The Miami Dolphins enter the 2023 season as one of the best teams in the AFC. Period. They have an offensive-minded coach, an elite quarterback with weapons all over the field, and a formidable offensive line.
Defensively, they have stars at every level that can shut teams down. 2023 is where they have to put it all together. Injuries did slow the team down, most notably Tua Tagovailoa’s concussions and the inconsistencies in the offensive line.
Injuries could affect the outlook of the team this year, but with proper management, this team can finish far better than their 9-8 mark in 2022.
Notable 2022 Injuries- Returning Players
QB Tua Tagovailoa (Concussions)
This is the biggest injury concern for the Miami Dolphins heading into the 2023 season. How healthy will Tua Tagovailoa be this year?
His two documented concussions, plus a potential third concussion, cost him a total of six games missed. In games he missed last year, the Dolphins went 1-5 with the only win coming over the New York Jets late in the season.
With a prior history of concussions comes the concern for further concussions. A player with three documented concussions increases their risk to suffer another concussion by 30 percent. Tua has taken steps to reduce his chances of further injury by taking jujitsu this offseason to allow him to protect himself when he falls to the ground. Much like wrestling and other combat sports, the idea is to learn how to brace for falling and put yourself in a position to stay engaged in the match.
While Tua does not need to get right back into a position to fight or spar, this will help him immensely. While he can’t do a lot about a direct helmet-to-helmet hit, tucking his shoulder or chin, turning his body, or seeing where he is falling can help reduce the impact the ground has on his head.
Another thing that will help Tua is if his offensive line protection improves. Due to the frequent injuries up front, the lack of continuity prevented Tua from having a steady pocket to throw from. The season will not be lost if Tua sustains another concussion, but if he has to work through other injuries such as the ankle and back injuries from last year, this may reduce his effectiveness and availability. The 2023 Miami Dolphins’ successes and failures essentially rest on his shoulders.
OT Terron Armstead (Right toe, left pectoral, hip, knee)
The Dolphins knew what they were signing up for when they signed Armstead to a 5-year, $75 million contract last year. He had an extensive injury history coming into the deal and he continued to have issues all season.
Almost immediately, Armstead suffered a toe injury in Week 1 that was recommended to require surgery, but he declined. He battled through the season, hardly practicing during the week in order to be ready for the games. While it was never confirmed, it’s very likely that Armstead suffered a plantar plate tear that required off-season surgery. Over 80 percent of players who undergo this procedure do return to play in the NFL and this should be expected for Armstead this season.
While dealing with the toe all year, he suffered a right pectoral strain against the Houston Texans, his outside arm playing left tackle. Adding in a knee and hip injury, it was impressive that Armstead still was voted to the Pro Bowl. He has shown that he is worth the money despite the injuries, but if he can find a way to stay healthy, he can take his game to the next level.
OT Liam Eichenberg (Left MCL Sprain)
Eichenberg suffered a left MCL sprain on the final drive in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears, needing to be carted off. He immediately went to injured reserve where he missed the next seven games, getting activated right after Christmas.
Fortunately, MCL sprains heal relatively well and he should not have any issues heading into 2023.
OT Austin Jackson (Right ankle surgery)
Playing only two games last season, Jackson spent multiple weeks on either the injury report or on injured reserve due to a right ankle injury. According to Jackson, he required a reconstruction of the ankle, indicating that there was structural instability that needed to be addressed. This suggests that he had a modified Bronstrom procedure.
Outcomes for these types of surgeries are very favorable and with a chip on his shoulder due to his fifth-year option being declined, I would expect Jackson to step up his play, especially coming off a subpar season.
S Brandon Jones (Left ACL tear)
Jones suffered a torn ACL in Week 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, ending his 2022 season. He has been observed running off to the side during OTAs as he continues to rehab and get ready for the 2023 season. By the time training camp opens, he will be nine months removed from surgery, and it’s possible he may avoid the PUP based on his progress.
It’s reasonable to expect that he should be able to play most of the season and be ready by the time Week 1 kicks off, barring setbacks. As to what kind of player he will be when he returns remains to be seen.
CB Nik Needham (Achilles)
Needham tore his Achilles in Week 6, prematurely ending his season. He has been rehabbing since then and was observed running off to the side at OTAs. It’s since been reported that he will start training camp on Active/PUP, roughly nine months out from surgery.
What isn’t clear is whether he had a setback or he just isn’t ready yet. Hopefully this isn’t a repeat on Byron Jones from last season.
Following an Achilles tear, there is a lot of power lost despite rehabbing. As a former UDFA, the team re-signed him back in March, but his leash is not as long as several draft picks on the team. With the drafting of Cam Smith and trade for Jalen Ramsey, the cornerback room continues to stay crowded, limiting Needham’s chances at playing time or even a roster spot.
DE Bradley Chubb (Hand/Knee/Ankle)
Chubb began dealing with several injuries towards the end of the season, appearing on the injury report beginning Week 16 with a knee injury that he played through. He followed up the next week with a right-hand injury with a cast and an ankle injury that forced him out of Week 17. He was on the injury report for the rest of the season due to the ankle, questionable every week.
