Dolphins’ 53-man roster projection: Tough decisions at wide receiver, defensive back

The Miami Dolphins will enter training camp with one of the best rosters in the NFL. Starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is healthy and coming off a breakout season. There’s star power and depth at key positions on both sides of the ball. But this will ultimately make for difficult decisions when the roster must be cut from 90 players to 53 in late August. But it’s a good problem to have for a team with championship aspirations.

Here’s the Miami Herald’s first projection of what the Dolphins’ 53-man roster will look like ahead of training camp, which begins Wednesday.


Quarterbacks (3): Tua Tagovailoa, Skylar Thompson, Mike White.

Long shot: James Blackmon.

Skinny: Few teams carry three quarterbacks on the active roster nowadays, but the league passed a new rule that could incentive teams to do so in 2023. This season, teams will be able to make a third quarterback active on game days without using a game-day roster spot. This emergency quarterback could be called into action in the first two quarterbacks are not able to play because of injury or disqualification. This emergency player cannot be a practice squad player elevated to the game-day roster.

Last year, Thompson played his way onto the roster as a seventh-round pick and, although he struggled at times when pressed into action, the Dolphins thought highly enough of him to say he will compete with White to back up Tagovailoa. Miami wouldn’t get any cap relief by cutting White, and given Tagovailoa’s injury history, there is a strong chance they enter the season with three quarterbacks again.

Running backs (4): Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., De’Von Achane, Salvon Ahmed.

On the bubble: Myles Gaskin.

Long shot: Chris Brooks.

Skinny: The complexion of this position group could change if the Dolphins sign Pro Bowl back running back Dalvin Cook. For now, Mostert and Wilson are set to lead the backfield. There is excitement around Achane, the team’s third-round pick who has track speed and could quickly find a role in the offense. Miami kept four backs on last year’s original 53-man roster, so a final spot likely comes down to Ahmed or Gaskin. Both can contribute on special teams, but the edge here goes to Ahmed, whom head coach Mike McDaniel knows from his time with the San Francisco and had some good moments in his scant playing time last season.

Wide receiver (6): Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Robbie Chosen, Cedrick Wilson Jr., Braxton Berrios, Erik Ezukanma.

On the bubble: River Cracraft, Braylon Sanders.

Long shot: Freddie Swain, Chris Coleman, Daewood Davis.

Skinny: The Dolphins’ wide receiver room is arguably the strongest on the team, with more capable players than spots available. Hill and Waddle are the headliners, but there is an opening for the No. 3 spot and it can go many ways. Chosen was one of the top performers in organized team activities, but Wilson, whom teams have called the Dolphins about a possible trade, had his moments, too. The team can’t get any significant cap relief unless they find a trade partner. Berrios is the front-runner to be the team’s top returner, and McDaniel has spoken glowingly of Ezukanma’s progress in Year 2. Cracraft is a trusted player who contributes on special teams, but the team could sneak him on the practice squad and elevate him on game days, similar to the beginning of last season.

Tight end/fullback (5): Durham Smythe, Alec Ingold, Eric Saubert, Tanner Conner, Elijah Higgins.

On the bubble: Tyler Kroft, Julian Hill.

Long shot: John Lovett.

Skinny: Smythe is officially the Dolphins’ No. 1 tight end after the departure of Mike Gesicki. But Miami did not find a clear-cut replacement for him, so snaps at the backup spot are up for grabs —even though Ingold acts as a de facto tight end. Conner has said he is more comfortable after making a switch from wide receiver as an undrafted rookie. Higgins himself is going through that change now and will compete with not only Conner but veteran additions Saubert and Kroft. Conner was a mainstay on special teams last season, and though Higgins might not be ready to contribute on offense, the coaching staff likes his potential. He could earn his keep on special teams, too.

Offensive tackle (4): Terron Armstead, Austin Jackson, Kendall Lamm, Isaiah Wynn.

On the bubble: Cedric Ogbuehi, Ryan Hayes, Kion Smith, Geron Christian.

