The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Miami Dolphins, who finished 7-9 and second in the AFC East last year.
Josh Rosen becomes the franchise QB. Miami has little talent around the 2018 first-round pick, but it’s more than Rosen had in Arizona, where he floundered behind the NFL’s worst, and most injury-riddled offensive line and in an incongruent scheme. When comfortable, Rosen is a rhythmic precision accuracy passer. That’s the style of quarterbacking pro football is built on, especially first-time offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea’s system, which mimics the one he learned as the 10-year receivers coach in New England. This year will be a bumpy ride for Rosen, but the Dolphins come away thinking that once they find more dependable wideouts (scholarly veteran Kenny Stills is their only one), a pure slot receiver (Albert Wilson is serviceable but not quite ideal for that role), and stronger O-linemen, he’ll emerge.
Kenyan Drake disappoints. Dolphins fans like the fourth-year tailback to explode, who is a deceptively smooth runner and highly effective backfield receiver. Early comparisons to James White abound. But Drake is not as reliable or refined as the Patriots pass-catching tailback. A notable chunk of Drake’s touches go to 2018 fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage.
The defense struggles. Though not as much as last year, when Dolphin opponents produced more big plays than Manhattan’s Theatre District. It’s wise to replace the previous regime’s zone-based scheme with new head coach Brian Flores’s Patriots-style system, which is heavy on single-high man coverage, but the transition is rough, as most of the holdover personnel was acquired for the old scheme. Linebacker is the shakiest position. Young incumbents Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker, and especially undisciplined seventh-year veteran Kiko Alonso, are run-and-chase ‘backers in a system that prefers thumpers.
Flores adjusts. Instead of force-feeding his predominant man-to-man scheme to his mostly zone-based defensive personnel, Flores employs more basic Cover 3 looks, particularly early on. Flores gradually becomes more comfortable with safeties Reshad Jones (still a quality free defender), T.J. McDonald (a long-bodied glider), Bobby McCain (a corner converting to free safety) and especially second-year Swiss army knife Minkah Fitzpatrick. The coach phases in more man coverages, taking his chances at corner, where the Dolphins are strong at the top (playmaker Xavien Howard) but not particularly deep or diverse.
BOTTOM LINE: This team is rebuilding but not tanking. This will be a difficult year made brighter by a few upset wins.
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