It’s possible he broke a bone in his hand and it isn’t clear what injuries he suffered to the knee and ankle. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear as though these injuries should impact him heading into 2023.
CB Xavien Howard (Groin/Knee)
One of the best cornerbacks in the game, Howard plays through multiple injuries, missing only 2 games due to groin and knee injuries. Howard battled through the groin injury during the early portion of the season followed by the knee injury at the very end.
Howard frequently finds him on the injury report but will suit up if he thinks he can go, even at less than 100 percent. It’s a shame to see Howard have to play through injuries because he is a true talent at the position. Imagine what he could do if he wasn’t always working through something. The Dolphins better have solid depth at this position in order to get through the season.
CB Trill Williams (ACL Tear)
Williams will be set to return for training camp following an ACL tear in the preseason that cost him all of 2022. He was cleared towards the end of OTAs which is an excellent indicator that he did not have any setbacks. However, like Needham above, Williams has a lot of competition in the cornerback room, leaving no certainty that he has a roster spot in 2023 without winning some battles.
DE Emmanuel Ogbah (Triceps)
Ogbah tore his triceps muscle in his upper arm in Week 10 against the Cleveland Browns, ending his season. Fortunately, results are excellent regarding return-to-play metrics following a tricep tear, suggesting that there shouldn’t be a drop-off in performance in 2023.
CB Cam Smith
During the 2020 season, Smith missed two games against Auburn and LSU due to a leg injury. In 2021, Smith battled through several injuries including a cracked bone in his left foot during the preseason, requiring surgery. He was able to return to start the season but later missed 2 games due to a head injury in October of that year.
The 2022 season saw Smith miss one game due to a concussion and also tweak his left hamstring late in the season. He has been beaten up at times and could become a liability if injuries follow him to the NFL.
RB Devon Achane
Archane’s injury history appears pretty clean besides an injury in 2022 that saw him miss two games due to a foot injury. He was able to return late in the season and power his way to achieving his 1,000-yard season.
TE Elijah Higgins
Higgins was relatively injury free during his Stanford career with the only notable injury occurring prior to college when a left wrist injury prior to his senior year, missing half of the season.
OT Ryan Hayes
The only notable issue for Hayes was an undisclosed injury that cost him two games early in the 2022 season.
Notable Injury Concerns Free Agency/Trades/UDFA
OT Isaiah Wynn
Wynn, formerly of the New England Patriots, comes to Miami with a lot of potential but a lengthy injury history. Just in 2022 alone, he worked through hip, knee, shoulder, and foot injuries that cost him a total of eight games. The foot injury alone cost him a total of seven games which ultimately led to him ending the season on injured reserve.
Wynn has the talent to be a difference-maker on the offensive line, but multiple stints on injured reserve over his career have held him back. The details of the foot injury are not known which makes it difficult to determine if there are concerns moving forward. If the warmth of Miami can help heal his body, then the Dolphins may have gotten a steal.
QB Mike White
White most famously continued to return to play against the Bills late last season despite dealing with broken ribs after several crushing hits. The never say die attitude is what you want out of any player, but for a backup that knows his role, this is invaluable. His rib fractures will be of no concern moving forward.
In the few short stints of playing time for White last season, he showed potential and can be an excellent backup if Tagovailoa goes down this year.
CB Jalen Ramsey
One of this generation’s best cornerbacks, Ramsey comes to Miami after stops in Jacksonville and Los Angeles. He has shown up on the injury report throughout his career for minor issues such as knee, hamstring, and hand injuries, missing minimal time.
Looking at concerns, he did have a minor meniscus tear in his right knee that required surgery in 2016 with the Jaguars. This was also the same knee that required microfracture surgery in high school. Prior to the 2022 season, Ramsey had surgery following two AC joint sprains with the left side receiving the operation. In 2023, he required surgery on the right side for the same procedure. This was likely to shave down the clavicle and acromion in the area to relieve pain and pressure in the area following AC joint sprains.
Ramsey should be ready for the season since he had the surgery right after the season. There don’t appear to be any major long-term concerns for him heading into 2023 as he doesn’t miss much time otherwise.
LB David Long
Long comes to the Dolphins finishing the 2022 season on injured reserve due to a hamstring strain suffered in Week 13, missing the last five games. Prior to 2022, Long also suffered a hamstring injury that lingered during the 2021 season that cost him a total of seven games.
Prior to 2021, Long had been primarily a special teams contributor until he saw his workload increase. It’s not definitive, but this could have contributed to his soft tissue issues. Hopefully, Long addressed his off-season training regime to allow his body to rest, though he won’t be fully out of the woods yet from suffering a further injury in 2023. He currently has a 33 percent chance to suffer another hamstring strain this season based on his prior injuries.
Do not be surprised if Long is out again this season for a few games here and there.
TE Tyler Kroft
Kroft has been injured frequently throughout his NFL career which has cost him extensive time. Dating back to Cincinnati, he suffered a concussion along with knee and ankle injuries that cost him two games in 2016. In 2018, he suffered a foot fracture that ended his season after just five games.
