The Miami Dolphins will hit the field for the first time in their 2017 training camp tomorrow morning, officially beginning their preparations for a run at a second straight playoff appearance. All across the roster, the Dolphins will be relying on key performances from incumbant veterans, newly acquired free agents, and rookies. This afternoon, we take a look at the top ten players who have to perform well this year for Miami to make another postseason push.
Jay Ajayi, running back
The Dolphins are planning on taking Ajayi from a starting running back in 2016 to a feature back in 2017. They have openly spoken of the running back receiving 300-350 touches this year, with a larger role in the passing game a necessary part of that. Head coach Adam Gase’s system is primarily a pass-first scheme, but Ajayi is forcing him to change it up some, and that will probably be a good thing. Ajayi’s ability to handle a workload like he and the coaches have been discussing may be the key to any success the team has this year.
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback
Let’s face it, every NFL team’s success is dictated by their quarterback’s play. Tannehill took some goodnstrides forward lastnyear under Gase, especially once the rest of the offense started to get into a rhythm and figure out some of the nuiances of the scheme. Having a running back like Ajayi is a huge bonus for Tannehill, allowing the offense to have multiple ways to attack a defense as well as taking some of the pressure off the quarterback, but Tannehill is still the Dolphins’ quarterback, and he is going to be critical this year.
Reshad Jones, safety
The Miami defense struggled last year, especially without Jones to solidify the secondary and support the linebackers. The shoulder that caused him to miss most of the year appears to be fully healed and he has not appeared slowed at all in offseason workouts. Jones’ presence alone should be enough to push Miami’s defense back to respectable, and with the rest of the defensive changes this year - and development of some of the younger players - the ceiling is high for the group.
Jarvis Landry, wide receiver
The heart and soul of the offense - and the team as a whole - is Landry. He is the guy who gets you a first down when it did not seem likely. He fires up the offense with his play, and he is clearly the top receiving choice for Tannehill. While the Dolphins will look to spread the ball around more this year, do not be surprised if Landry is near the league lead in receptions this season, mostly because he is the guy who always seems to find a way to get himself open. Landry’s importance to the offense cannot be overstated.
Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle
When you have a generational talent at any position on the field, he is going to be one of the top players on a ranking like this. Suh does not play a position that generates a ton of sexy stats, which goes back to everyone describing his 2015 season as a "bad" year, but Suh does so much that does not necessarily show up in a box score. He is going to clog the middle of the line, generate pressure on the quarterback up the middle to force a psser toward the defensive ends, and be an all-around menace anywhere on the field. How many times have we seen a play 15 yards down the field end with Suh making the tackle? He is a ridiculous talent that can make or break Miami’s defensive front seven based on his play.
Cameron Wake, defensive end
Basically, repeat everything above about Suh, but now add in sacks as a stat, and you have Wake’s role on the defense. Miami’s coaches learned last year that Wake, coming off his achille’s injury and at 34 years old, is a freak of nature and does not need to be a "pass rush specialist," but should be the starting left defensive end. This season, he will come into the season with the team knowing, even at 35, he is a starting defensive end, and he will be able to disrupt opposing offenses from thenfirst snap of the year. Wake will create confusion for offenses all season, and the rest of the defense will need that to be able to find their own success.
Lawrence Timmons, linebacker
The only newcomer to make the list, Timmons will be critical to the defense’s success this year - especially if he is manning the middle linebacker spot, the most likely position for him. The Dolphins are going to be heading into the season with two new starters out of the three linebacker position, and the third, Kiko Alonso, will likely be moved out of the middle. Timmons will be the key to any improvement for the position group this year, and he could be the difference between Miami moving from a decent defense into a special one.
Xavien Howard, cornerback
Most of the focus for the Dolphins defensive weaknesses from 2016 was on the run defense, but improving the secondary is a requirement this year as well. Jones coming back is a huge step in the right direction, but there has to be more than just Jones. That is where Howard’s development comes into play. Everything from the offseason workouts seem to indicate Howard, who was never 100 percent healthy last year, is fully ready for this year and is looking like a shutdown cornerback. If that continues into the season, Miami’s pass defense will be dramatically improved, with Howard pairing with Byron Maxwell as the top two corners on the roster.
Mike Pouncey, center
Miami’s offensive line is a completely different unit with Pouncey compared to what it is without him. The three-time Pro Bowl center received positive medical news this week and he should be available for drills in camp this year - though the coaching staff is still expected to limit his work in an effort to make sure he is healthy for the entire 16 game schedule. The line simply works better with Pouncey manning the middle of it, with both pass and run blocking increased. Pouncey’s athleticism allows him to pull on running plays, get out to the linebackers, and spring the running back for big gains. His understanding of blocking schemes allows for him to make adjustments to the line. His comfort with Tannehill ensures the snaps are solid. He - and his health - are critical for the Dolphins offense this season.
DeVante Parker, wide receiver
Parker appears to be ready to break out as a true number one wide receiver this year. Heading into his third season, Parker has started training, eating, resting, and acting like a true professional who wants to be a star. If he is able to become anything like his potential has said he should become, Miami adds a dynamic receiver to their offense, forcing teams to choose to roll coverage toward him or toward Landry. Wherever they do not go, that receiver could feast - and that is not even including Kenny Stills, Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano, Leonte Carroo, or Ajayi into the patterns.
Raekwon McMillan, linebacker - With the injured reserve/retirement status of Koa Misi, rookie linebacker McMillan appears to be the favorite to become the third starting linebacker, and he is going to have to succeed on a steep learning curve for Miami this year.
Andre Branch, defensive end - Miami re-signed Branch to keep their defensive end pairing together, playing opposite Wake. Now, he is goi g to have to prove that he is worth the faith the coaches have put into him.
Jermon Bushrod, guard - Analytics have seemed to say Bushrod was a really bad player last year, but the coaches have repeatedly said they grade his performance from last year, much better than those other websites. The Dolphins brought Bushrod back to be the starting right guard based on their belief of his performance last year, and now he has to prove the coaches right.