On the second day of July in 1776, Congress voted to declare independence from the British monarchy. Two days later, the thirteen American colonies were proclaimed free from England rule. For that reason, we celebrate. In honor of Independence Day, I look at six playmakers ahead of the 2019 season who’ll light up your screen like the sky on the Fourth of July. And because it’s also my birthday, they’re all Miami Dolphins players. Hey, it’s my party.
Jakeem Grant (WR)
Before an Achilles injury derailed his third year in the NFL, Grant was putting together the best season of his young career. He’d waste no time either. In week one, Grant would take a fourth-quarter kick return to the house. Once free, he put that 4.34 speed on display. Ironically, his first career touchdown was on a kickoff return against the Tennessee Titans in his rookie season.
Jakeem Grant has ridiculous speed, but he’d still need assistance on this play. Football is the ultimate team sport. When slowing down the tape, you’ll see that one of the Dolphins’ key special teams players was instrumental in freeing Grant. And that’s all he’d need to light up the scoreboard.
Jakeem Grant wasn’t the only human highlight reel on the Miami Dolphins offense last season. During free agency, the Dolphins signed another receiver with a similar skill set to Grant.
Albert Wilson (WR)
After four seasons in Kansas City, Albert Wilson signed a three-year deal worth $24 million with the Miami Dolphins. Despite the agreement being heavily scrutinized, Wilson turned 232 offensive snaps into 407 total yards and four scores before a hip injury cut his season short.
He’d even throw for a 52-yard score to none other than Jakeem Grant in a Week 3 matchup against the Oakland Raiders. However, that wouldn’t be his most notable highlight in that game. The most memorable play was so enjoyable that it warranted an on-the-field high five.
Again, Wilson doesn’t make this play without the execution of his teammates. For instance, there are some fantastic reach blocks made by a typically underperforming offensive front. Even the tight end that was not drafted to block was serviceable in this case.
However, nothing compared to running back Frank Gore‘s impact.
The combination of effective blocking, Albert’s speed, and an opponent’s miscues made for one of the most celebrated plays in Miami Dolphins’ history.
Although Gore is no longer a Dolphin, the new regime may have plans to increase the usage of fullbacks moving forward. This was made evident with their seventh-round selection of fullback, Chandler Cox out of Auburn.
If this is the case, he’ll get to open holes for another offensive weapon for the 2019 Miami Dolphins.
Kenyan Drake (RB)
Since committing to the University of Alabama, Kenyan Drake has played second fiddle in backfields. In 2019, for the first time since high school, Drake enters the season as the undeniable starter.
Sure, he’s guaranteed to be part of a committee approach. But you have to believe he’ll be used in a far greater capacity this year than he’s been his first three seasons. There are too many ways that he can hurt your opponent. Take the Houston Texans game for instance.
Granted, all he did was catch a wide-open pass merely steps from the endzone. With that said, the play was called, and he was the running back positioned to make the play. This is because Kenyan Drake is a playmaker. How else does a four-year backup running back get drafted?
Drake presents matchup problems for defenses. Former head coach Adam Gase knew this. That’s why the pre-snap motion was used. These sort of plays are designed to test the discipline of a defense. But it’s also nice to have an uber-athletic running back who can be isolated to make things much easier.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB) & Jerome Baker (LB)
It’s not just the offense that contains young promising stars. Two players allocated from the 2018 draft made names for themselves in year one. Count on both defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and linebacker Jerome Baker to continue developing and creating plays for a defense in desperate need of playmakers.
Fitzpatrick is widely considered a breakout candidate in his sophomore season, but the truth is, both of these promising athletes bring discipline, intelligence, and instinct to a unit devoid of a true identity. If these two plays are indicative of what’s to come, the Dolphins will have a talented young nucleus on defense for years to come.
Too often Miami’s defense has been consistently put in bad situations compounded by players being in the wrong places at the worst times. Because of that, it’s refreshing to see these two rookies doing the exact opposite.
But they’re not the only up and coming playmakers from the 2018 NFL Draft poised to turn around the South Florida franchise.
Kalen Ballage (RB)
The Dolphins selected Kalen Ballage in the fourth round of last years draft. The pick used to acquire the former Sun Devil was received from the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the Jay Ajayi trade. In short, Ballage replaced Ajayi. Sure Ajayi could’ve gained a bunch of yards on this play, but he wouldn’t have scored.
Ballage is an intriguing prospect. His combination of speed (4.46) and size (6-2, 228) is what attracted the Dolphins brass. With a little help from his teammates, Ballage received an open lane and key blocks, freeing him into the second and third level of the defense. From there, the big back showcased his homerun ability.
Similar to Drake, Ballage was underutilized in college. He’d never receive more than 157 carries in a single season at Arizona State. In other words, Ballage has a lot left in the tank. That’s contrary to Ajayi coming out of Boise State.
I anticipate growing pains as a regime change takes hold in Miami Gardens. By no means are the Dolphins expected to produce high-flying offensive numbers in 2019, let alone transform into a top defensive unit. With that being said, last year’s disastrous team was still able to deliver at a high level, albeit in spurts.
The future seems bright, however. With these six young playmakers, the Dolphins look to establish a new identity in 2019. This identity is sure to be more disciplined than in previous years. The defense should play smarter and more intuitive, and the offense will continue to be explosive.
So, Miami Dolphins fans, expect to see more fireworks at Hard Rock Stadium for the upcoming season. And let us hope the excitement is more standard practice than an aberration.
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!
Shane G. Tyler is the Film Room Director and writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him @SugaShane15 on Twitter.