The Dolphins have made it a point of emphasis to retain their top players under General Manager Chris Grier and the team has done just that in the days leading into free agency.
As the new league year begins, the Dolphins have already brought back defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, tight end Mike Gesicki, wide receiver Preston Williams and linebackers Duke Riley and Sam Eguavoen into the fold for 2022. Additionally, the team placed a second-round tender on cornerback Nik Needham. There are also reports that linebacker and defensive captain Elandon Roberts will return in 2022.
Ogbah returns as one of Miami's most productive defensive players since joining the Dolphins in 2020. Since his arrival in Miami, only four defensive linemen have more sacks than Ogbah's 18.0 and no defensive lineman has more than his 17 passes defensed. He has back-to-back seasons with at least 60 QB pressures and his 126 pressures are the sixth-most among edge defenders (Pro Football Focus) since 2020.
Ogbah has also been stout against the run. He's finished in the top 25 in both of his seasons with Miami in PFF's run stops metric (run-down tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage). He's also played in all 33 games, accumulating 1,547 defensive snaps since his 2020 arrival.
Gesicki's return as one of the league's top tight ends is good news for Miami's offense under Head Coach Mike McDaniel. Gesicki, who signed his franchise tag tender from his honeymoon in Bora Bora, is currently third in Miami's all-time tight end receiving charts (2,255 yards) and within reach of the franchise record of 3,096 held by Randy McMichael.
Gesicki has improved his production in each of his four seasons as a pro, posting a career-high 73 receptions for 780 yards in 2021. In addition to yards, he is also within striking distance of the team's tight end receptions record as he sits just 84 receptions shy (199) of Randy McMichael's mark of 283.
Last season, Gesicki tied McMichael's single-season club record for catches by a tight end with 73. His 780 receiving yards were just 11 short of McMichael's pace-setting 791-yard season back in 2004. With another bump in production, Gesicki would capture both marks in 2022.
Cornerback Nik Needham earned a second-round tender as a restricted free agent. While Needham could sign an offer sheet from another team, the Dolphins would have a chance to match it or receive a second-round pick as compensation. Like Gesicki, Needham's arrow is perpetually trending upward.
Fighting off competition each season, Needham has consistently produced. In 2020, Needham was asked to learn arguably the toughest position on the defensive side of the ball, the nickel cornerback role. After a sterling first year inside, Needham improved upon that mark by not allowing a touchdown pass in 2021 and committing just three penalties all season.
He's also showed his versatility. When the Dolphins were without rookie safety Jevon Holland for a game last year, Needham changed his hat and played in the post as the free safety for more than 40 snaps.
Needham's adaptability, man-coverage skills and penchant for playmaking has made him a key part of Miami's defense. He's logged two interceptions in each of his three seasons and had his first career touchdown on Monday Night Football at New Orleans last year. He's also totaled 23 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three sacks, three tackles for loss, 171 total tackles and six quarterback hits.
Linebacker Duke Riley has been a special teams ace since entering the league in 2017. Last year, with Miami, Riley provided depth at linebacker in addition to his exploits in the third phase of the game. With seven QB pressures on just 35 pass-rush reps (PFF), Riley had an impressive 20 percent pressure rate. He also made nine run stops on 74 running downs while limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 54.5 percent completion percentage when being targeted in coverage. Riley also made an impact play in the kicking game, blocking a punt in Week 12 vs. Carolina that cornerback Justin Coleman returned for a touchdown.
Wide receiver Preston Williams is back with the Dolphins for his fourth season. When healthy, Williams has flashed big-play ability with Miami. In 24 career games, Williams has posted 56 receptions for 787 yards and seven touchdowns. Now, under McDaniel, Williams gets a fresh start and an opportunity to make another good impression on the new staff as he had his first career 100-yard game against McDaniel's 49ers in 2020 (four catches for 106 yards and a touchdown).
Fellow linebacker Sam Eguavoen will continue his career in Miami. Coming down from the Canadian Football League in 2019, Eguavoen has proven to be a versatile fixture on the Dolphins defense and special teams. He's tallied 57 total tackles, two passes defensed, two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and recorded four sacks and 16 QB hits. Eguavoen consistently shows his burst as a rusher in sub packages. He's logged 41 QB pressures on 359 career pass rush reps – an 11.4 percent pressure rate.
Finally, Elandon Roberts, a team captain each of the last two years, has also been reported to return to the Dolphins for the 2022 season. Coming off a career-year with 83 total tackles, his first career interception (returned for an 85-yard touchdown), two forced fumbles, four passes defenses, a sack and six tackles for loss, Roberts gives the Miami defense continuity in the middle. He tallied 620 defensive snaps playing in all 17 games with 15 starts in 2021.
For more analysis on the new league year and the start of free agency 2022, subscribe to the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, wherever you get your podcasts.