There are very few positive takeaways from Miami’s 45-23 primetime loss to the Houston Texans. In fact, the list is about three notes long: Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake continued to run the ball well, DeVante Parker had a strong outing for the first time all season, and Jason Sanders looks like he can be a long-term solution at kicker. The last of those is to the full credit of Dolphins Special Teams Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach Darren Rizzi.
Over the past few years, Rizzi has shown a tendency for finding diamonds in the rough all throughout the special teams unit. He’s found stars in former Dolphins safety Michael Thomas, who got two-year contract for the New York Giants due to his playmaking acumen as a gunner. Other key finds by Rizzi include linebacker Chase Allen, linebacker Mike Hull, defensive back Walt Aikens, and kick returner turned wide receiver Jakeem Grant.
Miami’s punters and kickers are no exception. Matt Darr was a solid punter in South Florida before Rizzi found an even better option in the left footed Matt Haack, who’s had himself a solid season thus far. At kicker, Miami got good milage out of Andrew Franks, who kicked a long game winning field goal on a snowy day in Buffalo in 2016 that helped launch Miami into the playoffs. The team also got a very good season from Cody Parkey, who cashed in a contract year where he made over 91% of his field goals to get $15 million from the Chicago Bears. Now, it looks like Rizzi has struck gold again with rookie Jason Sanders.
Sanders was virtually unknown coming out of college at New Mexico University. Over the course of his collegiate career, he went just 25/35 (71.4%) on field goal attempts, a number far below what’s expected of kickers at the NFL level. Yet, with Rizzi’s insistence, the Dolphins took a chance on Sanders with a 7th-round draft pick this past April, a decision that confused many fans and critics. Rizzi also brought in former FAU standout Greg Joseph during training camp. Joseph had a college field goal percentage equal to Sanders, and the two competed for the starting job which Sanders went on to win.
Yet, it looks like Rizzi found two unheralded collegiate kickers and knew both could be coached up to NFL level. Through eight games, Sanders has made 9/10 field goals (90.0%) and 19/20 extra points (95%) for the Dolphins with a long of 50 yards, including a game winner against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago. In Thursday night’s game against the Houston Texans, Sanders made all three of his field goals with a long of 46 yards, including both of his extra points.
Joseph, to his credit, has done well for himself since being released by the Dolphins. The former high school soccer player was signed by the Cleveland Browns going into Week 3 and has made 8/9 field goals (88.9%) and 6/7 extra points (85.7%), including a game-winning field goal of his own to help the Browns take down the Baltimore Ravens in overtime.