The Miami Dolphins are heading into one of the most pivotal off-seasons in quite some time. 2022 was a step in the right direction, but going into what is likely year two of Miami’s three-year Super Bowl window, the time is now to fill their remaining needs.
Throughout last season, the needs were obvious: linebacker, offensive line, tight end, and some secondary depth.
While each of those will need to be filled this spring to reach the next level, there is another position that could use some help: Wide receiver.
At first glance, that idea makes no sense. Miami has arguably the best receiving duo in the league in Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. They also spent capital on Cedrick Wilson, Erik Ezukanma, and Trent Sherfield. The group looks deep, but there’s a role that must be filled. That role being the versatile possession receiver who can be used in either the slot or in contested catch situations downfield.
Sure, Sherfield did a fine job there in spurts, but it was clear that he was never the long-term solution. Miami went out of their way to draft Erik Ezukanma, whose skillset was acquired to complement Waddle and Hill.
On The Roster
Ezukanma is clearly the wild card here. He only appeared in one game all season, which is a bit concerning for someone who looks to step into a big role. It was clear in college that his tape matched what Miami was looking for. However, they opted not to play him until Week 18.
If he can elevate his game into someone who is not only a contributor, but a plus player, then this conversation goes out the window. However, if he doesn’t, Miami maintains this need for a versatile receiver with a knack for contested catch situations.
This need is even more prevalent if Miami loses Mike Gesicki. Miami’s number one tight end and jump ball threat has likely played his last snap as a Dolphin after posting some of the lowest numbers of his career. This leaves little to no options for jump ball opportunities, as well as a void as a big slot. When you really look at it, it becomes obvious this has to be on the Miami Dolphins’ list of roster needs heading into the offseason.
Miami will have options when it comes to filling this void, although they may be limited. The free agency pool is barren at receiver, and with Miami already spending big money last year, they may opt out this time around.
The first is staying pat. Miami clearly had faith in the aforementioned Ezukanma when he was drafted, and the athletic profile is there.
The Rookie Route
However, if they feel they need another draft pick to fill the role, there are several intriguing options. Xavier Hutchinson of Iowa State was at the Senior Bowl, and combines the size and technique needed to play both outside and inside as a big slot.
Purdue’s Charlie Jones is also intriguing. Another natural fit in the slot, who also has hands made of glue. On top of that, he is expected to run in the 4.3 second range in the 40-yard dash. This would be an added bonus to Miami’s already fast offense.
Even later on in the NFL draft, Puka Nacua from BYU is certainly intriguing. His 6’1″ 210 pound frame is certainly big enough for the slot and his knack for finding soft spots in zones could be crucial in this offense.
The bottom line is this isn’t the Miami Dolphins’ number one need. If you were to list them out by position, it may not even be top five. Despite this, it’s needs like these that Super Bowl teams iron out. The future of the big slot may already be on the roster, or it may be filled this off-season. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Miami addresses it.
In years gone by, Miami’s offense has been stagnant to say the least. While the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle attract all of the headlines, a team is only as good as the depth it has on the roster. We break down which players will constitute the much anticipated Mike McDaniel offense in Miami, and who we think makes the Dolphins final 53-man roster.
Miami Dolphins 53-Man Roster Prediction: Offense
QB1- Tua Tagovailoa- Lock
QB2- Teddy Bridgewater- Lock
QB3- Skylar Thompson– One to watch
It is somewhat surprising how little we have heard about Teddy Bridgewater during training camp, with Tua taking all of the headlines, both good and bad.
Rather, the biggest surprise has been the emergence of Skylar Thompson. The Dolphins’ 7th round draft pick has been both impressive and consistent throughout the Dolphins’ first two preseason games. During his first two outings in the aqua and orange, Thompson has gone 29/38 for 347 yards, 2 TDs and no picks.
“He looks like he belongs out there. He looks like if he got a call, he would be ready to go…The skill set we saw on tape is what we really liked. The makeup of the guy and the work ethic he has, has enabled him to do what he’s doing. The skill set is there…His feet speak to him and tell when the ball is supposed to be out and where it’s supposed to go. He’s really buying into the details.”
Dolphins’ QB Coach- Darrell Bevell was full of praise while talking about Skylar Thompson during this week’s media availability.
