After their first ten games of 2021, the Miami Dolphins had a record of 3-7. Of course, this season they are 7-3 coming out of the bye week and have a very strong chance at making the postseason in Mike McDaniel’s first year. The team has improved in some vitally important areas and seems much more well-equipped to compete late in the season.
So much of the focus has been on the new additions to the team. Mike McDaniel, Tyreek Hill, and Terron Armstead have been important in this turnaround, but which Miami Dolphins players are taking year two (or three) jumps?
A lot of folks will just view this season as a continuation of his rookie campaign where he tallied 8.5 sacks. While it’s true that Phillips was productive as a rookie, many of his sacks were of the “clean up” variety or came from quarterbacks holding the ball too long-not from him dominating offensive tackles.
It's been lost in this offseason, but Jaelan Phillips could be one of the most impactful Dolphins in 2022. Had a productive rookie season, but is literally just scratching the surface of what he can be. pic.twitter.com/ON21yYXFKm— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) May 5, 2022
Phillips’ pass rush win rate was 11.2% on all pass-rushing snaps and 17.3% on true pass sets (per PFF)-both figures ranked third among edge defenders on his own team. For reference, a “true pass set,” is a traditional passing play that excludes screens, play action, rollouts, etc... it’s a really good way to isolate edge vs tackle/guard matchups.
Now let’s fast forward to this 2022 season. Phillips has already had a number of dominant performances and has been a problem for opposing offensive tackles week in and week out. He’s getting home quickly on pass plays and is winning from both the edge and the interior.
Jaelan Phillips came up HUGE in the second half. He continues to string together strong performances and is quickly becoming one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/503aT7WVR8— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) October 25, 2022
Phillips’ pass rush win rate has increased to 20.3% on all plays and 27% on true pass sets. Those figures rank 16th and 15th among all edge defenders in the NFL and indicate a very clear step forward for the young pass rusher.
While rushing the passer is what gets edge defenders paid in today’s NFL, he’s also taken huge strides as a run defender. His run defense grade has jumped over 28 points and he already has more defensive stops this season than he did in 2021. Being a quality run defender will keep him on the field for more snaps and make him a more integral part of the defense.
2021 / 2022
Pass Rush Win %: 11.2% / 20.3%
PRW% TPS: 17.3% / 27%
Pass Rush Grade: 61.3 / 79.9
Run Defense Grade: 44.8 / 73.1
Total Pressures: 39 / 40
QB Hits: 7 / 7
Sacks: 8.5 / 3.5
Advanced stats are from PFF
Tagovailoa was a fairly obvious choice here. While it has been wildly exaggerated how much he struggled in his first two seasons, what we are seeing now is a completely different level of quarterback play.
Don’t get me wrong, we saw some high-level performances from him in 2021. The Falcons and Jaguars games come to mind. The difference is, those good performances came with caveats. Yeah, he played well, but he had that bad interception or only threw for 109 yards... or the team still lost. He was firmly a mid-tier starter, which isn’t a terrible place to be on a poorly schemed offense with porous pass protection and limited weapons, but it’s where he was nonetheless.
These must be some of those wide-open throws I keep hearing about. Tua has 5-10 absolute dots each week... I'm already tired of this narrative. pic.twitter.com/hwGp2JNmTI— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 9, 2022
In 2022 we have seen a different Miami Dolphins offense and a completely different Tua Tagovailoa. He has the trust of his head coach/play caller and that’s allowed him to perform with a very high level of confidence. Tua knows he’s “the guy,” so some of these difficult, tight window throws that he would have avoided in the past, he’s trying and completing. He has always had a special feel for the game and he finally has a coach that is taking full advantage of that.
Passer Rating: 90.1 / 118.4
QBR: 55.7 / 83.1
PFF Passing Grade: 67.3 / 91.6
TD: 16 / 18
TD%: 4.1% / 7.3%
Int%: 2.6% / 1.2%
ADOT: 7.4 / 9.5
Big Time Throw%: 2.4% / 5.0%
CPOE: 2.0 / 6.0
EPA/Play: .062 / .425
Advanced stats are from PFF and RBSDM
Jones has had a very unique path to be where he is today. He was a zero-star recruit out of high school and spent his first two years of college playing at the JUCO level to help build up his stock. In 2019, he chose to transfer to Middle Tennessee State to play his junior and senior seasons.
Jones found his way to the Miami Dolphins in 2021 as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t get an opportunity to start a game until the end of that season in week 18. When Brian Flores was let go in favor of Mike McDaniel, Jones’ future seemed up in the air.
He ended up making the team as a reserve guard over other, more experienced options (IE: Solomon Kindley). When Liam Eichenberg went down with a season-ending injury in week 8, Jones slotted in as the starting left guard and has made the most of his opportunity.
That's Robert Jones handling Myles F**king Garrett pic.twitter.com/IENbRwHM0M— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 15, 2022
You’ll have to excuse the language, but it’s surprising to see a player that was undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State just a little over a year ago, holding his own against a player the caliber of Myles Garrett. He’s driven back slightly but is able to reach Garrett’s outside shoulder and seal him off for this big run by Jeff Wilson Jr. This is a highly technical, highly difficult block to make against a great edge defender like Garrett.
The Dolphins have already found one of their guards for the foreseeable future and it looks like Chris Grier may have uncovered a diamond in the rough with Jones.
Offseason additions can be critical in getting a team over the hump. The 2022 Miami Dolphins wouldn’t be the same without Raheem Mostert, Connor Williams, Tyreek Hill, and Terron Armstead, but the development of your homegrown talent in how you become a real contender. That’s because those are the players you have on inexpensive, cost-controlled deals.
Bradley Chubb was a fantastic addition, but he’ll probably have similar production to Jaelan Phillips. In 2023, Chubb will count as $22,197,489 against the cap, Phillips, only $3,823,146. Tua Tagovailoa will count as $8,256,938 against the salary cap this season. He is currently #2 in MVP voting, and the player one spot ahead of him (Patrick Mahomes) is making $35,793,381. That is the kind of advantage good drafting gives you in the team-building process-especially when you have contributing players on rookie deals.