The Miami Dolphins did not have the 2017 season they expected, falling to 6-10 a year after finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. A lot of things went wrong for the Dolphins, including hurricanes, injuries, and a cocaine-snorting coach. If he could go poorly this season, it seemed to reach that lofty goal, then get even worse.
But, that does not mean everything was bad for the Dolphins. They had several players who made an impact this season and appear to be ready to continue that into the 2018 season. This does not include the players who will be coming back from injured reserve that should immediately help the team, like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, and cornerback Tony Lippett. Here are our top ten players who are trending up for next season:
10. Jakeem Grant, wide receiver
The Dolphins started using Grant as a receiver late in the season and he looked like a good NFL wide receiver. He is never going to be a number-one, go-up-and-fight-for-the-ball type of receiver (all though when he did go up and over Malcolm Butler in the endzone, it was a pretty good move), but he is a weapon that the Dolphins need to exploit more. Miami needs to use Grant like the Kansas City Chiefs use Tyreel Hill. Hopefully the coaching staff, who say they can see Grant lined up out wide, in the slot, or in the backfield, continue to find ways to get him the ball in 2018.
9. Chase Allen, linebacker
The Dolphins turned to Allen, an undrafted free agent rookie, late in the season to take over as the starting middle linebacker. He played in all 16 games, with a lot of time on special teams, but he did start four times on defense, recording 33 tackles and one forced fumble. Miami is expected to look for linebacker help this offseason, either in free agency or (more likely) in the Draft, but Allen at least gives them a solid rotational fourth linebacker if not a challenger for a starting position.
8. Cameron Malveaux, defensive end
After spending most of the season on the practice squad, the Dolphins promoted Malveaux near the end of the year, with him appearing in four games with five tackles and a sack. The coaching staff seem to really like Malveaux, and he worked well as a rotational defensive end, and he should be in contention for more playing time in 2018.
7. Charles Harris, defensive end
The Dolphins’ first-round pick played in all 16 games, starting twice, in 2017, primarily being used as the third or fourth rotating defensive end behind Cameron Wake, Andre Branch, and William Hayes. He was not asked to be a dominant defensive end, and that was known when he was selected, but he was solid in his playing time, recording 19 tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed, and a fumble recovery. He was consistently able to hit the quarterback this season, finishing third on the team with 12, behind only Wake and Suh. Harris showed the flashes the Dolphins wanted from him this year, with him filling his role as the heir apparent for Wake.
6. Reshad Jones, safety
The one established player to make the list, Jones appears to just be getting better as he approaches 30-years-old. Named to the Pro Bowl for the second time, Jones bounced back from the shoulder injury that ended his 2016 season after just six games to lead the team in tackles with 122. He also recorded 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, five passes defensed, and three fumble recoveries including a league high two returned for a touchdown. Jones is a top safety in the league, and he goes out every year looking to prove that. It only leads to great things for the Dolphins.
5. Cordrea Tankersley, cornerback
Miami has two young cornerbacks who can develop into a special tandem. Tankersley, Miami’s third-round pick, started 11 games this season, recording 31 tackles with seven passes defensed. He made rookie mistakes, but he also showed that he was ready to take over the starters role, leading to Miami releasing Byron Maxwell. Tankersley played the most snaps of any draft pick on the Dolphins’ roster, and he should carry that experience into 2018.
4. Jordan Phillips, defensive tackle
Phillips may be one of the top surprises this year for the Dolphins. He appeared on the verge of losing his starting position, and possibly his roster spot, at the end of the preseason. Instead, he played in 13 games with 11 starts, recording 16 tackles and two sacks. Phillips became a disruptive force next to Ndamukong Suh and he looks like he is ready to continue to grow - and dominate - in 2018.
3. Jesse Davis, offensive line
Davis came out of nowhere to not only have a solid season on the Dolphins’ offensive line, but to position himself to be a starter in 2018. Davis could play either guard position or right tackle for the Dolphins next season, and he will probably succeed at any of them. He gives the team some flexibility in how they address the offensive line this offseason, and the 2015 undrafted free agent appears to have become an important part of the Dolphins’ roster and a piece of the plans for 2018.
2. Xavien Howard, cornerback
The other of the cornerback tandem (add in Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett, and the Dolphins could have a special secondary developing). Howard played the most snaps on the team in 2018, and he recorded 48 tackles, one sack, four interceptions with a touchdown, and 13 passes defensed. His four interceptions was tied for 12th in the league. Howard made mistakes early in the season, but he continued to learn and started to show the talent that in the offseason and training camp had people calling him a potential shut-down cornerback. If he continues to develop this offseason, Miami could start taking away the best receiver from each team each week.
1. Kenyan Drake, running back
Call it an accident that Drake exploded this season. Call it luck that the coaches figured out what they had in Drake. Call it whatever you want. At the end of the season, Drake had 644 yards rushing, 28th most in the league, in just six starts (16 games played). He averaged 4.8 yards per carry with three touchdowns, plus he had 32 receptions for 239 yards and a touchdown. The trade of Jay Ajayi and the injury to Damien Williams gave Drake the opportunity he needed to prove he can carry the load as a starting running back, and he should head into the 2018 season ready to resume his role atop the depth chart for the Dolphins.