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Kelly: Ranking the Miami Dolphins’ top newcomers | Opinion

There has been massive turnover in Miami Gardens.

A deep dive of the Miami Dolphins’ training camp roster hints that there’s a good chance nearly half of the regular-season roster will feature newcomers in 2024.

That’s what happens when a franchise that won 11 games last season is forced to purge the roster to addresses the franchise’s financial strain, then gets picked apart in free agency and must subsequently patch the depth chart with replacements, either through signing relatively inexpensive veteran free agents, or adding youngsters via the NFL draft.

And it’s not just the team’s talent base that is undergoing a massive turnover because 13 of Mike McDaniel’s coaches, and coaching assistants are new as well.

All this turnover is why we shouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins experience some growing pains in 2024, but the impact the newcomers have early will likely determine that.

Here’s a look at the top 15 Dolphins newbies with a breakdown of their proposed role, and the possible impact they might have.

1. Anthony Weaver: McDaniel loved Baltimore’s physical approach on defense, so he hired a former NFL player who played and coached in it. Even though the Dolphins had a nasty divorce with Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator who delivered a top-10 unit despite Miami’s defense being plagued with a ton of injuries last season, the hope is that Weaver will be a better fit with the franchise. Hopefully he’s a better playcaller now than he was in his previous stint in the same role in 2020 with the Houston Texans.

2. Jordyn Brooks: This fourth-year veteran, whom the Dolphins signed to a three-year deal worth $26.2 million, is instinctive. He triggers fast because of his diagnostic ability and moves well laterally. Expect Brooks to replace Jerome Baker as Miami’s every-down linebacker, and the defender who wears the headset that communicates with the defensive playcaller. He has averaged 152 tackles the past three seasons, which equates to 9.3 per game.

3. Kendall Fuller: This eight-year veteran has pulled down 16 interceptions, forced two fumbles and recorded two sacks in his 117 NFL games, which features 93 starts. Miami signed him to a two-year deal worth $15 million, and the expectation is that the former Virginia Tech standout will replace Xavien Howard, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who was released to clear $18.5 million in cap space. The hope is that Fuller will provide better play in zone coverage than Howard did. Fuller’s versatility should come in handy because Jalen Ramsey will likely shadow the opposition’s best receiver this season.

4. Aaron Brewer: Brewer, a former undrafted player who became a 40-game starter for the Tennessee Titans, was signed to a three-year, $21 million deal to replace center Connor Williams, whose ACL injury he sustained last December might sideline him for the entire season, if not lead to his retirement. Brewer is an aggressive downfield blocker in the run game, but there are concerns about his pass protection. He allowed six sacks and 34 pressures last season.

5. Jordan Poyer: The Dolphins signed Poyer, a former Pro Bowl talent who has contributed 806 tackles, 24 interceptions, 12 sacks and nine forced fumbles in his 11 seasons, to a one-year deal worth $2 million hoping that the former Buffalo Bills starter is the ideal safety to complement Jevon Holland. But this 33-year-old needs to prove he still possesses the range and physicality to remain an NFL starter.

6. Odell Beckham Jr.: Even though he’s more superstar in name than ability these days, Beckham still has plenty to offer an NFL team at 31. Especially one with two established playmakers at receiver like the Dolphins have in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Beckham’s catch radius and ability to run crisp routes should provide a significant upgrade over Cedrick Wilson Jr., but to make an impact on this offense he will need to stay healthy, which has been a challenge in recent seasons.

7. Jonnu Smith: Smith, a seven-year veteran whom the Dolphins signed to a two-year deal worth $8.4 million, adds a seam threat weapon who can attack the middle of the field and produce run after the catch yards. The difference between Smith and Mike Gesicki, who was Miami’s last seam threat, is that Smith can block, which means the Dolphins won’t be telegraphing what the team is doing if he’s on the field. Smith has scored 21 touchdowns in the 107 career games.

8. Teair Tart: Tart, who signed a one-year deal worth just less than $1.3 million, possesses a low center of gravity and has the frame to play the nose tackle, or zero technique, which is critical for the formation of a 3-4 defensive front. The four-year veteran, who had recorded 79 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and seven pass deflections in his 1,396 defensive snaps, is the most promising of all nine defensive linemen signed this offseason to potentially replace Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis and Emmanuel Ogbah.

9. Shaquil Barrett: With Jaelan Phillips (Achilles tear) and Bradley Chubb (ACL injury) working their way back into playing shape in September, and maybe October, the Dolphins will need edge players such as Barrett to hold down the defensive front in the first half of the season. This two-time Super Bowl champion, who signed a one-year deal worth $7 million, contributed 52 tackles, 4.5 sacks, forced three fumbles and pulled down one interception last season in the 652 defensive snaps he played, despite being undersized (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) for his position.

10. Chop Robinson: The Dolphins used the 21st overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft on a pass rusher whose college productivity didn’t match his athletic traits. Robinson, who played his college ball at Maryland and Penn State, has a quick first step, the ability to bend around blocks and a knack for closing. But the Dolphins need the rookie to become a better finisher, and the jury is out on whether he’s capable of setting the edge of the defense immediately.

11. Jack Driscoll: The Dolphins will be auditioning a number of offensive linemen for the starting guard spots, and Driscoll, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.8 million, should be viewed as a leading candidate to replace Robert Hunt at right guard. He has appeared in 54 games and started 17, getting snaps at right tackle, right guard and left tackle throughout his first four NFL seasons. The 27-year-old will probably serve as the primary right side backup if he doesn’t beat out Liam Eichenberg and Robert Jones for the starting right guard spot.

12. Mohamed Kamara: Much like Barrett, Kamara is an undersized (6-foot-1, 248) pass rusher from Colorado State, who made it to the NFL because of a tenacious motor, which helps him hunt quarterbacks (29 sacks the past three seasons). The Dolphins selected the 2013 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in the fifth round hoping that Kamara, Robinson and Barrett will be able to manage the edge rusher spots till Chubb and Phillips are healthy enough to play.

13. Jonathan Harris: The Dolphins will use uneven fronts in Weaver’s defense, and that occasionally requires a 3-4 defensive end to set the edge on early downs. Harris, a four-year veteran whom the Dolphins signed to a one-year deal worth $1.8 million, appears to be the front-runner to fill the role Ogbah once played in Miami’s defense. Last season Harris started five of the 17 games he played for Denver, contributing 43 tackles and 1 sack in his 529 defensive snaps.

14. Anthony Walker Jr.: Walker, who has started 75 games and produced three 100-plus tackle seasons in his seven-year career, is a versatile inside linebacker who has started 75 NFL games in his seven-year career. While the Miami native is a tad on the small side (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) he has lasted this long in the league as a starter because of his versatility. For $1.4 million he’s a bargain considering he could end up starting a handful of games.

15. Jaylen Wright: McDaniel targets one-cut runners who have the speed to take every play the distance. Wright’s skills motivated the Dolphins to trade a 2025 third-round pick to select Wright in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry in his three seasons at Tennessee, is proficient as a pass protector, which should help him play early. Wright shared the backfield workload in college, and will likely do the same in Miami, where he will be competing with Jeff Wilson Jr., Salvon Ahmed and Chris Brooks for the carries and roles that don’t go to Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane.