Entering the 2020 NFL Draft with 14 picks, the Dolphins were always going to field a young team that would likely learn and develop with on the job training. Once the dust had settled, Miami made 11 selections, signed a handful of undrafted free agents, and acquired Lynn Bowden Jr. from the Raiders (a 2020 third-round pick) in September.
Bowden Jr. made his biggest impact of the season in Sunday's 19-7 win over the Bengals. He caught all four of his pass targets for 41 yards and carried the rock once for 11 – his third first down of the game. He operated in an offense that started three rookies on the offensive line – the first time the Miami Dolphins have gone with a lineup of 60 percent first-year players up front.
The result: no sacks allowed and just four quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
With Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley, the Dolphins produced 110 yards on the ground – the third-highest total for Miami this season. The 406 total yards was the most since Week 5 in San Francisco. The 263 yards in the second half was the most in any second-half since Week 13 of last season against the Eagles.
"We've played a lot of young guys – I think they've all developed at different paces," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "I think some are further along than others. I think they're all getting better, they're all improving, they all work hard, it's important to each one of them."
The triggerman for this young offense, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, hit career-highs in passing yards (296), completions (26) and became the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to not throw an interception in his first five starts (minimum 100 pass attempts). He joins Dak Prescott (2016) and Kyle Allen (2018-2019) and seeks to be the first ever to extend that streak to six games.
Sunday's win marked the second time the Miami offensive line prevented Tagovailoa from taking a sack (Week 10 vs. the Chargers). It's the first time since 2017 that the Dolphins played two games without a quarterback sack allowed.
"I'm proud of those three rookies, they've played really well," Dolphins center Ted Karras said. "A lot of talent up front. It's fun to play with those guys and watch them grow, and to get better myself."
"Not every day -- especially as a rookie speaking from experience -- is going to be your best day," Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin said. "One day you feel like you need to be on your stuff more and maybe you have a bad couple of practices and whatnot. As the year has gone on, these guys have been getting more confident. Being able to do their jobs the best they can is kind of eye-opening."
Tagovailoa's prowess with the quick-twitch movement and hairpin trigger release certainly plays into the Dolphins ability to keep him upright. The rookie's average snap-to-release time is the seventh-quickest in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. On the season, when defenses bring more than four rushers, Tagovailoa is 34-for-59 with 333 passing yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 101.9 passer rating.
"I know we've played a lot of rookies. Honestly I wasn't sure the exact number until you mentioned, so if we've started 10, then it's a good thing," Flores said. "They've earned that opportunity. I think a lot of these guys are playing well and we're counting on them."
That's just the offense. The second-ranked scoring defense in football (17.7 points per game) and best in the league at preventing third-down conversions (32.2 percent) has a pair of rookies who have combined for 641 snaps in second-round pick defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and third-round safety Brandon Jones.
Davis was averaging 18.4 snaps per game through the first five of his career. Per PFF, he produced two quarterback pressures and two run stops (run down tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage) in those games. Since, he's averaging 37.0 snaps per game with six quarterback pressures and 12 run stops. He's been the team's highest-graded player on PFF two times in that span.
"Every experience they've had on the field has been a good one," Flores said. "Whether they've played well or didn't play well, each one of those experiences is good for them and are opportunities for them to learn, grow, and if it went well, then they take that and say, 'hey, well, whatever my process was to get that result, let's stick with that and build on that.' And whatever the process was, if it was a bad result, then they know they have to change that. That's life in the National Football League and honestly that's life, period."
The curve for Jones has been similar. His snap count hasn't changed drastically, but all five of his quarterback pressures have come since Week 6 (including his lone sack) and eight of his 12 run stops occurred during that span.
The NFL's third-youngest team enjoys poking fun at the old guard of the defense in linebacker Kyle Van Noy. At the ripe age of 29, Van Noy is the most experienced player on the Miami defense, and he showed the young pups what he's capable of on Sunday.
Peter King highlighted Van Noy as one of his Defensive Players of the Week in his Football Morning in America story.
Kyle Van Noy, linebacker, Miami.He doubled his sack total for the season—from three to six—with a dominant performance in Miami's 19-7 win over the Bengals, and added eight tackles and two additional tackles for loss.
Van Noy became just the second player in the NFL this season to record five tackles for loss in a single game. The last time a Miami Dolphin made five tackles for loss in one game was 2008.
Between the grizzled vets and the bright-eyed rookies are players like Mike Gesicki, who has been one of the game's most productive tight ends from this time last year to now. Since Week 13 of 2019, Gesicki's nine touchdowns are tied for third-most at the position over that span.
The nine catches Gesicki made Sunday were a career-high and the most by a Miami tight end since Randy McMichael in 2004. Gesicki was nine years old when McMichael put together one of the best seasons by a Dolphins tight end. He was seven years old when wide receiver Oronde Gadsden made a catch very similar to the show-stopper Gesicki put on the highlight reel with his one-handed snare in the third quarter on Sunday.
"There's nothing more I love than going out and making plays and catching the football," Gesicki said. "For me, every catch I make is like the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. I'm having fun, and I'm enjoying it. I put in too much work, too much time to not go out there and have fun with it. So it was fun today."
Gesicki, like Gadsden, is quickly developing a reputation as one of the premier authors of circus catches in the NFL.
To go along with the one-handed grab, Gesicki is fourth among all tight ends with 537 receiving yards and his 13.8 yards per reception is third in the NFL among that position group.