The Miami Dolphins came into 2017 with hopes of making the playoffs once again, but a preseason injury to Ryan Tannehill created consistency issues on offense while the defense struggled to slow down opposing quarterbacks, ranking just 29th in pass defense. They slumped to a 6-10 record, much to the disappointment of everyone involved.
Heading into 2018, the Dolphins are not lowering their expectations though. Tannehill will be back and AFC is shaky enough that they could easily find a wildcard spot, provided they make some improvements this offseason. They don’t have a lot of assets to do so though. After franchise tagging Jarvis Landry they are currently sat $6.2 million over the 2018 cap, but they do have the #11 pick in this year’s draft and eight total picks. Where should the Dolphins focus their efforts?
The main thing the Dolphins need to improve is that 29th ranked pass defense. Investing in more pass rushers would be suicidal given that they have over 25% of their cap currently invested in defensive linemen and used their 2017 first-round pick on DE Charles Harris.
Despite all the talent they have amassed on the defensive line the Dolphins managed to register just 30 sacks, good for 26th in the league because they can’t cover on the back end.
2016 second-round pick Xavien Howard struggled mightily last season and Bobby McCain was far from good at corner as well. Reshad Jones was good at safety as ever, but he was just an isolated island of quality in the back end.
Taking a defensive back with their first round pick is a must for the Dolphins. It is unlikely that safety/corner Minkah Fitzpatrick will be available there, but they have a shot at Denzel Ward who is the best corner available, and if not then Josh Jackson will certainly be there, it is just if they believe he is worth such a high pick or not.
Together with the secondary, linebacker is a position group that shares some of the responsibility for such a poor pass defense. Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons saw the vast majority of the snaps for Miami at linebacker and were at best average, but worse against the pass. Miami struggled massively against running backs and tight ends in coverage, and upgrading their starting linebackers should be a priority.
Roquan Smith would be an immediate solution to this problem, but there is a good change he is off the board by the time the Dolphins get to pick. Outside of Smith things get a little risky at the linebacker spot, but Miami would be wise to spend a pick or two later on in the draft on the position, and with the likelihood that they cut Timmons for cap space they would be smart to bring in a low-price free agent to fill out the depth chart.
The Dolphins have a good pair of tackles in Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James, and when Mike Pouncey is healthy he is still capable of being a high end center. The problems come at the guard spots.
Jermon Bushrod is a free agent and shouldn’t be brought back, while Ted Larsen is league-average on a good day. When the Dolphins have had success it is off the back of a strong running game that has allowed Ryan Tannehill to use play-action and forces teams to keep extra run-playing bodies on the field.
The guard spot can probably be solved in the later rounds, but if their top defensive targets are gone by #11 don’t be surprised to see the Dolphins take a shot at Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson who has the biggest imaginable mean streak to his blocking and has impressive pass protection credentials as well.
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