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There were two defenses in Miami last year. The one that gave up 407 yards and 29 points a game when the team went 1-8 to start the season, and the one that gave up 277 yards per game and went 7-1 to finish the year. Our focus will be on the latter since that is the one the organization hopes will show up in 2022. There is no reason to believe it would not be. The Dolphins have a new coaching staff in place, but in an unusual scenario, defensive coordinator Josh Boyer was retained along with last year’s entire starting lineup.
The second-half turnaround brought the Dolphins' defense into the league's top half in most statistical categories. Their average of four sacks per game over the final eight jumped them to 48 total on the season. They finished ninth in takeaways, sixth in passing touchdowns, and were middle of the pack against both pass and run in most other areas. If they come out this year the same way they finished up last season, none of those numbers will provide an accurate comparison.
Defensive Linemen (Tackles)
The Dolphins are the poster team for the argument to revamp how IDP leagues approach positional designations. They have versatile players that allow coach Boyer to move back and forth between three and four-man fronts without substitutions, and they do so regularly. Most league host sites look at Miami as a 3-4 team. Since they lean that was a little more than half of the time, that is understandable even if it’s not completely accurate. I will change things up from my normal format and throw in an edge defender category this time. Hopefully, this will become the norm in the next year or two.
The defensive line rotation will consist mainly of five players. Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler, Adam Butler, Raekwon Davis, and John Jenkins will put their hands in the dirt regardless of their alignment. Davis and Jenkins will be nose tackles in three-man fronts and 1-techniques in four-man alignments, which are virtually the same. Wilkins, Seiler, and Adams are defensive ends in the 3-4 and tackles in the 4-3. Make sure you know their positional designation, especially when it comes to Wilkins and Sieler, who will have fantasy value.
Wilkins started showing signs of IDP value right from the start. As a rookie in 2019, the Dolphins’ first-round pick reached 54 total stops (31 solos), adding a pair of sacks and two batted passes to sneak into the top-20 at tackle. He missed a couple of games in year two but still managed to make the top 15, with a per-game average that ranked ninth among interior linemen.
In year three, Wilkins exploded. His 49 solo tackles were six more than Jeffery Simmons, who was second, and Wilkins’ 90 combined tackles were eight more than number two, Aaron Donald. He is not going to set any sack records, but Wilkins has shown improvement in that area each season, reaching four and a half in 2021. Throw in four swatted passes and a pair of turnovers, and he joined Donald as the only two interior linemen to average more than ten points a game.
It is hard to fathom any defensive lineman racking up more than 90 total tackles in a season. Even the great J.J. Watt never had more than 80. On the other hand, there is no reason to believe Wilkins will put up a lot less either, and he could make a bigger contribution in the splash play columns. I don’t see him catching Donald or Cam Heyward, but Wilkins is an elite-tier DT1 or an exceptionally consistent (week-to-week) DL1 if your league does not break out the positions.
Sieler’s value is far more dependent on his positional designation. In his two seasons with the Dolphins, his rank among all defensive linemen has been 52 in 2020 and 29 in 2021. As a defensive tackle, his rankings were 20 and 10, respectively. In 2020 he put up decent numbers at 30-18-3.5. In year two, Sieler and seemingly everyone else on the defense were more comfortable in the scheme and showed improvement. It was not a huge leap like the one Wilkins took, but Sieler jumped to 34-28-2 with 3 turnovers and 3 batted passes. He is capable of picking up another two or three sacks in 2022. Otherwise, his numbers should be similar.
Neither Davis nor Jenkins has much to offer in the way of numbers. Jenkins is a 346-pound anchor that can stand his ground against double teams, taking up space and blockers while keeping the second-level defenders clean. Davis is not as big and can cover a little more ground. He can line up at defensive end in the 3-4 and maybe even play the 3-technique here and there, but is virtually no threat as a pass rusher.
