The Miami Dolphins were one of just two teams in the NFL last year with no representation on the Pro Bowl roster, with the NFC’s New York Giants the other team not in the Orlando all-star event. This year, the Dolphins head into the season looking to improve on their 2019 5-11 record, an improvement that could be led by some Pro Bowl-worthy performances all around the roster.
Cornerback Xavien Howard (2018), cornerback Byron Jones (2018), and running back Jordan Howard (2016) have previously been selected to the game, which is moving to Las Vegas this year, and could be in position to return to the game after the 2020 season. But, who could be the breakout player to become Miami’s next first-time Pro Bowl selection?
Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would make sense as a selection, but he is not going to be considered here because it seems like Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to start the season under center.
On offense, there are three candidates - leaving off offensive linemen because it is hard to predict a selection in that group unless that player has been selected previously - who jump out right away. Wide receiver DeVante Parker, tight end Mike Gesicki, and running back Matt Breida could all make a case for themselves to be on the roster for the all-star game.
Parker finished the 2019 season fifth in the league in receiving yards with 1,202, his first time breaking the 1,000-yard mark. His nine touchdown receptions had him tied for fourth in league, two off the high mark set by Detroit Lions wide out Kenny Golladay. While his 72 receptions had him tied for 30th in the league in catches, he was ninth in the league in yards-per-catch and was the only player in the top ten in that stat with over 1,200 yards. Parker, whose previous high for yards was 744 in 2016, broke out last season and probably should have been a Pro Bowl selection given no AFC receiver finished the season with more receiving yards or touchdowns. If he is able to duplicate that kind of performance this season, his name should appear on the Pro Bowl roster.
Gesicki entered his second year looking to improve on a solid, but unspectacular rookie season. His play improved throughout the season, and he finished the year with 570 receiving yards on 51 catches with five touchdowns. His first career touchdown came the week before Thanksgiving last year, giving him all five scores in the final six weeks of the season. He is not as close to the Pro Bowl as Parker seems to be, but if Gesicki can continue his end-of-2019 performance throughout 2020, he should at least be a consideration for the game.
Breida could be a sleeper to watch. The Dolphins added both Howard and Breida this offseason to spark a dismal running game from 2019. The assumption is the Dolphins will look to platoon the two runners, with Howard’s power style complimented by Breida’s home-run speed runner ability. If the Dolphins lean more on one compared to the other, that player could see himself move up on the stat sheet and find himself in the Pro Bowl discussion. Breida has carried the ball at least 100 times in each of his first three seasons, all with the San Francisco 49ers, tallying 1,902 yards on 381 carries for a 5.0 average, scoring six times. He has also caught 67 passes for 561 yards with four touchdowns in his career. The Dolphins averaged just 3.3 yards per carry last year, with Fitzpatrick as the team’s leading rusher with 243 yards. The second- and third-highest rushers, Mark Walton and Kenyan Drake, were off the team mid-way through the season. The Dolphins want to run the ball, but they could not do it reliably last year. A strong performance from Breida could give Miami the backfield weapon they need and earn him some Pro Bowl consideration.
On defense, defensive tackle/end Christian Wilkins is the most likely member of the group, though defensive tackle Davon Godchaux and linebackers Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, and Kyle Van Noy could all make a case for themselves.
As a rookie, Wilkins established himself as a presence on the defensive line for Miami. Working as a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end, he tallied 56 tackles, two sacks, and two passes defensed last year. He has a giant personality, plays the game like he is on the playground just having fun, and he is proving to be a great 13th-overall pick for the Dolphins last year. If he continues to perform like he did in 2019, he should move up among the names of the top interior defensive linemen in the league.
Godchaux is quietly becoming a force as a defensive tackle for the Dolphins. He has worked all along the defensive line, and is the team’s nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. A fifth-round pick, he has turned into an every-down player for the team and he is a force on nearly snap. He has 163 tackles in three seasons, along with three sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. Godchaux is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The Dolphins likely would like to keep him after this season, but no contract has been signed as of yet. Could a Pro Bowl selection add to the negotiations if something does not get done before the season?
The linebackers could all be a force for the defense this year. McMillan has rebounded from his lost 2017 rookie campaign with 177 tackles in 29 games played - he missed three games last season - along with two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and two passes defensed. He has the potential to be a stud middle linebacker, stuffing the run and taking control of the defense. His college teammate, Baker, now lines up next to him in the Dolphins’ defense, and they compliment each other perfectly. Where McMillan is a run-support type of linebacker, Baker is a pass-rush and -coverage type of linebacker, though he does just about everything the Dolphins need. He has established himself as an every-down linebacker for the Dolphins, and probably will see few snaps from the sideline this year. Baker led the team with 126 tackles last year, 45 more than any other player on the team, as well as recording 1.5 sacks, four passes defensed, one interception, and two forced fumbles.
Van Noy is an addition to the Dolphins defense this year, and should be used in multiple ways all around the field under Brian Flores’ defensive system. Both having come from the New England Patriots, Flores understand’s Van Noy’s strengths while Van Noy should be able to immediately recognize the system. Likely used as a rush linebacker, Van Noy could become a weapon from the middle of the Dolphins’ defense. Heading into his seventh season in the league, Van Noy spent 2013, 2015 and part of 2016 with the Detroit Lions before joining the Patriots. He has 289 career tackles with 17.5 sacks, including a career high 6.5 last year, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and ten passes defensed.
Who do you think will be the next first-time Pro Bowl selection for Miami?