The best time of year is on the periphery with the return of the two preeminent seasons – football and fall. The Dolphins will travel to Foxboro to kick off the season and take on the New England Patriots in 12 days; here is the 53-man squad in search of returning bringing the year's first victory back to South Florida.
#1 Tua Tagovailoa
A strong camp and preseason have afforded Tagovailoa an opportunity to demonstrate consistency come September. After a 6-3 record as a rookie, Tagovailoa's completed 24-of-34 passes for 282 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the preseason. The Miami offense sustained drives under QB1's direction this August with five of his seven possessions totaling 50-or-more yards (83, 75, 66, 60 and 52 yards).
#14 Jacoby Brissett
Entering the 2021 season, Brissett owns the NFL's all-time best (lowest) interception rate (1.3 percent) of quarterbacks with a minimum of 900 pass attempts. When asked about his best trait, Brissett is quick to answer, "I'm a good teammate," but his play on the field this exhibition season has been noteworthy in its own right. He's 14-of-18 for 166 yards and two passing touchdowns.
Running Backs (3)
#26 Salvon Ahmed
The explosive second-year back went from August waiver wire claim to becoming the first Miami 100-yard rusher in 32 games (122 yards vs. New England in Week 15). Ahmed, like his college teammate Gaskin, is mixing in passing game production as he caught a 23-yard touchdown from Jacoby Brissett in the preseason opener at Chicago.
#34 Malcolm Brown
With a reputation as a bruiser, Brown rushed for five touchdowns and 25 first downs on 101 carries for the Rams in 2020. He also expanded his work in the passing game with career bests last season in receptions (23) and receiving yards (162).
#37 Myles Gaskin
After a breakout 2020 campaign that saw Gaskin finish 10th among running backs in yards from scrimmage per game (97.2), the 2021 preseason served as a continuation of his versatile skill set. In his lone extended action, Gaskin posted 71 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns in one half of work in the 37-17 win over Atlanta.
Wide Receivers (6)
#2 Albert Wilson
Dolphins fans only saw Albert Wilson for a handful of games since signing as a free agent for his hometown team in 2018. Those glimpses showcased an electric receiver with the ability to turn short passes into game-changing touchdowns. When he went down with a hip injury in 2018, he led all NFL receivers in yards after the catch (345 YAC, per PFF).
#11 DeVante Parker
The most tenured player on the roster, Parker's career is aging like a fine wine. His breakout 2019 season saw the lengthy, leaping wide out post 1,202 receiving yards and nine touchdowns despite ranking in the bottom five in the NFL in catchable targets (per Sports Info Solutions). A contested-catch phenom, Parker's 43 grabs on 50-50 balls between 2019-20 are most in the NFL.
#17 Jaylen Waddle
Waddle, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft, was the most explosive player in college football by GPS tracking data last season. He caught 21-of-26 deep targets (passes thrown 20-plus yards) during his time at Alabama. He averaged 22.3 yards per reception and 19.2 yards per target his final year at Tuscaloosa. This preseason, Waddle caught screens, pop passes, short and intermediate throws and returned one punt for 23 yards.
#18 Preston Williams
In his two NFL seasons, Preston Williams has played in 16 games, logging 50 receptions for 716 and seven touchdowns. While both seasons were shortened due to injury, Williams has shown the threat he can be as both a vertical and short-to-intermediate receiver.
#19 Jakeem Grant
Last year's second-team All-Pro punt returner didn't take long to show his stuff this August as Grant's first two punt returns totaled 54 yards. He also notched a team-high 10.3 yards per target in 2020 and has averaged 6.4 yards after the catch on 89 career receptions.
#86 Mack Hollins
Hollins is carving out a nice career in the NFL as a key special teams contributor, but he's not exclusive to that phase. After some injuries to his teammates in 2020, Hollins was called upon on offense and proceeded to catch 16 of 25 targets for 176 yards and a touchdown. He carried that production over to the 2021 preseason with six receptions for 69 yards on seven targets.
Tight Ends (5)
#80 Adam Shaheen
Shaheen was a favorite target of Dolphins quarterbacks throughout camp coming off the best season of his career in 2020, his first with Miami. His three touchdowns were a career best and he allowed just one pressure on 39 pass-blocking snaps (Pro Football Focus) last season.
#81 Durham Smythe
In addition to setting career bests in the major receiving categories, Durham Smythe functions in multiple blocking capacities, whether he's climbing to the second level, sealing the edge or coming across the formation to dig out the backside defender. Smythe didn't allow any hits on the quarterback on 66 pass-protection snaps and was on the field for 231 run-blocking plays last season.
