A funny thing seems to be happening around the Miami Dolphins mid-way through the 2019 season. In a year where the consensus analysis of the Dolphins continually points to the team “tanking” the year - purposefully losing games in order to gain a better position in the 2020 NFL Draft - the Dolphins are starting to look better.
They are not great. They are not a threat to the AFC East crown or a Wildcard spot. They do, however, look better. And, they are starting to show that a roster than has been declared as having no talent, could have the core talent it needs to complete a successful rebuild.
The Dolphins will continue to see turnover on their roster, especially with around 14 Draft picks next year (depending on some compensatory picks and determination of conditional picks in trades) and around $110 million in cap space before they make any cap cuts. They seem to be set to add a lot of new players and talent to the roster, but there are several key players who are showing, they are ready to be the pieces around which Miami will build.
Xavien Howard, cornerback
Howard is the top player on the Dolphins roster right now. The 26-year-old Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro is on injured reserve the rest of this season, but he is a shut-down cornerback who will continue to be a star for the Dolphins in the future. In four seasons in the league, Howard has 140 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 12 interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, and 35 passes defensed.
Mike Gesicki, tight end
Fans have been frustrated by Gesicki’s play, especially last year as a rookie, but they are ignoring the fact that rookie tight ends typically underperform. It is a hard transition to the NFL, especially for tight ends who are essentially big wide receivers at the college level, but now have to play on the line in the NFL. Gesicki was not done any favors by how often he was asked to be a pass blocker last year, but he is looking like the seam-threat tight end the Dolphins wanted when he was selected last year. For his career, Gesicki only has 43 receptions for 450 yards, but this year, he is already matching his rookie total (22 receptions versus 21 this year, 32 targets to 31, and 202 yards to 248). He has to break into the endzone still, but over the past few weeks he has started to show the skills and the potential that had Miami draft him.
Preston Williams, wide receiver
An undrafted free agent who is now the Dolphins’ top receiver in his rookie season. He is only 22 years old and, until his injury this week, was looking like someone who was quickly developing, working on things like his drops. He has been impressive, and that is probably an understatement on this season for Williams. He has 32 receptions for 428 yards with three touchdowns. It is an ACL injury that will keep Williams out for the remainder of the year, and will likely push his return into sometime around training camp or the preseason. He will have to prove he can continue this development despite not being able to play the remainder of this year or early in next season’s preparation process, but Williams has shown the potential to be a great part of the Miami offense.
DeVante Parker, wide receiver
At the end of the 2018 season, the Dolphins and the fanbase seemed like they were done with Parker. He was not going to be kept on the fifth-year option and he was just another first-round flop for Miami. The Dolphins chose to re-sign Parker on a two-year contract, a move that seemed confusing. Yet, this year, Parker looks like a number one wide receiver and he has not had to deal with the injuries that plagued him early in his career. Parker should absolutely be the leader of the wide receivers next season.
Christian Wilkins, defensive tackle
Rookie first-round pick Wilkins has been quietly having a really strong year, and he is clearly a part of the future of the Dolphins’ defensive line. He leads rookie interior linemen in tackles and is among the top defensive tackles in tackles this year across the whole of the league. Wilkins is 23 and will continue to grow into a great defensive tackle.
Raekwon McMillan, linebacker
A year ago, McMillan was being called a bust. He was coming off an ACL tear as a rookie and he was struggling to find his role - despite learning all three linebacker roles the year before and being the signal caller in training camp. McMillan was slow to start the year but continued to trust his knee more and find a spot for himself, ultimately recording over 100 tackles. This offseason, there was talk that he was just a rotational linebacker in the new Miami defense, but he has proven he is a player who needs to be on the field. He is a run-stopping defense and, despite not wearing the headset for being able to hear the defensive play calls, he is constantly moving players into the right alignment. This year, McMillan has 50 tackles and is constantly meeting running backs in the hole and stopping the ground attack.
Jerome Baker, linebacker
Baker, in his second year, is paired perfectly with his college teammate, McMillan. Baker has better coverage and pass rush skills compared to McMillan, and he is currently the defensive signal caller. Baker has 55 tackles this year, with two passes defensed. He has not recorded a sack yet, but he has been disruptive when asked to blitz. The Dolphins have a tandem of linebackers that should be able to lock down the position over the next few years.
Taco Charlton, defensive end
Miami seems to have found another gem with their acquisition of Charlton. Run out of Dallas, the Dolphins now have a player who seems to be effective as a pass rusher. In six games played this season, he has four sacks with 17 tackles, and one forced fumble. He may not be a star defensive end, but he definitely should be a part of the rebuild as a rotational pass rusher for the team in future years.
Vince Biegel, linebacker
Biegel is probably another of those players who may not be a dominant, starter for the Dolphins in 2020 or beyond, but he is definitely a player who has shown he has a role on the defense and special teams. Miami has a talented player who can definitely be a piece for the future of the club.
Bobby McCain, safety
The Dolphins have a player who is one of the top nickel cornerbacks in the league, who they moved to free safety this year, giving them a true center-field style player in the back of the secondary. He has one interception this season with two passes defensed. He is a player who can be a leader on the defense and he has the versatility and attitude to move wherever the team needs him.
Jesse Davis, guard/tackle; Michael Deiter, guard
I put these two together because I feel like Miami might actually have the guards they need. Deiter is getting good experience this year. I like Davis as a guard, even as the team has to use him at right tackle this year. Shaq Calhoun could also factor into this. The Dolphins have a couple of young offensive linemen who, despite repeated issues with the line over the last several years, could be the key to rebuilding the line this offseason.
Who else? Who did I forget? Who on this list should not be here?