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Miami Dolphins Defensive Front 7 is One of the Best in the AFC

Michael Hernandez analyzes the beginning round selections and late-round or undrafted stars in the front 7 for the Miami Dolphins heading into the 2017 season.

The 2017 Miami Dolphins roster is loaded with Top Round talent. A total of 26 players on the roster have been drafted in the first 3 rounds of an NFL draft or have been a late-round pick that has risen to become a star in the league. The Dolphins have 12 players on offense and 14 players on defense that meet this criteria. Not all have lived up to their draft status, but at some point an NFL team believed they were deserving of a Day 1 or Day 2 selection.

Today, we will take a look at the 9 players of “Top Round Talent” on the Defensive Front-7.

DEFENSE

Defensive Line:

Ndamukong Suh DT - Lions 2010 1st-round selection

After playing for the Lions and reaching free agency, Suh found his way onto the Dolphins in 2015 after signing a 6-year/$114 million contract. The 6-time All-Pro, 5-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle has brought a mean streak and attitude adjustment to the Dolphins defense. He is known for being one of the Top players at his position in the league and has made 7 appearances on NFL Network’s Top 100. The “Suh-nami” is a disruptive presence for opposing offensive linemen, using his strength, moves, and instincts to penetrate into the backfield. He is almost unblockable 1-on-1 and is often double-teamed. In two years on the Dolphins, he has accumulated 133 combined tackles and 11 sacks.

Jordan Phillips DT - 2015 2nd-round selection

One of the many 2nd-round disappointments of the Dolphins since 2008, Phillips was drafted to be the #2 defensive tackle next to Ndamukong Suh. However, coming out of the 2015 draft, there were questions about Phillips’ work ethic, but scouts/analysts agree he had the talent.
"Jordan Phillips has first round ability all over him. He can dominate at the point of attack, he controls the run game. He reminds me of Terrance Knighton. People question his football character, which is why he's being selected in the second round and not in the first." -- Mike Mayock

Unlike Ndamukong Suh, Phillips has only combined for 42 tackles and 2.5 sacks since 2015 and has not lived up to expectations. During the 2016 season, the Dolphins told him that he needs to become a student of the game and his habit of taking plays off will not be tolerated. Former defensive coordinator and now Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said the defensive tackle would good for 3 or 4 plays and then disappear for half-a-dozen or so plays after that. The team also informed Phillips that if he did not solve these issues in 2017, the Dolphins would be moving on from him. The 2nd-round selection, has admitted he got the message and has been under the wing of Suh this past offseason. He has been using “tips and tricks” in order to keep his head in the game.

Andre Branch DE - Jaguars 2012 2nd-round pick

Branch was originally drafted by the Jags due to his high motor, athleticism, and pass-rushing ability. However, that didn’t translate as he only accumulated 14 sacks in 4 years in Jacksonville. But coming to the Dolphins in 2015, Branch did not need to be the #1 defensive end nor the #2 for the team due to the presence of Cameron Wake and the signing of former-Bills Mario Williams. Eventually, after Mario Williams began to underperform, Branch found himself as the #2 defensive end. His high motor began to show and he had the most productive season of his career combining for 49 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He is somewhat a liability due to his inconsistent ability to set the edge in the run-game, but not enough to sway the Dolphins as they rewarded his production by re-signing him to a 3-year/$24 million contract extension.

Charles Harris DE - 2017 1st-round pick

Probably the most exciting pick in the Miami Dolphins draft this offseason, Harris accumulated 117 tackles, 30.5 Tackles for Loss, and 16 sacks in his last 2 seasons at Missouri. Since joining the Dolphins, he has dominated in OTA’s and minicamp and could push Andre Branch for the #2 defensive end position.

"Really solid pick here. I think he can play four-down or 3-4 linebacker; in Miami, it's four-down. He has a good first step and is explosive off the edge. This young man is adept at a pass rusher." -- Mike Mayock

Harris has a combination of speed, size, and power. But like Andre Branch, scouts have concerns about Harris’ ability to set the edge against the run. The Dolphins do not put on pads until Training Camp (July 27th), so it is hard to judge trench-play. But things look bright for the young defensive end. Worst case scenario: Harris will be a rotational player coming off the bench in passing situations.

