Big Names, Big Expectations: Positional Breakdown for Miami Dolphins’ 2015 Defensive Line

The Miami Dolphins have loaded up for 2015 and could have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL thanks to the addition of the league’s top defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. While Suh’s acquisition made headlines for Miami, he is not the only player who could help the Dolphins reach new heights in 2015. This piece breaks down the potential contributors for the defense this season, and what level of production we can expect from the new-look Miami Dolphins front four.

Olivier Vernon:

Skill Set: Olivier+Vernon+Miami+Dolphins+v+Chicago+Bears+oiWdwb_t4mIl

When Olivier Vernon entered the draft from University of Miami many believed he would be an in-between player, who would not have the speed to rush the passer or the power to attack running backs. Luckily for the Dolphins he has been able to do both at a high level. Vernon has been one of the Dolphins’ best homegrown players throughout the Joe Philbin era, and has shined playing opposite Cameron Wake on the line. Vernon has exceptional explosiveness, and can use his 275lb frame to leverage himself inside in the run game. He peaked in 2013 with 11.5 sacks, and has 21.5 total in his career. Not to mention those sacks have come against left tackles, playing the more challenging position of right-defensive end (more talented blockers are assigned to that position to protect the quarterback’s blindside).

What to Expect:
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There are two reasons to believe that Vernon will produce for Miami in 2015. The first is that he is entering a contract year, and will want to make a name for himself before contract negotiations begin. The second is that offensive lines will be forced to choose between doubling Suh, Wake, or Vernon, and it does not seem likely that they will pick Vernon over the Dolphins’ Pro Bowl lineman. Vernon will face single blocking, or even running backs and tight ends attempting to slow his path to the quarterback. Resistance will be futile, and I fully expect Olivier Vernon to record at least ten sacks this season. Some people have not heard of Vernon, but as the great proverb Kevin Hart once said, “you gon’ learn today.”

PS- I always remember that routine because the title of his special is “Laugh at My Pain”, which reminds me of my life as a Dolphins fan. HAHAHAHACRYINGHAHAHA.

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Jordan Phillips:

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Skill Set:

After he was drafted I did a full breakdown of Jordan Phillips, which you can find here. But I’ll summarize. Because as usual, I’m feeling generous. And what else would I be doing until the season starts?

Phillips has immense physical ability, but questions arose about his conditioning and health at OU. There were concerns about his back, which likely caused him to drop to Miami in the middle of the second round. Phillips can make reads well and knows how to attack the hole. He is deceptively athletic for a 329lb lineman. Phillips needs work as a pass rusher, and his motor tends to lack on longer drawn out plays. He does have the ability to make quick plays and gain penetration, but it will be important for Phillips to focus on conditioning heading into his first NFL season.

What to Expect:

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The Miami Dolphins have a clear desire to establish an identity on the defensive line this season, and that became even clearer when the team picked up Jordan Phillips in the draft. Since Miami runs a 4-3 defense it was important to add depth behind Ndamukong Suh on the interior line. Jordan Phillips brings a physical, run stuffing presence to the Dolphins’ defense.

I expect Phillips to earn the starting job in training camp, and to be a big contributor in short yardage and on the goal line. He isn’t going to register many sacks, but the Dolphins don’t even need him to with Wake, Suh, and Vernon in on the quarterback. Just let the big man be big. Great things happen when you weigh 330lbs. Unless you’re Jamarcus Russell. Then 330lbs is slightly troubling.

Earl Mitchell & CJ Mosley:

Skill Set:

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Mitchell excels in the run game and was a solid rotational player for Miami in 2014. After signing a 1-year deal with the team Mitchell managed to carve out a role for himself on the defensive line alongside Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. CJ Mosley was a second-wave free agent signing for Miami this offseason. The team was able to get Mosley on a cheap deal due to his disciplinary issues in Detroit, and his age (31). CJ Mosley has spent his career as a journeyman, having played for 5 teams before reaching Miami. He possesses a fairly well rounded skill set, but does not excel in any one area of his play. He was a solid bargain signing, and does come with an element of reliability as a 10-year vet.

What to Expect:
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I expect CJ Mosley and Earl Mitchell to be Miami’s rotational players at defensive tackle. With two interior lineman needed on the field at a time for Kevin Coyle’s defense, it is important to have depth at the position. The Jordan Phillips selection makes it more likely that Earl Mitchell will not start and that he will rotate in as he did last season. I do not expect CJ Mosley to play very much, but he does have solid NFL experience and could contribute if need be. If either starts this season it means that something has gone wrong, whether it is with injuries or the development of Jordan Phillips.

Ndamukong Suh:

Skill Set:

Stomping, kicking, punching, demoralizing, and emasculating his opponent. Next please!ndamukong-suh-fined-for-hit-on-brandon-weeden

Ndamukong Suh can do it all. He is the NFL’s best defensive tackle, and possibly the second best defensive player. If not for the once-in-a-lifetime formally known as JJ Watt, Suh could be the league’s best defender. He can rush the passer thanks to his surprising agility and quickness, and can use his immense power to punish running backs. He wins matchups based purely on intimidation and strength. His stare pushes lineman back about 4 yards before the ball is even snapped.

