The Dolphins defensive line is definitely an underrated unit in the NFL, by fans (including myself), by NFL talking heads, and of course by own local beat writers. It’s more than just the 3 guys pictured above, it’s the depth of the unit. Add in one of the best rotational DL in the NFL in Brandon Sieler, and backup NT John Jenkins and backup DE Adam Butler and it truly is a complete unit. It’s not the flashiest unit, and more than likely most NFL fans don’t know the front 3 pictured above by name. Emmanuel Ogbah has been about as steady as they come. He gets pressure so often, including 2 seasons ago when he had inadequate pressure coming from anywhere else. In 2020, Ogbah had 9 sacks and 21 QB hits, the team totaled 41 sacks. In 2021, Ogbah once again totaled 9 sacks and added 24 QB hits, the team though totaled 48 sacks. Christian Wilkins is an invisible elite player. Wilkins last season finished with 89 tackles (2nd on the team behind #55), 4.5 sacks and 13 QB hits. Raekwon Davis played injured most of last season but I have so much optimism that he will have a really nice season provided he stays healthy.
It’s not just the DL that’s underrated, it’s the entire defense. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel and have said so many times that for once I would like the defense to play like a championship defense and just shut down the other team, like our team gets shut down so often, especially when playing our own division rival Buffalo Bills. The problem is, the Bills just have a great offense, and Josh Allen gives them that running threat that we so often struggle with, while our own offense has been far from a juggernaut. The Bills averaged 28.5 PPG last season, good for 3rd in the NFL. No easy task to stop them, but 2 teams in particular shut them down, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bills were somewhat flat on opening day in Pittsburgh, only scoring 16 points. They won the TOP battle 33:17 – 26:43 and only lost the turnover battle 1-0. They had more yardage on the ground and especially in the air but couldn’t out the ball in the endzone. The 9-6 loss to the Jaguars was an aberration. Or was it? The jaguars stifled the run game, held both Singletary and Allen in check, sacked Allen 4 times and ran the ball themselves 27 times, for only 70 yards. They turned the Bills over 3 times. This is the kind of effort I’d love to see just once (or twice?) from our defense against the Bills.
OK, here’s the good news. I think there’s every reason to expect more from this defensive unit. This is a defense on the rise. Rookie OLB/DE Jaelan Phillips exploded toward the end of the season. He should be as good or better than that player was last season. We added an athletic inside LB in the draft, Channing Tindall who should help not only with Bills QB Josh Allen, but he can cover and will free up #55 Jerome Baker to create more havoc. AVG is still a player on the rise and I expect better things from as well this season. Did I mention we signed Melvin Ingram? Depth is better, Elandon Roberts is still a nice 1 or 2 down thumper in the middle, but Tindall gives them the speed and athleticism we’ve needed. We have the 2 veteran cover corners in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Both are excellent cover guys but X is clearly the playmaker, imposing his will on games so often. It’s not just INT’s, he creates forced fumbles and just has a knack for finding that football. The safeties are quite the trio, and underrated once again comes to mind. Jevon Holland had an excellent rookie season, and SS Brandon Jones seems to be becoming a full time starter and combines great tackling with strong blitzing abilities. Jones had 5 sacks last season and had the 3rd most tackles on the team, behind Wilkins and Baker.
Depth, depth, depth. Sieler, Jenkins, Butler. Ingram, Tindall, Eguavoen and Riley. Needham, Rowe, Igbinoghene. Is it possible we actually see the emergence of former 1st RD pick Noah Igbinoghene? He’s been showing up in camp, and it would be great for the talented young player to finally make it in the NFL. Nik Needham is one of my favorite Dolphins players, a guy who plays above his head all the time, max effort guy who does whatever the coaches ask. We basically brought last year’s defense back intact. We added a nice rookie LB (Channing Tindall) and a nice veteran LB/DE (Melvin Ingram). Once again, this is an ascending unit. If the offense can hold up their end of the bargain, be more balanced and be able to keep opposing defenses on the field longer, just imagine how much better our defense can be? All this remains to be seen, but it’s hard not to be optimistic that it can be so.