A lot has changed everywhere since Thanksgiving Day 2019, but from a football perspective they have changed for the better for the Miami Dolphins.
For the much better.
At this time last year, the Dolphins were sporting a 2-9 record as they prepared for a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles and the only question of significance left in the season was how low they would finish in the overall standings and therefore how high their next first-round pick would be.
Now, the Dolphins are 6-4 as they head into the back end of their home-and-home series against the New York Jets and very much in the thick of the AFC playoff race — particularly since the NFL added one playoff team per conference this year.
For the organization and its fans, there is nothing more significant for which to be grateful on this Thanksgiving Day.
There clearly was reason for hope in 2020 after the team went 5-4 over the final nine games of 2019, but it's fair to say the team has exceeded expectations by becoming a playoff contender so quickly.
There are, however, many elements within the big picture for which the Dolphins and their fans should be grateful and here's a list of the most significant:
-- You have to start at the top with GM Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores because maybe the biggest reason the Dolphins have gotten so much better so quickly is the success ratio of the offseason personnel moves. The Dolphins brought 12 veterans via free agency or trade in the offseason before adding 11 picks in the 2020 NFL draft, and the contributions from all the newcomers have been enormous. At the very top of that list, you have start with free agents Emmanuel Ogbah and Byron Jones, who both have been key players on defense.
-- Flores deserves credit not only for his input in personnel decisions (the Dolphins have been clear that moves are made organizationally) but for his coaching as well. He showed he could coach last year when he helped the team get five victories despite fielding a roster that only be gently described as sub-par, and he's showing again he can deliver when his talent base is at the very least competitive. No, Flores is not perfect — because no coach is — but he's got a very disciplined team that simply doesn't beat itself and plays hard every week.
-- The Dolphins have to be thankful their vision of building the defense from the back in has materialized thanks to Jones living up to his billing as a top-notch cover cornerback and to Xavien Howard returning to his ball-hawking Pro Bowl form of 2018. Those two have combined with cornerbacks-turned-safeties Eric Rowe and Bobby Mccain and emerging slot corner Nik Needham to provide the kind of coverage in the back end that allows the Dolphins to be ultra-aggressive with their blitz packages.
-- The Dolphins have to be thankful that the Houston Texans got off to such a bad start in 2020 and enhanced the value of the first- and second-round picks that's coming their way next spring. Now, if Deshaun Watson would just stop being so darn explosive in the final six games, that would be even better.
-- The Dolphins have to be thankful that their rookie offensive linemen all have shown promise. Yes, all of them struggled to some degree against Denver in Week 11, but Austin Jackson, Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt all have shown the kind of potential that offers promise that the Dolphins have a solid foundation for their offensive line. Don't ever forget, especially on bad days like last Sunday, those three guys are rookies.
-- The Dolphins have to be thankful their special teams once again are top notch. It starts, of course, with kicker Jason Sanders, who is having a phenomenal year, but let's not forget about punter Matt Haack, returner Jakeem Grant and special teams core players like Mack Hollins, Clayton Fejedelem and Andrew Van Ginkel.
-- The Dolphins should be thankful that DeVante Parker is proving that his 2019 breakout year was no fluke, even if his 2020 numbers likely won't be as good. Truth is, there are not many wide receivers in the NFL as good as Parker as catching 50-50 balls. That's a fact.
-- The Dolphins should be thankful they have the perfect veteran quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick to handle the role of backup and mentor to first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa.
-- The Dolphins should be thankful for their two University of Washington running backs. The Dolphins running game has not been that impressive this year, but just think for a second where it would be had it not been for 2019 seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin and rookie free agent Salvon Ahmed.
-- Finally, Dolphins fans should be thankful that the future of the franchise — regardless of whether the team makes the playoffs in 2020 — looks more promising than it has in a long, long time. The team has a very good coach in place, a lot of good young talent around which to build and plenty of draft capital to use in the next draft. The arrow clearly is pointing up.