Adam Butler played under Josh Boyer for two years in New England before landing in Miami last year. He has 17 sacks over five seasons with a career-best of six as a part-time starter with the Patriots in 2019. Butler is no threat to win a starting spot outright but is capable of giving Wilkins or Seiler a breather when needed and can hold down the fort if forced into action as an injury replacement.
- DE/DT Christian Wilkins – Elite DT1 or strong DL1
- DE/DT Zach Sieler – Solid DT2 or depth as a defensive end
- DE/DT Adam Butler – Injury sleeper with modest upside as a tackle, no impact as a DE
- DE Porter Gustin – No impact
- NT/DT Raekwon Davis – No impact
- NT John Jenkins – No impact
There is no T.J. Watt in this group but the Dolphins are both strong and deep on the outside. It starts with Emmanuel Ogbah who found his fit in Miami two years ago. He was a second-round pick of the Browns in 2016 but could never quite get it going in Cleveland. Injuries were part of the problem that saw him move on after three seasons. He landed with the Chiefs for one rather uneventful campaign in 2019 before finding his happy place in Miami. Ogbah managed 18 sacks, 4 turnovers, and 19 batted passes over his first four seasons. Two years in Miami have produced 18 sacks, 4 turnovers, and 17 batted passes.
Some league host sites call Ogbah a defensive end while others list him at linebacker. On Sundays, he plays both. When the team is in a 4-3, he usually puts his hand down at defensive end, and when a 3-4 is called, he stands up as a linebacker. Regardless of the call, Ogbah is a weapon for the Dolphins. He sets a strong edge against the run and, while not an elite pass rusher, has enough quickness, explosion, and veteran savvy to make a significant impact.
When it comes to IDP value, Ogbah tends to be a little light in the tackle columns but gives us good splash play contributions. He has not totaled more than 42 combined tackles in a season since 2016 but has been over 40 in each of his two years with the Dolphins, finishing 19th in 2020 and 18th in 2021 among defensive linemen.
Miami’s 2021 first-round pick had an immediate impact on the field. Jaelan Phillips saw most of his 603 snaps at outside linebacker in 3-4 looks, but he put his hand down once in a while. He was a defensive end in college, so the position is not at all foreign to him. There were not many host sites with Phillis as a lineman. He was a solid second starter at the ones that did, which is uncommon for a rookie and suggests big things to come.
From a numbers perspective, Phillips had an excellent rookie campaign with 42 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. Considering that young edge defenders tend to start slowly in year one and then come on strong in their second and third seasons, it seems as though the Dolphins have struck gold with this pick. If he follows the common path, Phillips could be a perennial 12-15 sack contributor with 40-50 tackles and a handful of turnovers every year.
Andrew Van Ginkel was rarely asked to put his hand down, but he did move around and see some snaps in alignments other than rush linebacker last season. He is not a blazing fast upfield rush specialist but an outside linebacker who can contribute as a pass rusher. He saw time on the strong side in 4-3 sets, on the edge in 3-4 looks, and even lined up as an off-ball inside backer once in a while.
Van Ginkel is the kind of versatile chess piece that gives offenses fits and gives his coaches options. What he does not give anyone is great IDP value. For an outside/strong side linebacker, he was solid in the tackle columns in 2021 at 50 solos and 21 assists, but his four sacks and six pass breakups were not enough to make up the difference as a linebacker. I am not aware of any sites that considered him a defensive end, so he was left out of IDP consideration. If the industry evolves and edge defender becomes a starting position, guys like Van Ginkel will have a place on our rosters.
Melvin Ingram III spent his first nine seasons with the Chargers, where he played outside linebacker in their 3-4 most of the time but was a defensive end when the team ran a 4-3 base for a while. He had relatively equal success in either scheme, which on paper, makes him a great fit for what the Dolphins do.
In fantasy terms, Ingram was a factor when he was a defensive end in a 4-3 but not so much when lined up as a linebacker after the team changed to a 3-4, even though his numbers were virtually the same. Ingram averaged 56 combined tackles, 9 sacks, 4 turnovers, and 5 passes defended over five seasons between 2015 and 2019. He missed much of 2020 with a knee injury and was sent packing. After short stints with the Steelers and Chiefs, the 33-year-old is trying to squeeze another good year or two into his already solid career. So long as he understands that his role is to provide depth unless there is an injury, this could be a short but happy marriage. Ingram did not get that message when he signed with the Steelers, which ultimately contributed to him being traded mid-season.
