The Miami Dolphins hit the jackpot with the last pick in round 5 of the 2010 NFL Draft (pick 163). The Dolphins grabbed themselves a free safety out of Georgia who was extremely effective in run support. After 7 NFL seasons, Reshad Jones has become a key piece on a Miami defense that has otherwise routinely struggled. The Dolphins have a perennial pro-bowl talent in Jones yet have struggled to fill the safety spot opposite with the signing of Nate Allen and T.J. McDonald the latest attempt to find productive stop-gap solutions.
I recently outlined ten defensive players I believe the Dolphins should target in the second round (click here). Not surprisingly, I outlined three safeties in Marcus Williams, Budda Baker and Justin Evans. I have seen a lot of analysts linking the Dolphins with Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers at pick 22. While this makes sense – I believe there are better players for Miami to target who should still be available at that pick (namely edge rushers, linebackers and potential no.1 corners).
This DB class is incredibly deep and I believe Miami could find a perennial pro-bowler in the 2nd or 3rd round as a bunched group of talented safeties slides due to other positions coming off the board and guys getting overlooked. Below I have broken down why I believe the Miami Dolphins should draft a safety in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Why spend a high pick on a Safety?
Good NFL safeties either excel in run support and open field tackling or are excellent in coverage and able to hang with TEs and RBs out the backfield. Great NFL safeties are able to perform both of these responsibilities to a high level. The Dolphins lack of depth and talent at the safety position was something that teams exploited. Miami’s safeties were unable to routinely stop run plays before they developed and were also poor in pass coverage.
The Miami Dolphins defensive line is built to play with the lead and get after the passer. While the addition of DE William Hayes, gives Miami a stout run-defender who can set the edge – in South Beach, a premium is placing on getting after the QB with an eye on chasing Tom Brady and the Patriots in the division.
The Dolphins are currently rebuilding their linebackers. Kiko Alonso could be a great Will LB, while Lawrence Timmons could be a reliable MLB for the next 2 seasons. The Dolphins have continuously struggled against the run and due to the premium placed on pass rushers, the Dolphins have to use linebackers and bring safeties into the box to stop the run.
Safeties feature prominently in the box in Miami’s system. They are often charged with sealing the edge or stopping runners before they are able to accelerate away into the second level. After Reshad Jones went down injuried in week 6 and was placed on IR, the Dolphins tried numerous combinations with Michael Thomas, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Bacarri Rambo all starting for the Dolphins. Jones is a tremendous run defender and excels in and around the line of scrimmage as a SS. The Dolphins have an obvious opening at FS after releasing Quddus and could do with adding an instinctive ball-hawk who could play the centre field role in Miami’s Cover-3 scheme.
Despite the signings of T.J. McDonald and Nate Allen – I believe Miami should look to take a Safety with pick 54 (round 2), 97 (round 3), or 166 (round 5). Below is a film breakdown of where Miami’s safeties struggled in 2016. Text is followed by an illustration.
As mentioned above, great NFL safeties are quick to react and thrive in and around the line of scrimmage. There presence near the line not only confuses quarterbacks but also helps their team’s run defense. The Dolphins used their safeties in and around the box throughout the 2016 season. Yet outside of Reshad Jones, no-one was able to routinely stop the run. In this look against the Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins have eight defenders into the box against only seven blockers.
As the play develops the Dolphins are able to eat up blockers and Kiko Alonso follows the play closing down any potential for the RB to break contain. DE Andre Branch has crashed the pocket and causing RB Terrance West to plant his foot and change direction, slowing him down. At this point dominant safeties should be flying into the gap and hitting West at the line of scrimmage and holding the Ravens to a negative player.
Isa Abdul-Quddus who played well at times for Miami last year, struggled against the run. Miami was forced to commit their front seven against a loaded line, putting a strain on the safety to make a play. Quddus hesitates, does not trust what he sees, and ends up flat footed. This gives West a hole and the Ravens manage to pick up positive yards despite the Dolphins front seven clamping down on a run to the right and forcing West to change direction in the backfield.
MLB Kiko Alonso ends up having to help Quddus make the tackle. If this was Utah’s Marcus Williams or Texas A&M’s Justin Evans, West would have been popped and the play stopped dead at the line of scrimmage.
Another example from the Ravens game. Baltimore bullied Miami’s safeties in the passing game as their tight end’s wreaked havoc. The Ravens were a poor running team in 2016 but were able to be effective on the ground against Miami. A good example of this is in the play below
Wondering who’s under center? That’s Ryan Mallett – the Ravens back up QB. This is basic 8-on-8 blocking as the Ravens have trips right and are looking to set the edge with their receives and allow West a free run to the end zone. The Ravens are also double teaming Miami’s dominant DT Ndamukong Suh. Quddus should win this match up every time and quickly shed the WR tasked with blocking him and blow this play up at the line of scrimmage.
