Dolphins Position Preview: Defensive Line
With the start of training camp on the horizon, let's break down the defensive line by examining the 2019 performance, the offseason changes on the roster and what to expect this summer.
PLAYERS AT POSITION ON THE ROSTER: DE Shaq Lawson, DE Avery Moss, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Tyshun Render, DE Jason Strowbridge, DE Curtis Weaver, DT Raekwon Davis, DT Davon Godchaux, DT Benito Jones, DT Ray Lima, DT Zach Sieler, DT Christian Wilkins
2020 TRANSACTIONS: DT John Jenkins became an unrestricted free agent (March 18) ... signed DE Emmanuel Ogbah as an unrestricted free agent from Kansas City (March 20) ... signed DE Shaq Lawson as a UFA from Buffalo (March 21) ... waived DT Gerald Willis (April 18) ... re-signed exclusive-rights free agent DT Zach Sieler (April 20) ... waived/non-football injury DE Jonathan Ledbetter (April 21) ... selected DT Raekwon Davis in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft (April 24) ... selected DE Jason Strowbridge and DE Curtis Weaver in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL draft (April 24) ... signed DT Benito Jones, DT Ray Lima and DE Tyshun Render as undrafted rookie free agents (April 29) ... waived DE Taco Charlton (April 30) ... traded Charles Harris to the Atlanta Falcons for a 2021 seventh-round pick (May 1)
KEY 2019 STATS: Rushing average allowed 4.5 yards per carry (22nd in NFL); sack percentage per pass attempt 4.22% (32nd in NFL)
2019 RECAP: As we discuss the Dolphins defensive line, it's important to remember the team employs three down linemen more often than not and players listed as defensive ends oftentimes line up as outside linebackers. That said, the Dolphins D-line had its issues like every other area of the team, though it clearly was more pronounced in the pass rush. To be blunt, the Dolphins had none. Taco Charlton, who was waived in the offseason, led the team with five sacks in 10 games but that does not accurately portray his pass-rushing efforts because one was a coverage sack and two came when he cleaned up after somebody else got the initial pressure. No other defensive lineman had more than two sacks. Again, though, the outside linebackers are the ones who usually get the most sacks in traditional 3-4 defenses, so maybe wasn't so significant, except for the fact that no one got pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis, whether as a lineman or lined up at linebacker. The performance against the run was slightly better, and Davon Godchaux, Christian Wilkins and John Jenkins all had their moments in that department. Godchaux and Wilkins both were among the tackle leaders among interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
THE TOP SUMMER STORYLINES: There's a lot to be determined up front, starting with how much of a role second-round pick Raekwon Davis can earn for himself. Davis has the bulk (despite his height) to be able to handle the nose tackle role, which fell last season on Godchaux and the since-departed Jenkins. The Dolphins' other two draft picks on the defensive line will be looking to carve out roles for themselves as well, Jason Strowbridge as a player who can line up either inside or outside up front, and Curtis Weaver as a pass-rushing specialist (though it will come at times, perhaps often, from an outside linebacker slot). The Dolphins also want to see continue improvement from Godchaux entering his contract year and a step forward from Wilkins, who was solid as a rookie in 2019 but also has the potential for more. Finally, we should mention free agent pick-ups Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, who the Dolphins hope will succeed where 2017 first-round picks Charles Harris and Charlton failed before the team said goodbye to both of them.
PROJECTED OPENING-DAY STARTERS: Again, this is not totally clear cut because the Dolphins will use so many different looks, but let's start with the typical four-man front and in that scenario the likely four would figure to be Godchaux and Wilkins inside with Lawson and Ogbah outside. In a three-man front, Godchaux and Wilkins figure to line up as the D-ends, and Davis may be the most logical candidate to start at the nose.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.