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Improving From Within: Four Early Breakout Candidates For The Miami Dolphins

Allen Eystone/The Palm Beach Post

The NFL Draft and free agency present exciting possibilities for fans and teams. However, it’ll be critical for the Miami Dolphins‘ that players drafted in the first two years of this regime — 2019 and 2020 — take steps forward.

For that reason, it’s useful to turn the magnifying glass inward and see if Miami has any future stars waiting to break out in 2021. For the purposes of this article a “breakout season” will indicate a top 15-20 finish at their given position

Here are four players that are likely to take a big step forward for the Dolphins in 2021.

Raekwon Davis, DT

The joy in Brian Flores’ face after drafting Davis last year was one that everyone noted. And it didn’t take long to see why. Davis is a massive human being with a unique combination of length and power that makes him a handful for any interior offensive lineman in the NFL.

Why he’ll breakout:

Well, to some degree he already has. Davis hit the ground running in the NFL and is already a high-level run defender. He has shown flashes as an interior pass rusher, but will need to be more consistent in that area to take the next step. It typically takes defensive linemen a couple of seasons to figure out rushing from the interior-even elite players like Chris Jones or Calais Campbell, so there’s reason to believe that the best is yet to come.

Why he won’t breakout:

This same narrative played out in his time at Alabama. Davis has always had unique physical tools and has shown flashes of dominance on tape, but he’s never been able to put it all together –hence him being a day two pick as opposed to a day one pick. The floor with Davis is already high, but what his ceiling can be remains to be seen.

Andrew Van Ginkel, OLB

It has taken a little while, but Van Ginkel is finally getting the respect he’s due. If you only watch the games in real-time on Sunday, it can seem like Van Ginkel is just a high motor guy that has a nose for the ball. While he is that, he brings much more to the table.

Why he’ll breakout:

Well, he’s already one of Miami’s best players. There weren’t many –if any– games where Van Ginkel didn’t leave his mark. The Dolphins used him similarly to Kyle Van Noy last year as somewhat of a Swiss Army Knife. He can bring the most value to Miami’s defense and can best utilize his athleticism as a pass rusher. He’s shown a ton of development in this area from college to now and should be in line for more snaps after cutting Van Noy and trading Shaq Lawson.

Why he won’t breakout:

Usage. Van Ginkel has the ability to do just about anything you ask of him: drop into coverage, defend the run, or rush the passer. While all three have value, there’s a reason Van Noy just signed for $6 million a year and Shaq Barret signed for $17 million a year. Specialization is king, and for a box player rushing the passer is their most useful and lucrative skill. Van Ginkel has the ability to step into that upper echelon of edge players, but it’ll come down to Miami utilizing his potential and skill as a pass rusher.

Robert Hunt, OT

Coming out of college, the former Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun was billed as a classic tackle to guard convert at the NFL level. His shorter arms, average agility, and experience at guard led many scouts to conclude his best chance of success meant kicking inside. The Dolphins gave Hunt a lengthy tryout at right tackle and he didn’t disappoint. The Dolphins may still decide to try him at guard, but for now, he’s Miami’s most promising tackle prospect since Laremy Tunsil.

Why he’ll breakout:

Power. Hunt already shined as a mauling run blocker from the right tackle position and held his own blocking edge rushers on pass sets. Without any more development, he’s an above-average NFL right tackle. The fact that he was an unheralded prospect from a small high school football program and played at a smaller program collegiately, makes it likely that he still has some growing to do.

Why he won’t breakout:

There’s a chance that he’ll never be more than an average pass protector at offensive tackle due to some athletic limitations. Longer athletic pass rushers gave him trouble last season and that might not be something that clears up. He can also at times play a bit out of control and over reach on blocks, which leaves him off balance. At this point, I’m nit-picking though. Whether Miami keeps him at tackle or moves him inside, I believe Hunt will be a really good offensive lineman.

Tua Tagovailoa, QB

So here’s the really important one. If I could only insure that one of these players takes a big leap next year, it would be Tua. With the way the NFL is going, Miami’s fate is going to be tied to his development and their ability to score touchdowns.

Why he’ll breakout:

For starters, Tagovailoa is an extremely talented quarterback. Don’t listen to the media or Twitter narrative about his arm and playmaking ability, the dude can spin it. He doesn’t have a cannon like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but his leadership, accuracy, and anticipation are all special.

This time last year, Tua was still rehabbing his injured hip and trying to prepare his body just to step onto an NFL football field. With a clean bill of health and a full offseason to prepare, he’ll vastly improve.

Why he won’t breakout

One of the main reasons Tagovailoa struggled last season was his inability to quickly read defenses and diagnose plays pre-snap. This is usually the most difficult aspect of playing quarterback, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. He also seemed to panic when pressure started to get home in the pocket. This is something that I would partly attribute to the trauma associated with his hip injury the prior season. Recovering physically from a severe injury is one thing, but overcoming the mental side of it can be just as challenging. If he doesn’t improve in these areas, his potential as a signal-caller will be capped in that mid-range/average starter category.

The Importance of Developing Talent

The draft community often refers to players that don’t pan out as “busts,” and I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on the player. A lot of the shortcomings with younger players come down to shortcomings in coaching staffs and organizational strategies. If teams aren’t drafting a player with a clear plan for developing and maximizing their talents, they’ve already failed them. Many prior regimes in Miami failed miserably to develop most of their drafted players.

With Flores and his coaching staff, there’s been a big emphasis on acquiring and developing young players, and it’s already paying dividends. Players from both the 2019 and 2020 draft classes have been instrumental in the turnaround in South Beach. If Miami is going to take that final step forward, it’ll be through improving their homegrown talent.

A life-long Dolphins fan that ended up in Texas after serving in the Air Force. I believe in using a combination of analytics, film-study, and misguided fan-instincts to develop pieces. I look forward to hearing from you, Fins Up!

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