In the 2015 offseason, the Miami Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh to a record breaking $114 million contract. It was an attempt to solve their issues on the interior defensive line. Unfortunately, it never going to be the answer. The approach taken by Chris Grier and Brian Flores in for digging for diamonds in the rough has proven to be much more sustainable and productive. The options at defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins in 2021 are plentiful and it is arguable that it is one of the strongest positions on the roster. A versatile group all with a mixture of speed, solid hands and power, allowing several players to either line up in the middle, or at defensive end in either defensive formation.
“Collectively, there’s a competitive group up front. I think a lot of that is matchup based and week to week. I think we have a lot of different guys that have a lot of different strengths.”New defensive line coach Austin Clark speaking to the media.
From the moment he was drafted in 2019, the iconic embrace with Commissioner Roger Goodell, it was clear to fans that the first pick in the Brian Flores era was a character and most importantly a culture setter in Miami.
Throughout his first two seasons with the Dolphins he has been a great leader on the team, and judging him primarily on that fact alone he is a home run of a pick. He describes himself as bringing a spark to camp when everybody is dead and tired, he is the one to get those guys going by making a play or bringing the energy. However, has he fulfilled the potential of the 13th overall pick?
In 2019, Wilkins ranked first among rookie defensive linemen with 56 tackles whilst ranking 5th in the league in tackles among all DTs. In 2020 PFF gave Wilkins a 73.9 run defense grade, ranking him 19th out of 111 defensive linemen with at least 300 snaps. However, where Wilkins does struggle is in the passing game. Despite last season having more interceptions than Jamal Adams, in his first two seasons he has only 7 QB hits, is yet to force a fumble and has failed to record a pass rush grade above 60.0, ranking 88th among 123 DTs. Whilst being on the interior he is susceptible to a lot of the dirty work inside, across 30 career games Wilkins has managed only 3.5 sacks, the same amount managed by Zach Sieler despite only starting 8 games in 2020.
“He’s matured, he’s matured on the field, he’s still a kid at heart. I think everyone sees that. He’s really good at reading backfield sets, he’s always at the next level of trying to learn what combos can I get at this front.”Zach Sieler meeting with the media on May 26 at the start of voluntary OTAs when asked about Wilkins.
Wilkins can play inside at either defensive formation whether 3-4 or 4-3, but he also has the versatility and speed to be able to set the edge. Whilst his stats do not jump of the page, and whilst others may have had breakthrough seasons in 2020, that is not to label Wilkins as undeserving of the 13th overall pick. Wilkins plays with non-stop energy and enthusiasm playing with urgency on every down. There is no reason not to believe that Wilkins won’t make a further jump coming into his third year. His personality combined with his athleticism and versatility give him all the intangibles that he needs to compete in the NFL.
When Raekwon Davis was drafted 56th overall in the 2020 NFL draft, there was a reason Brian Flores usually a man of little expression was gushing with a smile from ear to ear. Davis was PFF’s 3rd highest graded defensive rookie behind only to Julian Blackmon and Chase Young.
Davis was brilliant in the run game in the second half of the season, he is a mauler who will not be moved and helps fill the gaps. Davis scored a run defense grade of 66.8 and excelled at nose tackle with a 76.7 pass rushing grade. Between weeks 10-17 Davis ranked 17th in the NFL at DT. Regardless of who is the Dolphins starting center, it is likely that Davis will give them serious concerns throughout training camp.
“I think he did a good job of developing throughout the year in terms of his run defense and being able to win one on ones consistently and hold the point on doubles. I think the major focus for him is finishing plays. I think he specifically probably feels like he left some more out there. Just taking the next step like any other guy this year, taking the next step in his second year. I’m looking forward to him. Im really looking forward to everything that he brings to the table. I love him.”DL coach Austin Clark full of praise of Davis heading into year 2.
Like Coach Clark stated the main focus for Davis this season will be finishing plays. There is no doubt Davis was disruptive in his rookie season but still only managed 40 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 QB hit. There were numerous instances in several games where Davis caused havoc getting into the backfield, most notably against the Jets where he narrowly missed out on the sacks, although did force Darnold into the arms of other Dolphins defenders.
