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Five players with the most to gain — or lose — in Miami’s season finale against New England

The season isn’t over just yet.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Each NFL franchise sees anywhere from 23 percent to 37 percent of its roster fluctuate every year.

With 53 players on each roster, there are plenty of moving parts as all 32 teams pursue a Lombardi Trophy.

The Dolphins are no different with nearly 20 soon-to-be free agents and a front office that is always looking for ways to adjust the roster. Miami saw its playoff hopes crumble against the Titans last Sunday. With that in mind, there is still one game left to be played.

With some of the world's top athletes all vying for a spot on the roster, each and every game counts. Here are five players with the most to gain, or lose, in the final week of the regular season.

Before we begin, I excluded players like Emmanual Ogbah, Mike Gesicki and Tua Tagovailoa due to the depth of their situations and the fact that one game isn’t nearly enough to swing opinions to the other side of the aisle.

5. Michael Deiter and Austin Jackson

Right off the bat — I am lying about the length of this list. Both Austin Jackson and Michael Deiter have solidified themselves on Miami’s offensive line this season, but how long may it last?

Miami’s offensive line features a first-round pick, two second-round picks, a third-round pick and a Jesse Davis. While most agree that Miami’s offensive line needs some work, which has been the case for over a decade, throwing top-end draft picks at the unit hasn’t been a recipe for success.

Jackson, a 22-year old first-round pick in the 2020 draft, shifted to guard after struggling at tackle for most of his young career. Jackson allowed 20 pressures in three starts at left tackle this season, compared to just 23 pressures and two sacks in 10 games at guard.

While there is no denying that Jackson has improved, he has been called for 11 penalties this season. The left guard was flagged for being too far downfield on the second play from scrimmage on Sunday against the Titans.

Deiter has spent his three-year career in Miami and had only been called for three penalties in his seven starts at center this season. While he played 15 games as a rookie, he struggled to see the field in 2020. The front office still chose to bring in little competition at the position before this season.

The Dolphins spent high draft capital on these two players and the coaching staff has had ample time to help them develop. Can a strong finish to the year help show that left guard and center may not be near the top of Miami’s wish list this offseason?

4. Durham Smythe

The tight end had plenty to do with Miami's success in 2020 with franchise records in yards and touchdowns.

This season, though, with Adam Shaheen and Cethen Carter on the team — along with the trade-up for Hunter Long in the draft, Miami’s tight end room hasn’t had the same impact from a year ago.

Smythe, who is in his fourth season, is 36th among tight ends with 37 targets and is 27th in both receptions and receiving yards.

Smythe wasn’t drafted to be a matchup nightmare, but a flexible and consistent piece inside the team’s offense. With both Gesicki and Smythe about to be free agents, can Smythe can prove his consistency is just what this offense needs moving forward?

3. Nik Needham

Can Needham prove that the Dolphins need him? The team broke the bank for cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, can the team afford to keep its slot corner too?

Needham has two interceptions and one sack, allowing 39 receptions on 53 targets so far this season. It is important to keep in mind that playing in the slot is about limiting yards after the catch, not strictly to force an incompletion.

Needham started his first game at safety a few weeks ago and brought home a pick-6 against New Orleans. Does Chris Grier and company choose to extend the restricted free agent after seeing the alternatives this season?

Justin Coleman was also on the roster this year and the same is true for former first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, it is up to Needham to prove that it isn’t as simple as plugging any slot corner into the team’s stacked secondary.

2. Michael Palardy

Special teams were one of Miami’s strengths a season ago — that isn’t the case in 2021. Palardy punted the ball 74 times this season, which is the fourth-most in the league, but his average kick is sitting around 44 yards, 27th in the NFL.

There is no denying that Palardy can pin opponents deep. He ranks sixth in the league with 29 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, but that isn’t necessarily helpful when the offense is struggling to pick up yards.

Palardy seems like the punter version of Tagovailoa, sacrificing a bit of strength for accuracy, and will be a free agent at the end of the year. Will Miami hope another offseason is what he needs to continue recovering from a torn ACL, or will the Dolphins search for another punter diamond in the rough this offseason?

1. Duke Johnson

Miami has passed on countless running backs over the last few seasons, hoping a successful running game may fall into its lap.

That happened in the form of Duke Johnson and his 213 yards on 46 attempts. The 28-year-old played just four games, but scored twice, averaged over four yards per carry and was the team’s first 100-yard rusher in roughly a year.

This doesn’t mean that Johnson is the new RB1 in Miami, but Johnson is that veteran safety blanket the team has lacked since Reggie Bush was running wild early last decade.

Johnson spent four years in Cleveland and more than a year in Houston. Additionally, he has cracked more than 83 careers just once since his rookie career.

Can he prove to be part of the answer to Miami’s laundry list of problems when it comes to rushing the football?