Now that the 2023 NFL regular season has concluded, and the playoffs are just days away it’s a good time to reflect on this year’s class of Miami Dolphins. What better way to go through a regular season yearbook than handing out superlatives?
In a regular season that saw numerous team records fall and several breakout performances both by veterans and young players, this team is arguably its most talented in decades. Regardless of all the injuries and adversity, the 2023 rollercoaster of a campaign is still going, as there is a Saturday night playoff matchup at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round of the postseason.
Before getting to that matchup, we can look back on some of the outstanding individual performances from Dolphins this season.
After last season, it became clear that a Mike McDaniel offense would need a tight end to do all the dirty work, with limited fun work, such as route running, receptions and touchdowns. However, all Durham Smythe did in 2023 was simply his job. A tremendous teammate, a solid blocker, and, believe it or not, Miami’s third-ranked pass target in creating first downs. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have 83 and 47 receptions, respectively, that have led to a Dolphins first down. Smythe has converted 22 of his 35 catches from just 43 targets.
He led the Dolphins in success rate at 72.1%, which is defined as catches that gain at least 40% of required yards on a first down, 60% of required yards on second down and 100% of required yards on third or fourth down. Simply put, when Smythe’s number is called, he answers it. Despite not seeing the end zone this regular season, Smythe extended enough drives and led the way for his teammates to gain yards and light up the scoreboard.
You can say that Zach Sieler could have easily hit the unsung award, or this one, yet the man has already established himself as a key, core member of this Miami defense, and last year was his arrival. This season, after not having his fifth-year rookie option picked up by Miami, Austin Jackson balled out and took a bet on himself.
He was rewarded with an in-season extension, keeping him in Miami for the next three seasons at a total of $36 million. This is after fans were calling for his replacement after a lackluster first few seasons following the Dolphins making him a 2020 first-round draft selection.
Jackson played right tackle in all but one game this season, which was missed due to injury. Jackson helped keep Tua Tagovailoa, one of the least hit and sacked quarterbacks in the league, safe and had his hand in a rushing unit that averaged Miami’s highest yard-per-carry total (5.06) since 1971 (5.0).
There truly isn’t a better player to name. On the field, and in the pop culture canon, the man some call “Thor,” and most call “Gink,” arrived like a superhero in 2023 with thunderous production.
Van Ginkel placed his name among the elite NFL pass-rushers this season, as he graded out the eight-highest-ranked edge defenders. Grading out at 91.2, above Adian Hutchinson and just below DeMarcus Lawrence, Van Ginkel’s 2023 was his final under contract, and he will be paid in 2024.
His stat line this season comes with just 66% of total defensive snaps played over the course of the season. Regardless, he finished the regular season with 69 total tackles, six sacks, eight tackles for loss, 19 quarterback hits, eight passes defensed, a fumble recovery, and of course, an interception return for a touchdown. After suffering a foot injury against the Buffalo Bills in Week 18, Miami will be without Van Ginkel in Kansas City for the wild-card round.
This one is a no-brainer. Achane played in limited games due to injury, but his rookie season was nothing short of outstanding. In his 11 contests, he gained 800 rushing yards on a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry and added 197 receiving yards on 27 receptions. He scored a total of 11 touchdowns, eight rushes and three receptions. He also created 40 first downs on his 140 overall touches and gained 7.7 scrimmage yards per touch. Achane is a perfect complement to Raheem Mostert but has proven he could be a guy to be leaned on as a lead-back, which is something in his near future in South Florida.
You can say that Sieler could have easily hit the unsung award, or this one, yet the man has already established himself as a key, a core member of this Miami defense, and last year was his arrival. This season, after not having his fifth-year rookie option picked up by Miami, Austin Jackson balled out and took a bet on himself.
Last year, Sieler broke out and was rewarded with a contract extension before the 2023 season. Christian Wilkins and his contract saga led to him betting on himself, a bit like Jackson did, and the defensive tackle had his best NFL season.
In fact, Sieler and Wilkins had remarkably similar years. Sieler became the first Dolphins defensive tackle to hit 10 sacks in a season, and Wilkins was right behind him with nine. If you add up all their key, raw defensive statistics, such as total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hits plus pressures, passes defended plus interceptions and forced and recovered fumbles, something incredible is discovered. It’s the exact same raw number for each of these players at 141.
While the Dolphins have a decision to make on Wilkins, as does he on what he wants to do in a reactionary way when we get to that point, it would behoove Miami to retain a defensive tackle tandem as prolific as Sieler and Wilkins. There’s nothing at all to diminish their individual skills and accomplishments, but as a duo, they’re the best interior defensive linemen combination in the NFL and perhaps the greatest the Dolphins have had as tag-team partners in the defensive trenches.
Throughout the season, or at certain points to be more accurate, Tagovailoa and Hill were not only in the league MVP race, but they could’ve been leading head-to-head favorites for a hot week or two. Despite that cooling, you can’t discount their season, as each Pro Bowl Dolphin led the NFL in their position’s yardage category.
Tagovailoa and Hill each had extreme highs and some lows that they look forward to rebounding from in the playoffs, but make no mistake, Miami is in the postseason in very large part due to this quarterback-wide receiver connection.
While missed during the last two games of the season, both losses, Mostert is hopefully ready to roll for the playoffs and the Chiefs. Back in Week 9 in Germany against Kansas City, Mostert ran for 85 yards on 12 carries, 7.08 yards per rush and scored a touchdown.
Mostert is the Mayor, the Head of the Class, The President, the Valedictorian and/or Prom King of this Dolphins team. And, he deserves all the superlatives after his 2023 season.