Thompson’s impressive performances have led many to question Bridgewater’s value on the Miami Dolphins 53-man roster, seeing the former Saints QB as a tradeable asset. For the time being at least, Bridgewater is expected to stay with Miami, leaving the Dolphins with the very difficult question of what to do with Thompson.
Available roster spots are few and far between. Miami has not carried three QBs on their final roster since the 2018 season with Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, and David Fales.
Thompson will not likely see the field during the 2022 season. However, if released, it is very likely that Thompson will not clear waivers, having shown enough to be picked up by another team.
In recent years, Miami has committed on average $6 million per year to their back-up QB. With cap space likely to be more of a concern from 2023 onwards with big deals for Hill and Armstead to account for, it may be that Thompson will be a cheaper alternative to acquiring a rental journeyman QB once more.
Running Back /Full Back
Chase Edmonds- Lock
Alec Ingold- Lock
Raheem Mostert- Likely Lock
Myles Gaskin/ Salvon Ahmed- Ones to Watch
Miami’s running back depth is perhaps one of the biggest questions heading into the final preseason game. The battle between Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed being the biggest unknown in relation to who makes the Miami Dolphins’ final 53-man roster. Gaskin was consistently the Dolphins’ best running back during the Brian Flores era; his productivity in an otherwise stagnant offense gives him the slight edge on Ahmed.
ZaQuandre White most likely will make it to the practice squad, and may feature during the season given Mostert’s injury history.
Tyreek Hill- Lock
Jaylen Waddle- Lock
Erik Ezukanma- Lock
Cedrick Wilson- Lock
Trent Sherfield- Ones to Watch
Lynn Bowden Jr- Ones to Watch
While the above players are locks to make the team for their contributions on offense, the remaining roster spots will most likely be influenced by a player’s contributions to special teams. Lynn Bowden’s all round versatility as a receiver, rusher, returner, and even in the passing game, ought to earn him a roster spot.
The Trent Sherfield/River Cracraft battle is likely to be fiercely contested. Let us not forget that Cracraft was an early recipient of the infamous orange jersey. However, Sherfield’s contributions during camp and overall explosiveness give him the edge.
Preston Williams is likely to be cut, with Braylon Sanders hopefully making his way to the practice squad following an impressive training camp.
Mike Gesicki- Question Mark
Durham Smythe- Lock
Hunter Long- Lock
TE was one of Miami’s biggest strengths, now it is one of their biggest unknowns. One thing is for sure: Cethan Carter is almost an inevitability to be cut. Durham Smythe and Hunter Long have been quiet throughout camp. Undrafted free agent Tanner Conner has impressed, however his immediate future seems destined for the practice squad.
What Miami does with Mike Gesicki remains to be seen. It is likely that he will stay, however, one thing is clear: something is not right. Gesicki has been quiet all offseason and has featured long into preseason games, while other starters have been on limited snap counts. Check out fellow Dolphins ATB writer Tim Rodriguez’s article addressing the latest rumors surrounding the star tight end.
Terron Armstead- Lock
Connor Williams- Lock
Robert Hunt- Lock
Liam Eichenberg- Lock
Austin Jackson- Lock
Michael Deiter- Lock
Robert Jones- Likely
Solomon Kindley- One to Watch
Here we go again… At least it can’t get any worse… yet! There is no disputing that the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams have certainly bolstered an otherwise woeful offensive line.
With Williams repeatedly struggling with snapping consistency, Michael Deiter has to be a lock to make the final roster in the event that Williams needs to shift back over to LG. The biggest concern has to be at tackle in the event that Armstead goes down. The Dolphins have a lot of versatility on the interior offensive line — not so much at tackle. McDaniel and GM Chris Grier may elect for further depth at tackle in the form of Larnel Coleman rather than Solomon Kindley.
The Miami Dolphins have a conundrum on their hands and his name is Mike Gesicki. Gesicki, now playing for his third head coach in five seasons, seems to be the odd man out in Miami these days. New head coach Mike McDaniel is bringing the only offense he has ever coached to the Dolphins: the Shanahan-inspired wide zone running scheme. His newly franchise tagged tight end may not exactly be a perfect fit.
With his most challenging training camp coming to a close soon, Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki finds himself in a precarious position.
