Barry Jackson

Amid sea of doomsday predictions, here's one national outlet that believes in Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mike Tannenbaum, vice president of football operations, and coach Adam Gase (left) and GM Chris Grier speak to the media earlier this year. One national media outlet believes the Dolphins might surprise this season.
Miami Dolphins Mike Tannenbaum, vice president of football operations, and coach Adam Gase (left) and GM Chris Grier speak to the media earlier this year. One national media outlet believes the Dolphins might surprise this season. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

At the MGM Grand and 11 other Las Vegas casinos, no AFC team has longer odds of winning the Super Bowl (80 to 1) than the Dolphins, according to a spokesman for those dozen MGM properties. And those are in line with odds put forth by other on-line and in-person gambling establishments.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated predicts the Dolphins will go 3-13.

But what if this national perception is wrong?

What if these Dolphins, who get back their starting quarterback, are closer to the team that went 10-6 in 2016 than the one that went 6-10 in 2017?

Pro Football Focus recently listed the Dolphins among “five teams that could surprise with an NFL wild card appearance in 2018,” along with Houston, Washington, Chicago and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Here was PFF’s case for the Dolphins:

“The key to the Dolphins making a surprise push for the playoffs is getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill healthy, and keeping him that way. Tannehill might not be an elite signal-caller, but he has produced a PFF grade between 80.9 and 85.1 every season of his career so far. That will put you among the top 50 percent of quarterbacks in the NFL every season, and with enough help around him, he gives you a chance to win.

"The Dolphins have made additions on offense, adding guard Josh Sitton who has allowed just 18 total pressures on 856 pass-blocking snaps over the past two seasons and slot receiver Albert Wilson. Wilson replaces Jarvis Landry who dominated out of the slot, but Wilson was no slouch, producing a PFF grade of 77.1 and he will have the opportunity to flourish in the Dolphins system.

"Defensively, Robert Quinn is the big addition upfront, but despite him racking up 10 sacks in 2017, we haven’t seen any real consistency from him as a pass-rusher since his two-year performance between 2013 and 2014, with just 81 total pressures over the past three seasons. The key addition on defense is first-round defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who showcased the ability to play safety and in the slot at Alabama, and should bring that versatility to the Dolphins.”

PFF also noted that Minkah Fitzpatrick allowed a passer rating of 59.9 since 2016 — lowest of any defensive back in this year’s draft class.

So what if Tannehill plays like the quarterback who was 12th among NFL starters in passer rating at 93.5 in 2016 before his injury — ahead of Matt Stafford, Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers, among many others?

What if Kenyan Drake plays — over a full year — like the player who was sixth in the NFL in rushing average at 4.8 last season and averaged more yards after contact than any other NFL running back over the final five weeks?

What if Mike Gesicki — the Dolphins’ highest draft pick at tight end this century – becomes as skilled an NFL player as he was in college?

What if these skilled top five receivers (DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant) rank among the top three quintets in the AFC?

What if this offensive line with two first-round picks (Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James) and a four-time Pro Bowler (Josh Sitton) blossoms?

What if Robert Quinn, at 28, is anything close to the player who had 19 sacks five years ago?

What if Raekwon McMillan becomes Miami’s best middle linebacker since Zach Thomas?

What if Xavien Howard starts playing routinely like the guy who was exceptional in that Patriots Monday night game?

What if Minkah Fitzpatrick solves the Dolphins’ problem of being repeatedly victimized by opposing tight ends?

It’s unlikely the Dolphins get the best possible answers to all eight of those questions. But it wouldn’t be shocking if half or even more materialize.

And that’s why predictions of four or five wins seem to be short-selling this roster’s potential.

THIS AND THAT

Found it interesting that Pro Football Focus noted Minkah Fitzpatrick played only seven percent of his snaps at safety for Alabama last season. He played 64 percent at slot cornerback and 20 percent at linebacker.

PFF listed 20 players on new teams that are expected to make an immediate impact, and two were Dolphins; Josh Sitton and Fitzpatrick.

On Sitton, PFF said: "Sitton, a 10-year veteran guard and former fourth-round pick, has flown under the radar as one of the league’s premier talents. He has now earned an 85.0-plus overall grade for nine consecutive seasons, all while playing at least 700 offensive snaps in each of the nine seasons. Trading Chicago for Miami, Sitton’s consistency and veteran presence should have an immediate positive effect on the Dolphins’ locker room and offensive line as a whole."

On Fitzpatrick, PFF said: "Slotted as our No. 3 overall cornerback entering the 2018 NFL Draft, Fitzpatrick is a proven playmaker with great versatility in the secondary. The former Alabama product earned 81.0-plus overall grades in each of his three seasons in Tuscaloosa and allowed just a 66.5 passer rating when targeted in his career."

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