Top To Bottom: Ranking Each Dolphins Positional Unit from the 2016 Season
The Dolphins officially kicked-off their offseason after Wednesday’s closing press conferences. While maybe it’s still too soon to have a thorough analysis of the 2016 season, many have already begun to dissect certain aspects of what, by consensus, was a successful campaign.
So, we decided to begin our offseason by looking back at each unit that comprised this year’s rendition of the Miami Dolphins. The arrival of Adam Gase and his coaching staff helped some players regain their missing form but, by the same token, others just weren’t able to find their niche during the course of the 16-game season.
Below, we rank each of Miami’s units from best to worst.
1. Pass Catchers
The high expectations this group has been held to since the 2015 season finally materialized in the 2016 campaign under Adam Gase. Miami possessed a three-headed monster with the likes of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. The Dolphins’ saving grace at most times during the season was their playmakers, and making plays all over the field was exactly what this group did.
Jarvis Landry continued to hold himself to a high standard by posting another strong season in which he caught 94 passes for over 1,000 yards. However, what Gase was able to accomplish that the previous coaching regime didn’t, was make sure the ball was spread around the field.
While Landry still received the highest volume of targets, potential future Pro Bowlers such as Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker were easily more noticeable within Miami’s offense this year as opposed to last year. The numbers proved that to be true as well, as Kenny Stills reeled in 9 touchdowns during his 2016 campaign. DeVante Parker also impressed despite dealing with nagging injuries at the beginning of the season.
While the Dolphins’ receivers rightfully stole the show, Miami’s tight ends managed to give Gase some semblance of a tight end threat as the season wore on. The Jordan Cameron investment clearly will not result in what the Dolphins had hoped it would after Miami signed the USC product during the 2014 free agency period. However, the likes of MarQueis Gray and Dion Sims did a respectable job in holding down the fort at tight end for Miami this season.
2. Running Backs
The battle for number 1 on this list was a close call. As easily as you can make the case for the Dolphins’ pass catchers, you can also make a great case for Miami’s running backs. Through the first four games of the season, Miami’s ground game resembled close to nothing. Adam Gase elected to have a run offense that went by committee; in turn, the Dolphins’ tailbacks failed to find a rhythm. By Week 6 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami had found their primary rusher. Jay Ajayi chose that week to have his coming out party and boy, did the Dolphins have fun.
Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and lead his team to a season-changing victory. But let’s not forget that the Boise State product would follow up his demolition of the Steelers with another 200-yard rushing assault on a division rival, the Buffalo Bills.
After the ‘Phins lost Mike Pouncey for the season, Miami’s running attack suffered as a result; the ground game became rather inconsistent throughout the rest of the season. However, when the Dolphins needed their Pro Bowl back the most he showed up at New Era Field.
Jay Ajayi would once again rush for over 200 yards in the Dolphins thrilling win on Christmas Eve against Buffalo. The 34-31 overtime win proved to be the final one Miami needed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
3. Special Teams
Miami’s moments of strong special teams play during the season shouldn’t be a surprise. For years now Darren Rizzi’s group has been solid, even in the years the overall team wasn’t. Perhaps Rizzi’s most noticeable accomplishment during the 2016 season was turning Walt Aikens, an underperforming safety, into a special teams ace.
Miami also seems set to possess a dynamic duo in their kick-return game for years to come. Both Kenyan Drake and Jakeem Grant flashed their sheer ability to change a game’s face, sometimes in an instant, throughout the season.
While Grant suffered with ball security while attempting to field punts, the Dolphins, especially Adam Gase, have it made it clear that Miami is nowhere near ready in giving up on the speedy Texas Tech product.
4. Defensive Line
Miami’s defensive line produced two Pro Bowlers during 2016. Both Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake will be heading to Orlando to represent the AFC.
However, there was more to the Dolphins’ front four than just the two Pro Bowlers. Andre Branch proved to be a revelation as the season went on. In fact, Miami’s season took a turn for the better once Branch was inserted into the starting line-up alongside Cameron Wake. Miami’s defense wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but the insertion of those two edge rushers gave the Dolphins’ pass rush a jolt. While Miami was shrewd with the signing of Andre Branch, the same cannot be said about the team’s signing of Mario Williams. The former first overall pick was coming off a down year in Buffalo where he only produced 5.5 sacks. There was much talk after his ugly divorce from the Bills of him being rejuvenated and primed to prove his detractors wrong. Unfortunately for Miami, that never materialized for Williams as a Dolphin. Williams recorded a career worst 1.5 sacks and was invisible for most of the season. It if it wasn’t for the emergence of Branch and the monster comeback season of Cameron Wake, Miami would have been in a pickle.
