It’s always fun to play the prediction game. I’ve already predicted the Miami Dolphins 53-man roster on both offense and defense, and I’ve even offered a perspective on the top five training camp battles to watch as it inches ever closer. But there is still one topic that hasn’t been elaborated on yet. In the spirit of my YouTube show – “Pulse of Fins Nation” – I asked you, the audience, what player you wanted to watch more than anyone else in training camp.
Name me one @MiamiDolphins player you want to see perform more than anyone in training camp…not counting Tua Tagovailoa. He goes without saying.
— Luis D. Sung (@LuisDSung) June 20, 2021
Immediately I disqualified Tua Tagovailoa. Obviously, everyone wants to see what he’s going to do. If he doesn’t perform, it likely won’t matter what anyone else on the team does. There would be no point in asking the question without setting those parameters. Tagovailoa is without a doubt the most polarizing figure in Dolphins history since…the last franchise QB Miami had on their roster, Ryan Tannehill.
So if we’re doing a countdown of the top five Dolphins to watch in training camp are, Tagovailoa tops the list, no questions asked. That’s why for the purposes of this story, he’s being disqualified. It’s too easy. So here are the top five Miami Dolphins to watch – according to you, the audience – not named Tua Tagovailoa.
5. Myles Gaskin – RB
Considering how much emphasis was placed on the running back position during the offseason, it’s no surprise that people want to see what Myles Gaskin does with another year as the lead back. Granted, it’s assumed the Miami Dolphins will use a committee approach, but Gaskin will always get first crack at it. It’s his job to lose.
The number of people coming out of nowhere to defend Gaskin is remarkable. It wasn’t that long ago that Dolphins fans wanted desperately for the team to draft a fresh running back, like Najee Harris. Now, there’s no choice but to hope that a potentially improved offensive line will make Gaskin look much better than last season.
— NFL (@NFL) December 6, 2020
To play devil’s advocate, it’s not as if Gaskin is a bad running back. Far from it. He was a lot better than anyone expected him to be. In the ten games that he played, dealing with the reality of Covid-19 and an injured knee, Gaskin put together 972 total yards (584 rushing and 388 receiving) and five total touchdowns. Production was his claim to fame back in college, and that’s what he’s been doing in the pros. He’s not the fastest, not the strongest, not the most talented. However, he produces, just like he always has.
Everyone is waiting to see if an improved WR corps and offensive line will increase Gaskin’s level of production. He’s definitely an underdog type of player. He’s faced the possibility of being replaced several times throughout the offseason and he’s still standing. The coaching staff clearly has faith in him, camp will tell if that faith was well placed.
4. Xavien Howard – CB
Let’s make this abundantly clear right now. No one is suggesting that Xavien Howard needs to prove anything. He’s a top five cornerback in the NFL, a turnover machine that makes quarterbacks pay if they make a mistake. And, up until recently, he was the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history.
All these votes to see Xavien Howard in training camp are not referring to seeing him perform. They’re referring to seeing him show up to training camp in the first place. Howard’s holdout is well-documented at this point. For whatever reason, Howard is not happy with the Miami Dolphins. Is it the lack of remaining guaranteed money on his contract? Bruised ego due to the fact that his teammate Byron Jones is making more than he is? There’s no way to know for sure.
Only time will tell whether Howard decides to show up to training camp or not. If he does, then even if he plays disgruntled, Howard will play. Then the Dolphins can explore giving him more money later on after the salary cap stops being such a looming figure.
If he doesn’t show up, then there’s no question the defense will take a huge step back in 2021. That is, unless, another player steps up in a big way. More on that later.
3. Jaelen Phillips – LB
Of all the rookies that the Miami Dolphins added to the roster this year, perhaps the one with the most upside of all is linebacker Jaelen Phillips out of the University of Miami. His history is well-documented. He briefly retired from football after all the injuries he suffered in college, but ultimately came back and singled himself out as a potentially elite pass rusher in the 2021 draft class.
It says a lot about a player that even with that injury history, a team still feels he’s worth drafting with the 18th overall pick. To put it in very simple terms, Phillips has a very good chance of becoming what Dion Jordan was supposed to be when the Dolphins drafted him 3rd overall in the 2013 NFL draft.
Strange how long ago that seems now.
Phillips is big, he’s fast, he can rush the passer and he can cover. He’s a perfect chess piece for Brian Flores to incorporate into the defense. His development will be crucial for the defense to take the next step into becoming the league’s most dangerous unit.
2. Jaylen Waddle – WR
Everyone knows what Waddle brings to the table. He is speed incarnate, and videos of how difficult he’s going to be to cover with the twitch he shows in route-running have fans salivating at the idea of watching Tua Tagovailoa throwing him the football again like the good ol’ days at Alabama.
Just like Phillips, Waddle is an extremely high-ceiling player, which seems to be the theme for the Miami Dolphins 2021 draft class as a whole. With the chemistry he has with Tagovailoa, Waddle projects to be an instant and regular contributor on offense. There’s also the distinct possibility that he’ll take the role currently held by Jakeem Grant as a kick and punt returner. Training camp will reveal a lot about the role the coaches have in mind for the rookie.
1. Noah Igbinoghene – CB
The number one player to watch in training camp is none other than Noah Igbinoghene. Make no mistake, this young player out of Auburn is the Miami Dolphins insurance plan for Xavien Howard. Based on what the reports are, he’ll need to be ready sooner rather than later. Howard seems to be making it a point to express he feels underpaid and underappreciated. Depending on who you ask, he’s either right or wrong. I, personally, don’t agree with Howard.
Nevertheless, Igbinoghene was drafted because of the high ceiling he presents. He may have struggled in his rookie season, but that’s to be expected with young cornerbacks. There’s always a learning curve, which varies in difficulty depending on the position. Cornerback is one of the hardest positions to transition from college to the NFL, and Igbinoghene is still very, very young.
His development has ramifications beyond this season. If Igbinoghene develops and turns into the type of player that coach Flores believes he can be, then the Dolphins won’t need to break the bank all over again to pay Howard and keep their elite secondary. They can trade Howard, get a ton more draft capital, and still have their plan intact. If he doesn’t develop, then Miami faces a scenario where they’ll have a disgruntled Howard who will essentially be able to demand a blank check whenever he wants. Maybe if they pay him a second time, he’ll calm down, but there’s no guarantee of that.
A lot is riding on Igbinoghene taking a huge next step in his second season. It’s no wonder why everyone is watching with baited breath.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung