Considering the other three professional franchises in South Florida (and effectively the University of Miami) did not exist until the 80s and 90s it seems surreal that a franchise has reached a golden anniversary.
Having first played during the 1966 AFL season, the Miami Dolphins have begun their 50th season of professional football this year. The franchise has seen some astounding highs and lows, and has seen hundreds upon hundreds of players wear its uniform. In honor of this significant milestone, I decided to put together my all-time Dolphins team from the past fifty years.
Some positions were incredibly easy to put together (quarterback), others were incredibly hard to put together because of the quality of the position (defensive end), and still others were hard to put together because the franchise still has not found anyone that good over fifty years of trying (tight end). Before we begin I feel like I need to lay some ground rules on how this list is organized.
· The list is created to resemble the AP’s annual All-Pro teams. That means we have a First and Second Team with either one or two players comprising each “team” depending on the position. I have also included at least one honorable mention for each position just for posterity’s sake.
· The one exception to this involves running backs. The usual All-Pro team is comprised of both a halfback and a fullback selection. I have decided to combine halfbacks and fullbacks into an all-encompassing “running back” group. It will have four total selections. I really just don’t want to name a Second Team fullback.
· The selections are in order. While it is obvious that First Team selections supersede Second Team selections, the first name that appears can be considered the “best” player. The list naturally progresses from best, to second best, to third best, etc.
· While all selections are obviously based on opinion, I tried to make things more empirical by weighing certain factors. Honors such as being a Hall of Famer and the number All-Pro/Pro Bowl selections obviously help, but other factors such as the number of games played with the franchise and being in the Dolphins Honor Roll (since this is all about the Dolphins) are also very important.
· The first four years of Dolphins football occurred in the AFL not the NFL, therefore to standardize honors I count AFL All-Star games as Pro Bowls and AFL All-Pro teams as NFL All-Pro teams. This isn’t a big issue, but it is worth mentioning.
· For most players I have included their notable statistics and where they rank in Dolphins history. However it should be noted that tackles/forced fumbles were not officially kept until the early 2000s, and sacks were not kept until 1982. While many of these statistics can be found in the Dolphins Media Guide, they are not “official” and are not always readily available for every player.
All statistics are current to before the start of the 2015 NFL Season
First Team — Dan Marino
1983-1999 (Hall of Fame, MVP, 6x All-Pro, 9x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: Team record 242 games played, 61,361 yards, 420 TDs-252 INTs
As the easiest selection, I can’t say anything about Marino that has not already been said. He retired holding all major NFL passing records and unlike many legendary quarterbacks (Montana, Manning, Unitas) he spent the totality of his career in one city. This means his incredible numbers are unlikely to be passed by any other franchise quarterback.
Second Team — Bob Griese
1967-1980 (Hall of Fame, 2x All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 25,092 yards, 192 TDs-172 INTs (all 2nd)
What do Hall of Famers Joe Namath and Roger Staubach have in common? They both threw for less touchdowns and had less First Team All-Pro selections than Bob Griese.
Griese is one of the most criminally underrated players of all-time. His career is partially tarnished by two separate facts. The first is that 1972 Undefeated Season took place mostly under Earl Morrall. A fair point, but Shula removed Morrall from the AFC Championship Game and went to Griese in order to save the season when Morrall performed poorly (it worked) and later started him in the Super Bowl (it worked). The second is the perception that he was merely a game-manager who threw sparingly (e.g. Troy Aikman). This perception is exacerbated by the indisputable fact that in his two Super Bowl wins he combined for 18 passing attempts (he completed 14 of them). The fact remains that when he retired after the 1980 season he was 13th in career touchdowns and 14th in career passing yardage – ahead of Hall of Famers Otto Graham, Roger Staubach, and Bart Starr.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Tannehill
First Team — Larry Csonka
1968-1974, 1979 Hall of Fame, 3x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl, Super Bowl MVP, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 1,506 attempts (2nd), 6,737 yards (1st), 54 rushing TDs (1st), 4.5 yards/attempt (5th)
The Hall of Fame fullback is still stubbornly holding on to almost every Dolphins career rushing record. Arguably the best skill player during the 70s championship teams, Csonka had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons from 1971-1973, a feat that was incredibly rare in those days (only five other running backs had longer streaks when he retired). He thrived in the Super Bowl, he rushed for 297 yards over his three cumulative Super Bowl appearances, second only to Franco Harris’ 354 yards. When he retired after the 1979 season, he was the sixth leading rusher in NFL history. While his single-season records no longer have much punch, his incredible consistency and importance to the team are impossible to ignore.
First Team — Ricky Williams
2002-2003, 2005, 2007-2010 (1x All-Pro, 1x Pro Bowl)
Notable stats: 1,509 attempts (1st), 6,436 yards (2nd), 48 rushing TDs (2nd)
While Ricky’s time in Miami can accurately be described as “turbulent,” he did have the best single rushing season in franchise history: an incredible 1,853 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns (both franchise single-season records). Williams also had a memorable 2009 season where he tied Csonka for the most 1,000 yard seasons in franchise history (3)… six seasons after he last ran for 1,000 yards (an NFL record). He also owns three of the five best rushing seasons in team history (including the top two), has two of the franchise’s four 200-yard rushing games, and has a franchise-high 24 100-yard rushing games. Though a good chunk of his Dolphins career was marred by bad coaching and bad personal decisions, he still put up impressive numbers that have to be acknowledged.
Second Team — Mercury Morris
1969-1975 (2x Pro Bowl RB, 1x Pro Bowl KR)
Notable stats: 754 attempts (6th), 3,877 yards (4th), 29 rushing TDs (5th), 5.1 yards/attempt (1st)
He might now be better known for his bombastic personality, but Morris proved to be lethal when used in tandem with other running backs. Early in his career he was an incredible kick returner – he is still the Dolphins record holder for longest kickoff return, highest kickoff return average, and most kickoff return touchdowns – but he later supplanted Jim Kiick as Csonka’s primary backup. In 1972, he and Csonka became the first duo to both rush for 1,000 yards (Morris rushed for exactly 1,000). In 1973, Morris had an incredible 6.4 yards/attempt in rushing for 954 yards. His career 5.1 yards/attempt ranks sixth in NFL history, just behind Jim Brown.
Second Team — Ronnie Brown
2005-2010 (1x Pro Bowl)
Notable stats: 1,128 attempts, 4,815 yards, 38 rushing TDs (all 3rd)
The second overall pick in 2005, Brown – to be blunt – was disappointing given his high draft status (second overall). He only rushed for 1,000 yards once in his six seasons in Miami, but he will forever hold a place in Dolphins lore as the lynchpin of the Wildcat offense. His most memorable game came in a 2008 contest in Foxboro when he set team records with four rushing touchdowns and an additional passing touchdown, torching the Patriots defense. For a short period of time, the tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams proved to be lethal for the Dolphins, and it earned Brown a trip to Hawaii.
Honorable Mentions: Jim Kiick, Tony Nathan
First Team — Paul Warfield
1970-1974 (Hall of Fame, 3x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 156 receptions (25th), 3,355 yards (10th), 33 TDs (5th), 21.5 yards/reception (1st)
As you can see by the numbers, Warfield is hard to quantify because the game has changed so much since he played. Warfield was a first ballot Hall of Famer, meaning that at the time he was considered one of the greatest to ever play the game. Though he spent more of his career with the Cleveland Browns, his only two First Team All-Pro appearances came with Miami in 1971 (when he had 996 yards with only 43 catches!) and in 1973 (when 11 of his 29 receptions were touchdowns). In his five seasons in Miami, Warfield only averaged 31 receptions a season. To put that in perspective, if Warfield had averaged 70 receptions a year (slightly below average for a #1 receiver today) he would have finished his career in Miami with approximately 331 receptions (7th), 7,549 yards (3rd), and 74 touchdowns (T-2nd) in only 60 games! In other words, the numbers he put up in his time were astronomical and if adjusted for today’s game would be just as impressive.