#82 Cethan Carter
Carter has finished in the top 50 in the NFL in special teams tackles all three years of his career (missed 2018 with an injury). He has 24 tackles on 896 career special teams reps while earning a career-best 82.1 special teams grade in 2020, per Pro Football Focus. Carter has seven career receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown.
#84 Hunter Long
After an injury scare mid-way through camp, Long returned to the lineup and saved his best for last. He caught several passes from Tua Tagovailoa on the final day of camp, a skill he developed at Boston College. Long led all FBS tight ends with 53 receptions in his final season as a B.C. Eagle in 2020.
#86 Mike Gesicki
There aren't many tight ends who can make the splash play like Mike Gesicki. After registering a career-best 70-yard reception in Week 5 of 2020, he caught passes of 50 and 30 yards from Tagovailoa this preseason. In 2020, Gesicki's 703 receiving yards were fourth-most and his six touchdowns tied for eighth among tight ends.
Offensive Line (9)
#63 Michael Deiter
Nobody from the offensive line factory that is the Wisconsin Badgers made more starts in Madison than Michael Deiter's 54. And all 54 were consecutive from his freshman to senior seasons. The streak kept rolling as a pro as Deiter started 15 games as a rookie with 996 reps played. He's played tackle, guard and center going back to his time as a collegian.
#65 Robert Jones
Jones – a 6-foot-4, 322-pound offensive lineman – played tackle at Middle Tennessee State after transferring as one of the nation's top JUCO guards, demonstrating his positional versatility. He only started playing football his junior season of high school and, just five years later, received an invite to the Reese's Senior Bowl.
#66 Solomon Kindley
Starting 13 games as a rookie in 2020, Kindley surrendered just 17 pressures on 448 pass-blocking reps (PFF). He played both guard positions and developed a reputation as a nasty finisher who plays through the whistle. In 11 of his 15 games, Kindley allowed one or fewer QB pressures.
#67 Greg Mancz
Entering the league with the Houston Texans, Mancz played more than 1,200 snaps at center for a playoff team. His snap count would decrease each of the next four years, but he's played center, guard and tackle with 28 career starts and 58 games played showcasing his versatility.
#68 Robert Hunt
Hunt played a key role as a rookie in 2020 and showed growth throughout the season. From Week 11 on, Hunt was PFF's No. 6 overall ranked tackle in run blocking just behind All-Pro Terron Armstead of New Orleans. His 14 pressures-allowed and consequent 97.3 pass blocking efficiency metric also checked in just behind Armstead (97.4) over the final seven games of the season. Hunt has been playing guard this preseason and allowed just two QB pressures in nearly 100 snaps (PFF).
#73 Austin Jackson
The third-youngest player in the NFL last season, Jackson flashed the ability that made him the 18th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Per PFF, Jackson posted five games with two or fewer pressures allowed.
#74 Liam Eichenberg
Eichenberg was a stalwart on a Notre Dame offensive line that churns out productive pros every year. Starting 38 straight games for the Irish, the last time Eichenberg was charged with a sack allowed (PFF) was his freshman season; a streak that spans 33 games. In 1,283 career pass-blocking snaps, he allowed just four QB hits and 32 total pressures, good for one hit every 320.8 snaps and one hurry every 40.1 snaps.
#75 Greg Little
A second-round pick of the Panthers in 2019, the Dolphins acquired the former Ole Miss Rebel in a trade last month. Little played in 14 games with the Panthers with 383 total snaps. Still just 23-years-old, Little's development as a pro is far from finished.
#77 Jesse Davis
The captain of the line last year, Davis defines lunch pail offensive linemen. The only trait of Davis' more valuable than his versatility is his availability. In addition to playing snaps at four of the five positions since joining Miami in 2017, Davis has logged 3,698 snaps in his four years with the Dolphins.
Defensive Line (6)
#70 Adam Butler
Butler offers a plethora of traits along the defensive line, perhaps none more beneficial to the team than his consistency. Pro Football Focus charted Butler's four seasons as a pro with 28, 26, 26 and 27 QB pressures. He also averaged 13.5 run stops per season (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage, PFF) on just 489 total snaps on run defense (11 percent run stop rate).
#90 John Jenkins
After enjoying a career-year in 2019 with the Dolphins, Jenkins is back after a productive stop in Chicago. Over the last two seasons, the 327-pound defensive tackle piled up 55 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. The eight-year veteran added 17 QB pressures over the 2019-20 seasons.
#91 Emmanuel Ogbah
With a rare blend of length, power, heavy hands and lateral agility, Ogbah enjoyed a breakout year during his first season with Miami. His 66 QB pressures ranked third among all edge defenders (PFF) and his 26 run stops checked in inside the top 20.
