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Dolphins Rebuild

Dolphins’ Rebuild Is Over and It’s Time to Contend in the AFC

Jeff Haynes/Associated PressWith two first-round picks and a pair of third-round selections in next year’s NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins may not be done loading up for what could be a long stretch as a Super Bowl contender.Still, with a ridiculous nine first- or second-round picks from the 2020 and 2021 drafts now populating their…

Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle holds a team jersey after being chosen by the Miami Dolphins with the sixth pick in the NFL football draft Thursday April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

With two first-round picks and a pair of third-round selections in next year’s NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins may not be done loading up for what could be a long stretch as a Super Bowl contender.

Still, with a ridiculous nine first- or second-round picks from the 2020 and 2021 drafts now populating their roster, the heart of the Dolphins’ rebuild is complete. 

Now, it is time to compete. 

The Dolphins have a top-five pick at quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa), three 20-something-year-old, first-round collections at wide receiver (DeVante Parker, Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle), and two young first-round picks up front on defense (Jaelan Phillips and Christian Wilkins).

They have four young Day 1 or Day 2 selections along the line (Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg and Michael Deiter, at least one of whom isn’t even guaranteed a starting spot with veteran inclusion Matt Skura and 2020 fourth-rounder Solomon Kindley on board). Miami also includes two youthful Day 2 selections at tight end (Mike Gesicki and Hunter Long) plus a secondary directed by extremely well-paid veteran cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones.

Matt Shiffler/Associated Press

Howard, Jones, safeties Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe, border shield Emmanuel Ogbah, Fuller, Parker, Skura and incoming defensive veterans Benardrick McKinney and Justin Coleman provide them plenty of experience and veteran leadership. Their depth chart was bolstered by later-round surprises like linebackers Jerome Baker and Andrew Van Ginkel, running Myles Gaskin and wild-card offensive weapons Lynn Bowden Jr. and Preston Williams. 

There is not a weak spot on the roster–one which doesn’t contain an immense quantity of promise. 

This really is a group that really blew away expectations by winning five of the last nine matches with practically none of that aforementioned talent on the roster 2019 and then built on that with a 10-win 2020 effort. This makes them 15-10 because the start of November 2019, despite the COVID-19 pandemic considerably limiting head coach Brian Flores’ first full offseason in 2020. 

Still, Flores’ defense ranked 11th in the NFL last season in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders, and just five teams surrendered fewer points than a Dolphins squad that ranked 11th in points differential. 

They ranked third behind only the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts using a turnover margin of plus-nine. 

Now, consider how much better they can be when they are more acclimated and experienced in 2021. 

Remember that for a lot of his rookie season, Tagovailoa was under a year removed from a career-threatening hip injury. We have become low on patience to get entry-level NFL quarterbacks, however when anyone deserves a break for a slow maiden campaign, it must be Tua. 

John Munson/Associated Press

Now, a year later, along with Parker and Gesicki, he will have Fuller–last year’s NFL leader in yards per target as a member of this Houston Texans–and also yet another youthful blazer in Waddle, who had been in the Heisman dialog at Alabama before suffering an ankle injury in October. 

Tagovailoa should also get the promising Williams back from an injury-plagued 2020 effort and will possess Long at his disposal for a rookie third-round tight end who seems ready to serve as a safety valve immediately.

And then there is that young line.

Hunt improved mightily late in his rookie season as a second-round undertake and ought to be even more effective after an anticipated move within next year.  Eichenberg, who was a three-year starter at left tackle at Notre Dame and gave up zero sacks his past two college seasons (per Pro Football Focus), should compete immediately for one of both offensive tackle areas. And it is far too early to give up on Jackson or even Kindley despite their own struggles with consistency because rookies in 2020. 

At least there is more competition there today, and also at least Skura brings lots of starting experience from a solid Baltimore Ravens organization. 

The two biggest issues for the Dolphins right today? 

1. ) It is possible Tagovailoa will not develop into a franchise-caliber NFL quarterback, regardless of the support he has. The vast majority of first-round quarterbacks become busts and fellow 2020 shirt -10 signal-callers Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are off to strong starts. Tua lacked playmaking ability nearly entirely in 2020, and there’s no guarantee that’ll change in 2021. 

2. There aren’t any sure-things along that offensive line, which might not provide Tua much persistence now that Hunt will be likely to maneuver inside and both Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras are gone. They have a great deal of young talent there, however, when Eichenberg encounters growing pains and Jackson or Kindley can’t take the next step, they might be in trouble. Same goes for if Skura can not place it back together after he had trouble in his return from a major knee injury in 2020, or when Hunt’s transition to shield doesn’t go as planned.

Doug Murray/Associated Press

That’s why they’re still not broadly seen as a Super Bowl contender despite an wonderful defense and so much promise on offense, but they’re not far away if everything falls into place. 

And if it does not? The Dolphins may not be able to wait much longer for Tua or whichever offensive line cogs do not come through this season. They might now own a joint four first-round selections in 2022 and 2023 because of the San Francisco 49ers, but they’ll eventually have less draft funds than they’ve had during this remarkable run.

If Tagovailoa does not improve significantly soon, they’ll have to use a lot of that funding on a new quarterback before it’s too late. Or, if Tua takes off despite more line issues, they may have to reconstruct that unit again on the fly. 

For now, however, the pieces are set up as a consequence of a deep, comprehensive and bright roster refurbishment.

In the AFC East, the formerly dominant New England Patriots became mortal again in 2020, along with the New York Jets appear to be on the ideal track but won just two matches in 2020. The Buffalo Bills are a prime contender, but they will have a target on their back as quarterback Josh Allen tries to prove that his breakout 2020 effort wasn’t an aberration. 

The Dolphins don’t yet face pressure similar to that, and it would be silly to count them out within an enlarged AFC playoff area. 

Pretty soon, they will be out of explanations. 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report because 2012. Follow him Twitter:  @Brad_Gagnon.

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