AFC East preview: How does the Dolphins’ defensive line stack up in the division?

·3 min read
David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

If the Dolphins want to change their fortunes in 2022, it will have to start in the division. The last time the team won the AFC East was the 2008 season when Tony Sparano was head coach and Chad Pennington was starting at quarterback. Since then, the Dolphins have made the playoffs just once and finished second in the division only four times.

The Dolphins, though, have assembled a talented and deep roster that is expected to have them in contention for a playoff spot after they have come one win short the past two seasons. In the third of an eight-part series, the Miami Herald will rank and preview different positions for each team in the AFC East, from strongest to weakest. Part 5 is defensive line, and next is linebacker.

1. Miami Dolphins

Projected depth chart: Jaelan Phillips, Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, Emmanuel Ogbah, Andrew Van Ginkel

Skinny: For this exercise, on-ball linebackers such as Phillips and Ginkel are lumped in with the rest of the defensive line. While the Dolphins’ secondary — particularly, the cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones — gets much of the credit for the defense’s ability to play aggressively, the trenches remain an integral part of the unit.

Miami returns a talented, versatile and deep defensive line, headlined by Ogbah and Wilkins. Phillips is a breakout candidate after registering 8.5 sacks as a rookie. Zach Sieler, one of the more efficient players at his position, will remain a part of the rotation and offseason addition Melvin Ingram III has the skill set to rush from the edge or move inside.

2. Buffalo Bills

Projected depth chart: Greg Rousseau, Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, Von Miller

Skinny: The Bills’ marquee move of the offseason was signing Miller to a $120 million deal. While Miller, 33, might not be the same player of his Super Bowl MVP days with the Denver Broncos, his run with the reigning champion Los Angeles Rams showed he can still get to the quarterback in key moments. Buffalo also signed veterans in Jones, Shaq Lawson and Tim Settle, who should provide steady contributions in its rotation. The continued development of young players such as Rousseau, Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa could really elevate this group, though.

3. New York Jets

Projected depth chart: Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson

Skinny: The Jets had the makings of a really formidable defensive line last season but were hurt by Lawson’s season-ending Achilles injury in training camp and a lack of depth. Lawson returns, and New York drafted Johnson with one of its three first-round picks. The Jets also signed former Houston Texan Jacob Martin, an underrated pass rusher. In many ways, Jets head coach Robert Saleh is recreating the defense he oversaw with the San Francisco 49ers, whose strength resided in a deep defensive front.

4. New England Patriots

Projected depth chart: Deatrich Wise Jr., Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Matthew Judon

Skinny: Judon proved to be worth every penny of the $54.5 million contract he signed last offseason, registering a career-high 12 sacks and being named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl. The Patriots don’t have the depth of the other teams in the AFC East but young players such as Wise, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins could step into larger roles in 2022.

AFC EAST POSITION PREVIEWS

OL: Have the Dolphins fixed one of the league’s worst offensive lines?

WR/TE: Does Tyreek Hill give the Dolphins the division’s best pass-catchers?

RB: After adding trio of veterans, where do the Dolphins’ running backs rank?

QB: Josh Allen is an MVP favorite but is Tua the second-best QB in the division?

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