Barry Jackson

The compelling case for where to play one of Dolphins’ most accomplished players

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Monday:

Brian Flores was non-committal last week about who would be Miami’s slot receiver (get used to that from Flores), but a strong case could be made for Kenny Stills.

Here’s why: Per our friends at Pro Football Focus, Stills last season had 167 receiving snaps from the slot, was targeted 20 times, had 12 receptions for 137 yards with four touchdowns, 12 first downs and two drops. That equates to a 120.2 passer rating when targeted. That also means he got a first down 60 percent of the time he was targeted in the slot, which is pretty impressive considering the mediocre quarterback play.

In 2017, in 302 snaps in the slot, he had 53 targets, 32 receptions, 516 yards, 6 touchdowns, 22 first downs, one drop and a 122.8 passer rating when targeted. That means the Dolphins got a first down 41.5 percent of the time Stills was targeted.

For one of the worst teams in the league in picking up first downs, those numbers are pretty staggering.

With Jakeem Grant having proved he’s more effective on the boundary than the slot, it’s clear that Stills and Albert Wilson should both play a lot in the slot after the release of Danny Amendola, who’s now with Detroit.

Wilson is also very good in the slot, even though Adam Gase inexplicably insisted last July that Wilson is not a slot receiver.

Stills had six touchdown receptions last season and 24 in four years as a Dolphin.

Though defensive tackle Adolphus Washington has started 21 NFL games for Buffalo, we advise you to be realistic with your expectations for the newest Dolphins veteran.

Pro Football Focus rated him 113th among 122 defensive tackles for 2017, his second and final year as a starter for the Bills.

Buffalo cut him after one game last season and he played four games for the Bengals as a reserve.

Here was Bleacher Report’s assessment of him after 2017: “Lacks the functional strength, pad level and hand usage to be anything more than a backup. He struggles to generate push as a pass-rusher, his feet stop on contact and he gives up his chest too often. His head gets too far in front of his feet in his pass rush, making him susceptible to offensive linemen swiping down on his hands, which causes him to lose balance. Washington tends to move his body toward the ball rather than shed with his hands, which allows most offensive linemen to easily control him. He’s marginal against double-teams, as he’s unable to keep his feet on the ground once the secondary block hits.

“The former Ohio State defender is wildly ineffective, whether he’s rushing the passer or attempting to anchor against the run. On the seldom occasion that he does beat his man and get into the backfield, Washington often fails to process his next move quick enough and finds himself out of the play entirely.”

It’s clear the Dolphins are loading up on big defensive tackles – Washington is 6-4, 295 – who can play defensive end in a 3-4, which Miami likely will use a lot.

For all the lack of talent at defensive end, there are times Miami will be able to field a lineup without any natural ends but with a lineup full of tackles and either four linebackers or five defensive backs.

If the Dolphins want their best 11 players on the field, it’s possible that not a single one of those 11 might end up being a defensive end, unless Charles Harris makes major strides this year in a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role that Kyle Van Voy played very well for New England.

And Harris hasn’t been a factor in team drills during OTAs because of a wrist injury.

And if the Dolphins want their best 11 on the field, that could involve five defensive backs more often than not: Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald and either Bobby McCain or Eric Rowe.

Even though Jerome Baker is the Dolphins’ best linebacker in coverage, look for him to be more involved in the pass rush this season. He had three sacks last season.

His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said on his WSVN-7 Fox segment Sunday night that Baker “is going to be attacking the line of scrimmage. Look for him to have an increased role.”

Pro Football Focus rated Baker the Dolphins’ best pass rushing linebacker last season and 43rd overall among all qualifying linebackers.

The Adolphus Washington signing continued a trend: Most of Dolphins’ veteran pickups this spring are former high picks in their 20s, with hopes of attaining more success here: Josh Rosen (first rounder); Nate Orchard, Rowe, Tank Carradine (all second rounders), Washington and Clive Walford (both third) and Mark Walton (fourth).

Tight end Dwayne Allen, 29 and a former third-rounder, would qualify under those criteria, but he already has proven himself as a serviceable NFL tight end.

Couple other trends we’re seeing under this regime: Players being cross-trained more at different positions.

And an even stronger emphasis on conditioning.

“Players have told me this is the most conditioned team they’ve ever been on,” Rosenhaus told Steve Shapiro on his weekly WSVN segment.

The Dolphins are down to $23.4 million in cap space after Xavien Howard’s extension, several veteran pickups and the signing of the draft class except guard Michael Deiter.

It’s realistic to believe that Miami should be able to carry over at least $15 million of that space into next offseason, giving the Dolphins more than $110 million in space potentially.

A couple million of that $23 million will be needed to sign a practice squad and the Dolphins could use some of that money if they decide to sign any veterans at need positions.

But keep in the mind that this regime isn’t inclined to go on an extravagant spending spree for outside free agents, moving forward, even when it does have a ton of space.

Will the Dolphins pay market value for select outside free agents? Yes. Will they dole out Ndamukong Suh contracts to players they didn’t draft? Unlikely.

But the Dolphins should have more than enough room to fill any needs that emerge after the 2020 draft.

Here’s my Monday six pack of Heat nuggets, including information on draft visits, Dion Waiters and more.