The biggest hurdle
The biggest question mark around Mike Gesicki’s game has, and always will be, about his blocking ability. As a rookie, former head coach Adam Gase put him in far too many situations where he was blocking pass rushers one on one.
The next regime and their 43 different play callers were able to maximize his strengths. Putting the big body tight end either in the slot or out wide allowed him to flash his freakish athleticism as a pass catcher.
Whether it was Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett, or Tua Tagovailoa throwing him the ball, Gesicki shined.
Mike Gesicki’s struggles as a blocker are now even more highlighted in this new offense. Miami’s second preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders was an example of where Gesicki will struggle. He struggled for most of the night to block efficiently. Even his greatest strength failed him on a third down pass early in the game that bounced off his chest.
Gesicki’s performance on Saturday has been the topic of discussion since the game ended. Tua Tagovailoa, Mike McDaniel, and tight ends coach Jon Embree were all asked about his struggles against the Raiders. Each expressed confidence in his ability to bounce back and continue to improve.
Gesicki bounced back in a big way in Tuesday’s practice, and saw more action than he typically has in camp. Wednesday’s joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles saw Gesicki make an impressive grab in 11-on-11 periods.
What does the future hold for Mike Gesicki?
Reports of Miami seeking to trade the tight end have been shot down by local beat writers. So what does Miami do with Mike Gesicki? If they plan to have him on the field, it is going to be in a more traditional tight end role. His price tag absolutely dictates him being on the field.
However, his blocking ability, or lack thereof, will always stop him from being a fit for this offense. He can improve as a blocker, but will always be limited. He’s a tall and lanky player, with much more upper body strength than lower. Blocking will always be a mission.
This may be Gesicki’s last year with the Dolphins, but he at least appears to be in their immediate plans.
There may be no more heavily debated and disputed player in the NFL than Tua Tagovailoa. Dating back to his first starts in college, he’s been analyzed to a degree few NFL prospects have ever seen. Many were sold on his “it factor” after his infamous game winning touchdown against Georgia in the National Championship. However, just as many were skeptical, and doubted his ability to lead an NFL offense.
This lead to heavy debate on his potential draft position, which reached it’s pinnacle when he suffered a career threatening injury against Mississippi State. Many still saw him as a top five pick, while others had him out of the first round entirely.
The former, however, was the only opinion that mattered when Tua was selected number five overall in 2020 by the Miami Dolphins. The team searching for their first elite quarterback since Marino took one of their biggest risks to date.
However, the divisiveness of Tagovailoa has only continued to grow. He has shown flashes of the quarterback many believe him to be, but has had just as many head-scratching moments. These have drawn out extreme takes and biases on both sides. Nonetheless, somewhere in the middle lies a quarterback with definitive strengths and weaknesses. It is with these that we can form the foundation of what can be built upon and what needs to be fixed in the most important year of the young quarterback’s career.
By many accounts, the most important quarterback traits are as follows: arm talent (strength and accuracy), anticipation, processing, pocket presence, and footwork. My goal is to evaluate where Tua Tagovailoa lies on each of these categories, and discover an attainable goal where I, and hopefully the rest of Dolphins media and fandom, can consider this season a success.
Coming into the NFL, Tua’s strengths and weaknesses as far as arm strength and accuracy were well documented. Coming from the RPO-heavy Steve Sarkisian system, it was clear that he possessed elite short area accuracy and ball placement.
It was also clear that he wasn’t a premier deep ball thrower. While he could hit the open shot once in a while, he wasn’t going to hit the cover-2 hole shots at a rate similar to 2020 draft counterpart Justin Herbert. It wasn’t necessarily an issue, but a clear niche in which his game found itself.
However, the intermediate area is where the debate began. Despite Tagovailoa’s historically high efficiency numbers, there were serious questions about how inflated they were from a primarily one-read scheme. If Tua would have to read more of the field, would his accuracy take a major dip?
Tua Tagovailoa has struggled immensely in the intermediate passing game since arriving in the NFL. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Tua’s passer rating on passes between 10 and 20 yards to the middle and right thirds of the field is significantly below average. However, when targeting the left third, his 118.5 rating dominates the league average of 89.2.
