Miami isn’t expected to be very competitive in 2019, this we already know.
However, what many fail to realize, is that despite the treasure chest of 2020 draft capital they possess. They also project to have a hefty amount of cap space in the near future. And over the last several years, the Dolphins have started to groom their own talented crop of up-and-coming players. After all, Miami has a ton of young talent that have shown potential. Whether or not this new coaching staff can get the most out of those players, has yet to be determined.
Nevertheless, this team isn’t as depleted of talent as many believe. With plenty of potential, and opportunity for players to take their game to the next level, the future is bright in South Florida.
Let’s take a look at ten players under the age of 26, that the Dolphins can begin to build their franchise around.
Laremy Tunsil, Left Tackle
In the next several weeks, the Dolphins will have a very important decision to make on starting LT, Laremy Tunsil. After all, he has slowly become one of the premier offensive tackles in the NFL. And after signing Xavien Howard to a lucrative new contract, Tunsil has to believe he’s next in line. Which, assuming a new deal is reached, means Tunsil will likely be here for the next several years. Good left tackles don’t grow on trees, and Tunsil is about as good as they come. It may be a bit early to call him elite, but that is exactly where his NFL status is headed. And to be completely honest, barring no significant injuries, he could very well go down as one of the best offensive lineman in Miami Dolphins’ history.
Christian Wilkins, Defensive Tackle
Without ever playing a down of professional football, Christian Wilkins future in Miami is as bright as any. And although it is very likely his familiarity with Marion Hobby may have had something to do with him being selected by the Dolphins 13th-overall. Wilkins may have been one of the safer picks in the entire draft. Furthermore, I fully expect Wilkins to be at the forefront of that Dolphins’ defense for the next 5-10 years. Most of all, I’m excited to see how Patrick Graham utilizes his versatility to play multiple positions. And let’s not forget he scored a few touchdowns as a running back during his time at Clemson. Wilkins can do it all. And will make everyone around him that much better for many, many years.
"i came in like a wrecking ball" pic.twitter.com/sA9wDrt11P
— josh houtz (@houtz) April 29, 2019
Xavien Howard, Cornerback
We all know about the big pay day that Xavien Howard got prior to the start of OTAs. For those that don’t know, he signed a 5-year extension worth $76.5M, $46M guaranteed-back in March. Which is all well and good for a 25-year old defensive back that looked to be one of the league’s true shutdown corners. There are very few press man-to-man corners in the NFL better than Howard. And when the ball is in the air, he’s just as much entitled to it as the wide receiver. Howard was tied for the league lead in interceptions last season with 7. He really is a special talent, that the Dolphins have locked up for many, many years. Health will always remain a concern. But make no mistake about it, when he’s healthy, Howard is as good as any cornerback in the NFL.
one more look. pic.twitter.com/orY3qPYDPU
— josh houtz (@houtz) September 20, 2018
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back
Time and time again, I have mentioned that Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely be Miami’s best playmaker, sooner rather than later. And after proving in year one that he could play multiple positions, new HC Brian Flores is salivating over all the possibilities he has with FitzMagic. Fitzpatrick is only going to get better and before everything is said and done, will be among the NFL’s elite players. The question, however, is where will he play? Obviously, he’s going to be versatile and has the ability to play on the outside, inside, or at safety. But if all reports are true, Fitzpatrick may see more time in the slot, which is where he put up elite numbers at Alabama and as a rookie. Hell, they even said he could play linebacker. No matter where he decides to align, he will thrive. Because he’s that damn good.
it wasn't long after minkah fitzpatrick made his NFL debut, that everyone knew he was going to be special. pic.twitter.com/D0BVJ9UYv3
— josh houtz (@houtz) June 25, 2019
Jerome Baker, Linebacker
Arguably the best linebacker on the Dolphins’ roster, Jerome Baker looked impressive during his rookie season. And as a rookie, Baker combined for 79 tackles (4 TFL) . He also added 3 sacks, 1 interception and a touchdown, to his impressive rookie resume. It has been questioned whether or not he would be used a bit less in the new defensive scheme. That has yet to be determined. In the end, he’s a quick, instinctive playmaker that can do it all. And for as good as he is vs the run, he’s even more impressive vs the pass. Both Ohio State linebackers should be a part of the team’s long-term plan.
Raekwon McMillan, Linebacker
Baker may have been the more talented player in 2018, but McMillan is the guy I’m most excited about. And I think in a New England-Style defense, he has the potential to be Brian Flores’ Dont’a Hightower. He may never be a three-down linebacker and that’s okay, especially in today’s NFL. But he’s more than capable in zone coverage and has shown the ability to make big plays vs the run. The future is bright for this tandem. Please don’t be surprised when McMillan is the bigger factor of the two Ohio State linebackers.
Kenyan Drake, Running Back
Kenyan Drake may always be remembered as the guy that capped off the Miami Miracle. However, he’s much more than that. And after being limited by Gase’s poor play-calling, everyone should be excited about what Drake can do with a bulk of the touches. Last season, Drake scored 4 touchdowns on the ground, only receiving 120 carries. Additionally, he caught 53 receptions for another 477 yards and 5 touchdowns. If O’Shea can utilize him properly, there’s the potential for his first 1,000 yard season. The question however, remains, will the Dolphins re-sign Drake after the 2019 season?
kenyan drake made plays like this a lot at alabama. he’s a good route runner with natural hands. one of the better receiving backs in the NFL. here he blows by the coverage and catches a well thrown ball from tannehill. expect to see a lot of this. pic.twitter.com/EoxOKViFry
— josh houtz (@houtz) August 27, 2018
Kalen Ballage, Running Back
No one knows how many carries Ballage will get in 2019, but we can certainly assume it will be more than 36. And let’s not forget he did have that breakout game vs Minnesota, which was inflated by a 70-yard run. Nonetheless, he has a chance to see a significant uptick in production and could prove to be the long-term starter. Unfortunately for Ballage, he needs to outperform Kenyan Drake, who deserves his own bulk of the lion’s share.
many believe #dolphins HB kalen ballage is ready to take the next step in 2019. so i decided to go back and revisit his rookie season.
In week 15, ballage saw an increase in touches and he did not disappoint. here's a look at his week 15 performance vs the minnesota vikings pic.twitter.com/cixQbAicta
— josh houtz (@houtz) May 28, 2019
Albert Wilson, Wide Receiver
There might not be a more explosive player on the Dolphins’ offense than Albert Wilson. And what he accomplished with limited opportunities in 2018 prior to his hip injury, was among the NFL’s best at his position. Wilson has stated all offseason that he is fully healthy and ready for Week 1 of the season. If his body can hold up, he should have a huge impact in 2019 and beyond. You would be hard pressed to find a receiver with the type of skills Wilson possesses. He can do it all.
momma, there goes that man🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/Mb7cbghDii
— josh houtz (@houtz) May 9, 2019
Bobby McCain, Cornerback
Early in 2018, Bobby McCain looked like he could play outside on the perimeter. In fact, he made play after play in that Week 1 marathon vs Tennessee. And if he continued to show that tenacity and ability to keep the play in front of him, things would have been okay. Instead, things spiraled out of control. No player in Flores’ defense is going to be one-dimensional. If rumors are true, however, McCain could be the Dolphins’ starting free safety in 2019. And a change like this, could pay dividends for a guy that looked lost at times in 2018.
Other potential players: