Following an intriguing list of running back rankings to kick off his tenure with Pro Football Network, Matt Williamson was back this past week with more rankings, and next in the crosshairs are the top 25 NFL linebackers. This time around, the Dolphins made more of an impact on the list, with 2020 free agent and former New England star linebacker, Kyle Van Noy.
Below, I will analyze Van Noy’s presence on the list and some other team members that should appear in future rankings. Van Noy will be a valued member of Brian Flores’ defense once again, and his impact should be evident in South Florida almost immediately for the Dolphins.
Kyle Van Noy lands at number 15 on the list
As a former failed second-round pick of the Detroit Lions, Van Noy was not an impact player during his first three seasons. Despite being selected as the 40th overall player in the 2014 NFL Draft, he started only seven games in total in two and a half seasons in Detroit.
During that third season, the Patriots traded for Van Noy, and his career began to turn around. He made his presence felt immediately in seven games, starting two contests for New England. Van Noy racked up 27 total tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, and two passes defended during that time.
Now a two-time Super Bowl-champion, Van Noy made quite the name for himself as a member of the Patriots. During New England’s Super Bowl run in 2018, Van Noy was a stalwart player, accumulating 92 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and a defensive touchdown.
The former BYU Cougar was able to parlay an impressive turnaround in New England into a sizable four-year, $51 million contract with Miami this offseason. The Dolphins went into the 2020 offseason with a clear plan, and bringing in Van Noy at linebacker is a sign of significant change in Miami. Van Noy, along with fellow free-agent additions Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, should help forge a much-improved Dolphins’ pass rush.
These new additions upfront should also help Miami against the run, where they ranked dead last a year ago. Van Noy is a strong presence at outside linebacker that plays with great leverage and tackling ability. He is precisely the type of difference-maker the Dolphins need upfront at the linebacker position and could make this a sneaky top-10 AFC defense in 2020.
Other Dolphins emerging at the linebacker position
Just as Williamson omitted some contenders at the running back position for Miami, there is a pair of linebackers in South Florida that deserve a mention. Former Ohio State Buckeyes’ stars Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan have reunited in South Florida, and both have made a tremendous impact for the Dolphins thus far.
Both players will be entering their third seasons as full-time starters, and if their early-career trajectory is any indication, the best is yet to come for these two. McMillan has made 177 combined tackles the past two seasons, despite missing four games. He has shown tremendous growth as a leader and enforcer on this defense.
Baker, meanwhile, is a player that has showcased true superstar potential early in his career for Miami. He made a combined 126 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception, and two forced fumbles in an underrated breakout 2019 season. Baker has shown the ability to affect passing lanes and blitz effectively in this defense for Brian Flores. As a great athlete at the outside linebacker spot, Baker will only improve as the unit around him increases their level of play.
Where do Baker and McMillan fit in the top 25?
Despite playing better statistically in 2019, Baker was left off the list in favor of players like the Texans’ Benardrick McKinney (25th overall) and C.J. Mosley (22nd). Mosley is one of the more prominent names on the list, but he will miss his second full season in 2020, after missing all of 2019 due to injury.
McKinney is an excellent player on a more talented team in the Texans. If the Dolphins had made the playoffs instead of the Texans in 2019, Baker could have easily topped McKinney. McMillan will need to prove his health for a full season to make this list as 2020 looms as a potentially significant year for these young linebackers and the Dolphins’ defense overall.