With the 2020-21 NFL season now behind the Miami Dolphins, the FPC Dolphins staff took the time to evaluate each position across the board for its performance.
Managing editor Kayla Morton and contributing writers Carl Mahler, Christian Chappell and Daniel Roberts assigned individual grades for each offensive, defensive and special teams position based on Miami’s full 16-game season.
On offense from the revolving running back door to the dominating tight end room on offense, who put up career numbers at their position that the staff took note of?
For defense, Xavien Howard is a staple name, but what unit as a whole shocked the staff and what unit was a phantom?
That and more in this season’s end of season report card.
Miami had a lot of positives come out of its QB room during the 2020-21 season. From veteran mentorship to the development of a rookie and over-exceeding in the win-loss column due to some stellar performances and finishes, there was a lot to be excited about. However, the revolving door of swapping in and out mid-game, the up and down play of both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa, and how the mid-season starter swap was handled, knock the success of this tandem down to a low “B” in my opinion.
Running backs: D+
Giving Miami a C- here was too generous. What looked to be two promising veteran signings in Jordan Howard and Matt Brieda in free agency/the NFL draft via trade went to hell and high water fast. Howard could only run a few yards, if that, and got stood up at the goal line three straight times from one yard out in multiple games. His three-year contract got sliced mid-season and the Dolphins cut him.
If Dolphins fans had high hopes for Breida coming in to be a rusher then they never understood his playing style. He’s a pass-catching back that needs a cohesive offensive line and room to run with an experienced QB. Well, Miami drafted and started Tagovailoa “early” and at one point was starting three rookies on the OL along with center Ted Karras and tackle Ereck Flowers who were new to the Dolphins this season. His contract makes sense, but he wasn’t going to make an impact this year.
Myles Gaskin was a beacon of hope, but falling on the COVID-19 list and outstretching his MCL to miss more than one month KILLED Miami, yet it still won 10 games. Amazing. We can thank undrafted back Salvon Ahmed for that who the Dolphins snagged from the San Francisco 49ers practice squad for that, but that was after the signings of Howard and Breida. What’s that called? Luck. Gaskin and Ahmed worked in their own ways and made improvements that couldn’t be worse than Miami’s 2019 rushing, but it was still mostly ugly in 2020.
Wide receivers: C-
Am I allowed to say ‘this sucked’ professionally? No? Okay, then pretend you didn’t read my first sentence. Miami has the 11th most expensive wide receiver room in the NFL and its best receiver is DeVante Parker, who I’m sorry, underwhelmed again after his strong year in 2019. After his 1,200+ yard, nine TD season, I had higher hopes than his measly four scores he turned in during 2020. Foolish of me? Probably. That’s five disappointing years out of six.
The Dolphins also saw Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opt-out of the season before it began because of COVID-19, leaving Parker, Preston Williams and Jakeem Grant as their starters. Williams had eight career games coming into 2020 and Grant is at-best a special teams return man, when he wants to catch the ball. Parker and Grant both missed time with injuries and Miami had to turn to reserves and practice squad players and were in for a world of hurt. Thankfully, guys like Mack Hollins, Malcolm Perry, Lynn Bowden Jr. and the tight ends worked out actually pretty damn well. Remember the Las Vegas miracle? Hell yeah.
Tight ends: A
This was Miami’s most successful unit in 2020, hands down.
Starting TE Mike Gesicki already had something brewing with blocking TE Durham Smythe that was coming to fruition even with the Dolphins in 2019, but we weren’t sure just what. A curveball came when Miami acquired Adam Shaheen from the Chicago Bears in FA and now had three it planned to start — a rarity in today’s game. But then history happened.
The trio tied Miami’s TE touchdown record with 11 combined on the season and they had a franchise-best 91 catches for 1,061 receiving yards.
Could you imagine what the unit would’ve done completely healthy with no missed games? Sign me up for this new scheme.
Offensive line: B
I’m going for a higher grade here. I will admit I expected this to be a disaster coming into the season with three drafted rookies and five new faces that could be there week one after Miami signed Karras and Flowers as aforementioned in FA. The Dolphins ended up starting four new guys and leaving veteran tackle Jesse Davis out there instead of starting rookie Robert Hunt. Looking back on it, should’ve shelved Davis too, but I digress.
