Wide receiver DeVante Parker
Entering his third season, DeVante Parker carries as much potential as any player on this team, if not the entire league. The third season is typically the benchmark or barometer for a young receiver’s success or failure in this league. He has tantalized us with his potential for two injury-riddled and inconsistent seasons. This season, things are shaping up for Parker’s rise to stardom.
The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero recently wrote an in-depth piece on Parker’s noticeably improved offseason approach. He even noted that Parker was “the most improved Miami Dolphins player this offseason”. The former Louisville Cardinal has coaches raving about his improved practice habits and newfound dedication to the game. He is taking all the steps to keep his body healthy enough to survive and thrive during the upcoming season.
The talent has never been a question for the former first rounder, but Parker’s health will be the biggest determinant in him reaching the next level in his development. The team needs Parker to become that dominant, go-to, alpha-type receiver they envisioned when they drafted him number 14 overall back in 2015. The time is coming for Parker to join the NFL’s elite at the positon, and the Dolphins believe that time is now.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips
Another player from the 2015 draft class looking for a big third season is Jordan Phillips. Like Parker, Phillips has flashed big time potential in his first two seasons. He makes big-time splash plays on defense that make you believe he could be an All-Pro at the position. If he can make these plays on a more consistent basis that is a scary thought for opposing defenses. Especially considering Phillips shares a line with All-Pro’s already such as Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh.
The team did add two players in the 2017 draft to compete with Phillips as Suh’s partner inside. Vincent Taylor and Davon Godchaux will be solid rotational pieces for this season. However, if Dolphins want this unit to improve, especially against the run, much will be on Phillips to step up. He started 11 games last year and will likely enter 2017 as the starter next to Ndamukong Suh. The 6’6”, 335 pound behemoth could be a real terror this season inside if some level of consistency can be maintained.
Cornerback Tony Lippett
Lippett took some really positive steps during the 2016-2017 season. Viewed as major project when first drafted as a converted receiver, Lippett was a surprise starter for 13 games last year. The former fifth rounder more than held his own in his first season as a full-time starter.
He is the prototype at the positon at 6’3” and is a long defender that is pesky with receivers. Lippett has also shown a penchant for forcing turnovers, collecting four interceptions in 13 games. The Dolphins showed a ton of interest at the position during the draft, but I believe at least one long-term answer is already on the roster. If Lippett continues to improve on his technique and hot finish to last season, he could be a stalwart in this secondary for a long time.
Offensive Tackle Laremy Tunsil
Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true. After spending his rookie at guard, many are expecting Tunsil to make a seamless transition to Ryan Tannehill’s blindside at left tackle. He was dubbed by NFL.com’s Gil Brandt as a “Hall of Fame” talent prior to the 2016 NFL Draft. Tunsil has the looks of a future All-Pro at the Left Tackle position. If he can continue on his current trajectory, he should have a very nice 2017 season and leave the Miami Dolphins very pleased with this one time risky investment.
Tunsil had a very productive and inspiring rookie season. Much will be expected from the sophomore, as Miami looks to make a push deep into the playoffs this season. The team traded Brandon Albert to Jacksonville this offseason, so they clearly believe Tunsil is up to the challenge. It will be just that, as he will be playing next to a new starter at LG. Isaac Asiata and Ted Larsen will battle for that spot this offseason and the line is depending heavily on the left side of the line to step up. Laremy Tunsil figures to do his part and may be the safest bet overall on this list.
Cornerback Xavien Howard
Double the fun and expectations at the cornerback position. Howard was drafted in the second round last year to be a starter on this team. He started 6 games in his rookie season, but struggled to stay healthy. This seems to be the biggest knock on him since his days at Baylor. There is no question, he has the size and playmaking ability to hold up on the outside, he just has to stay in good health.
Even though both Tony Lippett and Byron Maxwell exceeded expectations in 2016, Howard is expected to be given every chance to compete for a starting job. However, with the team also adding Clemson CB Cordrea Tankersley in the draft, competition will be stiffer than ever. Howard figures to push Bobby McCain for slot duties as well, before potentially taking over long term for Maxwell after 2017. Rumors have circulated recently about the team moving on from Byron Maxwell after 2017, so Howard figures to have a big role on this team this year and beyond.