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Projecting the Miami Dolphins starting defense in Week 1

The Miami Dolphins will open their 2021 regular season one week from today — a clash with the rival New England Patriots awaiting Miami for the second consecutive year. Miami will hope to get off to a better start in 2021 than they did in 2020; where the Dolphins fell to 0-1 with a loss to New England and subsequently tumbled to 1-3 before making a run and finishing the year 9-3 over the final 12 games.

We now know which members of the Miami Dolphins have survived the initial cut down to 53 players. But who is going to be most responsible for securing the win against New England?

Here’s our forecast for the first-team defense next Sunday:

Dec 13, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Christian Wilkins (94) sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

  • DL Christian Wilkins

  • NT Raekwon Davis

  • DL Emmanuel Ogbah

No. 1 rotational player: DL Zach Sieler

There should be no surprises with this forecast up front for the Dolphins. Sieler will get heavy run for Miami but unless the team is constantly in short-yardage situations, Ogbah feels certain to keep the title of “starter”. Davis and Wilkins are former top draft choices who are now established starters as apart of the young nucleus in Miami. This group will occupy B-gap to B-gap up front for Miami; with Sieler potentially adding himself in to create a 4-man front for more heavy personnel groups or “base 3-4” looks that would feature Obgah on the outside.

Sep 13, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs for a touchdown in front of Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Jerome Baker (55) during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports


No. 1 rotational player: Hybrid LB Andrew Van Ginkel

This is a tough call for Miami. With the size that the Patriots are bringing up front, it may be best to play Phillips early in an effort to help combat some of the size and physicality that is coming in the trenches this week. Andrew Van Ginkel has the luxury of experience in the NFL, but he’s simply not as big or strong as Phillips; so we’re going to put him in the hybrid role at this point. The stack linebackers are very straight forward between Baker, who got paid this offseason, and Roberts — who appears to be fit enough to inspire Miami that they didn’t really need veteran LB and 2021 addition Benardrick McKinney. Van Ginkel will play a ton, too.

Aug 21, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Eric Rowe (21) breaks up the pass to Atlanta Falcons fullback John Raine (89) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports


  • CB Xavien Howard

  • CB Byron Jones

  • Nickel CB Nik Needham

  • FS Jason McCourty

  • SS Eric Rowe

No. 1 rotational player: SAF Brandon Jones

No surprises here at cornerback. Miami is paying top dollar for top talent and they’ll host both Jones and Howard in a bid to bottle up the Patriots’ offense and squeeze the field. Needham has been the team’s third-best corner in camp — so look for him to start but have a short leash given the depth of this group.

At safety, we’re giving the nod to Jason McCourty over Jevon Holland on account of the need for high-level communication as the Dolphins’ free safety. Holland is a more dynamic talent and can change the game — but he needs to be ready to call assignments out for the entire secondary. That is a big ask for a rookie against Josh McDaniels and the Patriots; and so we are projecting a conservative open for Holland.

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