Here’s what I like most about the 2023 Dolphins to this point: they’re giving themselves multiple ways to win games.
Adding a player as good as All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey backs that statement.
As I’ve said before, these are exciting times for Dolphins fans.
The organization’s master plan reveals itself more and more as time passes, and the plan makes more sense each time you see another layer.
Things are still coming together, of course. It’s only the opening days of free agency. Many holes must be filled.
But these are incredibly exciting times for Dolphins fans.
Ramsey, outfitted in Gucci at Thursday’s introductory news conference, pumped up the Dolphins’ secondary, which, for now, has projected starters of Ramsey and Xavien Howard at cornerbacks and Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones or DeShon Elliott at safeties, and Nik Needham or Kader Kohou at nickel.
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“This is the best group that I’ve been a part of,” Ramsey said, “and I’ve been part of some good groups in Jacksonville and also in L.A., but on paper I feel like this is the best one.”
Ramsey went on to say it’s not just the secondary that has him excited, it’s the entire defense.
Is this the best Dolphins defense of the last 20 years?
Well, no, you definitely can’t say that at this point, not when those early 2000s defenses had Hall of Famers Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas leading a contingent that included cornerbacks Sam Madison and Pat Surtain and defensive tackles Tim Bowens and Daryl Gardener, and defensive ends Trace Armstrong and Adewale Ogunleye.
But the 2023 group is nipping at their heels on paper. They’re on the right track.
This defense is promising, and potentially game-changing.
This defense gives the Dolphins options and contingencies for winning. Think about it.
You already knew the Dolphins could win games through the air, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hitting speedy wide receivers Tyreek Hill, who is on a path to the Hall of Fame, and Jaylen Waddle, one of the best No. 2s in the league.
And, under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, you suspected they’d be capable of winning games with their pass rush, led by edge rushers Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, Emmanuel Ogbah and, if he returns, Melvin Ingram.
Now you can also see the Dolphins winning games with their secondary, led by Ramsey, the Super Bowl champion, and fellow cornerback Howard, who is looking to regain health and his All Pro status of 2020.
Are they the best cornerback duo in the league, as Ramsey said at a Miami Heat game Wednesday night? Yeah, I’ll say they are.
Pro Football Focus has Ramsey, the No. 5 pick out of the 2016 draft, as its highest-graded overall cornerback, highest-graded pass defense cornerback and highest-graded run defense cornerback since he entered the league.
On the other hand, PFF had Howard, somewhat of a surprise for his fourth Pro Bowl selection last season, tied for 103rd in cornerback coverage rankings last season.
So improvement is needed at the position.
But throw in Kohou, the Dolphins’ highest-ranked cornerback by PFF at No. 47 in the league, and things are looking up a bit. And Needham, who is recovering from an Achilles injury and was tied for 57th in PFF’s cornerback rankings, is returning so the outlook is even brighter.
Add in Holland, the promising youngster, Jones, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury, and recently acquired Elliott, the former Detroit starter who was also Jones’ college teammate at Texas, and yeah, the secondary looks good and deep.
Let’s not forget safety Verone McKinley, an undrafted rookie who came on late last season, and cornerback Keion Crossen, a veteran special teams ace who is capable of playing from scrimmage.
The secondary can play whatever scheme or style it desires. You have the talent and the depth.
And recall Fangio said he came up with some new coverage ideas during his year away from the game, so there’s that, too.
Something should be working for this defense every game. Run defense. Pass defense. Pass rush. Front seven. Secondary. Something.
That’ll come in handy when the Dolphins are tasked with facing Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen and (probable) New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers for four of their 17 games next season.
The Dolphins, who also face Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, should have more answers to opposing quarterbacks because of their defensive talent and depth.
And they should have more ways to win games with Ramsey’s addition.