Upon his arrival, Adam Gase was labeled the quarterback whisperer. He was the guy that was finally going to fix Ryan Tannehill. Truth is, Gase didn’t fix Ryan Tannehill. What the Dolphins’ head coach did was put his main signal caller in the right spots to succeed and built a game plan that suited the strengths of his quarterback nicely. The first five games weren’t pretty but, once Gase and Tannehill got on the same page, we saw what Adam Gase believed from the moment he arrived at Davie—Miami can win with Tannehill at quarterback.
Under Gase, Tannehill was posting career highs in terms of his completion percentage and QB rating.
You’re left to wonder about the possibilities with a healthy Ryan Tannehill against the Steelers at Heinz Field. However, one thing is for certain, we should only expect to see continual growth from Tannehill under Gase in year two. Also, what Matt Moore was able to do in the wake of the Dolphins’ starting QB’s injury is nothing to scoff at. Moore will always be remembered in playing a pivotal role in helping the Dolphins snap their longest playoff drought in franchise history.
6. Offensive Line
The offensive line seemingly had been Miami’s biggest need for over two years; it no longer is. However, that doesn’t mean the unit was stellar during the course of the season. When all five starters were healthy and started, and also finished the game together, Miami was 3-0. Jay Ajayi also ran for over 100 yards in all three of those contests; including for over 200 yards in the first two games of that stretch. The issue was this: when the injuries began to mount late in the season it was clear that Miami still lacks adequate depth at offensive line. The likes of Anthony Steen and Kriag Urbik struggled mighty in attempting to fill in the shoes of the injured Pouncey. Few could ever replace Mike Pouncey, but it is clear Miami still lacks depth behind its front-line starters. All in all, after years of horrid offensive line play, it should be considered a positive that the Dolphins found themselves within the top half of the league in terms of sacks allowed per game.
7. Defensive Backs
What many perceived to be the Dolphins’ weakest link proved to be a unit that overachieved under former defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Miami saw growth from the likes of Tony Lippett.
Also, the Dolphins continually expressed their content with how Xavien Howard came along despite a rookie campaign marred with injuries. After a shaky start to the season, Byron Maxwell proved to be a solid starting corner after his disappointing 2015 campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles. While Miami’s corners must continue to improve, cornerback is no longer as pressing of a need as many thought it would be heading into the 2017 offseason. As far as the safeties go, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Reshad Jones formed a formidable partnership.
To Miami’s chagrin, the Dolphins were only able to see the duo share the defensive backfield together for six games due to Jones’ season ending shoulder surgery. If Miami is able to keep both of their starting safeties healthy next season, it could go a long way in improving the overall defense.
Last and very least, we present to you the Dolphins’ abysmal linebacker corps. Addressing this unit’s weaknesses should be Miami’s primary focus during free agency and the draft. It shouldn’t be hard for Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier to improve their team’s linebacker situation because, truth be told, it couldn’t have been any worse. Miami was gashed by opponents running the ball throughout the entirety of the season, and their linebackers were also weak in coverage. At times, it felt opposing teams could attack Miami underneath at will. Kiko Alonso was solid for the most part, but when injuries hit, his level of play dwindled towards the end of the season. This team still lacks a thumping inside linebacker that can successfully attack the gaps that Ndamukong Suh creates. Which is why some argue that Alonso played out of position due to necessity. Outside of Alonso, who is a restricted free agent, and Neville Hewitt, a young linebacker who has shown flashes of his ability to create havoc in opposing team’s offensive backfields, it could be likely that Miami cleans house at linebacker this offseason.
The 2016 rendition of the Miami Dolphins had its flaws, no doubt. However, that’s what made this season all the more successful. This team wasn’t supposed to reach the postseason in year one under Gase; yet, it did. You wouldn’t be wrong in saying Miami is one year ahead of schedule. If the front office can retain its valuable players in free agency, while improving on this team’s flaws, Miami could be well positioned to win a playoff game for the first time since 2000.