- DE/OLB Emmanuel Ogbah – Solid DL2 but marginal at best if he’s a linebacker
- OLB/DE Jaelan Phillips – The numbers should be good but positional designation likely kills his value
- OLB Andrew Van Ginkel – Marginal impact at linebacker, decent second starter as an edge defender
- OLB Melvin Ingram III – No fantasy impact expected
- OLB Brennan Scarlet – Roster bubble
Off Ball Linebackers
It is hard to tell if the lack of statistical production from Miami’s off-ball linebackers is due to scheme or personnel. One sign, however, might be that the Patriots have not given us much to work with at linebacker over the last several years either, and Josh Boyer is from that coaching tree. The team used their first pick in this year’s draft, albeit in round three, on inside linebacker Channing Tindall, so we might have a more conclusive answer to that question by the end of this season.
The best they had to offer last year was Jerome Baker, who was inconsistent at best. There is hope and potential with Baker, though. In his second season as a pro (2019), he was the 13th-ranked linebacker with 127 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3 turnovers. Unfortunately, his numbers have been on a steady decline ever since. In 2020 he slipped to 19th at 110 combined tackles, 7 sacks, and a pair of takeaways, and last year, if we factor in the week-to-week inconsistency, Baker hardly made a decent LB3 with 92 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, and a pair of turnovers. We could give him a little break for missing two games, but his average of 9.9 points was 33rd at the position. Baker will be a marginal backup this year if he continues on the current trajectory.
Baker was the Dolphins’ only off-ball linebacker to play full-time in 2021. The next closest was Elandon Roberts with 621 snaps. He is another former Patriot that followed Boyer from New England. Roberts is a solid role player as a two-down guy that can play strong inside backer in the 3-4 or middle in a 4-3. He is fairly productive on a per-snap basis but simply does not get enough snaps to have IDP relevance.
Tindall is the wildcard in the mix. His potential as a pro is hard to gauge because he was surrounded by so much talent at Georgia. Tindall became a starter as a senior, and when he did, the numbers were not impressive. In 15 games last year, he produced 67 combined tackles with 5.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Those factors and the situation he comes to are enough to cast doubt.
There are positives with this young man as well. He is fast, physical, and tough with the range to make plays sideline to sideline and good enough cover skills to stay on the field in sub-packages. Tindall’s ability to get home on the blitz will fit well in the scheme, and many scouts like the intangibles he brings. Tindall is also a smart player, but it is hard to see him earning a full-time role in such a complicated defense as a rookie. For those in dynasty leagues, he is a taxi squad target. For everyone else, let’s see him do something before he takes up a roster spot.
- ILB Jerome Baker – Inconsistent LB3 with some big play upside
- ILB Elandon Roberts – Marginal impact at best
- ILB Channing Tindall – Dynasty target to stash on a taxi squad for a year or two
- ILB Duke Riley – No impact
As a rule, I don’t draft players that depend on turnovers for IDP value. Every rule has an exception, though, and Xavien Howard is the exception to this one. Howard has never recorded more than 51 combined tackles in a season yet he’s been the fantasy game’s fifth-best corner in each of the last two years. You might remember my piece on the Cowboys when I talked about how rare it is for a player to put up huge turnover totals twice in a career, much less two years in a row. Howard is the exception to that rule, too, with at least eight takeaways in three of the last four seasons and 20 over the last two. The only thing that stopped him in 2019 was missing 11+ games with an injury. If you like to gamble, corner is the position to do it. Having Howard on your squad is like playing blackjack with four extra aces in the deck and knowing the dealer is not going to get any of them.
