South Florida Sun Sentinel |
Dec 24, 2021 at 5:49 PM
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There’s a pyramid of power on every sports team’s roster, a hierarchy that brings influence and respect to those that sit at the top.
Even though Xavien Howard is the Miami Dolphins’ only Pro Bowl selection for the 2021 season, there’s quite a few players on the roster who are having outstanding seasons — and many of them are first or second-year players.
Here’s a look at the top 10 Dolphins players based on contributions made to the team this season.
1. Cornerback Xavien Howard: The three-time Pro Bowl player takes on the toughest assignment just about every week, covering the opposition’s best receiver. While he’s not exactly a lock-down cornerback — and has allowed his share of touchdowns this season — his knack for delivering turnovers (four interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and one returned for a touchdown) makes him one of the NFL’s elite defenders, a playmaker quarterbacks try to avoid. Since entering the NFL in 2016, Howard leads the NFL with 26 interceptions. While this season might not have him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors like last season, he’s still one of the NFL’s elite players.
2. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah: Ogbah has been the Dolphins’ most consistent defensive lineman, a player who is just as good defending the run and deflecting passes as he is rushing the quarterback. Ogbah, who has 32 tackles, seven sacks and has knocked down a career-high 10 passes, becomes a free agent this offseason. He’ll likely double his $7.5 million salary, and the Dolphins might have to use the franchise tag to retain him.
3. Free safety Jevon Holland: In one season, the 2021 second-round pick has blossomed into a playmaking safety who can do it all. He’s become the signal caller for the defense, and is respected for his intellect and playmaking ability. Howard recently compared Holland, who has 50 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles, to a young Eric Berry because of his range, which allows him to cover a large portion of the field.
4. Receiver Jaylen Waddle: Waddle was on pace to set the NFL rookie record for receptions in a season before he missed last week’s game because of COVID. He needs 16 receptions in the final three games to break Anquan Boldin’s record of 101, which was set in 2003. This season, Waddle, who has caught 86 passes for 849 yards and five touchdowns, has blossomed into a reliable slot receiver, one who has a knack for making himself quarterback-friendly on most plays because his speed forces opponents to give him space.
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5. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa: Say whatever you’d like about his arm strength, style of offense, or approach, but make sure the conversation ends with an acknowledgment that he’s one of the NFL’s more efficient quarterbacks, a player whose performances typically result in wins. Tagovailoa enters Monday’s game as the NFL leader in completion percentage (69.9), and his 67.1 completion percentage for his first 20 games is the best in NFL history.
6. Linebacker Jerome Baker: Baker is on pace to lead the Dolphins in tackles for the third straight season, and this year he’s doing it despite his role being altered. Baker, who has 73 tackles, three sacks and one interception, has returned to the position he played as rookie, working as an outside linebacker in this year’s scheme. How he’ll be used in the future will likely depend on what linebackers Miami adds this offseason via free agency and the draft.
7. Tight end Mike Gesicki: Gesicki spent the past three seasons establishing himself as one of the team’s better offensive weapons, and his productivity this season (64 receptions for 685 yards and two touchdowns) hasn’t disappointed. But it would be a stretch to characterize him as a tight end, considering he’s spent more time out on the boundary and in the slot than he has working on the line of scrimmage. His unique usage and limitations as a blocker will make the impending free agent a tough offseason decision for Miami’s brass. The Dolphins need a traditional tight end, but can’t exactly afford to lose one of the few offensive weapons this franchise has developed. Miami must decide if Gesicki’s worth paying $12-14 million a season, or if it would be wise to use the franchise or transitional tag on him this offseason.
8. Cornerback Byron Jones: Jones, who is the team’s highest-paid player because of his $14 million base salary, has been reliable and consistent. He’s contributed 54 tackles (45 solo), forced one fumble and broken up 10 passes. But more importantly, his physical, pressing style allows the Dolphins to play an aggressive defense because it puts the boundary cornerbacks on an island. Jones, who is guaranteed $8.375 million of his $14.4 million salary in 2022, has proven he can handle that type of isolation.
9. Pass rusher Jaelan Phillips: Phillips, a former University of Miami standout who the Dolphins drafted with the 18th pick in the 2021 draft, got off to a slow start. But when the Dolphins stopped asking him to fill a linebacker role and made him exclusively work as a pass-rushing specialist at midseason, he began to blossom, recording seven of his 8.5 sacks, and 11 of his 16 quarterback hits. The Dolphins are optimistic that Phillips’ game will expand in the coming seasons.
10. Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins: Not only has Wilkins, the Dolphins’ 2019 first-round pick, become a reliable front-line starter, but the former Clemson standout has also become one of the team’s emotional leaders. Wilkins has recorded a career-high 64 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble with three games left. The Dolphins are expected to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract, committing to play him $10.1 million in 2023.