These young 15 Miami Dolphins not named Tua will determine how much noise franchise makes
Their futures are likely tied to the choices they've made in Miami's last three drafts.
Just ask Flores.
“The guys we got in ’19, the guys we got in ’20, the guys we got in ’21, that we get in this draft, that’s the team,” Flores told Peter King of NBC. “You know what I mean? That’s the team moving forward. As we move forward, that’s going to be the crux or the big chunk of our team. They’ll be the reason why we make noise or don’t make noise.”
Youngsters do make the loudest noise, don't they?
The Dolphins have selected 14 players in the first four rounds of the last three drafts, including six players in the first round. In order for this version of the Dolphins to take a leap into the playoffs and toward Super Bowl contention, Tua Tagovailoa must live up to his status as the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
How well Tagovailoa performs or does not perform, it could be argued, will be 70 percent of the determining factor of Miami's success. The quarterback position, though Flores will always say, "It's not just about Tua," is by far the most important.
If Tagovailoa has improved his arm strength and overall health and agility as well as his ability to read and understand defensive attacks, he will be a much improved player in 2021. If not, there will be immediate pressure on the Dolphins to move on.
Miami's roster has been thoroughly improved since it was gutted prior to the 2019 season. During a breakdown of Miami's Top 53, Chris Simms of NBC said he thinks it's so good that the addition of Deshaun Watson (another column for another day) could lift them into immediate Super Bowl contention.
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That would remain to be seen, but it’s not implausible. Still, it would be most advantageous if Tua were to vault into an elite stratosphere on his own, thus limiting the need to trade say, three future first-rounders, to the Texans.
It's not all about Tua, but it is. We kid. But we do not kid in saying that Flores' recent remark was both telling and honest. And so let's take a look at the top players from Miami's last three drafts not named Tua. What do we expect? How are they doing?
Note: Receiver Preston Williams is not on this list, though he has has a chance to be a part of Miami's future, because he was undrafted. Williams has also played only 16 of 32 possible games in his first two seasons due to injury.
So let's rank 15 draft picks of the last three years, by their importance to Miami's future:
It's all about supporting Tua
1. Jaylen Waddle, WR, 1st Round, 2021 — Miami traded out of a chance to choose between Kyle Pitts or Ja'Marr Chase, but believes Waddle is the perfect fit for an offense led by Tagovailoa, who had a 138 passer rating when targeting Waddle at Alabama, per PFF. Waddle ranked in the top 100 percentile of NCAA yards after catch.
2. Austin Jackson, LT, 1st Round 2020 — Jackson ranked 75th among 79 tackles by PFF in his rookie season, allowing 39 pressures, which they said was among the 15 worst among offensive linemen. But he was not noticeably overwhelmed. Jackson should be stronger and better prepared to play to his potential as a pro sophomore.
3. Jaelan Phillips, LB, 1st Round 2021 — Phillips is a physical freak. Just check out the height-weight-40-yard-dash-shuttle run-broad jump metrics. All elite. He plans to consult with Fins legend Jason Taylor, and in an ideal world, he flashes some of JT's greatness.
4. Liam Eichenberg, OL, 2nd Round 2021 — Eichenberg did not allow a sack in his final two seasons as a Notre Dame offensive tackle. He is technically-sound and sturdy. He could be the solution to protect Tua's blind side.
5. Robert Hunt, OL, 2nd Round, 2020 — Hunt was 57th among offensive tackles, as ranked by PFF, but will likely move to right guard, a position in which he possesses Pro Bowl potential. Hunt is powerful and should make a mauling impact in the run game.
High ceiling for Dolphins DL and DBs?
6. Raekwon Davis, DT, 2nd Round, 2020 — Davis has Pro Bowl potential. He is a massive man who can move mountains. Chase Young of Washington was the only rookie defensive lineman who had more than Davis' 40 tackles in 2020.
7. Christian Wilkins, DL, 1st Round, 2019 — Wilkins tied for seventh on the defense in tackles for loss last season and tied for seventh in sacks. Wilkins also hasn't forced a fumble in his first two seasons. This needs to be a leap year for the positive spirit.
8. Noah Igbinoghene, CB, 1st Round, 2020 — Igbinoghene started only two games as a rookie and struggled. Igbinoghene is incredibly athletic and was drafted as a developmental player with high ceiling. Will he improve his game in 2021 to the extent Miami would consider moving on from Xavien Howard or Byron Jones?
9. Jevon Holland, S, 2nd Round, 2021 — Holland is probably more than a pure free safety, but Miami did cut veteran captain Bobby McCain after selecting Holland with the 36 pick in the last draft. Holland could be used in a Minkah Fitzpatrick-type role, or perhaps he just settles in as Miami's center fielder.
10. Hunter Long, TE, 3rd Round, 2021 — How quickly Long develops will likely play a role in if Miami gives Mike Gesicki the $12+ million contract he'll be seeking after this, the final season of his contract. Long is supposed to be a complete tight end, able to make big plays and block respectably.
A few Dolphins later-round gems
11. Myles Gaskin, RB, 7th Round, 2019 — Only 10 running backs had more yards from scrimmage per game than Gaskin in last season. It seems unlikely to find a premier back in the seventh round, but at worst Miami unearthed a worthy contributor.
12. Brandon Jones, S, 3rd Round, 2020 — Jones finished fifth on the Dolphins with 59 tackles, even though he was just 15th in defensive snaps played. Jones is a very good third safety who could eventually start at strong safety.
13. Andrew Van Ginkel, Edge, 5th Round, 2019 — There was a six-game stretch last season when in five games Van Ginkel either forced a fumble, scored a touchdown or blocked a punt. He is one of Grier's late-round gems.
14. Solomon Kindley, G, 4th Round, 2020 — The combination of Kindley and Hunt at left and right guard, if that's how it plays out, has a chance to be highly effective in the ground attack. Kindley is massive and has decent feet. He'll have to fend off veterans like Jesse Davis and D.J. Fluker.
15. Michael Deiter, G/C, 3rd Round, 2019 — Deiter has not lived up to his draft status in his first two seasons. In particular, he struggled as a rookie when given 15 starts. In an ideal situation, Deiter re-invents himself as a future starter at center, or at least becomes a highly-trusted top backup on Miami's interior offensive line.