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Miami Dolphins: 2022 Preseason Predictions and Preview

Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

Tua Tagovailoa has a new coaching staff and new weapons around him as the Dolphins look to make the playoffs.

The Dolphins' blockbuster trade for speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and optimism surrounding new coach Mike McDaniel have brought offseason excitement that the franchise hasn't felt in possibly two decades.

Hill, clocked in-game as being the NFL's fastest player, presents as a remarkable offensive weapon. McDaniel is a young (39) upstart and an innovative offensive mind taking on his first head-coaching gig after a year as the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator. His loose, fun, players' coach style is a pivot from ex-coach Brian Flores' demeanor as a disciplinarian and disciple of Bill Belichick.

The offseason additions, which were co-headlined by the free-agent acquisition of left tackle Terron Armstead, didn't come without some tumult courtesy of Flores' class-action lawsuit against the NFL and multiple teams — the Dolphins included — claiming racist hiring and retention practices against Black coaches. But the Dolphins are finally focused on a promising future. Coming off back-to-back winning seasons, the Dolphins have aspirations to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and to win a playoff game for the first time since 2000.

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OFFENSE

The Dolphins could've gone one of two ways with third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa this offseason: Either pursue a high-end starting signal-caller to supplant him after two uneven seasons in Miami or build the rest of the offense around him, offering him the support he needs to succeed. They went with the latter. Now, Tagovailoa has one of the NFL's most electric receivers in Hill, a byproduct of the package of five draft picks, including first- and second-rounders in the 2022 draft, that Miami offered to Kansas City to acquire the former Chiefs speedster with six Pro Bowls in six NFL seasons.

Fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle enters his second NFL season looking to take the next step after setting an NFL rookie record with 104 receptions in 2021 but collecting only 1,015 yards from those catches. With Hill, a bona fide deep threat, able to draw more attention away from Waddle, the latter can potentially add more downfield catches to his arsenal. Miami is also emphasizing yards after catch heading into the fall.

Tagovailoa is known to throw with accuracy underneath, which can lead Hill and Waddle into that coveted YAC. The question with him is his arm strength and zip on passes in tight windows. Being another year removed from the hip injury that ended his final college season prematurely should help Tagovailoa in that regard, if he can avoid the injuries that nagged him in 2021.

The Dolphins can also benefit from what should be an improved run game. McDaniel's outside-zone rushing scheme added the pieces to make it work. He went out and got Raheem Mostert, his former running back in San Francisco who is another blazing speedster but, at 30, is coming off a knee injury that ended his 2021 campaign two carries in. Chase Edmonds comes over as a dynamic, versatile weapon out of the backfield, while Myles Gaskin remains in the mix for touches. Miami also picked up Sony Michel, who can run between the tackles, in May.

Miami addressed its much-maligned offensive line by signing Armstead, the prized free agent from the Saints, to man the left tackle spot. Armstead is a downhill mauler as a run blocker. Former Cowboys guard Connor Williams will slide in somewhere, along with Robert Hunt, the Dolphins' top returning blocker last year at right guard.

Questions remain at center, where converted guard Michael Deiter returns after an up-and-down 2021, and right tackle. The blind-side blocking for the left-handed Tagovailoa may come down to competition between Austin Jackson, a 2020 first-round pick who was kicked inside from left tackle to guard last season, and Liam Eichenberg.

To make the ground game work, blocking at the tight end position will also be pivotal. That's a concern in Mike Gesicki's game, although his pass-catching prowess is unquestioned.

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DEFENSE

Possibly the most underrated move the Dolphins made this offseason was retaining defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who has led the team in sacks each of the past two seasons. When Ogbah doesn't get the sack, he's still often getting a QB hit, like he did 24 times last season, or batting a pass at the line of scrimmage. His 12 pass deflections in 2021 were most by a defensive lineman since 2016.

Ogbah on one side and second-year edge defender Jaelan Phillips opposite him should form a dynamic pass-rush duo to complement the Dolphins' strong secondary.

Cornerback Xavien Howard, the Dolphins' lone Pro Bowler last season, had his contract concerns appeased with a lucrative extension. He has a league-leading 27 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2016. Having Howard in man coverage opposite cornerback Byron Jones and nickel Nik Needham allows the Dolphins to blitz as often as they do, something that should continue under defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.

No team blitzes its safeties more than Miami with the versatile combination of Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones on the back end. Holland, at free safety, can also play the ball-hawk role, covering ground in center field in a single-high look.

Inside linebacker Jerome Baker has become a leader on a defense that uses multiple fronts but mostly lines up with three down linemen. It was surprising that the Dolphins brought back Elandon Roberts and Duke Riley alongside him in that rotation instead of pursuing an upgrade. The Dolphins did add an inside linebacker with their first pick of the draft, a late-third-round selection that they used to snag Georgia's Channing Tindall.

Along with Ogbah up front, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins looks to expand on a breakthrough third NFL season in which he tied for the league lead in tackles among defensive linemen (89, with Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward).

Third-year nose tackle Raekwon Davis is a run stuffer in the middle at 6'7", 330 pounds. The run defense suffered when he missed three games and most of a fourth early last season with a knee injury. Zach Sieler has also become a reliable rotational defensive lineman.

Giving it another go with virtually the same group, the Dolphins' defense looks to prove that the second half of last season wasn't a fluke or a run against bad quarterbacks, but something that the team will carry over into 2022.

SPECIALISTS

After a first-team All-Pro season in 2020, kicker Jason Sanders had a down 2021, converting just 23-of-31 field-goal tries. Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman could never quite put his finger on a reason for the funk. The Dolphins went with veteran punter Thomas Morstead in free agency, moving on from Michael Palardy.

Miami lost special teams ace and wide receiver Mack Hollins in free agency, but cornerback Keion Crossen can fill the void at gunner. The team will have decisions to make in the return game: Is it willing to put either Hill or Waddle at risk in that area or simply use a secure catcher of the football without as much open-field ability?

FINAL ANALYSIS

After building through the draft for multiple offseasons, the Dolphins went with the aggressive approach of trading for a game-changer like Hill. They addressed their most troubling needs — adding offensive weapons, revamping the offensive line and putting together what could be productive run game — while maintaining their greatest strength, the defense. It may come down to whether Tagovailoa is ready to embrace his opportunity and how McDaniel leads as a first-time head coach to determine if the Dolphins can reach the postseason in a conference where several other teams also got better.

Prediction: 2nd in AFC East