Three quarters of the season is in the books. Just four games are left. Let's take a closer look by position at where things stand heading into the final stretch.
This has been Ryan Fitzpatrick’s offense since early in the season and it is likely to stay that way the remainder of the way. Fitzpatrick has been exactly as advertised, a calm, cool presence that on certain Sundays, like the last one, can transform into FitzMagic and produce some impressive statistics. On a personal note, I feel fortunate that his eight-city tour of the NFL included a stop in South Florida. He is a class act and truthfully unlike any player I have covered. Meanwhile, Josh Rosen has shown improvement on the practice field and I know he'd like another shot this season.
After eight different starting lineups in the first 11 games, the Dolphins have appeared, at least for the moment, to has settled on a starting five. From left to right there's tackle Julién Davenport, guard Michael Dieter, center Daniel Kilgore, guard Shaq Calhoun and tackle Jesse Davis. Lack of productivity in the running game is certainly a negative for this line, but the pass protection has shown some improvement, especially in the second half of the Eagles game. How many long-term pieces do I see here? Certainly Dieter and Davis. After that, the rest of this season will provide a better indication.
There are two major stories here: The performance of undrafted rookie Preston Williams before going down with a season-ending knee injury and the emergence of DeVante Parker as a reliable No. 1 option. Williams clearly stated his case early on with 32 catches, three for touchdowns. He is big, athletic and has excellent hands, which sounds exactly like how you'd describe Parker as well. Both players are keepers and have a chance to make this one of the strengths of the team. I'd also pay close attention to Allen Hurns, who has already signed an extension and has clearly gained the trust of this coaching staff.
The past two games have dramatically changed the look of this position with Mike Gesicki finally emerging as a reliable receiving threat. There were legitimate concerns earlier this season when the numbers just weren't there. After all, this was the team's second-round pick in 2018. But now there is reason for encouragement after Gesicki scored touchdowns against both the Browns and Eagles, the first two of his career. I like his chances moving forward. He seems to have finally found his comfort zone.
This, after 12 games, remains one of the most unsettled areas of the team. First there was the trade of Kenyan Drake. Then there was the release of Mark Walton. And now there is an injury to Kalen Ballage that has shelved him for the season. What remains are a pair of rookie running backs in Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin, a couple of waiver wire pick ups in De’Lance Turner and Zach Zenner and a pure fullback in Chandler Cox. All signs point to Laird starting Sunday against the Jets, a deserving reward for how well he played against the Eagles with his four catches, his 4-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion reception. I expect to see a good deal of Gaskin as well over these final four games and don't forget that Albert Wilson can be used out of the backfield in a variety of ways.
There is a feeling of confidence in the organization that the long-term answers at defensive tackle are in place with Christian Wilkins and Davon Godchaux, both of them having played well this season. There is a far less conviction at defensive end. We've seen some good things from Taco Charlton, who leads the team with five sacks, but we need to see more. The same goes for Avery Moss, who recently returned from an injury. Meanwhile, former No. 1 pick Charles Harris just hasn't shown the type of production befitting a player drafted that high.
This is a young group with a promising upside. We expected to see improvement from returning starters Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan and that's what we've gotten. The unexpected has been the performance of Vince Biegel, acquired from New Orleans in the Kiko Alonso trade, and former CFL player Sam Eguavoen. Biegel has proven to be far more than just a special teams standout and has shown real promise as an edge rusher. Eguavoen has been solid all season and has made some impactful plays. The unknown remains rookie Andrew Van Ginkel, who recently came off injured reserve and figures to play a lot in the final four games. Overall, this group is filled with likely long-term keepers.
Change has been the only constant in an area hit hard by injuries, which provided an opening for a group of young players, many of them undrafted, and some of them emerging as pleasant surprises. These last four games could not be any more important for this group. Take someone like Nik Needham, an undrafted rookie who is now playing just about every snap at cornerback. Or Ken Webster, another undrafted rookie who is starting at the other cornerback spot. Go through all of the 12 defensive backs on the active roster. Each one has shown some good things. The ones who have stood out recently include safety Eric Rowe, Needham, Webster, Steven Parker, Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz.
This has been one of the most productive areas of the team through 12 games. Clearly the biggest headline maker was the trick play touchdown pass against the Eagles. Nobody is going to steal that show. But how about that perfectly executed onside kick against the Browns? Or that 101-yard kickoff return by Jakeem Grant against the Bills? Or how about the consistency we've seen from both placekicker Jason Sanders and punter Matt Haack? Creative and effective. That sums up what we've seen so far from the special teams.