The first game the rookies played together they allowed zero sacks, marking the first time in 2020 Miami achieved that feat. All together the line allowed 34 sacks, down from 58 just a season ago. Not stellar, but 58…come on. Finally, for the most part, the line made running lanes for the backs. If you really watch the Dolphins’ game footage, it was the RBs not finding the holes. The OL is partially to blame, but this falls more on the RBs in my opinion as a spectator and objective analyst.
Defensive line/Defensive ends/Edge rushers: C
I’m going right in the middle here with mediocrity. Guys stood out but there were still too many that underwhelmed in my personal opinion.
DE Emmanuel Ogbah had the best season of this unit in my opinion. He ended the season with a career-high nine sacks, 21 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles for the Dolphins who would end up being top-five in fumble recoveries and lead the league with 29 total takeaways. Other than that, only defensive lineman Raekwon Davis and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux are worth mentioning here due to their tackle numbers, but even Godchaux ended up on injured reserve. It’s worth noting that Godchaux’s contract is up, so hopefully his presence this season is enough to get some new ink as he is an asset to this corps.
I really wanted to drop this unit into a B+ for the missed time the linebackers as a whole missed this season, but their statistics overall speak for themselves.
The additions of Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, although were the main culprits of missing time, went better than expected. As a group they reached the 350-tackle plateau and accounted for more than 60-percent of the Dolphins’ season sacks. When starters did get injured, Andrew Van Ginkel was an absolute tank. He should be a starter on a team in a league, but thankfully Miami has him. Shaq Lawson, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Calvin Munson all played and got starting time this season and they too made the most of it.
The bright spot here is Eric Rowe. He had a career year in guarding the tight end position specifically and truly only struggled with Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, but shined with other top names like San Francisco’s George Kittle who he kept under 50 receiving yards.
However, outside of Rowe, no other name is notable. Bobby McCain had a down year in my opinion and Clayton Fejedelem was a let down coming in free agency from Cincinnati, doing a lot of harm to the defense. Miami also gave up too many deep balls and really struggled in this category. The Dolphins are working on developing some younger guys, but it was mostly ugly in 2020.
Xavien Howard should’ve won Defensive Player-of-the-Year after being the first corner in 13 years since Antonio Cromartie to record 10 interceptions in a season.
He started all 16 games for the first time in three seasons and was a staple to one of the NFL’s best defenses. He had the most interception return yards he has ever had in his career in a single season, as well as a career-high 20 passes defensed. His 40 solo tackles were two off a career-best and 51 total tackles were a new career-high.
Opposite him, Byron Jones struggled in his first year after coming over from the Dallas Cowboys in FA, but saw an uptick in usage from previous years. His play however did bring down the unit as a whole with the big plays he gave up and the penalties he took.
But to get a little of that back, rookie Noah Igbinoghene who played with the two in three-CB sets looked like he had a few years under his belt and was an asset in the middle of the field when needed.
This unit was at some of its best that Miami has seen in years. Kicker Jason Sanders set a new franchise record with 17 consecutive field goals made to begin a season and missed just three on the year. His 36-for-39, good for greater than 92-percent, was one of the best in the NFL. Sanders also converted all of his extra-point attempts.
Punter Matt Haack also had an above-average season. He pinned a whopping 26 punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged more than 44 yards per punt.
Special Teams: D
The unit was abysmal at best. The Dolphins ranked in the bottom tier of most statistical categories and gave up too many yards on returns to the opposition. It was painful to watch special teams’ return scores against them, as well Miami’s own struggles with not being able to find a for-sure guy to handle the duties themselves. Jakeem Grant struggled again with his hands and couldn’t find space he had in prior seasons to make really anything of his returns. He had one punt return touchdown, but that doesn’t make up for the near-turnovers on drops and poor decisions. We need serious changes here.
Miami’s accomplishments surprised many around the league, including its own fan base, with how well the QB play was from both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa.
