As the Dolphins have entered the offseason, it’s time to review and grade the play of each position group of the team. In this edition, I’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball.
INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
Everyone around the league knows how talented the Dolphins duo of Jaylen Waddle & Tyreek Hill is; perhaps most don’t know about their other special duo in Christian Wilkins & Zach Sieler, and they should.
Wilkins, in particular, elevated his game and became one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the league. He was responsible for 16 tackles for loss, which ranks him 3rd among interior defensive tackles. He also finished 1st in run stop win rate among defensive tackles. Zach Sieler isn’t a slouch either; while he may not have the production of Wilkins, he’s also incredible against the run and constantly creates pressure up the middle. The Dolphins should do everything possible to keep these two together for a long time.
John Jenkins & Raekwon Davis also played the nose tackle position and did a solid yet unspectacular job. They didn’t have the “splash” plays that the previous two names mentioned did, but they were also a key part of the Dolphins’ impressive run defense that finished 4th in the league.
If there’s one thing to criticize about this group, it’s the lack of interior pressure the Dolphins generated. While I believe that to mostly be a scheme issue, you’d hope for a better outcome in future years in this department.
Due to how Miami played, most of their outside linebackers split time between the defensive line and rarely played in coverage. Hence why I’m simply categorizing them as edge defenders.
This unit consists of Jaelan Phillips, Emmanuel Ogbah, Melvin Ingram & Bradley Chubb.
Since Miami made a ton of off-season moves, I think it’s been largely forgotten that Emmanuel Ogbah signed a huge deal to remain in Miami. His production this year didn’t match that contract, and I know he got hurt, but one sack in 9 games for a pass-rush specialist isn’t what was expected of him. Now, Miami must figure out what to do with his contract.
Melvin Ingram was a veteran addition to this team, and he’d been a plus for every team he’s been on in recent seasons. This was also the case in Miami, as he finished with six sacks on the year. He’s a cheap veteran player who can still provide pressure. If he’s willing to return to the team in 2023 with a similar salary, I don’t see why Miami shouldn’t do that.
Jaelan Phillips built upon his strong rookie campaign, and while his numbers took a step back, he was more impactful than his stat line suggests. He was Miami’s best pure pass rusher this year, constantly creating pressure. His motor is truly impressive to see, as it seems he never runs out of gas. I wouldn’t be surprised if he increases his sack total from 7 to digits in the upcoming season, especially considering he was 4th among edge defenders in pass rush win rate. He’s one of Miami’s best individual defenders.
Bradley Chubb was a late addition to this unit, as Miami traded for him at the deadline and then signed him to a massive contract extension. His production provided mixed results. He was definitely a good player, but he still didn’t meet the expectations that Miami had once they traded for him. That’s kind of been the story of his entire career, a good player who you typically want more out of. He got hurt late in the year, which is also something frequent for him, but he managed to come up with a sack in Miami’s lone playoff game.
As a whole, it’s difficult to truly grade their performance, especially since Miami was a blitz-heavy team. Originally they struggled to generate pressure, but once Miami got Chubb, they improved slightly. I’m confident with better secondary help and a better scheme; they’ll have more production next year.
Since we’re not including Edge defenders amongst linebackers, here we’re focusing on: Jerome Baker, Duke Riley, Elandon Roberts & Andrew Van Ginkel.
Miami’s defensive ideology under Brian Flores & Josh Boyer saw linebackers as the least important position. And while at times Miami’s lack of talent at the position showed up, it was mostly a non-issue all year.
Jerome Baker, in particular, had a quietly good season, he’s mostly known as a great Blitzer, but he had a solid year in coverage. He’s the Dolphins linebacker who’s tasked with the most responsibility, and he rewarded Miami for showing faith in him with good on-field play.
Elandon Roberts is basically a run specialist, and his over-aggressiveness can come back to haunt him, but in his particular role, he’s fine.
Duke Riley is an average NFL linebacker who can do a little bit of everything, but he doesn’t really excel in any area. Andrew Van Ginkel got phased out of the defense this year, and while he mostly plays on the edge, I listed him as a linebacker since he plays that role more than the edge defenders I’ve put in that position. In limited snaps, he was fine, making no real impact but always being a solid defender.
Overall this unit didn’t really kill Miami’s defense, except when they played scrambling Quarterbacks. They did a good job handling receiving running backs, and in the case they did struggle, it was mostly a scheme issue, as was the case against the Bills early on in the season. They were also over-eager in goal line snaps when every single play-action attempt seemed to result in a wide-open receiver in the end zone.
Perhaps with Miami having a new defensive scheme in 2023, they’ll require more out of this unit, but as far as 2022 goes, they were fine.
It’s hard to really give a fair grade to this unit, as it was ravaged by injuries before the season even began. Byron Jones was expected to be ready in Week 1, and yet he never logged a single practice, much less played in a game. Trill Williams was a training camp standout, but a preseason injury knocked him out for the year & Nik Needham suffered a season-ending injury in Week 6.
Instead, Miami was forced to rely on Xavien Howard, Kader Kohou, Keion Crossen & Noah Igbinoghene. The results weren’t great.
Xavien Howard is still a capable corner, but he’s taken a big step back from his All-Pro play we saw two years ago. He’s also typically assigned to the #1 WR and doesn’t always have safety help. At this point in his career, he shouldn’t have those kinds of matchups.
Kader Kohou was the bright spot for this unit, an undrafted rookie who was able to provide Miami with some solid play. He plays with a high level of confidence, and while he’s prone to committing some penalties, it’s hard not to be encouraged about his play this year.
The same can’t be said about Igbinoghene & Crossen, both of whom are great athletes but seem lost when they’re on the field. Neither of them can track the ball, and aside from a game-saving interception from Noah, there weren’t any positive moments from the pair.
As I said, it’s not really fair to these players, especially since 3 of the 4 weren’t really supposed to see meaningful snaps this year. The blame should fall on the coaching staff for failing to adapt and the front office for not signing any veteran talent to replace those who were injured.
Another unit suffered a costly injury. Brandon Jones had developed into one of the best blitzing safeties in the NFL, and while his coverage skills weren’t quite up to that standard, he was solid and improving. After he went out in Week 7, Miami was tasked with replacing him with a rotation of Verone McKinley & Eric Rowe.
Eric Rowe, in particular, led that spot, and he’s taken a step back from the high level of football he’d previously played in Miami. He’s still a solid depth piece and capable backup, but perhaps not someone you want playing this much. McKinley was a solid addition to the practice squad, never really making costly mistakes, but he doesn’t have the range that you want from a safety who specializes in coverage. Still, I think he’s worth keeping around as a depth piece to round off the roster.
Jevon Holland was perhaps the most impressive rookie they had last year, and a majority of the people who cover the Dolphins expected him to truly become an elite safety in his sophomore season. Unfortunately for Miami, that wasn’t the case. He was solid, but he wasn’t the difference maker many hoped for. He’s still a very talented player, and perhaps when he’s playing with better cornerbacks, he can freelance some and improve upon his performance this year.