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State of the 2023 Miami Dolphins: Can Tua Tagovailoa lead deep playoff run?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Dolphins organization, Dolphins fans around the world and those who are still quoting Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to this day ...

The Dolphins' 2022 season was a mixed bag, incorporating both a tremendous winning streak and a tremendous losing streak. But they did make a run to the playoffs. After a few tweaks and a big trade, are they ready to make an even bigger push? Good question. But before we look forward, it's important that we take a look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: The moment they made the postseason. After starting 8-3, the Dolphins went on a five-game skid, dropping to 8-8 ahead of the regular-season finale against the Jets. They won, 11-6 (thanks to a 50-yard kick by Jason Sanders to break a 6-6 tie and a safety on the final play of the game), but they still wouldn't qualify for the playoffs unless the Bills beat the Patriots. When the Bills won, the video board read, "We're in!" I'm a jaded sports fan, and I still have to acknowledge that was pretty cool.

One low from last season: Falling to the Bills in the playoffs. Not that there is any shame in losing in frigid Orchard Park. As in the previous week against the Jets, Miami had to turn to third-string QB Skylar Thompson -- and Mike McDaniel and Co. still had a chance to win, taking a 24-20 lead in the third quarter on a 5-yard touchdown return on a fumble by Zach Sieler. I mean, getting blown out is one thing, but to be so close in a winnable game ... that hurts.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa. My fellow lefty was amazing last season. That's right, I said amazing. I've been a huge fan of Tagovailoa since his days at Alabama. The 2020 fifth overall pick showed promise in his first two seasons, but it felt like he was finally unleashed by first-year head coach Mike McDaniel, throwing for 3,548 yards, 25 passing touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He also led the NFL in passer rating (105.5) and yards per attempt (8.9). It would be nice if he cut down on the fumbles (six), but to me, he has established himself as the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins.

Projected 2023 MVP: Tagovailoa. As great as Tua was -- and he was -- we saw in 2022 that for Miami to have its best chance to win, Tua has to be on the field. Tua played in 13 games last year, losing significant time, including the final two games of the regular season and the playoff loss at Buffalo, with concussion issues. It's encouraging that the Dolphins were able to beat a Joe Flacco-led Jets team without Tagovailoa to get into the postseason, but it wasn't pretty. It was also their only win in the five games Tagovailoa didn't start (including playoffs). Coming close to beating the Bills in the postseason was nice. Would Tagovailoa have made a difference in that game? I would like to think so. In terms of both Miami's success this season and any potential long-term extension for the quarterback, it would be helpful for him to stay as healthy as possible in 2023.

New face to know: Jalen Freaking Ramsey, cornerback. Acquiring Ramsey from the Rams for a third-round pick and tight end Hunter Long was perfect, a great move for this team. In each of Ramsey's three full seasons in Jacksonville, the Jaguars' defense ranked in the top six in yards allowed; they haven't finished above 20th since. After being traded to the Rams, Ramsey was instrumental in helping the franchise win a Super Bowl. Ramsey reminds me a lot of the wrestler Roman Reigns. His brash persona might not be for everyone, and some might think he's a bit overhyped. But he always delivers. Plus, Ramsey is still young -- he won't turn 29 until October.

2023 breakout star: De'Von Achane, running back. I'm well aware many of you armchair GMs out there started adding Dalvin Cook to the Dolphins' roster as soon as he was released by the Vikings. Ever wonder why that deal hasn't happened? Perhaps the Dolphins feel very secure with the idea of leaning on Achane, a third-round pick. That's not to mention the fact that two former 49ers, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., are currently on the roster, hanging on with McDaniel, the former 49ers assistant, like Allen Covert and Rob Schneider showing up in an Adam Sandler movie. Still, I'm banking on Achane -- whose performance in OTAs sparked plenty of praise among media members -- becoming the lead back by the time we reach the second half of the season. Key to his appeal, to me, is that Achane can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Could he be a Kirkland version of CMC?