Long shot: James Tunstall

Skinny: Armstead enters his second season as the Dolphins’ starting left tackle, and Jackson will enter his fourth year as the favorite to start at right tackle. Otherwise, there are a lot of questions. The team re-signed Lamm, who made one start before sustaining an ankle injury, and signed Wynn and Ogbuehi, who have mainly started at left and right tackle, respectively. Wynn has a bit more value with experience as left guard. Hayes, the team’s seventh-round pick, could be stashed on the practice squad.

Interior offensive line (5): Connor Williams, Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg, Dan Feeney, Robert Jones.

On the bubble: Lester Cotton.

Skinny: The only starting spot undecided on the interior offensive line is left guard, and Eichenberg is the favorite to keep his spot. New addition Feeney is the top option to back up Williams at center and can step in at guard. Jones making the roster means Miami likely heads into the season with one fewer offensive tackle than expected. Hunt’s ability to play tackle would make such a decision more comfortable.


Defensive line (4): Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler, Raekwon Davis.

On the bubble: Josiah Bronson, Jaylen Twyman, Randy Charlton, Anthony Montalvo, Brandon Pili.

Skinny: The depth here is in question, with no clear backup to Davis at nose tackle. So an opportunity could be open for one of the young contenders — or a veteran addition. However, the return of Ogbah from his season-ending triceps injury should reduce the workload of Wilkins and Sieler. And edge rushers Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb can move inside in passing situations.

Outside linebacker (4): Jaelan Phillips, Bradley Chubb, Andrew Van Ginkel, Malik Reed.

On the bubble: Cameron Goode, Mitchell Agude.

Skinny: Undrafted rookie Zeke Vandenburgh was placed on injured reserve and will miss the season after sustaining an injury training away from the facility. Agude impressed during offseason workouts and is an undrafted player to watch this summer.

Inside linebacker (4): Jerome Baker, David Long Jr., Duke Riley, Channing Tindall.

On the bubble: Aubrey Miller, Garrett Nelson.

Skinny: The Dolphins have a starting duo in Baker and Long that should give them sideline-to-sideline speed, and Riley is a top backup/special teams contributor. Van Ginkel has also taken snaps here to boost the depth.

Cornerback (6): Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard, Cam Smith, Kader Kohou, Nik Needham, Justin Bethel.

On the bubble: Keion Crossen, Trill Williams, Noah Igbinoghene.

Long shot: Tino Ellis, Ethan Bonner, Bryce Thompson.

Skinny: There’s a lack of clarity with this group, mainly because of a few injuries to monitor. Needham will start the season on the physically unable to perform list, while Williams will be returning to the field for the first time since tearing his ACL last August. If Needham can return to the field during camp as he initially projected, he’s a versatile defensive back who can play on special teams, too. If not, he will have to take up a spot on the 53-man roster through the cutdown day before he is placed on the reserve/PUP list, similar to Byron Jones last year. This would sideline Needham for the first four games of the regular season.

Crossen, Williams and Igibonghene all could very well make the 53-man roster. But in Crossen, the Dolphins could save $2.9 million in his nonguaranteed base salary and then retain him at a lower salary after some roster shuffling post-cutdown day. Crossen would have to clear waivers first, though. Williams looked promising before injuring his knee in last year’s preseason opener. He could play some safety but after a second significant leg injury in as many years, it’s tough to project a role right now. And the Dolphins would incur a $3 million dead cap charge with only about $500,000 in savings for releasing Igbinoghene, the No. 30 overall pick in 2020. But there are just too many players above him on the depth chart to justify keeping a player who doesn’t play special teams either.

Safety (5): Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones, DeShon Elliott, Verone McKinley III, Elijah Campbell.

Long shot: Keidron Smith, Bennett Williams.

Skinny: The big question is who starts next to Holland, but there are other roster spots to be earned. McKinley showed his acumen as a deep safety last season, and Campbell is a core special teams player. Trill Williams could be a factor if he logs more snaps at safety; he also has special teams experience.


Specialists (3): Jason Sanders, Jake Bailey, Blake Ferguson.

Long shot: Michael Turk.

Skinny: The only change from last year is Bailey replaces Thomas Morstead, who signed with the New York Jets in free agency. Bailey struggled in 2022 and dealt with an injury but Miami guaranteed almost all of his base salary. Turk would have to significantly outperform Bailey to unseat him.