with New Orleans for Kiko Alonso, Biegel did a tremendous job putting pressure on the QB.  He is slotted to be a rotational guy again for 2020.  Sam Eguavoen had a great summer, but unfortunately didn’t translate to Sunday’s when the lights were on their brightest.  After getting a year under his belt in the NFL, he should have a chance to crack the roster, although this year may be tougher with the new additions.  Andrew Van Ginkel spent most of the season on PUP, came in for a few games at the end of the season.  He is recovering from COVID and should be ready to go soon.

Now, to the newest and best addition to this group.  Kyle Van Noy comes over from the hated New England Patriots, where he saw success with Brian Flores and how he was utilized.  Now reconnected with Flores, Van Noy becomes the focal point of the defense.  He finished with 6.5 sacks in 2019, with 15 QB hits, 7 TFL, 3 forced fumbles and a touchdown.  The Dolphins pounced on his services when he hit the open market and he will help the younger players understand the terminology of this defense.  Coming over with him was Elandon Roberts.  A good special teams player with the ability to play H-back on offense.  As Dolphins fans, we remember that capability as he scored a touchdown in the final game in 2019.  Kamu Grugier-Hill, another special teams player comes over from Philly.  He could add depth as well as being a full time special teams guy.  James Crawford, Kylan Johnson, Calvin Munson seem to be long shots to make this roster.

Camp Battle:  This is going to be more about rotation that starters.  The starters seem to be Van Noy, McMillan and Baker in a base 4-3 set.  Depending on how Flores sees the game going, obviously he will switch to a different system.  This is really about depth here for the Dolphins.  Outside the top 3, Biegel, Van Ginkel, Roberts and Grugier-Hill will be vying for playing time on a rotational basis.  I can see the Dolphins carrying 7 linebackers.  Keep your eyes on Roberts in that group.  He is going to surprise some people if given the chance in a rotation.

Dolphins Make Byron Jones NFL's Highest-Paid CB

New Dolphins corner Byron Jones celebrates a stop


Byron Jones (76.1)

Xavien Howard (56.5)

Eric Rowe (58.9)

Nik Needham (60.8)

Noah Igbinoghene (R)

Ken Webster (51.6)

Cordrea Tankersley (N/A)

Jamal Perry (43.7)

Javaris Davis (R)

After countless injuries in the secondary, the Dolphins wanted to make a move to help.  Byron Jones came over a surprise free agent from Dallas.  Many fans, including myself, had no idea the Dolphins had any interest in Byron Jones.  Jones is one of the best shut down corners in the league.  With him now in the fold, the Dolphins now have one of the best corner duos in the NFL.  Only if Xavien Howard can come back from his second knee injury in 3 seasons.  Howard begins on the Active/PUP list as he works back into form.  If he is healthy for the beginning of 2020, he and Jones will likely play tons of man coverage, as they excel at that.  Flores now has a mirror of talent at the starting spots as he did at his time in New England.  Eric Rowe is still listed as a CB on Miami’s official roster, although he may end up back at FS where he finished last season.  While that is up in the air, Rowe was Miami’s best defensive back towards the end of 2019.  Nik Needham was quite a surprise last season.  After struggling quite a big at the beginning of 2019, he was re-activated from the practice squad and never looked back.  He put up some strong games and looks to carve out a role in 2020.  The Dolphins will also welcome back Cordrea Tankersley, who showed promise before missing the last year and a half with lingering knee problems.  He has an uphill battle to make the roster.  That has to do with the addition of first round pick Noah Igbinoghene.  Another man corner (2nd most in college football last season), will likely slot into the slot corner position and could kick outside in a pinch if needed to.  Ken Webster, Jamal Perry and Javaris Davis will look to fill out the back end of the depth chart.

Camp Battle:  It has to be the #3 cornerback spot.  Currently, Igbinoghene should have the lead but will have to battle with incumbent Nik Needham.  Needham has a leg up for knowing the defense and his strong play at the end of last season, but it will be tough to not have Igbinoghene start right away.

Video: Dolphins Captain Bobby McCain Rants After Loss: It Sucks ...


Bobby McCain (61.8)

Clayton Fejedelem (65.5)

Adrian Colbert (64.9)

Kavon Frazier (74.9)

Steven Parker (71.0)

Nate Brooks (N/A)

Brandon Jones (R)

Safety has a different look for the first time in a decade as Reshad Jones was released this spring.  Bobby McCain looks to bulk up and be more prepared to play safety again in Brian Flores system.  After switching in 2019, McCain seemed he didn’t have enough bulk to play at FS.  He was injured and missed games.  He should be more prepared going forward.  Clayton Fejedelem comes over from Cincinnati in free agency.  He is very physical on the back end and could seem him playing up in the box in a rotation.  Adrian Colbert came over from Seattle off waivers last season and performed well when called upon.  Same goes for Kavon Frazier and Steven Parker.

They will be fighting for a spot on the depth chart with rookie Brandon Jones out of Texas.  Jones drew rave reviews during the draft process.  Asking all 32 teams for game film and playbook to show what he learned and how he fit on each team.  Flores loves that type of player and we should see Jones on the field in 2020 on special teams and potentially as a rotational guy.

Camp Battle:  The back up safety position is a wide open battle.  I would project Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe starting back there, but with Rowe, we have no idea.  Brandon Jones is a lock to be on the team.  Adrian Colbert and Clayton Fejedelem both will be in a heated battle for the spots.  Its anyone’s guess how this may play out, but this should be a great camp battle to watch.

Thank you for reading.  Please be sure to follow me on twitter @DolphinsTalkTom and keep your eye out for part 4 of our training camp series, which will be my depth chart prediction for 2020.  #FinsUp