A consistent snap-eater who played both off the edge and inside at the 3-technique (outside shoulder of the guard), Ogbah filled up the stat sheet. He added five batted passes and three forced fumbles, including two that were scooped and scored by his teammates.
#92 Zach Sieler
Sieler comes equipped with freaky measurables. Since 2000, three players posted the following combination of workout numbers in the run up to the draft – 6-foot-5, 285-plus pounds, sub 4.85 40-yard dash, 30-plus reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press, 115-plus inches on the broad jump and a 3-cone time under 7.15. Those players are Mario Williams, J.J. Watt and Zach Sieler.
Sieler finished 2020 with 25 QB pressures, 32 run stops, 3.5 sacks, 48 total tackles and 11 tackles for loss.
#94 Christian Wilkins
Showing growth each year in his early career, Wilkins had perhaps his best camp and preseason to date. Since entering the league in 2019, Wilkins has been among the most productive defensive tackles in his draft class – a class that featured Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Dexter Lawrence and Jeffery Simmons. He's registered 103 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, an interception, 48 QB pressures and 59 run stops. Wilkins' biggest strength has been his run defense. He finished sixth in ESPN's run stop win rate among defensive tackles at 41 percent.
#98 Raekwon Davis
Davis played in all 16 games (12 starts) in his rookie year, finishing with 40 tackles. Half of those tackles occurred within two yards of the line of scrimmage (run stop stat via PFF) and the rookie added 14 QB pressures. Davis saved his best for last in 2020 as he finished among the top 15 in his position group in run stops in the second half of the season.
#15 Jaelan Phillips
Phillips measured in the 88th percentile or better in the 40-yard dash (4.56s), shuttle (4.13s), broad jump (125") and 10-yard split (1.59s) at the 2021 NFL Combine, all at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds. He registered 42 QB pressures (Pro Football Focus) on 286 pass-rush reps – a pressure every 6.8 drop backs. More than just a pass rusher, Phillips' 18 run stops (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage) landed in the 90th percentile of college edge defenders (PFF) for the 2020 season.
#43 Andrew Van Ginkel
From Week 12 on in 2020, Van Ginkel was PFF's 12th-overall graded edge defender. He picked up three sacks and 10 run stops over that period. The third-year linebacker logged 22 run stops on 196 run defense snaps (11.2 percent) in addition to 5.5 sacks last season.
#45 Duke Riley
Riley has been a special teams captain in his previous two stops (Atlanta and Philadelphia). He's tallied 45 career run stops and held opposing passers to a 93.8 passer rating on targets in his coverage area in 2020.
#49 Sam Eguavoen
In 2019, Eguavoen finished fourth in quarterback pressures among all off-ball linebackers (PFF) with 23. Eguavoen's role shifted more towards special teams in 2020 as he played 275 of his 359 snaps on a unit that finished the season ranked No. 6 overall per Football Outsiders. Eguavoen made three special teams tackles with nine tackles on defense (one for a loss) with a pass breakup. He led the NFL with four sacks this preseason, all of which came against the Falcons in Week 2 of the preseason. It was the most sacks by any player in a preseason game since at least 2017.
#52 Elandon Roberts
From Weeks 4 through 16, Roberts was good for one or two plays per game where the running back was greeted by big No. 44 in aqua before the back could make his first move. Though Roberts has since changed his number, he looks like he's shot out of a cannon against the run, evident by his 25 run stops in 13 games played and a career-best eight tackles for loss last year. His 61 total tackles and 1.5 sacks were on pace for personal bests prorated over 16 games.
#55 Jerome Baker
The speedy former Buckeye's pass rush and general passing game prowess were an integral ingredient in Miami's swarming third-down defense. Despite playing more snaps than any other Miami Dolphin since 2019, Baker has never missed a game. He's tallied 2,122 snaps on defense and special teams cumulatively the last two years with 33 QB pressures, 8.5 sacks, 238 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, an interception, seven passes defensed and four forced fumbles.
#57 Brennan Scarlett
During his five years in Houston, Scarlett totaled 1,369 defensive snaps and 962 more on special teams. He was off to the best start of his career in 2018 (two QB hits, five run stops, an interception and PBU) before his season ended prematurely with an injury. Then in 2019, Scarlett picked up where he left off by posting a career year (19 QB pressures, 19 run stops, three tackles for loss). He missed five games in 2020 but posted four QB pressures and 11 run stops.
#9 Noah Igbinoghene
A former receiver converted to cornerback his sophomore year of college, Igbinoghene held opponents to a passer rating of 73.6 and completion rate of just 47.3 percent allowed in his Auburn career and was the youngest player in the NFL last season as a rookie.
