The Dolphins offensive line is more athletic, but is it better?

    The Dolphins offensive line woes have persisted almost as long as the quarterbacks. With a new focus on athleticism, has the group improved?

    The Miami Dolphins offensive line. Those five words are enough to make any Dolphins fan shudder with memories of turnstile tackles and quarterbacks running for their lives. The offensive line in Miami has been the subject of sportswriter’s musings, and many a fan’s Sunday scream-fests. Head coach Brian Flores and the new regime in Miami has invested in fixing the Dolphins offensive line. They’ve beefed up and gotten more athletic, but the question remains: have they gotten better?

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    Miami Dolphins offensive line RAS breakdown

    The Miami Dolphins offensive line has undergone a massive overhaul from the group that took the field to start the 2019 season. With the second of their three first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Dolphins landed athletic, but raw, left tackle Austin Jackson from USC. Jackson unsurprisingly posted an “Elite” RAS — or Relative Athletic Score — of 9.5, which was led by incredible numbers in the broad jump and 10-yard split.

    Jackson wasn’t the only offensive lineman the Dolphins targeted in the draft, though. It was clearly a focus of the front office, as they went back to the well not once, but twice more to take Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt. Neither Kindley nor Hunt completed testing at the NFL Combine, and neither was able to have a Pro Day due to the COVID-19. As such, neither player achieved a RAS grade.

    But it wasn’t only through the NFL Draft where the Dolphins brass decided to address the issue. Fixing the offensive line was a full-court press matter for Miami, and it showed. In addition to the rookies, Miami also went out and got former Giants and Washington tackle/guard Ereck Flowers. Flowers, a one-time high draft pick in his own right, was seen as a bust at tackle for the Giants, but found a home at guard in Washington and now Miami.

    What the new pieces have added to the offensive line

    As a guard, Flowers comes to the Dolphins offensive line boasting a RAS grade of 7.04. That’s not in the “Elite” category, but it’s still strong enough to be considered “Good”. This score is due in large part to Flowers’ incredible size and strength for the position. Each of his height, weight, and bench press scores exceeded 9.0, more than a full point above the 8.0 cut-off for an “Elite” mark.

    Free agency also saw the Dolphins bring in former Patriots offensive lineman Ted Karras to play center. Karras is the only offensive lineman on the squad to boast a “Poor” RAS grade of below 5.0, coming in at just 4.91 when adjusted for the center position. The only hold-over from the 2019 Miami Dolphins offensive line group, right tackle Jesse Davis, rounds out the squad with an “Elite” RAS of his own at 8.5.

    When you put it all together, the 2020 incarnation of the offensive line averages a RAS grade of 7.49. That’s an increase of 0.37 over the average RAS of the 2019 group. That may seem like a small increase, but even hundredths of a point can have dramatic impacts.

    It’s one thing to be athletic. It’s another thing entirely for that athleticism to show up on Sundays. Miami has improved athletically along the offensive line, but is that improvement showing up in any tangible way? The answer to that question is…well, it’s complicated.

    Evaluating the performance

    The truth of the matter is that there isn’t a simple answer to the question of whether or not the Miami Dolphins offensive line is better today than it was in 2019. Through the first three games of the season, the offensive line looks better than it did in 2019. The eye test suggests that there has been significant improvement in this group from last year. Miami has been in every game they’ve played this season, and the offense is putting up points at a much better clip than they were at this point last season.

    Ultimately, though, that is largely subjective. That’s not what we’re about here at Pro Football Network. We’re about being as objective as possible, so let’s look at some tangible numbers to paint a more detailed picture of how the offensive line is performing.

    The folks over at ESPN have debuted a number of new analytics for the 2020 NFL season. Among them are two that seek to give us more information about how the offensive lines are performing — Pass and Run Block Win Rates. How do the Dolphins stack up in these metrics? Not well, I’m afraid.

    According to ESPN Analytics, the Dolphins offensive line ranks 31st in the league in both Pass Block Win Rate and Run Block Win Rate. Miami is winning their pass blocks at a rate of just 44%, while their run block win rate is at 65%. However, the Dolphins passing and rushing outputs are outpacing those numbers. Though they rank 31st in both categories, they rank 25th and 20th in passing yards and rushing yards per game, respectively.

    Like I said, complicated.

    The outlook going forward

    At the end of the day, whether or not the Miami Dolphins offensive line of 2020 is better than that of 2019 is largely irrelevant. What matters more is what the offensive line of today is going to look like by the end of the season. Whether or not the offensive line is improved, it’s still not one of the better squads in the league right now. That’s a point that isn’t up for debate. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

    It’s important to keep this season in context. Miami is starting two rookies on the offensive line. They have only one hold-over from last year’s team, and there was really no off-season to speak of this year. They never had a pre-season to work together and gel. Everything is getting figured out on the fly, and the fact that they aren’t looking like the worst unit in the league should be encouraging.

    The athleticism up front has been improved. That improvement should eventually start paying dividends. Remember that there is a strong correlation between RAS grade and Pro Bowl performance with regards to the offensive line. They may not be there yet. It may not come at all. But the data suggests there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic going forward.

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