3 Reasons Why the Miami Dolphins Are 2022’s Dark Horse Contender

The Cincinnati Bengals were one of the biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL season. Despite finishing the year prior with a 4-11-1 record, Joe Burrow and rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase led the club to its first winning season in five years, taking the AFC North title and earning the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1988. The Bengals ultimately lost the big game, but making it that far was an impressive accomplishment in and of itself.

Now, with the 2022 regular season approaching, it’s time to look for the next team that could make a similarly shocking postseason run. It is unconventional for a team to go from subpar to a Super Bowl berth in such a short span, but it only takes a couple of brilliant offseason additions to start heading in the right direction.

Plenty of teams could fit the bill, but the Miami Dolphins are the one with the most upside that could shock the world.

Miami finished the 2021 campaign with a winning record but started the season at a disastrous 1-7 and only finished above .500 due to a late-season surge. However, the Dolphins made a handful of splash moves in free agency, sending a statement to the rest of the league that they are in win-now mode.

Similar to what the Bengals have in Burrow, the Dolphins have a young, promising quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, along with a new and improved offensive lineup that can put them into title contention.

Here are three reasons why Miami is the most promising dark horse contender to compete for a championship this season.

The Dolphins took advantage of rookie contracts and loaded up on offensive talent

On paper, the Dolphins have the second-best roster in the AFC East, only trailing the Buffalo Bills. This is mostly due to the addition of star receiver Tyreek Hill, who will be a massive help to Tagovailoa’s development.

Hill has been one of the deadliest receivers in the NFL over the past few years. He’s racked up 6,037 receiving yards and 50 touchdowns since 2017, both of which rank top-five across that span. Now on a new deal with a fresh start, Hill will look to continue his success with Tagovailoa, who the All-Pro wideout has already praised for being a more accurate passer than Patrick Mahomes.

Hill is such a threat because of his electric speed and shiftiness, which make him a nightmare to guard and tackle in the open field. Pair him up with Jaylen Waddle, and the Dolphins have the fastest receiver tandem in the NFL.

Miami also acquired receiver Cedric Wilson and a committee of running backs in Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, and Sony Michel. All three will play a meaningful role in improving the Dolphins’ run game, which finished 30th last season.

The influx of talent doesn’t end at the skill positions. The Dolphins landed All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Connor Williams. Both linemen add some stability up front that will allow for easier running lanes and better pass protection, which was greatly needed in South Beach.

Miami was able to acquire all these players due to its available cap space and overall young roster. Tagovailoa and Waddle are still on their rookie deals, allowing the front office to make big-time moves in free agency. That’s why the Dolphins decided to go all-in this offseason.

Tua Tagovailoa will be working in an offensive system that allows him to thrive

It’s no secret that Tua Tagovailoa hasn’t lived up to expectations in his first two seasons in the NFL. That’s why the Dolphins acquired as much talent as possible this offseason.

Across 23 appearances, he’s thrown 15 interceptions while averaging under 200 passing yards per game. His poor performances in 2021 didn’t help his case either, especially in light of the fellow quarterbacks in his draft class — Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert — having immensely more successful sophomore seasons.

Despite the early-career struggles, Tagovailoa may finally be with the right offensive mind who will allow him to be the best version of himself.

Head coach Mike McDaniel joined the Dolphins after serving as the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator under Kyle Shanahan. McDaniel will bring a version of Shanahan’s scheme to Miami, which has been praised for getting receivers open in the middle of the field and allowing targets to gain yards after the catch.

This has been the 49ers’ trademark and why Jimmy Garoppolo led the league in passing yards after the catch per completion in both 2019 (6.6) and 2021 (6.5). Tagovailoa, on the other hand, hasn’t had much help from his receivers in this regard. He ranked 30th last season, with his receivers averaging 4.6 yards after the catch.

Adding talented offensive pieces in Hill, Wilson, and the running back committee will certainly take some of the stress off Tagovailoa’s arm. But being in an offensive system with a coach like McDaniel will only bring the best out of Tua. He’s not going to be the quarterback who slings the ball all over the field but will instead make the short to intermediate throws that allow for huge YAC opportunities.

The Shanahan coaching tree has created numerous successful head coaches, including Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur. Is McDaniel a guaranteed success? Absolutely not. No coach is. But he’s a mastermind of the scheme Tagovailoa will succeed in.

Jevon Holland and Jaelan Phillips are ready to build off a strong rookie season as part of a hungry Dolphins defense

As the saying goes, defense wins championships. It takes a sound secondary and physical pass rush to be a great defense, and the Dolphins have both. In fact, the defense was a large part of why the Dolphins won eight of their final nine games last year, as they only allowed 15.6 points per game post-November.

Jevon Holland made a lot of noise during his rookie season with his athleticism, versatility, and intelligence. He mostly lines up at free safety but is more than capable of playing in the slot, creeping into the box, or rushing the passer. He finished last season with 10 passes defended, two interceptions, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He made the All-Rookie team and is in the mix for handling defensive communications (h/t Dolphins Wire) at only 22 years old.

The Dolphins’ secondary also has a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Howard has been a lockdown corner since his rookie season, snagging 27 interceptions during his NFL career.

Miami also boasts one of the best pass-rush units in the league, as it finished fifth last season with 48 sacks. Jaelan Phillips, one of the team’s 2021 first-round draft picks, made a hefty contribution to that total. He finished his rookie season with 8.5 sacks, seven of which came during the Dolphins’ winning streak.

Rushing the quarterback on the opposite side is Emmanuel Ogbah, who led the team with nine sacks in 2021. The Dolphins also acquired veteran pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, who will play a complementary role to both edge-rushers.

The Dolphins have a perfect blend of veteran talent and rising stars on the defensive side of the ball. Their ability to generate pressure and create turnovers can be relied on if the offense has to go through some growing pains.

Put all of that together, and you have a solid pick for a 2022 NFL dark horse.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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