Fitzpatrick pushed Miami to a 4-4 record with 10 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions, as well as two rushing TDs before getting pulled for Tagovailoa during the team’s bye week. Surprised were many, including myself, when Tagovailoa ripped off an impressive 6-3 record as a starter and finished with 11 passing TDs (three rushing) and only five INTs.
The only concern I had here for the season was head coach Brian Flores’ confidence in trusting Tagovailoa to finish games. We saw him pulled multiple times in favor of Fitzpatrick in an attempt to win Dolphins games. We also don’t know if Flores would’ve truthfully started Fitzpatrick (or played him) in Miami’s must-win season finale game to make the playoffs against the Buffalo Bills because he came down with COVID-19 and was ineligible. You have to think Flores would’ve tried to change some type of script after the horrendous first half of that game, right?
Running backs: C
The running back group this season was full of many twists and turns that resulted in many different players taking the helm due to injury concerns or COVID-19. No one was playing on a consistent basis for the whole season.
Myles Gaskin started the season taking over the starter spot despite the Dolphins picking up Jordan Howard and Matt Breida in the offseason. Both Howard and Breida underperformed, but Howard, who would end up getting waived by Miami, led the Dolphins with four rushing TDs on the season despite rushing for just 33 yards. The strictly running back group finished with 1,348 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs.
Wide receivers: C-
What an underwhelming season it was for the wide receiving group as a whole. DeVante Parker did not produce nearly the numbers he produced from a season ago, both Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson were COVID-19 opt-outs and not much help was provided from the rest of the pack. The unit as a whole finished with 2,536 receiving yards and only eight TDs. Parker also accounted for half of them, making the team wonder just what the others were doing when it came to time in the red zone.
Tight ends: B+
This year’s group of tight ends were proving to be reliable when the team needed them at important times in games. They were the most reliable options for Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa during the season and Mike Gesicki, Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe all contributed 1,061 receiving yards and 11 TDs to help pick up the offensive slack. Gesicki finished with a career-year of 53 receptions for 703 receiving yards and six receiving scores.
Offensive line: C
The offensive line did not allow as many sacks this season, allowing 34 compared to 58 from one season ago. But the players as a whole still need to work on areas of the line.
Miami went out and got a good pickup in the offseason from the Washington Football Team in Ereck Flowers as well. He and center Ted Karras brought in needed leadership.
But the reality is the starting five for the Dolphins were all a work in progress. The tackle position remains to be an area of need for the Dolphins as the starting tackles Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt surrendered a combined seven sacks.
Defensive line: B
The interior of the defense was a sustained group that provided the defensive ends and the edge rushers the opportunity to get to the QB. The inside group managed to only sustain 58 total tackles with second-round rookie Raekwon Davis leading the interior with 40 tackles. Davon Godchaux also proved to be of some assistance adding 16 tackles before his season was cut short due to injury. However, none of the interior lineman were able to register a sack this season.
This was one of the biggest surprises of the whole season on defense. The Linebacker unit finished the 2020 season with 350 total tackles, 25 sacks, accounting for 61-percent of Miami’s season sacks, and 15 passes defended.
The safety unit provided the defense with some key stops throughout the season and stepped up when needed. As a unit the safeties finished with 209 tackles, 17 passes defended and three INTs. Going forward, if they can build on their singular sack Miami would be in better shape.
The cornerback group played their tails off with Xavien Howard leading the way. The unit finished the season with 180 tackles, 34 passes defended and 14 INTs, accounting for 77-percent of Miami’s total INTs on the season.
Defensive ends/Edge rushers: B+
The defensive ends and edge rushers sure did enjoy helping out the defense in every single game. Led by DE Emmanuel Ogbah the unit finished with 137 tackles, 14 sacks, 34 QB hits, two fumble recoveries and one INT.
Kicking: A-, Punting: B+
Kicker Jason Sanders was a bright spot for the Dolphins kicking game during the season. The 25-year-old connected on all 36 point-after attempts during the season, and despite missing three field goals on 39 attempts, Sanders still hit 92.3-percent of those kicks.
26-year-old Punter Matt Haack booted the ball 68 times this season with a long of 63 yards and averaged a punt of 44.7 yards per kick. That put him at 24th in the league in punting distance, but he did manage to pin opponents 26 times inside the 20.
