Three Questions for Every AFC East Team: Dolphins

Nov 17, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores reacts on the sidelines during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Teams don’t always turn out their franchise in just one single offseason. The Miami Dolphins are fascinatingly close to doing just that, and they’re not even done.

The Dolphins spent big bucks on the free-agent market in 2020. Miami completed a notable addition in almost every field. Signings included Byron Jones, Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy on the defensive side, Ereck Flowers in the offensive live and Jordan Howard as the team’s new running back.

These were moves, indicating that the franchise is willing to get back to contention reasonably quickly. However, it’s difficult to compete just based on what they’ve done so far. That’s where the 14 draft picks come into effect.

The Dolphins will have eight selections in the first three rounds, three of which on the first night of the 2020 NFL Draft. One of them, Pick five, will almost certainly be used on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, hopefully, the playmaker of the future for the last-place team in the 2019 AFC East division. They’ve been rumored to be willing to trade up, even more, to get Joe Burrow, though that’s still highly unlikely.

Two more draft picks allow them to address more needs like quarterback protection and, possibly, the receiving core. Meanwhile, flexibility is crucial as they could acquire more talent via trades. The 2020 (and beyond) Miami Dolphins certainly look promising.

Should Howard be used more extensively?

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Philadelphia Eagles’ Jordan Howard rushes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Jordan Howard was a part of an inconsistent Eagles running game unit. It started as a duo between Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard and finished with just Boston Scott. That way, Howard got only 119 carries – his career-fewest. His statistical year, however, was way more than that.

Jordan Howard averaged 4.4 yards per rush – his best since his rookie year in 2016, a Pro-Bowl season when he had 5.2 yards/carry. Those were better figures than in 2017 (4.1) – a year when he recorded 1,122 yards on the ground, over one thousand for the second consecutive season.

That’s why you shouldn’t buy much into his yards and yards/game numbers too much. Howard can easily revert to his Pro-Bowl form. He might have never exited this high – he just needed a larger share of the workload.

In the current depth chart, Jordan Howard is the only candidate to lead the ground game. Drafting a running back in the middle rounds is still an option. If Howard managed to keep his averages with more carries, he could be used as the driving force of the offense. This would be an excellent opportunity for Tua, or any other playmaker, to develop consistency. Meanwhile, this strategy could prove fruitful as the Dolphins prepare to use one of their first-rounders on an offensive lineman.

Is the pass-rush still a concern?

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The Dolphins have some holes in the defensive line that could be problematic. The front seven might lack the power to put much pressure. This offseason’s additions should help the team climb the rankings in this component.

Both Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson were added after a season which saw a surge in their sack production. Both recorded 6.5 sacks, a career-high for the new tandem on the outside of the 3-4 defensive scheme. Their role should be even more prominent in Miami, which could push them towards even more impressive achievements.

However, the pass-rush hasn’t finished its rebuild and still isn’t what the team imagines as its goal. The front three, Avery Moss, Davon Godchaux, and Christian Wilkins, had just four combined sacks. With Lawson as the more proven sack master, Kyle Van Noy could continue being the type of outside linebacker he was in New England, dropping back in coverage more than adding to the pass-rush. Given the questions in the safety positions, there won’t be a lot of blitzing from there.

In 2019, the Miami Dolphins were dead last in sacks with 23, five off the second-worst pass-rushing unit of the Seahawks. Don’t expect the display to be as embarrassing in 2020, but they still have a lot of work to do. The market for interior linemen is closing, while the draft class isn’t deep after Derrick Brown, whom the Dolphins should confidently pass on to get Tua Tagovailoa with Pick 5. Pass-rush doesn’t seem to be among their priorities in the first round.

Which quarterback could work better behind the current Dolphins O-Line?

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For some time now, we’ve been talking about Miami and Tua Tagovailoa as two sides that fit very well. That became a hesitant statement when the Dolphins were rumored to be seeking a trade with either Washington or Cincinnati, which could open the door for Joe Burrow.

That is understandable. Miami’s assets favor a quick and accurate pocket passer like Burrow, who has experience in an NFL-style offense in college. Although the Dolphins should also have a new tackle by the time Day 1 is over, their offensive line is still not too reliable. Getting Ereck Flowers to sign certainly helped, but most of the line that conceded 58 sacks in 2019 was not a subject of an overhaul.

A trade for Burrow would be difficult and would hurt the Dolphins at that point in the offseason. Of their three picks, only Pick 18 could be easy to give up as quarterback and offensive tackle are pressing needs.

So does Tua succeed behind that O-Line? He needs protection due to his scary injury log. But if any SEC quarterback transformed into a pro-worthy playmaker up to 2019, it was Tua. He significantly improved his accuracy (71.4 in nine starts in Alabama). If you want to make him even more lethal, give him another lineman, another target, and time behind a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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