As the 2020 NFL season draws ever nearer there are several Dolphins linebackers with a lot to prove. With twelve linebackers currently on the roster, only four have contracts past the 2020 season, Kyle Van Noy, Jerome Baker, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Kylan Johnson.
Of the remaining eight players, four of them will need to show what they have this year or they will likely be on their way out of South Florida. Some have been key contributors in 2019, but with the rebuild in full swing, it’s time to put up or shut up for a few.
Dolphins linebackers on the brink
Originally selected with the 54th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Raekwon McMillan has had an up and down career so far with the Dolphins. Missing his entire rookie campaign with an ACL injury, McMillan showed great growth in his run defense in 2019, grading as PFF’s 11th best linebacker with a 77.0 grade. He was probably the most improved of the Dolphins linebackers in 2019.
However, with Brian Flores’s emphasis on versatility, McMillan’s lack of ability in coverage may be an issue. That said if he can continue to improve his run defense and make some strides in the passing game McMillan has a good chance to stick. Assuming that he doesn’t price himself out of the Dolphins market.
Like Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts joined as a free-agent from the Patriots in 2020. Having had easily his best year in 2018 under then Patriots DC Brian Flores, Robert had a down year in 2019, but still rated in the high 70’s as a pass rusher. With a solid enough run defense grade, his weakness again is in the pass coverage area.
While he will likely see most of his snaps as a pass-rusher, again we have a Dolphins linebacker with a more one-dimensional profile than the coaching staff prefers. However, Roberts is also an excellent tackler, and the Dolphins will be counting on the down year in 2019 being mostly due to injuries. Hence the one-year prove-it deal.
Vince Biegel is improving fast
Vince Biegel came into his own after week 4 of the 2019 season. Acquired as part of the Kiko Alonso trade the Saints, Biegel played 627 snaps last season, more than 500 above his previous high in 2017 in Green Bay.
Grading as the best of the Dolphins linebackers in pass coverage, his run defense is also of a high level, with his only real issue being his tackling where he missed 8 tackles on the season. While Biegel may not be the highest-profile name on this list I think he has a good chance of earning a new contract beyond 2020.
Another player who signed a one-year prove-it deal was Kamu Grugier-Hill from the Eagles. Originally drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of 2016, Grugier-Hill didn’t even make it out of camp before being cut in the last round of roster reductions by the Patriots. Picked up straight away by the Eagles, he has shown consistency if not spectacular output.
Another stout run stopper if he can return his coverage grades to the level they were in 2017 he will be a keeper. However, 2017 was a very small sample size of just 48 coverage snaps, and with more work in 2018 and 2019 he has shown little sign of repeating those levels.
Sam Equavoen rounds out our group of at-risk Dolphins linebackers. Despite an insane amount of buzz coming into the 2019 season, owing to him joining via the CFL like Dolphins great Cam Wake, Equaveon really didn’t make much of a splash in his rookie season.
With an incredible motor, and a great team ethic, Sam Equaveon is one of those kids you really root for, but unless the game slows down a lot for him in 2019 it is highly unlikely he will be a Dolphin past 2020.
With a revamped corps for 2020 the Dolphins linebackers look set for a much better year. With the extra cover new signings in the secondary, Byron Jones and Noah Igbinoghene in particular, the defensive unit as a whole is an exciting one to watch moving forward.