CHARLOTTE, N.C.—The Dolphins are 4-4 for the second straight season, but they’ve gotten there in a much different way this year.
After losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill in training camp and placing a total of 10 players on Injured Reserve—not counting Ted Larsen, who began the season there and was activated last week—it’s hard to accuse Miami of underachieving. This team is still very much in the AFC playoff race, though it’ll be a hard climb in the second half of the year.
With their season halfway over and the second half launching Monday night at Carolina, here are some mid-season awards for the Dolphins:
MVP: Jarvis Landry
People love to nitpick Landry’s game, but no one outside of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake does their job as well as he does. Dolphins quarterbacks throw 30 percent of their passes his way, and he leads the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. His 56 catches rank third in the league, and he’ll be in first place with five against Carolina on Monday. He’s on pace to break his own franchise record for receptions. Miami’s getting all that production for a salary cap hit of merely $1.1 million.
Rookie of the Year: Cordrea Tankersley
Miami got Tankersley at No. 97 overall and he’s been the gem of its 2017 draft class. Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, a fifth-round pick, is right there with him. Tankersley was so impressive in practices that he leapfrogged veterans Byron Maxwell and Alterraun Verner on the depth chart in Week 4, and he’s been solid since getting the job.
Biggest surprise: Lawrence Timmons
There were questions about whether Timmons still had it as he headed into his 11th NFL season, and that turned to serious doubt when he deserted the team shortly before the opener. Since being reinstated, he’s reliable in every way. He’s third on the team in tackles with 41 despite playing just six games.
Biggest surprise II: Jay Cutler
Remember when Cutler was on the open market back in March and nobody wanted him? Even the Jets passed. There have been some choppy moments this season, but Cutler’s played very well in his last three games and his overall contribution has been more than what most teams could expect when trying to replace their starting quarterback in training camp. He’s been fine, which is a compliment for a guy who had a really bad year in 2016 and had pretty much come to terms with retirement.
Biggest letdown: Byron Maxwell
The Dolphins thought they straightened out Maxwell after a bad start last season, but that thought began crumbling in mid-August. He had a terrible week in Philadelphia between the joint practices and the game, and his starting spot was in jeopardy heading into Week 1. By the end of September, Miami was essentially done with him. Now he’s unemployed.
Best coaching move: Dumping Jay Ajayi
This one’s funny because Adam Gase’s best move last year was committing to Ajayi and riding his breakthrough. While trading him to Philadelphia isn’t technically a coaching decision, that move was rooted in Gase’s preference to remodel the backfield around faster, more versatile threats in Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. They combined for 165 total yards in Miami’s first game without Ajayi and they’re the type of weapons Gase is used to operating.
Worst coaching move: Reeling in Cutler
Gase would likely dispute this, but it seems like there’s been an effort to get Cutler to play conservatively. With this group of receivers, especially considering how dangerous DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills are downfield, the Dolphins need to take more gambles on deep balls. Parker doesn’t have to be open for Cutler to give him a shot.
Best game: The win at Atlanta
In the turbulent world of the NFL, it’s hard to tell exactly how good the Falcons actually are. They were in the Super Bowl last season, but they’re 5-4 now. Either way, the Dolphins looked dead when they were down 17-0 midway through the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Then Cutler got them rolling with a pair of touchdown passes, and it ended with Cody Parkey kicking the game winner in the final minutes.
Worst game: The loss at the Jets
The Baltimore game was as ugly as it gets, but nearly getting shut out against the Jets in the second game of the year was stunning. The Dolphins came in with high expectations for their offense and didn’t do anything to damage that optimism in the opener. Then they went to New York and failed to score until a last-second touchdown that didn’t mean anything. Miami totaled 225 yards of offense and went 1 for 12 on third downs that day.
Most quotable: Rey Maualuga
From eating habits to playing fullback, Maualuga was an instant hit with the South Florida media. He’s one of the most personable, entertaining and candid players the Dolphins have had the past two years and he’s a go-to guy in the locker room.
Most exciting to watch: Damien Williams
Williams can do everything, and there’s high potential pairing someone like him with a creative mind like Gase’s. He had 61 yards on 13 touches last week against Oakland, and his 10-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was arguably the highlight of the Dolphins’ season.
Best value: T.J. McDonald
Landry is the real answer here, but that’s too easy. McDonald requires some faith, and the Dolphins certainly have a lot in him considering they gave him a four-year extension before he played a single snap for them. He comes off suspension Monday for the Carolina game and will cost Miami a salary cap hit of $2.3 million this year. If he’s as good as they say he is, that’s a steal. Prorating that for the half-season he’s playing still makes him cheaper than cap-wise than 23 other safeties this year.
Worst value: Alterraun Verner
The Dolphins actually don’t have a ton of candidates for this distinction this year (it’s not fair to count players who are out for the year). Verner isn’t an egregious spending error at $695,000, but they’re paying him as much as they gave Maualuga, and obviously he’s earning more than Tankersley’s rookie salary. According to Pro Football Reference’s stats, Verner hasn’t played a defensive snap in the last five games.
Most improved: DeVante Parker
Don’t hold it against him that he missed three games with an ankle injury. Parker was looking like a legitimate No. 1 receiver before getting hurt and he showed a different disposition than he had in his first two seasons. He was very good in his first game back from the injury with a couple of great catches on his way to 76 yards on five receptions. He’s doing things right in games and behind the scenes, and that bodes well for the future.
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