Whilst it can be said that Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis’ stats do not jump off the page at you, the same cannot be said for everyone’s favorite now former RV living player. Sieler exploded in 2020 with a huge breakout season with 48 tackles, 11 QB hits, 11 TFL and 3.5 sacks. Even in 2019 although only starting one game he still managed 1 TFL and 2 QB hits.
Sieler recently signed a 2 year $7.63m contract extension with $3.8m guaranteed, securing his future as a Miami Dolphin until 2024. Yet another example of the Dolphins looking after their own, a hallmark of a good franchise; rewarding their players who produce week in week out, whilst also acting as an incentive to younger players or players lower down the depth chart to do likewise when they are called upon.
Sieler had an outstanding year in 2020, and is criminally underappreciated for his role in one of the leading defenses in the league. Whilst Xavien Howard, Jerome Baker and Emmanuel Ogbah all took the spotlight throughout the season and rightfully so, Sieler’s production was perhaps the most remarkable given where the position he had been the year prior. Now age 25 coming into his fourth season in the NFL, his emphasis has shifted to improving in the run game, his reactions in play action situations and early down snaps. With the versatility expected within Josh Boyer’s defense, different skill traits are inevitably required. Sieler says his focus in training is centered on both speed and explosion but also power against doubles on the interior.
It has not taken long for Adam Butler to showcase his abilities and what he can do for this defense. All throughout minicamp Butler’s speed of the ball caused the O-line havoc with reports of would be sacks and QB hits. Butler’s explosiveness in his first step puts even more pressure on the interior of the line to be able to get set.
Having lost Davon Godchaux to New England in free agency, the addition of Adam Butler is the best addition that the Dolphins made in terms of value. Godchaux’s annual salary with the Patriots is $7.5m in comparison with Butler’s average salary of $3.75m. His fast and powerful hands, light feet and agility make him an ideal fit into Josh Boyer’s defense, that last season caused havoc throughout the NFL. When considering both production value and cost, it is clear that Miami came out ahead in the DT switcheroo in free agency.
An even more impressive stat is that Butler has only missed one game in his first four seasons in the NFL. That game came last season where he was inactive with a slight shoulder injury. Despite only starting 4 games, Butler had 2 passes defended, 34 tackles, 4 sacks and 6 TFL. If Zach Sieler was the biggest surprise to Dolphins fans last season, this is a notice to the fanbase to not be surprised if Butler shines; he is a very important rotational piece within this defense, adding depth to an already stacked defensive tackle position.
A strong veteran presence in an otherwise relatively young group, combine this with familiarity with the organisation, Jenkins is set to hit the ground running as a strong contributor to this defensive line. In his first stint with the team in 2019, Jenkins recorded 34 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL and 1 QB hit. As a traditional nose tackle he will likely be a solid backup to Raekwon Davis. Jenkins is one of three Dolphins players over the age of 30, none of which were on the team last season.
Throughout the 2020 season Benito Jones was forever to and from the practice squad, never able to fully cement his place on the active roster consistently, only playing 48 snaps on defense resulting in only one tackle. It is likely at this time not knowing what strides he has made this offseason that the 2021 season will be much of the same.
In 2021 the cap hit for Wilkins, Sieler, Davis, Butler, Jenkins and Jones combined amounts to $12,819,169 which is 6.8% of the total cap. To put this number into perspective the Dolphins paid Ndamukong Suh $20,000,000 a year during the three years he was with the team. Now of course this will change into the future, Davis, Wilkins and Sieler will still all be playing on their rookie deals in 2021, whereas Suh had established himself as an elite player. Regardless of the fact, the job that Chris Grier and Brian Flores have done in assembling this group of DTs has to be applauded; young studs complemented by a veteran presence, all possessing speed, power and position versatility. The 2021 DTs are a very stacked group indeed and are by far the best value on the entire roster. Fins Up!