The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: AFC East – Miami Dolphins

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Miami Dolphins

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins
MIA339.14339.787.98

Few teams in recent memory have been as ruthless in their approach to a rebuild as Miami under GM Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores. First, there was the clear tank to start the 2019 season, though the combination of Flores’s leadership and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s standout play leveled that team out after the first month. Then, there was the big jump in 2020, when the free-agent acquisitions of corner Byron Jones, edges Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson, versatile linebacker Kyle Van Noy, guard Ereck Flowers, and center Ted Karras helped to stabilize this roster.

A year later, only Jones and Ogbah remain from that group of six players. Some were traded, some released, but despite the role they all played in moving this organization forward, the Dolphins brass made it clear they wouldn’t be sentimental if they felt they could upgrade on a player, and showed it again with the post-draft release of free safety Bobby McCain.

It’s an approach that should have quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on high alert. Tagovailoa is getting another chance after a rookie season that failed to live up to expectations, but given the extra first-round pick the Dolphins netted in their moves from the 3rd pick down to the 12th pick and back up to the 6th, Miami has provided itself with ammunition to acquire a new signal-caller in next year’s draft if Tagovailoa fails to progress. Whether he will do that is impossible to say, but what Tagovailoa put on tape in the 2020 season was not impressive.

He won games, yes, but that was on the back of some exceptional defensive play. There was a reason the coaching staff was yanking him in favor of Fitzpatrick in regular-season games. However, Tagovailoa was able to spend this offseason honing his craft rather than rehabbing from the hip injury that ended his Alabama career, so there’s certainly the possibility that he lives up to his draft expectations this season.

The addition of receivers Jaylen Waddle, who was selected with that 6th overall pick, and Will Fuller, a free agent addition, filled out Tagovailoa’s cast of weapons, which already included receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki, who have both played well when Fitzpatrick has been the quarterback over the past two seasons. They also unearthed a solid two-way tight end in Adam Shaheen when Chicago elected to trade their former second-round pick and did not rest on the investments they made on the offensive line prior to 2020. With center Matt Skura, who played well in Baltimore before running into snap issues, and rookie Liam Eichenberg, the 10th pick of the 2nd round, in the fold, the Dolphins could see an uptick in production from an offensive line that was adequate in 2020, which was a huge improvement from the pitiful 2019 unit’s results.

Miami lacks a difference-maker at running back, but Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed both played well for stretches last season, and free-agent addition Malcolm Brown is another solid option. If the offense can get rolling, this team could be tough to beat, as the defense shows notable promise. It starts with the corner duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, who were arguably the league’s best tandem last season, though Baltimore fans would have a legitimate argument for Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.

Howard was particularly dominant, and his ability to employ an extremely aggressive style without making mistakes led to him putting together an interception streak that he even kept going despite being ejected for fighting well before the first half was over in his matchup with the Bengals. The defensive line should be stout. Nose tackle Raekwon Davis is a house of a man in the middle of the base package, and defensive tackle Adam Butler is an underrated addition from the Patriots who is stout against the run and brings some wiggle as an interior pass rusher. If Christian Wilkins’s progress from Year 2 to Year 3 resembles the jump he made from Year 1 to Year 2, this group should be a notable strength.

On the edges, Andrew Van Ginkel’s versatility and production last season was part of the reason players such as Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy were expendable, and Emmanuel Ogbah will look to stack seasons as a notable edge rush presence The team also drafted edge Jaelen Phillips with their second first-round pick, and as Phillips was a consensus top 10 talent who fell due to a history of concussions and off-field issues, it’s entirely possible that the rookie winds up as the best player in this defensive front.

This roster remains a work in progress, but Miami hasn’t reached the end of the assets they were able to require in the rebuild process. Based on what they did last season, they should be expected to push for a playoff spot in 2021, but if that doesn’t go to plan, Grier and Flores will still have more cards to play as they continue building this team.

QB Passing Projections

PlayerQBRkGPComAttComPercYPAPassYdsPassTDINTPPRAvg
Tua Tagovailoa2317356.6550.70.656.913802.922.19.515.57

QB Rushing Projections

PlayerQBRkGPCarriesYPCRushYdsRushTDCarryShareRushTDShrPPRAvg
Tua Tagovailoa231775.22.58193.9417.728.215.57

Skill Projections, Rushing

PlayerPosRkGPCarriesYPCRushYdsRushTDCarShrRushTDShrPPRAvg
Myles GaskinRB3317185.44.20778.65.243.836.912.57
Jaylen WaddleWR115178.56.9959.30.02.00.37.23
Malcolm BrownRB16817102.23.73381.13.424.123.84.48
Salvon AhmedRB2881752.23.86201.71.512.310.81.72

Skill Projections, Receiving

PlayerPosRkGPTgtCnvRecYPRRecYdsRecTDTgtShrRecTDShrPPRAvg
Myles GaskinRB331786.166.49.43625.91.514.06.812.57
DeVante ParkerWR851759.067.812.76866.04.920.922.48.82
Jaylen WaddleWR1151763.958.410.46611.04.416.620.17.23
Mike GesickiTE1351756.948.610.79524.45.115.523.16.31
Will Fuller VWR1661661.835.113.10459.92.310.911.34.84
Malcolm BrownRB1681763.013.95.9983.30.44.02.04.48
Hunter LongTE2431773.125.38.32210.41.16.34.92.36
Adam ShaheenTE2741762.518.29.40171.31.25.35.21.95
Preston WilliamsWR3051754.710.713.36143.30.53.62.21.33
Jakeem GrantWR3121761.411.49.09103.80.83.43.41.21
Lynn Bowden Jr.WR341167.90.74.683.40.03.40.80.77

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.

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