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Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
Arizona | Atlanta | Baltimore | Carolina | Chicago | Cincinnati | Cleveland | Denver | Detroit | Green Bay | Houston | Indianapolis | Jacksonville | Kansas City | Las Vegas | LA Chargers | LA Rams | Miami | Minnesota | New England | New Orleans | NY Jets | Pittsburgh | San Francisco | Seattle | Tampa Bay | Tennessee
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
After creating a lot of optimism with a strong second half in 2021, the 2022 Dolphins' defense took a step back. The run defense was good, allowing the sixth-fewest yards, and the pass rush totaled a respectable 40 sacks, but the pass defense let them down, giving up a lot of yards, a high completion percentage, and a lot of points through the air. After seeing the team rank eighth with 26 turnovers in 2021 and drop all the way to a tie for 31st in 2022, ownership had seen enough.
The Dolphins only made a few additions in personnel on the defensive side, but a couple of them were big ones. They landed corner Jalen Ramsey and inside linebacker David Long Jr in free agency and drafted corner Cam Smith with their first pick, which was in round two. The biggest addition by far, however, was the hiring of Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.
In more than 20 years as an NFL head coach or defensive coordinator, Fangio has been part of many successful defenses. Like his predecessor, he is a 3-4 guy. Beyond that, this year’s defense should look a lot different. Over his career, Fangio has led four franchises to top-ten rankings in turnovers. His teams play an aggressive, pressure style that creates sacks and forces mistakes. Oh, and by the way, Fangio was a defensive assistant with the Eagles last year.
The most important factor here is that the Dolphins already have the talent in place to make his scheme work, so it should be a quick turnaround.
Fangio inherits a defensive line that is both strong and deep. It is anchored by tackle Christian Wilkins, who is arguably the best run-stopping inside lineman in the game. At six foot four and 310 pounds, Wilkins is powerful, mobile, and nearly impossible to sustain blocks against. He stonewalls double teams and sheds to make plays as well as anyone in the league. As a pass rusher, Wilkins relies mostly on strength and relentless effort to blow up the pocket, but he is quick and agile enough to catch pass blockers off guard once in a while.
Wilkins’ statistical performance in 2022 was nothing short of impressive. With 60 solo tackles and 41 assists, he was the first defensive lineman in memory to reach triple-digit combined stops. Even the great J.J. Watt never came close. Add three and a half sacks, three turnovers, and five batted passes, and Wilkins was not only the fantasy game’s best defensive tackle in 2022 but the number two lineman overall in many formats. The question is, how close can he come to repeating those numbers in 2023? Wilkins will be among the first defensive linemen off the board in virtually any format. There is no doubt he will be valuable but be careful about paying the price for last year’s production.
On the positive side, Wilkins’ numbers have steadily increased each season since he was a rookie in 2019. In 2021, he broke out, going 49-42-4 with a couple of turnovers and 4 swatted passes. From that perspective, it is easy to envision numbers just as good or even better in 2023. On the other hand, gaudy totals like that are rarely repeated, and he is not playing in the same scheme as last season. Fangio has coached some talented linemen over the years, but he has never had one like Wilkins. It is hard to say what effect the new scheme will have, if any. Barring injury, however, there is zero chance he will be a bust.
Zach Sieler and Emmanuel Ogbah are the other two players expected to see time at the outside tackle positions. Ogbah opened last season as a starter but was injured early and would eventually land on IR with a torn triceps. He posted nine sacks in each of his first two years with Miami and has some potential in the new-look scheme. On the downside, Ogbah has never excelled in the tackle department. His career-best of 28 solo and 24 assists came as a rookie with the Browns in 2016.
Sieler took over after Ogbah was lost and played well. With 71 combined tackles and three and a half sacks, he was the number twelve interior lineman in 2022. It took Seiler 947 snaps to get those numbers, though. With Ogbah back, it is doubtful either player will see that kind of volume, regardless of who gets the title of starter.
Nose tackle Raekwon Davis fills out the lineup on the inside. He is a tall, burly roadblock in the middle of the field, but his best contributions to the team are not going to show up in the box scores.
As the 18th overall pick in 2021, Jaelan Phillips had a great rookie season with 42 combined tackles and 8 sacks. He built on the tackle totals in year two, going 37-23, but managed one fewer mark in the sack column. It is easy to blame everything on the guy that was fired, and maybe that is a valid excuse in this case. Either way, Phillips is an elite talent with a ton of potential, and Fangio is a coach that knows how to get the most out of his pass rushers. Put Phillips high on the list of potential breakout players for 2023.
I might catch some flak for saying this, but Bradley Chubb is overrated. He had twelve sacks as a rookie in 2018 but 16 total over the last four years combined. Granted, he has dealt with more than a fair share of injuries, but the most important ability is availability. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a good player. I just have more modest expectations than most.
Chubb is very familiar with Fangio’s scheme, having spent three years in it when they were both in Denver. Chubb missed time in two of those seasons and was 25-17-7 in the other. Between Denver and Miami, he totaled 20-20-8 with three forced fumbles last year. I can see 45 or so combined tackles and maybe ten sacks, but Chubb will have to show us something before my expectations will rise.
The Dolphins surely have higher expectations for Chubb, but that didn’t stop them from signing additional depth in the way of Malik Reed, who also played under Fangio in Denver. Reed is not a long-term NFL starter, but he played well while working opposite Chubb in 2020. That season, Reed replaced an injured Von Miller and went on to outproduce a healthy Chubb on the stat sheet at 34-19-8. Reed failed to impress the Steelers last year but should find some playing time as the third man on the edge in Miami.
- Edge Jaelan Phillips – Uber talented with breakout potential
- Edge Bradley Chubb – Overrated and injury-prone DL4
- Edge Malik Reed – Injury sleeper with limited potential
- Edge Andrew Van Ginkel – Marginal impact
- DT Christian Wilkins – Quality DL1 or elite DT1 with top-three potential
- DT Zach Sieler – See what role he has before rostering
- DT Emmanuel Ogbah – Low floor with DT2 upside
- DT Raekwon Davis – No impact
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