Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Dolphins organization, Dolphins fans around the world and those who really want the Dolphins to embrace their throwback uniforms and go all in:
In regards to the team, the Dolphins made it clear with an abundance of offseason moves that they are indeed going all in. They committed to finding out if Tua Tagovailoa is truly a franchise quarterback by going out and getting one of the most electric receivers in the NFL. Will it be enough to get Miami to the playoffs? Let's take a look.
One high note from last season: Winning seven consecutive games after starting 1-7. The Dolphins had that rough start, and things looked pretty grim. Then they won seven straight to improve to 8-7 and you thought that just maybe this team could make the playoffs.
One low note from last season: Getting smoked by the Titans in Week 17, 34-3, snapping their winning streak. The Dolphins were making a real playoff push. That loss was a tough bounce back to reality, even if the Fins did defeat the Patriots in the season-finale.
Head coach: Mike McDaniel. The Dolphins fired Brian Flores after three seasons, taking many by surprise. One month later, Flores sued the NFL and three of its teams, including the Dolphins, for an alleged pattern of racist hiring practices and racial discrimination. The suit also alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores money to lose games, which the NFL is investigating. A few days after news of the lawsuit broke, Miami replaced Flores with McDaniel. The former 49ers offensive coordinator served under Kyle Shanahan at all of his stops, including way back when they were in Houston together from 2006 through '08. The casual fan might not be aware that Mike is considered one of the brightest minds in the NFL. My friend and NFL Network colleague Andrew Hawkins once said McDaniel was the smartest football man he has ever worked with, and that's good enough for me.
Let's examine the results. When you look at the players whom McDaniel has coached over the years, Matt Ryan is about the only quarterback I would consider elite. I mean, I like Jimmy Garoppolo enough, but he's more of a mid-carder -- not that there is anything wrong with that. If you give McDaniel enough to work with -- and I'm a believer in his new quarterback -- this could be something special.
Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa. This will come off like I'm making excuses for (Tua because I am). This guy was electric at Alabama. Then he battled through a hip injury and had to enter the NFL during the COVID-19 offseason. And to me, it feels like he hasn't been given a fair shot to really compete. The funny thing is, he really did show some improvement last year. He upped his win total from six games in 2020 to seven last season (totally a quarterback stat). He improved in completion percentage, passing yards per game and touchdowns. His 67.8 completion percentage even ranked seventh in the league last year.
Projected 2022 MVP: Tyreek Hill. I mean, I know Hill's success comes down to the quarterback. But Hill completely changed the dynamic of this team when Miami traded five draft picks, including its 2022 first-rounder, for him. The Dolphins have a new attitude, and Hill has taken the lead by appearing on podcasts and doing everything he can to put Tua over (a wrestling term for making someone/something popular). This team is viewed differently because of Hill. He's the only player in the Super Bowl era with at least 50 receiving touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns and five return touchdowns in his career. I know some old guy is going to tell me Bobby Mitchell also did this, but notice that I said in the Super Bowl era.
New face to know: Cedrick Wilson, wide receiver. Obviously, you're not going to get much attention in a receiver room that has Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. But the signing of Wilson was a pretty smooth low-key move that not many people paid attention to. It's like The Rock often said: It's important to know your role. Wilson knew his in Dallas, doing a nice job mixing in with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb and making some big plays on his own. This was one of my favorite signings of the offseason.
2022 breakout star: Jaelan Phillips, linebacker. Dude had 8.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits and nine tackles for loss in his rookie campaign last season. He ranked second in quarterback hits behind some guy named Micah Parsons (the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year), so it's easy to see why Phillips' effort was largely overlooked. But he's poised to have a monster season in Year 2.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. New England Patriots. We know the Dolphins have enjoyed success at home against Bill Belichick. And we know the team started out slow last year (1-7) . But the first four games on this year's schedule are against the Patriots at home, at Ravens, vs. Bills and at Bengals on Thursday night. That's pretty rough.
- Week 5 at New York Jets. I don't know what kind of shape the Dolphins are going to be in after that four-game stretch, but this kicks off an easier part of the schedule.
- Week 13 at San Francisco 49ers. MIKE MCDANIEL REVENGE GAME. But this starts a three-game roadie that includes back-to-back contests on the West Coast.
Will the Dolphins be able to ...
... take advantage of all of that speed? Three of the Dolphins' top 12 skill-position players had a 96-plus speed rating in Madden NFL 22. Hill and Waddle are two of five players who topped 97. And let's not forget newcomer Raheem Mostert, who had a speed rating of 96, the fastest rating among NFL running backs. I think what we're looking for is who is going to be the Deebo Samuel of this offense? Deebo became the only player in NFL history with 1,400 receiving yards and 300 rushing yards in a season. We keep trying to figure out who the guy is going to be. The scary thing is it could be a number of guys from Sunday to Sunday. Sometimes we get so wrapped up into making straight comparisons we ignore the fact that it might be more frightening to have a variety of options to work with.
We talked about Hill, but Waddle set a rookie record with 104 receptions in 2021. Mostert averages 5.7 rush yards per attempt in his career -- which would be the highest by a running back in the Super Bowl era if he were qualified -- but has battled injuries, missing 24 games over the last two seasons. Miami also has tight end Mike Gesicki, who's recorded similar production (1,483 receiving yards) to George Kittle (1,544) since 2020 -- I know, I said no straight comparisons -- and he's also done his best work when lined up in the slot. Dare I say McDaniel has more talent to work with in Miami?
... build on a strong defensive finish? The Dolphins won eight of their final nine games, and one of the reasons for that streak was the defense. Miami allowed an average of 29.1 points per game through Week 8, but just 15.6 from Week 9 through 18. You already know that I'm a fan of Jaelan Phillips, but the Dolphins have a solid foundation beyond him. Cornerback Xavien Howard has 27 picks since entering the league in 2016 (most in the NFL), while defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah led the Dolphins in sacks and quarterback hits in 2020 and 2021. There is plenty of talent for defensive coordinator Josh Boyer to work with.
One storyline ...
... people are overlooking: The improvement on the O-line. The Dolphins' offensive line had Pro Football Focus' lowest offense (53.3) and pass-blocking grades (49.9) in 2021. However, Tua was sacked just 20 times, which was the fewest among qualifying quarterbacks (per PFF). The Dolphins signed Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead and Connor Williams in free agency to provide an immediate boost. They have drafted three offensive linemen in the first two rounds since 2020, including my guy Austin Jackson. The offensive line could actually become a strength of the team if these guys jell.
... people are overthinking: Tua and the deep ball. Tua has attempted a deep pass on 7.1 percent of his 678 career pass attempts, the second-lowest rate in the NFL since 2020. There was a video of Tua chucking a wobbler that made the rounds on social media -- which, social media interns, stop doing that. But let's talk about Hill's former teammate Alex Smith. Nobody confused him with being Michael Vick. Smith was looked at as a West Coast quarterback. Yet, with Hill in his receiving corps in 2017, Smith led the NFL in deep completion percentage, deep passing yards, deep passing touchdowns and overall passer rating. I think we're cool here.
For 2022 to be a success, the Dolphins MUST:
- Make the playoffs. Even that seems a bit steep, given how competitive the AFC is right now, with numerous stacked teams eyeing the Super Bowl. The Dolphins have that tough opening slate, and you can't count on winning eight of nine down the stretch like last year. But Miami is in the mix. The most important thing, though, could very well be getting a definitive answer on Tua's long-term potential.