Over the last several days, ESPN has released their top-10 players at every defensive position based on a study of 80 NFL personnel ranging from executives, scouts, and coaches. What was ultimately discovered was that despite a less-than-stellar 2022 season, Miami’s defense — now under Vic Fangio — is among the league’s most talented from top to bottom.
Over 80 personnel people around the NFL sent ESPN their top 10 position rankings. If you do a simple points system based on the players named, the Miami Dolphins have the 2nd most admired defensive personnel in the NFL. And now they have Vic Fangio, too.https://t.co/lNH8OIuUoa pic.twitter.com/Jcz9omAZpQ— Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) July 12, 2023
(All quotes in this article were sourced from ESPN. The report can be found HERE)
At defensive tackle, Christian Wilkins landed right outside of the top 10 — despite his record-setting 98 tackles a year ago. The former first-round pick of the 2019 NFL draft has combined for 166 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 33 tackles for loss over his four-year career.
Here’s what ESPN had to say about Wilkins:
Wilkins led all defensive tackles in defensive stops (79) and stuffs (20) last season. “Complete player: versatile, rugged, tough, high motor,” a high-ranking NFL official said. “He was their best defensive player when we played them.”
At EDGE, Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb failed to make the list. However, Phillips was named an honorable mention, proving that NFL’s higher-ups — like us — believe a breakout is inevitable. Last season, Chubb combined for 39 tackles and eight sacks between his time with Miami and Denver. Phillips had 37 tackles, seven sacks, and 25 quarterback hits.
.@jjphillips15 was a monster on wild card weekend, recording 9 tackles (2 TFL), 7 QB pressures, 3 QB hits & a .5 sack. per @PFF, phillips finished the szn with a 90.1 pass-rush grade (4th), a 74.8 run grade (18th) & an overall grade of 88.8 (6th) among all EDGE defenders. #finsup pic.twitter.com/jpSp0KCZrX— josh houtz (@houtz) January 18, 2023
Here’s what ESPN had to say about Phillips :
“In his first two seasons, he has posted 15.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 41 quarterback hits. “Huge upside,” an AFC executive said. “He was raw coming in but a big athlete and he plays his ass off. Expecting huge year from him.”
Miami did not have anyone listed from the interior linebacker position, but veteran linebacker Jerome Baker did receive votes. Still, linebacker remains one of the Dolphins' weakest positions on the entire roster (IMO).
And then, there was the secondary…
Jaelan Ramsey ranked third at cornerback among all NFL cornerbacks (He was first in 2021) — despite what many consider a down season. In 2022, Ramsey recorded 88 tackles (64) solo, four tackles for loss, and two sacks. He also recorded four interceptions, two forced fumbles, and 20 pass breakups. If that’s a down year, sign me up!
Here’s what executives had to say about Ramsey’s down year:
“For me, it’s more an effort issue than ability,” a veteran AFC scout said. “I don’t think he’s declined physically. He can still do all the things that make him great. I’m just not sure he always plays hard.”
But scouts were salivating at what Ramsey could do in Fangio’s defense.
“He’ll be locked in in Miami — that defense is corner friendly,” the scout said. “[Fangio] has made corners who can’t play have good seasons, so imagine what he can do with a star player like Jalen?”
Xavien Howard was named as an honorable mention after battling through injuries for most of the season. Here’s what ESPN had to say about Howard:
“Howard is a proven commodity with 28 interceptions since 2017. “He’s still got great ball skills, physical,” a national NFL scout said. “I wonder how he’s going to age because some of those bigger corners don’t always age well and you have to be able to run.” Howard turned 30 earlier this month. “He is on his way down but will have a good year due to scheme and is finally healthy,” an AFC scout said.”
XAVIEN HOWARD WITH THE TIP; JEVON HOLLAND PICK pic.twitter.com/4qoO7mFNgs— josh houtz (@houtz) September 11, 2022
Last but certainly not least was the safety position, and to the surprise of no one, Jevon Holland was fifth on this list. Holland finished the 2022 season with a career-high in tackles (96), seven pass breakups, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.
(Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was No.1 on this list, FWIW)
Here’s what ESPN had to say about Holland.
“Every time you watched Miami on cross-tape, you see No. 8 and say, that’s a real guy, the next one they pay,” an NFL personnel director said.
Holland has shown his versatility since being drafted in 2021. In 33 games, he has four interceptions, 17 pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, four sacks, and 165 tackles.
There’s a refinement to his game that coaches and scouts respect.
“He does everything — range, can play around the box, tackles,” the director said. “Ultimate chess piece.”
What does all of this mean? Nothing if it doesn’t translate on the field. But with new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in town and one of the more talented defenses on paper, the opportunity for the Dolphins to take over the AFC East is at an all-time high. And if the defense can match what the offense will bring in 2023, the ceiling for this year's team has never been higher.
What are your thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' defense heading into the 2023 NFL season? Do you think Jaelan Phillips or Bradley Chubb belongs on ESPN’s top-10 list? Which players would you have added? Let us know in the comments section below!