The Miami Dolphins, after having mainly an offensive draft last off season, have focused heavily on the defensive side of the ball the off season.
And for good reason.
The Dolphins got absolutely trounced on defense last season, especially when it came to stopping the run. They took on a bend but don´t break attitude on defense, and actually did surprisingly well on third down and keeping their opponents to lower point totals. However, the large chunks of yardage gashed the Dolphins against the league´s better teams, including the New England Patriots both times and the Pittsburgh Steelers in their WildCard loss.
Heading into 2017, here are my Top 3 best defensive position groups for the Miami Dolphins, as of now.
3. Defensive End
After watching more and more tape on Charles Harris, it is impossible not to like the guy. He has fought his entire career to reach where he is now, and is both a great athlete and a smart football player. Adding Charles Harris learn under veteran Cameron Wake, the second best pass rusher in Dolphins history will only pay dividends. Harris needs to get better against the run, but will have veteran William Hayes to learn from next season.
Rounding out the DE position is Andre Branch, who re-signed this past off season and will look to build on a consistent, if not impressive 2016. The sleeper of this group for me is Terrence Fede. Fede has always been a stud on special teams, but I think he could earn more time as a rotational DE this season. This group has a nice mix of age and youth, and has both run-stoppers and pure pass-rushers. If Wake can stay healthy the entirety of the season, this could end up being the Dolphins´ Top defensive unit.
From worst to nearly first in just a couple of months, there is no better Dolphins position group on either side of the ball that got better than the linebackers. I absolutely loved the Dolphins selection of Raekwon McMillan, who adds another smart defender in the middle of the field. Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons give the Dolphins two veterans who can play different positions with different skill sets. Timmons will be the big bruising tackler the Dolphins have desperately needed to stop the run, and Alonso should only get better dropping into coverage in 2017.
The depth of this position is what makes it number two on my list. Neville Hewitt has starting experience and can also rush the passer. Koa Misi, who should be healthy at the start of 2017, is a sure tackler that uses anticipation to make up for his lack of speed. Like Terrence Fede, my sleeper for the linebackers is another special teams player who could see more reps this season - Mike Hull. Hull impressed me when he was asked to step up as an unexpected starter in 2016, and had a really impressive game against the Arizona Cardinals.
This is another group that has a great blend of young and older players, and has the ability to morph if need be throughout the season.
The Dolphins have addressed their cornerback position the last two years and have done a great job finding young talent to groom. Byron Maxwell will likely be playing his last season as a Dolphin, and will have the year to groom Cordrea Tankersley to replace him. Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett really came into their own at the end of 2016, and both will compete for the second starting job. The only question in this position group is at slot corner, where Bobby McCain has shown flashes mixed with struggles. It is McCain´s job to lose, but I would like the Dolphins to address this position before the season starts if McCain is not getting the job done.
This unit will only get better with more experience and time, but for me, it is the top position group for the Dolphins on defense heading into training camp.