Byron Jones is the starter opposite Howard and is a much different player. He has all the common traits of a good NFL corner and is a strong number two on the outside. He has the physical skills and veteran savvy to stick with receivers in man, is physical enough to handle bump-and-run if asked to do so, and is good in zone. Jones, however, is not a playmaker.
Jones put up good tackle totals for a couple of years while with the Cowboys early in his career but has not been even a marginal IDP factor since 2017. He has seven career takeaways and most NFL corners with seven years as a starter would accidentally have more than his four career interceptions. He is recovering from an off-season cleanup on his ankle and will start training camp on the PUP but is expected to be ready in plenty of time to start the opener.
Nik Needham has done a fine job while working mostly as the nickel/slot corner over the last three years. He has also proven to be a dependable starting option on the outside if called upon. The fourth-year former undrafted free agent has eight takeaways and 23 passes defended over his three seasons, with an average of about 56 combined tackles. Needham projects to have marginal IDP value in the current situation but if either Jones or Howard misses time, he could be a good in-season addition.
This could be a make-or-break year for 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene. The organization knew he was raw when they drafted him so there were no worries when he failed to make an impact as a rookie. When he did next to nothing in year two, it became a much bigger issue. Igbinoghene played 151 snaps in 2021, with 66 coming in a week six contest when both Howard and Jones were sidelined. Jason McCourty retired, and Justin Coleman is wearing a different uniform, so it is time for the young guy to step up. He should see action in sub-packages and be the top backup to all three starters in 2022. If that does not materialize, he might be working elsewhere next year.
If you had a Miami safety on your roster last season, you know how frustrating it was. There was plenty of production at these positions, but it was hard to turn it into fantasy points between injuries, timeshares, and situational substitutions.
Besides the week fifteen game he missed, rookie free safety Jevon Holland played virtually every snap starting in week five. The team’s second-round pick was exactly as advertised, providing an excellent catch-all from the deep safety position and making a good contribution in the big-play department. The organization moved on from Bobby McCain after the 2020 season because he did not provide enough impact plays. In twelve games at the position last year, Holland picked off two passes, forced a pair of fumbles, got to quarterbacks for two and a half sacks as a blitzer and broke up ten passes.
About the only thing he did not do, was put up good tackle numbers with consistency. When all the numbers were in, Holland had recorded nine or more points in six of his twelve starts but had two or fewer solo stops in four of the other six. The big-play production will make him an enticing option, and I expect the tackle totals to improve a bit in year two, but playing the deep safety role in this scheme likely means a few lean weeks along the way.
Strong safety Brandon Jones is one of my high upside late-round value list players. He was highly productive on a per-snap basis as a rookie in 2020 but was the low-man in a timeshare with Eric Rowe. The timeshare continued into last season, but with an interesting twist. The season opened with Rowe again seeing more playing time in three of the first four games. However, in week five, Jones had the highest snap count in all nine of the games when both players were available. Had Jones not missed three outings, he would likely have played around 750 of the team’s 1114 snaps.
As it was, Jones was on the field for roughly 56% of the action with a stat line of 48-31-5 with 4 turnovers. He finished strong, reaching at least nine fantasy points in six of his last seven games, including an 18-point outing versus the Saints in week sixteen.
Jones is a physical run defender that is solid in coverage and can match up with tight ends and running backs, but the reason I see him finally landing the lion’s share of playing time over Rowe is that Jones is a playmaker working under a defensive coordinator that loves playmakers. Chances are Rowe will still have a role, but I can see Jones getting 85% or more of the workload in 2022 and being at least a solid DB3.
- SS Brandon Jones – High upside late-round sleeper
- FS Jevon Holland – decent DB3 with some week-to-week inconsistencies
- SS/FS Eric Rowe – No impact expected
- SS Clayton Fejedelem – Injury sleeper at best
- CB Xavien Howard – Big-play CB1
- CB Byron Jones – No impact
- CB Nik Needham – Injury sleeper with CB2 upside
- CB Noah Igbinoghene – No impact expected
- CB Quincy Wilson – No impact
That does it for the Dolphins. Approaching the finish line with New England next.
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