One, if not the biggest shock of the offseason so far was the release (or potential trade) of veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy. An exciting signing in 2020 and just one year into a four year $51 million contract, helped galvanize a woeful defence and was a captain and role model on and off the field.
It would appear that Kyle Van Noy was just as shocked as the rest of us, and earnt $15 million for one seasons work, with any potential release or trade freeing up $9.775 in cap space. It would appear that the Dolphins weren’t prepared to discuss a restructure and seems that his departure is all but inevitable.
The defence made huge strides during the 2020 campaign and Kyle Van Noy contributed in spades. With it looking increasingly unlikely Elandon Roberts will be returning, an already worryingly thin on the ground Line Backer Room looks threadbare.
WHO TAKES KYLE VAN NOY’S SNAPS
On the current roster, Andrew Van Ginkel really stepped up in his second year, but after already contributing to 480 defensive snaps, as good as he is, he won’t be able to take on the additional 811 snap workload which means additional reinforcements are required.
Jerome Baker is an often under rated workhorse for the team who seems to improve season on season. But with Baker taking even more snaps than Kyle Van Noy at 868, the Dolphins will need to look elsewhere to absorb that extra workload.
At 30, Kyle Van Noy still has a lot to offer, but with an average age of 25, which is the leagues second youngest roster, just 0.1 year behind the Jags, there have been questions asked as to whether his age played a part in the decision. It’s no secret that both Grier and Flores covert younger players, and with that in mind, there are very few free agency players that might fit that criteria.
You can almost immediately rule out Matt Judon, Melvin Ingram, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David. None of them fit the age criteria and are likely to demand a similar if not higher salary than Kyle Van Noy. It just doesn’t make sense to cut a team captain and replace him with a player of a similar age at a comparable cost. Having said that, the front office always like to throw in a few surprises here and there so it wouldn’t be a total shock to see one of those names at camp, albeit still unlikely.
One potential could be to try and bring back Raekwon McMillan. He’s still only 26 and would cost significantly less than the aforementioned starters. Again this seems highly unlikely and there’s no guarantee he’s even be interested in returning to the team that moved him on less than a year ago and may even be considered as taking a step backwards.
OPTIONS AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT
Whilst we can’t rule out any one of these players, it would require a very carefully constructed contract and it’s doubtful the front office would be willing to pay the type of money Kyle Van Noy was earning. With all this in mind, the most obvious place to go hunting for depth would be the draft, and there are several players that will be within Miami’s reach.
The premier defensive talent in this year’s draft class, Parson’s has proven that he can be a solid 3 down Linebacker and has the ability to fit straight in as a starting Mike, something the Dolphins are lacking.
Parsons was named the Big Ten Linebacker of the year and gained all American status in his 2019 breakout season. Starting in 12 of 13 games, he grew as a leader on the field and accumulated 109 tackles, 14 for loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 5 pass deflections.
At 6’2” and coming in at 245 lbs, he has prototypical size and strength and his athletic ability and versatility helps him to stand head and shoulders above other prospects in the draft. Stand out abilities also include incredible sideline to sideline speed and acceleration, highly attuned instincts and his versatility to fit into either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.
However, despite his undoubted talent, here are two red flags may cause concern at picking Parson’s in the number three spot. Firstly, he sat out last season. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t step up to the Pro level or he’s not at the fitness level of other prospects, but it does mean you’re picking a player based on his performances and tape over a year ago. How many players have we seen have an exceptional year, only to regress in the season prior to entering the draft. That said, his quality and potential have been evident since High School and he had two impressive seasons at Penn State, so he’s worth the gamble.
Secondly, his character has been something that’s been brought into question a number of times. While being a bully on the field is somewhat of a requirement for a top quality Linebacker, it’s not one of the most desirable qualities when it’s being targeted at teamates.
Coach Flo isn’t a stranger to bringing ‘troubled characters’ into the fold and giving them another chance. Mark Walton and Antonio Callaway both were given the opportunity to resurrect their career but neither of them really appreciated the chance they were given. However, Parson’s is definitely a much higher calibre of player so providing he can keep his attitude in check he may be given more than just one chance.