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Mike McDaniel
General manager Chris Grier
Offensive coordinator Frank Smith
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio
Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman
  • I'm a huge Mike McDaniel guy. He's brilliant, even if he always seems like he's being quirky for the sake of being quirky. Like the NFL's version of Owen Wilson. But you can't argue with his success (McDaniel's or Wilson's). In his head-coaching debut, McDaniel pushed the Dolphins to a ranking of sixth in total offense last season and fourth in passing offense. Miami was also second in yards per play.
  • One of the biggest -- if, to me, under-discussed -- moves of the offseason was the hiring of Fangio. It's like when they started adding Tajin to candy and the rim of your beer glass. Fangio is one of the most experienced defensive coordinators in the game. He doesn't need someone overlooking his defenses. You let him go out there and do his thing -- and that thing is shutting down opposing offenses. Look at his last DC gig in Chicago. While Matt Nagy was trying to develop Mitch Trubisky, Fangio designed a defense that nearly pushed the Bears on a playoff run. Along with Ramsey, Fangio is a huge get for a defense that finished in the bottom half of the NFL (18th) in yards allowed.
  • Grier has taken some major swings in the past two seasons. He didn't finish paying up the tab on the trade for Tyreek Hill until this year. But he did manage to swing the Ramsey deal for a relatively low price.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Dolphins' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina (2-51) Mike White, QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB
De'Von Achane, RB, Texas A&M (3-84) Braxton Berrios, WR Trent Sherfield, WR
Elijah Higgins, TE, Stanford (6-197) Robbie Chosen, WR Mike Gesicki, TE
Ryan Hayes, OT, Michigan (7-238) Tyler Kroft, TE Hunter Long, TE
Eric Saubert, TE Greg Little, OT
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT Brandon Shell, OT
Isaiah Wynn, OT Melvin Ingram, Edge
Dan Feeney, OL Elandon Roberts, LB
David Long, LB Byron Jones, CB
Jalen Ramsey, CB Eric Rowe, S
DeShon Elliott, S Thomas Morstead, P
Jake Bailey, P

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 2 at New England Patriots (Sunday night). The Dolphins are 4-2 against the Patriots going back to the 2020 season. The Dolphins are also one of four teams to open the season with back-to-back roadies.
  • Week 9 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Frankfurt, Germany). Forget about heading to Germany; playing the defending champs is hard enough. This is one of those litmus-test games for the Dolphins, who have the second-toughest strength of schedule this season based on their opponents' 2022 win percentage (.554).
  • Week 18 vs. Buffalo Bills. Could this be for the AFC East title? Theoretically, of course. The Dolphins close the season with four of their last five games at home. But the opponents for that stretch are the Titans, Jets, Cowboys, Ravens (in Baltimore) and Bills. Not exactly a cakewalk.

Will the Dolphins be able to ...

... protect Tua? It goes without saying, but cutting down on Tua's sacks is crucial. Left tackle Terron Armstead is one of the best in the business when he's on the field, but he missed four games in 2022. Overall, I wish the Dolphins would have done more to address the offensive line this offseason, rather than adding depth guys like veteran signees Isaiah Wynn, Cedric Ogbuehi and Dan Feeney. Miami didn't even draft a lineman until the seventh round, when the team took Ryan Hayes. I have had high expectations for right tackle Austin Jackson since they drafted him 18th overall out of USC in 2020. But he's not developed as hoped. As fun as it is bringing in guys like Tyreek Hill and Jalen Ramsey, I hope the lack of bold moves on the offensive line doesn't come back to haunt this team.

... outrun the opposition? Tyreek Hill was as good as advertised during his first season with the Dolphins. Hill averaged 3.32 yards per route run last season, the most in the NFL since at least 2016, when Next Gen Stats began to track such data. He had 2,069 air yards, the second-most among receivers. He led the NFL in downfield receiving yards (10-plus air yards) with 1,279. I could continue to go on, but I think you get the point. And let's not forget about Jaylen Waddle, who was also fantastic as the No. 2 in this outfit. Waddle had 18.1 receiving yards per reception last year, the most in the NFL among those with a minimum of 50 targets. I think that's pretty good.

One storyline ...

... people are overlooking: The Dolphins signed Mike White. Am I alone in thinking Mike White wasn't bad in his four starts for the Jets last season? I understand the Jets were enamored with getting Aaron Rodgers this offseason. Yes, Rodgers is pretty good, even at 39. But I thought White was pretty good in his role. Miami has a quarterback who has missed some games and an offensive line that isn't great. White is the kind of guy who can step in and win some games for you in a pinch. He's like pepperoni pizza, in a way. Not the flashiest choice. And there are times I want something a little more dynamic. But when somebody shows up to a party with a pepperoni pizza from Costco, I'm good with it.

For 2023 to be a success, the Dolphins MUST:

  • Win a playoff game, or two. As I mentioned earlier, the Dolphins made the playoffs last season. And they came damn close to pulling off an epic upset against the Bills, with Tagovailoa sidelined. They need to take that next step. Winning a playoff game would be great. Advancing to the AFC Championship Game would be even better. Get into that main event conversation. I know I use a lot of wrestling analogies, but the Dolphins seem like Orange Cassidy. Maybe a little gimmicky, but better than people think. And once you saw him in high-profile matches, you wanted more. That's how I feel about the Dolphins. I want to see them taking on the best teams in the AFC once again.

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