Special Teams: D
Not much came from the special teams unit this season as their performance was pretty lackluster to say the least.
The team managed 17.9 yards per kickoff return, ranking dead last in the league, but gave up the fewest kickoff return yards on defense with an average of 15.7 yards. Miami finished eighth in punt return average with 11 yards per return while only scoring one punt return TD on Jakeem Grant’s 88-yard return. The Dolphins’ coverage on defense was terrible to watch as they ranked 29th in the league giving up 12.4 yards per punt return and two return TDs.
While the team did well throughout the season there were some discrepancies between which QB would have played better for Miami this season once the Dolphins announced rookie Tua Tagovailoa as their starter.
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick consistently put up more yards than Tagovailoa when he played, but he also threw interceptions more consistently as well. The numbers Tagovailoa had were not disappointing for a rookie though and should give Dolphins fans hope for the future.
Running backs: D
Going back to last season, while there was some improvement, the team was still well within the bottom half of the league when it came to running the ball. It did pick it up toward the end of the season, averaging 150 rushing yards per game for their last three games. However, Miami was sloppy and next to miserable with very few rays of light in my opinion prior to those last three games with no back accumulating as much as 600 yards this season, including Myles Gaskin.
Wide receivers: C-
Miami’s receiving corps was one of those that took a few hits prior to the start of the season due to COVID-19. However, the team’s leading receiver, DeVante Parker was still under 800 yards on the season (793), and not a one of the Miami receivers made more than four TD grabs this year.
Tight ends: B-
Possibly the bright spot of the Dolphins’ offense this year, Mike Gesicki came through when it counted most this year. He led all position players in touchdowns this year (six), and was second in yardage (703) as well as receptions (53) from the tight end position. Had he not been injured, the storyline here would likely have been him finishing as Miami’s leading receiver.
Offensive line: D
The offensive line was practically putrid. There was no consistency to Miami’s run blocking, much less their pass blocking, as the team was 21st in the NFL rushing the ball and allowed a total of 34 sacks on the season on top of that. Most lines are known for their ability to run block, pass block, or both, but this team’s offensive line will be known for neither.
Jerome Baker and Kyle Van Noy combined for 13 sacks on the season, as well as 116 solo tackles. Baker’s 70 were a team-best. The pair also shared nine pass deflections as well as 20 tackles for a loss. They also weren’t the only guys that stood out in the corps, as teammates such as Andrew Van Ginkel and Elandon Roberts each had defining moments in multiple games as well.
Eric Rowe was second on the team in total tackles and came away with two interceptions and 11 pass deflections. However the team was not exactly known for its ability to stop the long ball or come in the clutch. With him being Miami’s current best option, an average grade here of a ‘C’ is generous.
Dolphins’ cornerback Xavien Howard had a league-leading 10 interceptions on the season, but unfortunately, the rest of the group only accumulated a combined four interceptions. The group also wasn’t exactly the best when it came to defending the pass, as Miami was 17th in the league, leaving plenty of room for improvement despite being better than 15 other teams.
Defensive line/ends/Edge rushers: C+
The team accumulated 41 sacks on the season, with Emmanuel Ogbah leading the way with nine, good for 10th best in the league. They were also 19th when it came to stopping the run. Miami was also last place when it came to stopping other teams on third down, which I can’t think would be higher if the team applied more consistent pressure to opposing QBs. The Dolphins are in a rut that was masked by the defense’s ability to score, but they’ll need to figure it out in the offseason so it doesn’t backfire in seasons to come.
The kicking of Jason Sanders was excellent.
The 25-year old went 36-for-39 on field goal attempts on the season and only missed one of his nine attempts from beyond 50 yards. Sanders also did not miss a single one of his 36 extra-point attempts this year either.
The punting of 26-year-old Matt Haack was slightly lackluster to Dolphins fans, but nothing to be disappointed with. After 68 attempts, Haack averaged 44.7 yards with a long of 63 yards and had another 26 inside the 20.
Special Teams: D+
The team was subpar at returns, averaging only 17.9 yards per kick return and 11.1 yards per punt return. Their only score coming from the return team was an 88-yard punt return at the hands of Jakeem Grant who has his own issues himself with being Miami’s return specialist.