This shows a clear area in which he needs to improve. Luckily, there is a visible path to doing so in the Mike McDaniel offense. McDaniel, along with his run-game prowess, has shown the abilty to draw up deadly play action looks. Specifically, boot concepts in which San Francisco’s playmakers would attack the intermediate zones.
The result: Jimmy Garoppolo was above league average in each of the intermediate thirds. It’s clear that Tua can do the same. He has the talent to do so, and it is crucial that he takes advantage of those opportunities when they arise.
The goal: attain an above average passer rating in ALL THREE intermediate thirds of the field.
Anticipation and Processing
RPO-based systems are among the hardest to evaluate, due to the fact that so much comes off of one read. Typically, this would stray away talent evaluators, who haven’t seen the quarterback operate in a more complex scheme, but the clip that Tua was able to connect on was generational, and gave many hope that he could do it on a larger scale.
This would be crucial. Given Tagovailoa’s size and physical tools, he would have to be able to compensate with an elite football mind. However, since arriving in the league, he’s yet to demonstrate it.
Far too often, Tua stares down his first read, telegraphing where the ball is going, and allowing DB’s to make a play. Furthermore, when he gets to his second and third reads, he’s either too late or doesn’t trust what he sees. This oftentimes leads to sacks or turnovers.
It’s difficult to determine how Tua can get rid of these bad habits, and thus the “slow blinker” asterisk. Although, we can also understand that Tagovailoa has significantly better offensive coaching than he has seen to this point. McDaniel, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and new quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell all have a reputaition around the league as bright offensive minds. It’s likely that they can draw up plays to help cover this up.
However, Tagovailoa can’t be complacent, and must see things quicker. Whether it’s mental reps, more studying of the playbook, or simply just more live action, he must improve, and with the recent training camp clip that has surfaced, it appears that he has.
This clip shows Tua hitting Tyreek Hill in stride for a one handed catch and a touchdown. However, the catch isn’t the surprising part. When Tagovailoa releases the ball, Hill is still covered, and hasn’t found the soft spot in the coverage. Despite this, Tua showed more faith in his eyes, and put it in the perfect spot for his receiver to catch it. This is exactly what we are going to need to see more of, and it’s promising that it’s showing in camp.
The more film study, time with receivers, or mental reps Tua runs himself through, the more benefits he will reap. His mentality towards the game must improve. Thus, his play on the field will be a strong indicator of if it has.
The goal: know the situation like the back of your hand.
If there is one trait that has been an overwhelming positive in Tua Tagovailoa’s game since being drafted, it’s his ability to sense and evade edge pressure. Miami’s offensive line has been frustrating, to say the least, but Tua has largely been able to subdue those struggles with great pocket movement.
Much of what makes Tua potentially great is how he is able to maneuver edge pressure. It is when that pressure comes up the middle, however, that we begin to see the common problem that becomes his biggest flaw.
Robotic: a term often thought of in a negative connotation, but is one of the most common positive descriptors of Tua’s game. In clean pockets, his mechanics are as consistent as they come. His feet follow his eyes, and often lead to smart, quick decisions. However, it is when defenses send pressure through the A and B gaps that his footwork sees a significant drop off.
This is a common issue among young quarterbacks. It’s hard for any human being to maintain strong footwork with 300 pound men being pushed into their knees. However, many of those quarterbacks don’t take the brunt of the blow to their arm strength in the way Tua does.
Due to the arm strength concerns mentioned earlier, Tua needs his feet to be in line with his throws. He doesn’t have the arm of a Mahomes or Josh Allen, who can make off platform plays with ease. However, he creates several by fading on throws with A-gap pressure, which often lead to poor results.
This will be the hardest habit to break, and has been something few are able to achieve. However, it may be the most crucial to Tua’s success. While Miami worked on their offensive line this off-season, it still isn’t perfect. There will be plays where teams are able to get into his lap, but he can’t crumble. He has to be able to sit in and make a strong throw, or get out of the pocket, as he has successfully done in the past.
Tua has shown development in this area, but if he is to become a successful quarterback, it must become a strength, rather than his biggest weakness.
The goal: sustain success at the sight of interior pressure.
