The keys to Miami’s defensive success in 2021

The Dolphins bolstered a top 10 defense by most metrics in 2020 and will look to the 2021 season to continue improving into one of the leagues best.  The Dolphins had a series of major offseason changes to the pass rush in veteran Benardrick McKinney and rookie Jaelan Phillips, as well as creating a promising secondary loaded with depth. I see one key position group that will be key to the Miami Dolphins success in the upcoming season, and that’s the interior defensive line. 

The Dolphins run game ranked 16th in the league last season allowing an average of 116.4 rushing yards/game.  If Miami wants to move into elite defensive status, this is the biggest area in need of improvement.  Stopping the run begins with the big men up front.  This will all start with second year DT Raekwon Davis, and third year DT Christian Wilkins.

Raekwon Davis

Davis, a 2nd round pick out of Alabama, showed extreme promise during the 2020 season.  A monster human at 6’6” & 311 lbs., Davis can be a massive human plug in between gaps.  The Alabama product played in all 16 games last season and made 12 starts.  He posted a season stat line of 19 tackles, 21 assists, with 1 tackle for loss, earning him All-Rookie Honors from the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA).  His 40 total tackles were also the most by a rookie interior defensive lineman in the NFL. 

Watch Raekwon Davis here at NT engage, stack, shed & crash into Joshua Kelly to make the tackle. With Godchaux out and Wilkins on the Covid list, there was a lot of pressure on him to step up. Absolute textbook moves from a raw rookie.

Originally tweeted by Simon Clancy (@SiClancy) on November 19, 2020.

Miami’s coaches are working to improve the nose tackle this season. Davis must use his power and explosiveness to create more separation at the jump.  With his athleticism and strength, Davis can move lineman and create alleys for linebackers to feast on.  I’m looking for Davis to continue to make strong tackles from the inside and start to bring down ball carriers before reaching the line.

Christian Wilkins

The 13th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Christian Wilkins is coming into his 3rd season looking to make another impressive leap.  In 2020, he posted a stat line of 28 tackles, 19 assists, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception.  The Clemson product can do it all, and his energy and charisma are a need for a young team lacking a clear leader. 

Despite his success to date, new Dolphins defensive line coach Austin Clark recently said, “I definitely think he can do a lot more.”  In order to become the leader Miami needs, Wilkins will need to step up and make more game changing plays.  In 30 career games, he has posted only 3.5 sacks.  Look for this number to improve, as well as more tackles for loss in the run game.

With names like Xavien Howard and Byron Jones in the backfield, Miami can make quarterbacks hold onto the ball while receivers attempt to get any separation. Both Davis and Wilkins can give the interior line a push on passing downs and open lanes for their talented linebackers. If they can accomplish this feat while plugging holes in the run game, Miami’s defense will look to become a top 5 unit in the NFL, if not the best.

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