Everything about this play should work in the Dolphins favour. Miami has established themselves along the line and have Neville Hewitt (46) in a good position to beat his blocker, while Quddus (24) has his planted foot ready to explode to the outside and beat the receiver who has his planted foot (inside). Quddus should easily slip by the blocker and stop this play at the line.
Quddus easily slips by the receiver and should be rushing straight upfield to set the edge and force West inside where the Dolphins will easily take him down.
Quddus has 4.47 speed so it’s not a question of being outraced to the edge, he just lacks the instincts of a talented safety and gets caught flat footed. West has a clear runway to the edge and goes untouched into the end zone. Miami’s front seven again does an excellent job of establishing themselves and forcing RBs into the arms of their safeties. But Miami does not have enough talent at the position, outside of Reshad Jones, to make negative plays.
When facing a dominant offensive line and run game like the Steelers, defensive coordinators need all the help they can get from their safeties in run support. The ball is down near the goal line and Miami is playing two deep safeties, positioned on the goal line. The Steelers are going to block to the right with their TE (David Johnson) engaging Kiko Alonso in the second level and All-Pro guard, David DeCastro, pulling to block Andre Branch. The hole here will be either side of Branch, depending on whether the TE successfully blocks Alonso.
As you can see, the Steelers do a good job but Miami is gaining penetration in the interior and pushing Bell outside. The blue square on the right has been cut off and Bell is moving left with eyes down field looking for a crease.
Bacarri Rambo has over extended on this play despite Alonso setting the edge and has left Bell with an enormous crater to run through untouched into the end zone. If Rambo had staid on his toes and creeped towards the line, he would have been able to cut off the inside move and forced Bell to continue outside where Miami had 3 defenders on the edge.
Great free safeties are like centre-fielders in baseball. Here Rambo is the lone Safety as Miami is in the nickel and playing man-to-man coverage. To be effective, the safety needs to have great peripheral vision to understand what is happening on the outside (whether anyone has blown their coverage) but also able to read the eyes of the QB and know where he is going. Ex-Baltimore Ravens and future Hall of Famer, Ed Reed, was phenomenal in this role – Earl Thomas is a current stand out free safety. Rambo needs to have tremendous instincts and range to be able to help at the point of attack, without reacting too late and surrendering a big TD. This play is particularly risky as the Dolphins are bringing one of their safeties on a blitz.
On the play below, Rambo should see that Roethlisberger has opened his shoulders in anticipation to throw and locked his eyes on his primary read – Antonio Brown. Rambo should at least be creeping forward to where the danger is. This way he will have the chance to either break on the ball or at a minimum, have Brown run straight into him. Yet Rambo fails to do this and the Dolphins do not currently have a naturally instinctive centre fielder on their roster to perform this vital function.
Rambo fails to spot the danger and by the time Brown has the ball in his hands running full speed, Rambo is caught on his heels and is never likely to put Brown off his stride or be in a position to tackle him. Lippet was beat too easy on the slant and Rambo was not instinctive enough to sniff out the danger. The Dolphins need a free safety who can be that Eric Reed/ Earl Thomas type centre fielder.
A team like the Dolphins, who are a predominantly zone heavy team, need instinctive safeties. Miami below goes into the nickel and are playing man on the outside with the a linebacker spying the QB. Isa Abdul-Quddus (on the five yard line) is responsible for TE Antonio Gates. Gates is going to run a very simple go-route right up the seam. Quddus plays too far off Gates, but he also has Rambo in zone coverage over the top in case Gates breaks in on a post or run rights by him on a go.
Quddus is too far off Gates, while Rambo (red) is caught watching Rivers and is not aware of whats happening. The Linebackers have stepped up off play action leaving the seam (yellow) wide open for Rivers.
The Dolphins corners have done well tying up the receivers on the outside but before either Quddus or Rambo realise whats happening – its too late. Gates has split the pair of safeties and Rivers is about to uncork a ball right into the window for his big-bodied playmaker.
This occurred way too often for Miami last year. Their safeties were a liability in both pass coverage against TEs and in run support. If the Dolphins want to consistently make the playoffs they’ll need to find the ball-hawking instinctive free safety who would thrive in Miami’s Cover-3 scheme. This would allow Reshad Jones to do what he does best, play around the line of scrimmage. You can find three options for Miami in a recent article of mine (click here), however, this is an extremely talented class and the Dolphins could find productive play-makers late in Day 2 and into Day 3. The Dolphins need a free safety who can be a leader in the back end, but one who is also able to play in and around the line of scrimmage. A few other options for the Dolphins could be Florida’s Marcus Maye, N.C. State’s Josh Jones or Michigan State’s Montae Nicholson.