The Bottom Line on Tua Tagovailoa in 2022
The most divisive quarterback in the league is going into the deciding year of his career. Stories like this are what the NFL is made of, and while many believe Tua’s fate is set in stone, it’s far from the truth.
There are attainable goals, some more difficult than others, that in my eyes, can correlate to a successful 2022 season. If Miami’s quarterback is able to improve in the key areas I outlined the questions will begin to fade. The noise of bringing in his replacement will become a calming silence, and most importantly, the Miami Dolphins will reach heights unseen in decades.
This is it. This year we will see what the heralded franchise savior is made of. The mountain is steep, but the journey of climbing it will be all so satisfying if Tua Tagovailoa reaches it’s summit.
Through making several deals since Chris Grier became Miami’s GM, the Dolphins have found a way to build their team through the draft, while maintaining the capital to make big moves. For example, Grier was able to trade for wide receiver Tyreek Hill without giving up any major picks in 2023.
Furthermore, Miami is able to make a run with the current roster, while creating the best-case scenario if this year doesn’t work out. More specifically, they have created three distinct possibilities that cover just about every reasonable outcome. All three of which hinge on Tua Tagovailoa, and will play out differently depending on his performance.
Solidifying a Contender
If the Dolphins, and more importantly Tua Tagovailoa, perform well this year, Miami is left with myriad options with their draft picks. Much like they did with Tyreek Hill, they have the potential to go out and continue their “win now” approach. Every year, a new veteran becomes available, and it may come down to who is willing to bid the most. Miami is in a position, through these trades, to outbid just about every team.
These picks, however, could also be used in the draft. While Miami’s roster is the best it’s been in years, there are still some holes and depth issues. Miami could opt for quantity over one quality player, stacking the spots on the team that need work.
This approach would signal a further confidence in Tagovailoa, who would have to perform for this to work. However, if his production warrants it, Miami could stack the deck for years to come.
Pursuing a Rookie Quarterback
The other two options would admit failure for Tagovailoa, who has been inconsistent over his first two seasons. However, Miami has an insurance policy for him, and it may be put to use if he fails this season. Miami, having five premium picks next year, is in good shape in a draft filled with premium quarterback talent.
Going into this season, the 2023 quarterback class appears to be the strongest in some time. Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and University of Miami QB Tyler Van Dyke highlight a deep and talented class. If Miami believes that one of these signal-callers could succeed in their scheme, they have the ammo to move up for one of them.
While it seems intriguing, this option has its risks. Miami would be banking on yet another young, unproven quarterback to succeed in ways they haven’t seen since Dan Marino. With a roster that’s ready to compete, this could set the timeline back even longer, and may be unlikely as owner Stephen Ross continues to age towards retirement.
Blockbuster Quarterback Trades
The last, and potentially most exciting option for the 2023 Miami Dolphins comes — yet again — in pursuing a quarterback. However, it makes much more sense for Miami to go after a veteran if Tua doesn’t work out.
Miami has several veterans who are in their prime, such as Tyreek Hill and Terron Armstead. Thus, it’s crucial to maximize their championship window, which may be closed by the time a rookie is ready. Thus, Miami may look to acquire a quarterback from another team, much like the Broncos and Browns did this off-season.
While this is all speculation, there are a few star quarterbacks who could become available next year. Lamar Jackson, who intrigued Stephen Ross in 2018, has yet to sign an extension and would be a free agent if he doesn’t do so.
Kyler Murray is also a possibility, as his discontent with the Cardinals organization began to show this off-season. If they have yet another lackluster season with Murray and Kingsbury, there is potential for the young quarterback to request a trade.
There is also the option of a wild-card whose team doesn’t perform to expectations. With so much talent in the AFC, some teams are bound to not make the playoffs, which could leave fringe teams with unhappy quarterbacks who would rather play with one of the league’s most opportunistic defenses and best young cores.
The Bottom Line on the Miami Dolphins and the 2023 Off-season
While these potential moves are just conjecture, it’s clear the team has made moves to position themselves nicely. Continuing to feed off the blockbuster Laremy Tunsil trade, the Miami Dolphins find themselves in a positive situation for 2023, and beyond.
New head coach Mike McDaniel looks promising, and the roster as undergone major improvement since his arrival. Dolphins fans have much to be happy about currently, and the possibilities continue to grow in the coming years.