Cameron Wake DE - 2005 Undrafted

The New York Giants did not want him, his girlfriend (at the time) laughed at his NFL dream, and he dominated in the CFL before Jeff Ireland picked up him as an “acorn”. The KRAKEN is entering his 9th season on the Miami Dolphins and things have not changed much as he is still one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL. Entering the 2017 season at age 35, Wake has shown no signs of slowing down due to his freakish talent and the ridiculous care he gives his body. Since 2013, the 5-time Pro Bowler and 4-time All-Pro has the 4th-highest pressure percentage in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2016, Wake was 3rd in pass rush productivity with 14.1 behind Raiders Khalil Mack (15) and Broncos Von Miller (14.4), which effectively also makes him the best pass-rusher in the AFC East. Wake has also made 5 appearances on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players-- most recently ranking #62 overall.

Last year, Wake had 11.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles during a season where Adam Gase admitted he didn’t use him enough. Gase should plan to use Wake more this upcoming season as the Kraken’s forced fumbles have risen from 3, to 4, to 5 over the past 3 seasons.

Linebacker:

Lawrence Timmons - Steelers 2007 1st round pick

Personally my favorite free agent signing of the 2017 offseason, Timmons is a run-stuffing linebacker with blitzing capability. The former Steeler comes from a franchise where physical defense and stopping the run has always been a priority and a pride. With Timmons, the Steelers ranked 1st, 8th, 2nd, 21st, 6th, 5th, and 13th in Rush Defense from 2010-2016. During that span, Lawrence Timmons had 6 seasons with over 100 combined tackles, and only missed 1 game.

The Dolphins have been needing a linebacker to stuff the run since the departure of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in the 2013 offseason. Since their release, the Dolphins rush defense has fell every year from 12th in 2012 to 24th, 24th, 28th, and most recently 30th in 2016 (allowing 140.4 yds/G).

The Dolphins signed Timmons to a 2-year contract, basically saying he is a temporary player while they spend the next two years looking for a young stud to develop behind him. Even at age 31 and entering his 11th season, he is sure to be an upgrade for this linebacking core.

Kiko Alonso - Bills 2013 2nd-round pick

During his rookie season, Alonso won NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the year when he amassed 159 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 interceptions. But after an ACL tear in his sophomore season, Alonso quickly found himself on the Eagles in 2015 after the Bills traded for LeSean McCoy, and suffered a sprained ACL in September of that year. After moving on from Chip Kelly, the Eagles decided to also move on from the players he brought in as well. The Dolphins, needing a linebacker and a cornerback at the time, decided to trade with the Eagles for Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell before the 2016 season.

Concerns arose about Kiko Alonso’s durability but quickly vanished as the season went on due to the linebacker’s playmaking and noticeable athleticism. Alonso had key moments for the Dolphins as he iced the game against Philip Rivers with a pick 6, and made a game-saving tackle on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He returned to form with 115 tackles and 2 interceptions on the year. Alonso’s play convinced the Dolphins to give him a 4-year/$28.9 million contract. The linebacker will be moving to the outside this season as the Dolphins are expected to put the bigger-sized Lawrence Timmons at middle.

Raekwon McMillan- 2017 2nd-round pick

Expected to be the #3 piece to complete this linebacking core and perhaps the future middle linebacker after Timmons departs, McMillan is another run-stuffing linebacker. The former Ohio State product had over 100 tackles in his last 2 years in college, which apparently was enough to draft him over Top Linebacker Prospect Zach Cunningham in the 2017 NFL Draft (still skeptical about that BTW. Seeing how McMillan had a 3rd-round grade). The linebacker has some questions about his athleticism, coverage ability, and is currently in a battle with Mike Hull, Koa Misi, and Neville Hewitt for the 3rd LB spot. Due to his draft pedigree, he should be able to pull through and be a starting linebacker for this team.

"I see him as a backup early on who will become a starter at SAM (strong-side) for a 4-3 team. He's been pretty productive but I don't see anything special." -- South area scout for NFC team

Koa Misi - 2010 2nd-round pick

One of the many 2nd-round busts of former GM Jeff Ireland, Koa Misi has not amounted to much in his career with the Dolphins. Misi is currently one of the longest tenured players on the team, but don’t let that fool you. In his 7 seasons with the team, Misi has only managed a mere 358 tackles. This is partly due to his lack of talent and his ability to stay on the field. The linebacker has not played a full season since his rookie year in 2010, and the last 2 seasons he has ended his season on Injured-Reserve. Entering his 8th season, Misi is coming off a career-threatening neck injury. Back in March, he and the team agreed to restructure his contract with the Dolphins -- lowering his base salary from an estimated $4.1 million to $1.125 million, according to Spotrac. Expect the veteran linebacker to be no more than depth for the 2017 Miami Dolphins.

CHECK OUT THE "TOP-ROUND TALENT" on OFFENSE:
http://www.scout.com/nfl/dolphins/story/1790000-dolphins-offense-loaded-...


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