Chris Perkins: Dolphins more talented than last season but not necessarily better – yet
The Miami Dolphins’ roster is better right now than it was in January, when they lost to the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Take an objective look. Most would probably agree the Dolphins are already more talented in 2023 than they were in 2022.
But whether the Dolphins are a better team overall, a projection that’s more art than science at this point, is open for debate.
I love offseason moves and direction the team is headed under general manager Chris Grier and coach Mike McDaniel.
However, I can’t say for certain this Dolphins team, though more talented, will go further than last year’s team, which, to me, would mean winning a playoff game.
Defensively, the 2023 Dolphins are probably just as good or better at every position, including coordinator.
But look at the offense, the area that, to me, disappointed the most during last season’s five-game losing streak. There’s room to question whether this team will be better offensively than last year.
Are the 2023 Dolphins better at tight end?
Are they better at backup quarterback, a position that could be crucial considering starter Tua Tagovailoa’s injury history.
Are they better at backup left tackle, a position that could be crucial considering starter Terron Armstead’s injury history?
Are they better at starting left guard or starting right tackle?
Are they better at running back?
A lot of elements, some of which are intangibles, still must align for this team.
Creativity is a necessity.
Here’s what I mean: McDaniel, a creative sort, must draw up a role for rookie running back Devon Achane, a guy so dynamic you might be selling him short by calling him Darren Sproles-like.
I like the Achane selection.
Achane, the smallish, tough-as-nails third-round pick from Texas A&M, hits the hole fast, and he’s so quick and elusive defenders rarely get a square hit.
But you won’t just hand off to Achane 12 or 15 times a game. You won’t just stick him in the slot. He’s unique, and his role must be unique.
As another example, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who utilizes zone coverage more than his predecessors, must design a defense that fits the Dolphins’ talent.
It sounds as though he’s well on his way.
Linebacker Jerome Baker, a five-year veteran, said Fangio’s defense has fewer rules than previous Dolphins defenses.
“He gives me the freedom to make a play,” Baker said, “and I’m excited for that.”
Growth is also crucial to this team.
Atop that list is McDaniel, a first-time head coach and first-time offensive play-caller last season. He must be a better play-caller.
Running back Raheem Mostert, who has been with McDaniel since 2017, said McDaniel’s improvement is imminent.
“A lot of people are going to be shocked about what he does,” Mostert said.
And we can’t forget health.
The Dolphins, somewhat by choice (I support these choices, by the way), have chosen to roll the dice on health with a number of key players.
Newly-acquired linebacker David Long Jr., who has missed six games due to hamstring ailments each of the past two seasons, must stay healthy.
For that matter, Tagovailoa, who missed time last season due to concussions, must stay healthy.
Armstead, who missed time last season due to injuries, must stay healthy. Edge rusher Bradley Chubb, who missed time last season due to injuries, must stay healthy. Cornerback Xavien Howard, who missed time last season due to injuries, must stay healthy.
On and on it goes.
Overall, the Dolphins are a more talented team than last season.
The acquisitions of Fangio (yeah, we’re counting him) and cornerback Jalen Ramsey are significant enough to ensure the talent is better on defense.
My main questions are on offense.
But the Dolphins are still on the hunt to improve the offense.
The Dolphins have been mentioned in connection with veteran Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook. It’s believed the Vikings want to move away from Cook, the Miami Central High alum.
McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier were asked whether, after drafting Achane, they’re still looking to improve the running back position.
“Generally, nothing is off the table,” McDaniel said, before adding they’re happy with the running backs on the roster.
Then, answering whether they’re still open to adding to the running back room, McDaniel added, “There will always be stuff that we’ll investigate because that’s our job.
Along those lines, the Dolphins have hosted veteran right tackle Cameron Fleming on a visit and they reached out to veteran left tackle Taylor Lewan at one point.
Improvement is an ongoing process. I don’t think the Dolphins, as currently constructed, would win a playoff game.
But don’t worry.
The good news on that front is the Dolphins, as currently constructed, aren’t the team that will open the season in September, and they aren’t the team that will attempt to win a playoff game next January.
Those versions of the Dolphins, it’s hoped, will be better than the current version of the Dolphins.