Parson’s would without doubt make an immediate impact on an already solid defence and would help plug that vital gap in the run game. If he is indeed the player that the Dolphins have at number 1 on their draft board, there is every chance they may be able to trade down a few spots and still get their man.
At 6’1” and 215 lbs, the Notre Dame prospect is extremely versatile and has drawn comparisons to Isaiah Simmons and Jeremy Chinn due to somewhat hybrid safety and Linebacker role he seems to fill.
Owusu-Koramoah is coming off the back of an impressive season, with some experts predicting he could even squeeze into the top 10. In 2020 season, he finished second in the team for total tackle with 63 and lead the defence with 11 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks.
He’s well known as a player who thrives in big situations and was instrumental in the win over Clemson, recovering a fumble for a touchdown and following it straight up with a forced fumble. Indeed, one of the biggest surprises is how much of a hard hitter he is relative to his size.
He comes with accolades a plenty, winning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, he was names to the AP ALL-ACC First Team and won the Dick Butkus Award for the top linebacker in college football.
Whilst he grades well, he’s probably not the best scheme fit for Miami and doesn’t have the ideal size to play as an out and out Linebacker and could struggle matching up against more physically demanding Tight Ends or Running Backs.
When discussing potential replacements for Kyle Van Noy, Zaven Collins is probably the player the matches up to him the most. Similar in build and stature, at 6’4” and 260 lbs, he fits into the Patriots defensive philosophy of utilizing players with multiple skill sets, something Dolphins fans are becoming all too familiar with.
As a three year starter at Tulsa, his skill set allows him to defend against the run, drop into coverage and also rush the passer. He was one of the best defenders in the NCAA in 2020.
Prior to this, in 2017, Collins wasn’t what you would call stand out, being labelled as only a 3 star recruit and wasn’t even in the top 30 recruits at Linebacker. Fast forward to the 2021 draft and he’s improved in spades, to the point of 1st round draft potential. With a mix of size, power, length, intelligence and most obvious, versatility, he can drop into coverage, rush the passer and play both downhill and in space.
Although only starting in 8 games, Collins put up 54 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions (taking 2 back for a pick 6), 2 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, a safety and a fumble recovery. He also accumulated 156 return yards. It’s this kind of production across so many elements of the game that make him such an intriguing prospect and resulted in him being awarded the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best defensive player.
He would fit well into the Dolphins scheme owing to his versatility and experience. Collins would be the perfect fit for the gap vacated by Kyle Van Noy, the main issue is whether the front office feel a more traditional run blocking Linebacker is more critical at this stage of the teams development.
Although smaller in stature than other Linebackers in the class, Bolton projects as a true thumping Mike. It’s very difficult to place where Bolton could fall in the draft. Some draft experts project him as high as the 2nd best linebacker in the class whilst others have him as low down as 10th. His size may put some franchises off, but if Miami could pick him up early in the 2nd round he could be a potential star in the making and would really round off the Linebacker room.
At 6’0” and 232 lbs, his lack of prototypical height does nothing to mask the talent underneath. He is an incredibly heavy and hard hitter, and due to his physicality in the run game, could help plug the gap that’s been wide open in the Miami defence for several years, particularly if they don’t bring Elandon Roberts back.
Owing to his size, he has a great explosiveness and acceleration and has a high footballing IQ. Not only is he impressive in the run game, but can also contribute as a pass rusher applying pressure to the Quarterback, and that versatility is a trait loved by Coach Flo. He has demonstrated excellent leadership qualities during his time in Missouri, something that will be invaluable when considering he could be replacing a team captain.
There is still room for improvement in his play, particularly in the passing game. Whilst he does well in zone coverage, locking onto shorter routes with his exceptional linear speed, his lateral movement could be better and he can struggle to keep pace with skill players crossing the field. He also has a tendency to shoot gaps, which is fine if it works, but if it fails it paves the pay for the opposition to potentially make chunk yardage plays. This is something that can be coached out of him, and in Flores, he’d have one of the best.
It’s clear that with Kyle Van Noy leaving the Dolphins, and no word as of yet on the future of Elandon Roberts, Linebacker is a position that needs some attention in the offseason. Whilst free agency could offer some potential, the more exciting and long-term solution could come with one of the top end players in this year’s draft.