This is one of my favorite times of the year in the NFL schedule. Fans of their respective teams have hope to improve. The NFL world is available for every team to take advantage to improve their team. FA is about to start. The draft is right around the corner. We've watched draft prospects in the Senior Bowl, East / West Shrine Game, and the Collegiate Bowl. And now, for some the best evaluation process of the year, the Combine is happening this week. These next couple of months gives NFL teams the best chance to improve their rosters, including the Miami Dolphins.
There has been a lot of conversation and debate about Miami's needs going into the 2017 season. It is safe to say that the majority of people seem to agree that most of Miami's needs are on the defensive side of the football. A lot of that focus or debate is centered on the DL and LB. I can't argue with either of those positions being a need. It is obvious to anyone who watched Miami's defense in 2016 that there were glaring weaknesses in both those position groups.
That being said, I don't want to forget about Miami's DB's. This is another position group that needs upgrading and Miami's FO has acknowledged this as well with their stated goal this off season "to find a #1 CB". In my opinion, Miami needs to find at least 2 CB's and a FS. Here's why I think that.
The New England Patriots are in Miami's division. They have won the Super Bowl 2 times in the last 3 years and were beaten in the AFC Championship Game in the other year. In their Super Bowl victory against the Seattle Seahawks, Tom Brady threw the ball 50 times. In their AFC Championship Game loss to the Denver Broncos, Brady threw the ball 56 times. In their Super Bowl victory against the Atlanta Falcons, Brady threw the ball 62 times.
What do all those games have in common? Or why did Brady have to throw the ball that many times in those games? They were down in all 3 games early and that required them to throw to catch up. One of the other common themes in all 3 games is that for 3 quarters, the defense did a really good job covering NE's receivers. But as the game wore on, as the number of plays NE's offense ran, the more tired the defense, and especially the DB's, became. Combined, in those 3 games, NE outscored their opponents 45-3 in the 4th quarter and overtime and they did that by throwing the ball.
There are a lot of people that believe that the best way to stop NE's passing attack is by pressuring the QB, especially up the middle. I agree. But how do you pressure a QB that gets rid of the ball quicker than any QB in the league? How do you sack a QB that historically is one of the least sacked QB's in the history of the game? You pressure Tom Brady by covering the WR's for at least 2.5 seconds, and that is why Miami needs DB's.
What we have seen the last 3 years from NE is that if you can cover their WR's and stop the quick passing game, you can contain their offense and pressure the QB. But it starts in the secondary, it starts with DB's and coverage. Seattle did that for 3 quarters in their Super Bowl with arguably the best secondary in the league that year. Denver, who had the best secondary in the league that year, did it for 4 quarters holding Brady to under 50% completions. Atlanta played man coverage and did it for 3 quarters, but wilted in the 4th quarter and overtime because the Patriots ran an astonishing 93 plays on offense in that game.
All of this is the reason why if I'm in the FO, I'm focusing on getting the best secondary I can. NE isn't going anywhere for the next couple (maybe several) years because of Brady. I know Miami had a horrible run defense in 2016, but if you can lock down the WR's in coverage, that would allow Reshad Jones to play more in the box from his safety position and help stop the run. He is one of the best in the league at doing just that. But if you can't lock down WR's in the secondary, you can't put a safety in the box. You need that safety to help cover WR's, TE's, and RB's.
This is the reason why, I'm going to tear myself away from work for a day, and watch the DB's at the combine on Monday. According to CBSSports.com, there are as many as 15 CB prospects projected to go in rounds 1-3. There are 3-4 FS's projected to go in rounds 1-3. There are 4-5 SS's projected to go in rounds 1-3. That's 22+ players projected from the secondary to go in the first 96 picks. I'd like to see Miami get 1 or 2 of those players, depending on what is done in FA.
So who am I looking at on Monday at the combine?
I'm a BIG fan of Bubba Baker (as is Duke), FS - Washington, projected as a 2nd round pick. I was impressed with how he played against Alabama and I think he has the size, speed, and coverage ability to team with Reshad Jones and be a dynamic safety duo, one of the best in the league. The best secondaries in the NFL have great safeties.
I'm a fan of Jourdan Lewis, CB - Michigan, projected as a late 1st or early 2nd round pick.
I'm a fan of Quincy Wilson, CB - Florida, projected as a 2nd round pick.
I'm a fan of Adoree' Jackson, CB - USC, projected as a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick.
Now, I haven't watched every game of every prospect. That's why I want to see the workouts of the DB's at the combine on Monday. I want to see if there is anyone else that impresses me so I can go back and watch some game film.
The Patriots are the gold standard. In the next couple of years, this is the team that Miami has to leap frog to become a Super Bowl contender. After watching the Patriots play the last 3 years, I think the best way to contain their offense is to cover their WR's, TE's, and RB's in the passing game. The teams that have had success containing their offense have been able to do just that. In my opinion, you do that with quality players and depth.
Miami might have a few of those pieces in place. Xavien Howard might be one of those pieces. Based on his limited play in 2016, I don't think we can say Yes or No if he is one of those pieces. Tony Lippett might be one of those pieces. But like Howard, I can't say definitively whether he is one of the pieces or not. Reshad Jones is one of those pieces.
But there are several players in Miami's secondary from 2016 that need upgraded. I think Miami needs a FS because Isa Abdul-Quddus is not one of those pieces. Byron Maxwell isn't one of those pieces. Bobby McCain isn't one of those pieces. Michael Thomas, while a good Special Teams player, isn't one of those secondary pieces.
This is why when I said earlier in the post that Miami needs at least 2 new CB's and a FS going into the 2017 season. That assumes that Lippett and Howard are "pieces".
Now, big picture, even though Miami made the playoffs in 2016, they are still at least 2 off-seasons away from building a Super Bowl caliber roster. How that roster is built between now and then matters. While Miami needs DE's, DT's, LB's, OG's, etc. those positions usually can step onto the field and play well right away, even with young players. DB's, in my opinion, usually take a few years to get up to NFL speed. That's why, in this draft, I wouldn't be surprised if Miami spent some early picks in the secondary. That gives these "young" DB's drafted this year, along with "young" CB's Lippett and Howard, some experience in the NFL prior to Miami competing for a Super Bowl in 2018.
Hopefully, by then, Miami's secondary will be one of the best in the league. When that happens, Miami's defense will be ready to stop NE's passing attack. Let's also remember something from Miami's past when dealing with Brady and the Patriots. Jason Taylor, I should say now HOF Jason Taylor, used to terrorize Tom Brady. Brady even wrote a letter to the HOF voters talking about how Taylor used to beat him up and how he was worthy of being in the HOF. Taylor was GREAT, but let's not forget who was in the secondary during those peak Taylor years. It's not a coincidence, in my opinion, that in some of those years that Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Yeremiah Bell, etc. were in the secondary. Having good pass coverage gives DE's like Taylor that extra split second to get to the QB.
In today's NFL, that extra split second comes from an outstanding secondary. I don't think it is a coincidence that 3 of the last 4 Super Bowl winners have had a GREAT secondary. Miami needs to get to that point and it needs to start this off season.