To go from having one of the worst records in the league in 2019 to one of the biggest turnarounds in 2020 is a testament to the growth of this team. At the quarterback position Miami kept switching who was under center in games so it was hard to see who the better QB was for the direction the Dolphins are trying to go. They grew enough to deliver some key wins to put them in a possible playoff position, but the inexperience of Tagovailoa burned them in that must-win game despite head coach Brian Flores starting Tagovailoa earlier than expected. Growth will be needed before Miami can become a playoff contender.
Running backs: C
The running back corps grew in 2020. Running was something that the team struggled with the year before, and while this season showed a lot more growth, the Dolphins still lacked in scoring and high yards per carry.
Myles Gaskin was a highlight in the run game after earning the start at the position a few weeks in. He will continue to grow as a running back if given the opportunity, but the RBs did a slightly below-average job in 2020, so another area for the team to grow in in 2021 is this one.
Wide receivers: C-
When you look at what the receiving corps did in 2020 for the Dolphins they came through in different situations but there were absent more times than not. No. 1 WR DeVante Parker also had another down year and couldn’t find a flow with either Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa.
Tight ends: B
The biggest reason behind this rating was Mike Gesicki’s performance for the Dolphins. He was one of the most consistent players for the team and came through when they needed him. He appeared in 15 of the Dolphins’ 16 games and made his impact in the wins Miami accumulated. His six TDs were a team-high.
Offensive line: D
Yes, the team won 10 games during the regular season, but there were a lot of gaps in their offensive game plan and that was thanks to their offensive line.
Miami ranked 21st in the league in terms of running the football. 34 sacks were also allowed during the season. The OL’s job is to protect their QB and RBs no matter their age or experience and that wasn’t accomplished. More time together, as well as an offseason in 2021 that Miami (and the rest of the NFL) didn’t get in 2020 because of COVID-19 could pay large dividends.
Defensive line: C
The defensive line held their own in certain situations. They had standout performances from key guys like rookie Raekwon Davis and Davon Godchaux but none of the guys on the interior registered a sack during the 2020 campaign. They came through when they were supposed to and their record shows it.
The linebackers accounted for 350 tackles and 25 sacks as a unit which accounted for more than 60 percent of the total sacks accumulated during the season. That performance alone gives the linebacker department this rating.
Eric Rowe is the main reason why the safety department does not have a lower grade. He was second on the team in tackles and kept the safeties relevant. In terms of preventing big plays from opposing teams, the Dolphin’s safeties were not good at doing that. They will get better at it with time and experience.
Xavien Howard was the main highlight out of the cornerback department picking off 10 passes for interceptions that led the league. Everyone else however did not perform well in defending the pass, ranking 17th overall. This is another area that will need to grow and Byron Jones will have to take a big step up for Miami in order for the team to do so.
Defensive ends/Edge rushers: C-
Defensive ends and edge rushers could have definitely been better than they were in 2020 as a group. There were individuals who stood out like Raekwon Davis and Emmanuel Ogbah, but otherwise, there are no guys really worth mentioning. Multiple guys worked together to achieve the 10-6 record and no one person truly stood out, the team statistics speak for themselves.
Jason Sanders was a bright spot for the Dolphins in 2020 going 36-for-39 in field goal attempts. The high-efficiency rating for the offense not missing any extra points was also huge considering other kickers in the league did miss, some multiple times in multiple games.
Punting on the other hand was not the best by Matt Haack, as mentioned by my other colleagues. But Sanders makes up for it giving them a A- in the kicking department.
Special Teams: D
The team could not get much out of their opportunities in returning the football. Averaging 17.9 yards per return and 11.1 when returning punts, that’s enough for this rating even though the team won 10 games in 2020. They can take this as a positive and turn it around in 2021 with hard work.
Running back: C-
Wide receiver: C-
Tight End: B+
Offensive Line: C-
Defensive Line: C
Defensive Ends/Edge Rushers: C
Special Teams: D
– Kayla Morton is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Miami Dolphins. She is also a co-host on the Full Press Fantasy Podcast. Like and follow on Follow @northdakayla74 Follow @FPC_Dolphins and Facebook.