#24 Byron Jones
One of the league's best defensive backs since his rookie season in 2015 with Dallas, Byron Jones allows a career completion rate of just 61.1 percent and 12.2 yards per reception. He's logged 41 career passes defensed and isn't afraid to stick his face in the fan as a run defender – he has 108 career run stops (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage, per PFF).
#25 Xavien Howard
In 2020, Howard became the first player in the NFL with double-digit interceptions in a single season since Antonio Cromartie did in 2007. Last season, he allowed a completion rate of just 54.5 percent (PFF) with only 7.7 yards per target against his coverage. His 20 passes defensed led the NFL en route to a first-team All-Pro selection.
#27 Justin Coleman
Coleman has played inside and outside at various stages of his career, none better than manning the slot role for Seattle in 2017-18. Among slot corners with at least 30 targets per season, Coleman ranked eighth in passer rating allowed both in 2017 (83.3) and 2018 (82.5), per PFF.
#33 Jamal Perry
Wearing many hats since arriving in Miami in 2019, Jamal Perry played 312 snaps last season in a variety of roles. According to Pro Football Focus, Perry had 15 snaps as a box defender, 82 in the slot, seven on the perimeter and 36 at free safety. He also played 172 snaps on special teams making five total tackles.
#40 Nik Needham
Matching up with a handful of the game's best slot receivers, Needham measured up. Over the course of a month last season, Needham matched up with Cooper Kupp (LAR), Keenan Allen (LAC), Tyler Boyd (CIN) and Jamison Crowder (NYJ). He held those four players to a combined eight receptions on 14 targets for 86 yards and an interception (PFF).
#51 Trill Williams
A long, imposing corner with a penchant for physicality in press, Williams originally signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent. Now with Miami, Williams is hoping to parlay an accomplished college career into professional success. At Syracuse, Williams allowed a career NFL passer rating of just 79.1 with four interceptions compared to four touchdowns allowed (PFF). He limited opposing receivers to a career completion rate of 58.7 percent.
#21 Eric Rowe
Since his midseason switch to safety in 2019, he's allowed just 59.7 percent of passes intended for his man to go complete for an average of 6.18 yards per target (71/119 for 735 yards). He was charged with one touchdown allowed and picked off three passes for a passer rating against of 69.8. The completion percentage, yards per target and passer rating are all top 10 among NFL safeties (PFF). He's played in all 32 games since becoming a Dolphin in 2019.
#22 Jevon Holland
A second-round pick back in April, Holland's ball skills produced nine interceptions over the 2018 and 2019 college football seasons, tied for fourth-most in the NCAA. Holland registered 24 run stops in his final collegiate season and posted a career passer-rating-allowed of just 61.1. He's continued the ball-hawking theme in camp with a handful of interceptions and fumble recoveries.
#29 Brandon Jones
Jones posted 62 total tackles (three for a loss), a sack, pass breakup and a forced fumble as a rookie. Pro Football Focus charted Jones with 361 snaps in the box, 24 in the slot, eight out wide and 92 as a deep safety in addition to 238 snaps on special teams. Jones made 15 run stops and recorded six quarterback pressures.
#30 Jason McCourty
In addition to providing versatility, leadership and experience, McCourty has enjoyed a successful 12-year career. Over that span, McCourty has posted a passer-rating-allowed under 90.0 in a single season six times. He's pulled down 18 career interceptions and made 192 run stops.
#42 Clayton Fejedelem
Fejedelem signed with Miami last March and earned the honor of captain of the Dolphins No. 6 overall ranked special teams unit (Football Outsiders). He played 319 total snaps (305 on special teams). In addition to six tackles, Fejedelem played a crucial role as the personal protector on the punt team, carrying the ball twice for a pair of first downs and 23 total yards.
#5 Michael Palardy
Palardy missed the 2020 season after playing the previous four with the Carolina Panthers. He's played 55 career games with 342 punts for a total of 11,011 yards – a 40.3 net punting average. Palardy averaged 46.0 yards per punt in 2019, which tied for 13th in the NFL that season.
#7 Jason Sanders
With 36 successful field goals on 39 attempts, Sanders' 92.3 percentage was the best single-season rate in club history. His 22 consecutive field goals made between 2019-20 are a franchise best and his 144 points scored tied the Miami single-season mark. Sanders' 36 field goals made were the second-most in team history and second-most in the NFL in 2020. He also converted 20 field goals of 40-plus yards, which led the league. Finally, Sanders was perfect on extra point tries (36-of-36).
#44 Blake Ferguson
Playing all 16 games as a rookie, Ferguson was the long snapper for each of Jason Sanders' record-breaking field goals. The Dolphins punt team was perfect in terms of snapper-to-punter exchange and did not have a blocked kick all season. Ferguson also contributed a pair of tackles.