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How Good Does the Miami Dolphins’ Offensive Line Need to Be?

It won’t be the strength of their offense, but it doesn’t need to be.

NFL: NOV 27 Texans at Dolphins Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It wouldn’t be August for Miami Dolphins fans without concerning news about the offensive line. Most of these concerning reports have been about (you guessed it) their left guard (Liam Eichenberg) and right tackle (Austin Jackson). There shouldn’t be any major alarms going off until it becomes an issue in game action, but it isn’t what you want to hear this time of year.

While this has become a frustrating cycle for fans, it is worth asking how good this line needs to be in order for the offense to be effective. This isn’t a simple question to answer, so we’ll need to go over some things in detail to get at the heart of the issue.

How the Offense is Built

It’s easy to see that the Dolphins have prioritized weapons over the trenches. While the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams helped last offseason, the lack of impact moves in this area since then would indicate that the front office doesn’t feel the unit needs any major upgrade.

The Dolphins have dumped endless resources into improving their skill positions over the last three off-seasons. They’ve drafted Jaylen Waddle, traded for Tyreek Hill, signed Cedric Wilson, Braxton Barrios, and Chosen Anderson. They’ve also traded for Jeff Wilson, signed Raheem Mostert, and drafted De’Von Achane.

In that same time frame, the only meaningful additions to the offensive line have been signing Armstead and Williams, while drafting Liam Eichenberg in the second round of the 2021 draft. They’ve made some fringe moves this offseason by adding Isaiah Wynn, Dan Feeney, and Cedric Ogbuehi but these are band-aids, not full fixes.

Ways to Mitigate Line Struggles

The band-aid approach is going to be frustrating for a lot of people, but there could be a few reasons why that's all they need. While some offenses and quarterbacks need an elite offensive line to be productive, this offense and Tua Tagovailoa don’t.

First and foremost, Tua Tagovailoa helps his offensive line about as much as any quarterback in the NFL. The most obvious way he does this is by getting the ball out of his hands on passing plays. He is a quick processor with an even quicker release. His average time to throw has been top-10 each of the last three seasons, even while leading the league in average depth of target in 2022 (which is actually insane).

On top of that, he excels with movement inside the pocket and can feel pressure coming. Some of that nifty pocket work has gotten him hurt in the past, but there’s no denying that he has the ability to extend plays and avoid pressure-its just about knowing when to use it for him.

This offense is also built to deceive defenses, not overpower them. That means Mike McDaniel loves to use misdirection and play action to get defenders out of position and take advantage. Tua Tagovailoa had the second-highest percentage of play-action passes in 2022 (43.1%-almost half!) and the second-lowest percentage of pressured snaps (25.7%). When a defensive lineman hesitates for a split second, it drops the advantage squarely on the offensive side of the ball.

Can they be average?

This all points to the conclusion that the Miami Dolphins offensive line doesn’t need to be elite, it just needs to be average. We then have to ask ourselves, can they be an average unit? They clearly have three (very) above-average players in Terron Armstead, Robert Hunt, and Connor Williams. To be an average (13th-18th best) unit in the NFL, they just need acceptable play outside of those big three.

That means you can’t have games where your tackles or guards get abused all afternoon and give up quick pressure after quick pressure. All you need is to find guys that can hold up reasonably well week in and week out. When examined through this lens, their 2023 off-season additions make a lot more sense.

This is all to say that we shouldn’t be sweating bullets that Liam or Austin Jackson had a bad practice (or god forbid, a bad rep). They’re young players that are still learning their craft and (hopefully) improving. All we need to be expecting from them is to stay healthy and trend towards an average level of play. If the Dolphins can find that at left guard and right tackle, we’ll be having a very different conversation about this offensive line next offseason.