The bye week provides an ideal time to reflect on what has transpired in the year to date and eagerly look forward to how the remainder of the season will unfold. For the Miami Dolphins, it is a time when Dolphins twitter explodes with hot takes as half believe Ryan Tannehill is the second coming of Dan Marino and that the franchise will ride his now healed shoulder straight into the playoffs while others bemoan the ‘Fins for the not throwing the remainder of the season to secure a higher draft pick. Let us step away from that debate and instead look at who has performed well for the Dolphins so far in 2018 and look certain to be future building blocks and key pieces for the Miami Dolphins.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (safety/ corner – 2018 1st round selection, 22 years old)
Just 10 games into his rookie season, Minkah Fitzpatrick already looks like a stud. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke has utilised him in a variety of ways as a swiss army knife in the back-end.
Despite initially spending the majority of his snaps as a either a roaming free safety or slot corner, the Dolphins have starting using Fitzpatrick more as an outside corner. This is his best position as both him and Howard have formed a formidable duo on the outside. While Fitzpatrick is great in and around the line of scrimmage, on the current Dolphins team their is a lack of quality across from Xavien Howard and as such, Matt Burke needs to use Fitzpatrick as a press corner in man coverage or in a cover-3 zone.
Fitzpatrick’s lone pick this season (above clip) was aided by Davon Godchaux, another name further down this list. Fitzpatrick, who was coached by Nick Saban in college, maintains sticky coverage on Philip Dorsett down field and keeps the receiver at just an arm length away. Godchaux penetrates up-field forcing Brady to throw early, Fitzpatrick uses his ball hawking skills maintaining eye contact with the QB while also feeling the receiver as he progresses down field. This was his first interception as a Dolphin and I expect there to be many more to come.
Raekwon McMillan (LB – 2017 2nd round selection – 23 years old)
Despite missing his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, McMillan has shown promise in 2018. He has performed better as a run defender than in cover but his athleticism has been on display as he’s displayed his sideline to sideline speed. Unlike Miami’s other athletic linebackers, McMillan has inside backer size at 6’2″, 248lbs.
Watching the tape, McMillan often finds himself in the right situation either blocking off an alley and forcing a runner to reroute of in and around the football. At times he has struggled to uncover from linemen allowing RBs to accelerate past him into the second level but I believe this should certainly come on as he has only put 10 games on film in his short career. The clip below is an excellent example of what Miami hoped to get from both McMillan (circled red) and Baker (circled yellow) who chase down Joe Mixon to the corner and bring him down negating any big run up the sideline. This is what you call sideline-to-sideline range as well as excellent read and react skills.
Jerome Baker (LB – 2018 3rd round selection, 21 years old)
At just 21 years old and part of a dynamic duo with McMillan, Jerome Baker looks to have a bright future in the NFL. He is the modern day linebacker, quick, agile and able to play all three downs athletically (currently he does not play in the nickel as he has underwhelmed in coverage). I believe Baker has the ability to be an above average starting will linebacker in the NFL and a productive play maker as he gets more snaps under his belt.
PFF have Baker as their 13th best linebacker against the run and 19th overall, ahead of names such as Danny Trevathan (22nd), Myles Jack (24th), C.J. Mosley (28th) and Dont’a Hightower (30th). He has clearly created significant buzz for the Dolphins, however, his performances have so far flown under the radar with other rookie linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Darius Leonard garnering greater national attention.
Laremy Tunsil (LT – 2016 1st round selection, 24 years old)
Laremy Tunsil has quickly established himself as a top-10 pass protector. Tunsil is excellent fending off both speed and bull rushes when matched up one-on-one on the outside. When healthy, Tunsil locks down the blindside with any QB duress coming via the interior or right side of the line.
Tunsil is excellent in pass protection but has so far underwhelmed in run blocking. He has been largely inconsistent in this area at times flashing the athleticism to quickly get out into space and block downfield while other times failing to generate push against elite defensive linemen. I believe Tunsil has the potential to be a top-5 LT and should help any future Dolphins QB develop as he anchors the blindside.
Davon Godchaux (DT – 2017 5th round selection, 24 years old)
I remember coming out of the 2017 draft, extremely happy with the later round selections of Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor. So far, both have developed well as the team has waved goodbye to Ndamukong Suh due to his cap number and Jordan Philips due to his inability to perform at a consistent level.
Godchaux has been excellent against the run in 2018 and the big plays surrendered by Miami on the ground has often been due to the inability of the ends to set the edge or a double team at the interior which relies on the linebackers to clean up and tackle the carrier. In the clip below, Godchaux penetrates up field splitting the Packers LT and LG taking away any chance for the play to go through the A or B gap. This allows Miami’s linebackers/ safeties to arrive unblocked and clean up the play.
This is the type of selfless but highly important play that the Dolphins need from their DTs if they want to be able to slow down opposing run games and force teams to throw on 2nd and 3rd down, allowing Miami’s edge rushers to pin back their ears.
Xavien Howard (CB – 2016 2nd round selection, 25 years old)
Howard has played well in 2018 apart from a match up against the Texans when DeAndre Hopkins did DeAndre Hopkins things. When in coverage against Nuke, Howard gave up 3 receptions on 4 targets for 23 yards and 1TD. Apart from this, quarterbacks have often stayed away from testing Howard and instead picked on slot corner Bobby McCain or Miami’s linebackers in coverage.
Howard has excellent height, weight speed and has slowly garnered a reputation as no.1 corner and ball hawk on the back end. Howard has back-to-back two interception games in 2017, one of which was vs Tom Brady and the Patriots and has amassed 7 interceptions in his 26 starts over the past two seasons.
In the below clip, Howard looks like a comfortable no.1 corner rather than a 3rd year player with only two seasons as a full time starter. He is extremely smooth with fluid hips in this snap. He glides effortlessly downfield, feeling the receiver as the route progresses before opening and flipping his hips to eliminate any chance of hitting the post route. Rather than commit the cardinal sin of turning his back and losing sight of both the ball or WR, Howard does not panic and simply opens his hips maintaining sticky coverage down field. A very impressive rep and one that you often see on Sundays.
Kenny Stills (WR – obtained via trade with New Orleans in 2015, 26 years old)
The Miami Dolphins have a potential out following the 2019 season, however, I believe Stills should see out the remainder of his contract with his average cap hit for 2020 and 2021 coming in at $9.25m. For comparison to the wider market, that is between Pierre Garcon and Marqise Lee type money.
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In his four seasons in Miami, Stills has served primarily as a speedster but has developed into an all-rounder and when healthy favorite of Ryan Tannehill. Since 2016, Stills has caught the 9th most TDs and has expanded his role beyond simply taking the lid off a defense. Stills is a talented young receiver who’s skill set will always be in high demand.
Jakeem Grant (WR/ KR or PR – 2016 6th round selection, 26 years old)
Jakeem Grant has got a unique skill set that every offensive coordinator in the NFL would love to play around with. Grant was initially limited to special teams before Adam Gase started to expand his role in the offense utilising quick throws to rack up YAC and double moves on deep shots.
It is easy to get green eyed watching how Andy Reid is using Tyreek Hill in Kansas City and not wonder what Adam Gase could do with Jakeem Grant. I’m not delusional and expect Grant to be as successfully as Hill but I do believe they have similar skill sets and that he could be utilised in similar scenarios with a create scheme and offensive game planning.
Let me know your thoughts, tweet @TomLikeNFL.
Dolphins Building Blocks.