What to Expect:

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Ndamukong Suh is as close to a guarantee as a free agent could be. As long as he can control his temper on the field (name someone who went from Detroit to Miami and didn’t relax a bit), then he will do incredible things for the Dolphins’ defense. It is hard to not look at the move and think of Green Bay’s signing of Reggie White. They paid a king’s ransom (Suh and White actually occupied a similar ratio of the salary cap based on the increased capacity today) to acquire a top-tier, dominant player. I’m not saying Miami is going to win the Super Bowl, or that Ryan Tannehill is Brett Favre, but if you have a young offense then adding a game changer on defense cant hurt. If Ryan Tannehill only has to lead the offense to 21 points and the defense does the rest, he can spend more time with Lauren and less time running away from large, angry men. I expect the addition of Suh to make the entire team better, and it will give Miami’s defense the push it needs to go from a solid unit, to something truly special.

Derrick Shelby & Terrence Fede:

Skill Set:MAR Terrence Fede AX2Terrence Fede was a 7th round draft pick for the Dolphins in 2014, so it’s hard to figure out what he will be able to do for the team in his sophomore season. Coming from a small school (Marist), Fede showed good ability as a pass rusher. Miami will not use him to stop the run, but he could come in as a relief player to set the edge on defense.

Derrick Shelby has been a very solid player for Miami due to his versatility. Last season he recorded three sacks, one interception, and 26 total tackles for the team. Shelby can rush the passer, but his size allows him to play inside as well. 282lbs. is pretty large for a defensive end. The 4th year player out of Utah should be able to help rotationally along the Dolphins’ line.

What to Expect:
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I do not believe that Miami will be the league’s best defensive line just because of the big three (sorry Heat fans, new sheriffs in town). I think the most important part of the Dolphins’ new defense will be the ability to rotate in fresh players, and keep pressure consistently. Terrence Fede and Derrick Shelby will be very important pieces for the defense, and will allow Wake, Vernon, and Suh to stay fresh. Fortunately for the Dolphins they also serve as a crutch in case of injury. Do not expect huge production from Shelby or Fede, but I am confident that at least once in the next season we will all be very happy that Miami had these two pass rushers up on the shelf.

Cameron Wake:

Skill Set:

He sings. He dances. He could probably make a mean soufflé. What can’t Cameron Wake do?

Wake has elite speed and acceleration off of the line. He can chase down almost any quarterback, even at the ripe age of 33. When he dips to shed blockers he can get almost parallel to the ground while keeping stride. Wake can also use his strength to bull rush inside to make plays. It seems redundant to spend time talking about Cameron Wake’s abilities. Dolphins fans know what he is capable of. He has been the fans’ savior, and often the lone bright spot on an otherwise underachieving team. Cameron Wake’s pass rushing ability has garnered him plenty of attention, and he has been one of the Dolphins’ few household names over the last five years. Wake doesn’t seem to be showing many signs of aging, and should continue his reign as one of the league’s best 4-3 defensive ends.

What to Expect:

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Wake has been an elite NFL pass rusher since he rose from the ranks of the CFL and joined Miami in 2009. Since then he has recorded 63 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. Let’s just take a second to put that into perspective: if Wake began his career at 22 instead of 28, and played until he was 35, he would have registered 136.5 sacks (considering his 10.5 per season average). That would place Wake in the top 10 all time, and he would be just 3 sacks behind Jason Taylor.

Obviously it is impossible to say with certainty that Wake’s career would have moved at its current trajectory had he not honed his abilities in the CFL, but it’s food for thought. I expect Wake to have a highly productive season helped by the fact that Suh will flush quarterbacks outside. When the rush comes inside quarterbacks will move to their right to avoid pressure (not into their blind side). Cameron Wake will be there waiting like Twitter trolls waiting for Omar Kelly.

AP VIKINGS DOLPHINS FOOTBALL S FBN USA FL

The Skinny:

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This is the group that Miami has wanted for years. The team has always needed more power on the line, and the addition of Ndamukong Suh has solidified what was already one of the league’s most intimidating units. The defensive line will always help the defensive backs and linebackers (lower chance of needing run support, and defensive backs have to cover for less time due to pressure). While it is easy to write this off as the Dolphins blowing big money again on a free agent, there was never been a free agent like Suh.

The stars have aligned for Miami this season on the defensive line. Cameron Wake is 33, but can still produce at a high level. Olivier Vernon is still a bargain, and has not yet gotten the big payday he most likely will next offseason. Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell are solid players on the inside. Then there is Suh. While there are plenty of concerns surrounding the team’s offensive line, linebackers, and second cornerback, one thing is certain: it is Top 5 or bust for the Miami Dolphins’ defensive line in 2015.

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