Once Kroft got to the Bills, his injury woes continued with another foot fracture during spring OTAs that cost him all of training camp. Even when he returned, he rolled his ankle, preventing him from making his season debut in Week 6.
Moving onto the Jets in 2021 didn’t do him any favors as he dealt with a back injury and lacerated lung that cost him a total of seven games missed. Finally, in 2022, Kroft suffered an MCL sprain in Week 2 that cost him three games. He has not played more than 11 games in a season since 2017 either. Not much should be expected from Kroft in 2023 and he may not make the roster even if he stays healthy.
WR Braxton Berrios
Other than working through the occasional hamstring strain, Berrios has only missed one game in his whole career. This came in Week 17 in 2021 when he suffered a quad contusion that landed him on injured reserve in a lost 4-13 season, missing Week 18. Berrios has been as durable as they come when it comes to availability.
CB Bryce Thompson
Thompson has found his way onto injured reserve each of the last two years with New Orleans, getting injury settlements each time. In 2021, it was for an undisclosed injury, and in 2022, this was due to a right lower leg injury. Each time, he found his way back to the practice squad later that year. It remains to be seen if Thompson can stay healthy heading into 2023.
WR Chosen Anderson
Anderson has been incredibly healthy over his career, missing no more than two games in a year with the worst being in 2018 as he battled through an ankle injury with the Jets. Other than that, one-off injuries include quad, back, and calf injuries, and missing minimal time.
LB Malik Reed
Reed has only missed three games due to injury over his four-year career with back, hip, and ankle injuries all contributing to one game missed per injury.
S DeShon Elliott
Elliott has been injured often during his time in the NFL dating back to his rookie year. He began with a fractured forearm during training camp that sent him to injured reserve, missing the 2018 season.
2020 saw him appear in all 16 regular season games and playoffs, only questionable once with a knee injury midway through the season. 2021 saw him go backward as he dealt with a concussion followed by a quad injury, missing two games. His luck continued to sour when he suffered a torn biceps and pectoral muscles in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns. Finally, in 2022, he missed three games due to finger and shoulder injuries.
Elliott has had some bad luck, but outside of 2020, he has been unable to show his true skillset due to his health. Hopefully, things change for him, but it’s either a season-ending injury or healthy for the veteran safety.
G Dan Feeney
One look at Feeney’s mullet and ‘Stache tells you that he doesn’t miss games, injuries be damned. He has not missed a game due to injury since entering the league in 2017.
TE Eric Saubert
Saubert has missed only one game in his career due to a back injury in his rookie year but otherwise has been very healthy.
P Jake Bailey
Bailey suffered a back injury that cost him the remainder of the season, missing five games due to the injury, and was suspended for the last two games. It wasn’t clear what the exact back injury was, but hopefully, a new home and the offseason allows him to be fully healthy.
LB Mitchell Agude
Suffered a near-death head injury at nine years old that left him in a coma for three days and not allowed to play contact sports for five years.
QB James Blackman
Suffered a left MCL sprain and bone bruise against Louisville in 2019, and missed one game.
Sustained a shoulder injury in 2021, missing the final six games of the season.
CB Ethan Bonner
Suffered an ACL tear his senior year of high school, and missed the entire season.
Appeared in a total of 17 games over five years, and underwent four surgeries in college.
RB Chris Brooks
A hamstring strain limited him to three games in 2020 while with Cal.
LB Aubrey Miller
Suffered a broken fibula freshman year at Missouri in 2017, missing three games.
Dealt with a season-ending knee injury in 2019 with Missouri, appearing in only one game.
DT Anthony Montalvo
Played through a broken thumb in his final season at UCF.
DL Brandon Pili
Suffered a torn Achilles during spring workouts in 2021, causing him to miss the entire season.
DB Bennett Williams
Suffered a broken fibula in 2021 that forced him to miss nine games but was able to return for the bowl game.
This team is very capable of 10-12 wins in 2023. The talent and coaching are too great to not make this a reality.
Keep Tua Tagovailoa healthy by maintaining offensive line continuity. Having Terron Armstead healthier than he was last year and avoiding injuries to the various offensive weapons will also be crucial. If both of these things can happen, then the Dolphins can realistically win the AFC East.
The Dolphins also had plenty of smaller injuries that had guys lingering on the injury report for weeks on end. Whenever a player is on the injury report, this means they are receiving treatment for the injury. The training staff were probably working constantly to keep guys on the field and managing nagging injuries. The player’s availability for practice also likely impacted game plan installation with guys limited and not being able to participate during the week.
Reducing the volume of injuries will only benefit the team by having key players available to practice and play. This will also allow the training staff to focus on those that do have injuries and provide more effective treatment.
Everything has to come together for the Dolphins this year. They may still lose close games to divisional opponents, but they should be taking care of business against lesser competition. A divisional-round appearance or even AFC Championship appearance isn’t out of the question for this squad. They have the depth and talent to get there.
Top Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images