The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 15 on our preseason rankings are the AFC East bridesmaid Miami Dolphins.
2016 in a nutshell: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a breakout season, but injured his knee in December. Running back Jay Ajayi had a breakout season, but lacked consistency from week to week. And wide receiver Jarvis Landry had another great season, but scored just four touchdowns. As a result, the Dolphins were good, not great. They did make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but failed to win their first playoff game of the 21st century.
What’s different: Veteran Jay Cutler came back from a short retirement to take over for Tannehill, who re-injured his knee early in camp. And defensive coordinator Vance Joseph took a head-coaching job in Denver.
Why they could be awesome: Cutler could save the day for Tannehill. He certainly has the talent and experience, despite his track record when it comes to big games and big moments. And he certainly has the support with Ajayi, Landry, DeVAnte Parker, Kenny Stills and a solid offensive line. Oh and he had the best year of his career when current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was his offensive coordinator in Chicago in 2015.
Why they could suck: Cutler is Cutler, winner of one playoff game in 11 years. And the defense ranked 29th in the league last year before losing Joseph, Jelani Jenkins and Mario Williams.
Major additions: Cutler, safety T.J. McDonald, linebacker Lawrence Timmons and first-round rookie defensive end Charles Harris.
Major losses: Jenkins and Williams, I suppose. But they won’t likely miss either very much. They’ve already lost rookie second-round pick Raekwon McMillan — a projected starter at linebacker — to a season-ending knee injury.
Breakout watch: Top 2016 draft pick Laremy Tunsil is entering his first full season as the starting left tackle after they traded veteran Branden Albert to the Jaguars. He has the ability to become a stud on the blind side.
Carson Wentz finds Torrey Smith for the 50-yard TD! Beat former Ealgle Byron Maxwell. pic.twitter.com/WM4pqNQfEi
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) August 24, 2017
Position to watch: The secondary took a lot of heat last year, but veteran corner Byron Maxwell wasn’t fully healthy, spectacular young safety Reshad Jones missed all but six games, and it took some time for second-round corner Xavien Howard to get comfortable in his rookie campaign.
Those three have high potential together, and Nate Allen isn’t a bad option to hold things down at free safety while the underrated McDonald serves an eight-game suspension to start the year. Lots of fascinating players back there.
Prediction: Cutler is a wild card, but he should have a strong enough supporting cast to lead Miami to a winning record. This team won’t compete with New England in that division, but it has playoff talent. I’m just not sure it’ll win anything when January arrives.
9-7, 2nd place in the AFC East