Who are the Top Dolphin Players of All Time?

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Over the years the Miami Dolphins have shown themselves to be some of the most successful teams in the league. Coaches such as Don Shula, Adam Gase, Joe Philbin, Todd Bowles, and George Wilson, among others, cultivated young talent with patience and dedication.

Some of the players who turned out to be Dolphins’ stars didn’t start out with as much promise as did their teammates but surprised coaches and fans with their hard work and skills. Others fulfilled and even went above and beyond initial expectations in their performances on the field.

After a review of players’ accolades (MVP awards, Hall of Fame inductions, Pro Bowls, All-Pro selections, etc.) stats, impact on the franchise, impact on games and years on the team, a list of the best Dolphin players of all time would include:

Paul Warfield

Paul Warfield joined the Dolphins in 1970 (the Dolphins were incorporated in 1966) and played under coach Don Shula for five seasons. Shula maximized Warfield’s deep threat and athletic ability to open up the run game, which caused defenders to be stuck deep in the field in order to cover him. With fewer defenders in the box, the running backs enjoyed more freedom to complete goals.

During Warfield’s first year, the team finished third overall in rushing yards, with Warfield averaging 25.1 yards per catch and leading the league in touchdowns. In 1972, Warfield’s third year with the Dolphins, he contributed significantly to the team finishing a perfect season and went on to play a major role in the Dolphins’ 1973 Super Bowl victory. In 1983 Warfield was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  He was also named the 1972-73 Super Bowl Champion and to the NFL 100 All-Time Team selection.

Cameron Wake

As a free agent, Cameron Wake joined the Dolphins in 2009. Despite having started only one game as a rookie, he became a feared adversary on the field, recording double-digit sacks in five of his nine seasons with the team. He earned a name for himself as one of the NFL’s premier edge rushers and was selected to play in five Pro Bowls (one at outside linebacker and four at defensive end).

He is a four-time first or second-team All-Pro. During his Dolphins run he had 98 sacks, making him the second all-time in club history (behind Jason Taylors 131 sacks). Wale was an All-Pro selection once and held the title as 2010 league leader in tackles for loss (21).

Zach Thomas

Zach Thomas started out as a rookie as starting middle linebacker, and he never looked back. He finished his rookie season with two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three interceptions, a defensive touchdown, two sacks, and 154 tackles. He was named to the 1996 All-Rookie team and was awarded the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Over the next 11 years, Thomas averaged 136 tackles per season which put him in the #1 spot in 2002 and 2006 in leading the league in tackles. Over the course of 8 years, he was selected to play in seven Pro Bowls and was a five-time All-Pro. Overall he played 168 games with the Dolphins and was the franchise leader in solo tackles – 1042. Thomas is remembered as one of the Dolphins’ greatest defenders.

Nick Buoniconti

Nick Buoniconti played with the Dolphins from 1969 to 1976 as a middle linebacker. He was honored as the Dolphins’ Most Valuable Player in 1969, 1970, and 1973, setting team records for tackles in the 1973 season (162). He had a reputation as a relentless player and was with the team for two Super Bowl wins. Buoniconti was also named to the 1060s Hall of Fame All-Decade Team.

Buoniconti may be best remembered for his activism, after retirement, in starting a research foundation to study spinal and brain injuries. The activism occurred after his son was injured while playing football but later on,  Buoniconti himself would suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is believed to affect football players who are hit repeatedly in the head. Buoniconti died in 2019, and he donated his brain to the study of CTE. In 2001 Buonioconti was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Dwight Stephenson

Dwight Stephenson, who played with the Dolphins from 1980 to 1987, was regarded as one of the NFL’s best centers and served as the offense’s team captain. He led one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, setting a record for going six straight seasons with the fewest sacks, which in turn allowed Dan Marino to set his own record for most pass attempts without a sack (between September 25, 1988, and October 29, 1989, Marino threw 759 pass attempts without interference from opposing players, a record that still stands today.)

Stephenson started as center in two Super Bowls and was chosen for four consecutive All-Pro teams and five consecutive Pro Bowls. He started in 80 of 107 consecutive games – a streak ended only by a players’ strike. His career was ended with a knee injury in 1987, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Other honors included being named to the 1980s Hall of Fame All-Decade Team and the NFL 100 All-Time Team.