First Team — Mark Clayton
1983-1992 (1x All-Pro, 5x Pro-Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 550 receptions (1st), 8,643 yards (2nd), 81 TDs (1st)
Boasting a team record five 1,000 yard seasons, and holding the record for most receiving yards and touchdowns in a season (1,389 and 18), Clayton was the slightly more prolific of the famous Marks Brothers of the 1980s. Clayton was not as fast as his compatriot Mark Duper, but he had a knack for finding the end zone – he had double digit touchdown years four times (also a franchise record). His eighteen touchdown receptions in 1984 has only been topped by two receivers, Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. Although he was never considered one of the NFL’s best receivers, he and Marino had an incredible chemistry which is why he holds many Dolphins receiving records.
Second Team — Mark Duper
1982-1992 (3x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 511 receptions (2nd), 8,869 yards (1st), 59 TDs (3rd)
The second half of the Marks Brothers, Duper was known as the speedster of the group. His 17.4 yards/reception ranks second in franchise history behind Warfield, and would explain how he has the franchise’s all-time receiving yards record with less receptions. He was never considered quite as skilled as Clayton, but was certainly deadly enough on his own with two 1,300 yard seasons and the most 100-yard games (28) in franchise history. Think of him as Mike Wallace with tangible receiving instincts.
Second Team — Nat Moore
1974-1986 (1x All-Pro, 1x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 183 games played (4th), 510 receptions (3rd), 7,546 yards (3rd), 74 TDs (2nd)
Nat Moore’s greatest strength was his longevity. He began his career in 1974 and managed to have 12 strong seasons as the safety blanket for the franchise’s two greatest quarterbacks. His best year came in 1977 when he led the league with 12 touchdowns, resulting in his only Pro Bowl and a First Team All-Pro selection. While there were certainly flashier and more skilled Dolphins receivers than Moore, he continuously put in strong seasons for a long time.
Honorable Mentions: O.J. McDuffie, Chris Chambers
First Team — Randy McMichael
Notable stats: 283 receptions, 3,096 yards (both 1st among TE), 18 TDs (T-3rd)
When constructing this team, the tight end position was by far the weakest position to choose from. Ultimately I gave the nod to McMichael because he holds almost all the Dolphins tight end records. His career numbers speak for themselves, and he does hold the franchise single-season record for a tight end season with 73 catches for 791 yards. He is also the only Dolphins tight end to lead a team in receptions – those 73 catches led the team in 2004. I always liked McMichael as a player, but the fact he owns most of these records is disconcerting.
Second Team — Keith Jackson
1992-1994 (1x All-Pro, 1x Pro Bowl)
Notable stats: 146 catches, 1,880 yards, 18 TDs
Jackson has the distinction of being the only Dolphins tight end to be named an AP All-Pro (Second Team). While there were tight ends that have better career numbers and played longer in Miami, Jackson was definitely the most talented tight end to ever play for the Dolphins, as he had racked up four other Pro Bowl appearances with the Eagles and Packers. Let’s move on from the tight ends, it is getting depressing.
Honorable Mentions: Bruce Hardy, Jim Mandich
First Team — Richmond Webb
1990-2000 (4x All-Pro, 7x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 164 games played (T-7th)
Clearly the best tackle in franchise history, Webb protected Marino’s blindside for the entirety of the 1990s. Besides Webb’s general skill in pass protection, what made him so special was his durability. He started 118 consecutive games which remains the franchise record for most consecutive starts by an offensive lineman, only Jason Taylor has a longer starting streak. While other Pro Bowl caliber players like Keith Sims and Tim Ruddy helped bolster the line, it was Webb at left tackle who served as the anchor of a line that kept the Dolphins passing offense humming and in the Top 10 in fewest sacks allowed for his entire career.
First Team — Jake Long
2008-2012 (2x All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowl)
Jake Long was trending to be a Hall of Famer at some point. During his first two and a half years in the league he had only allowed six sacks, and was on his way to three consecutive Pro Bowls. But during a 2010 game against the Tennessee Titans he injured his shoulder and labrum. In Miami’s eight remaining games he suddenly allowed six more sacks, but he had been so solid otherwise that he was still named to his only First Team All-Pro selection. A torn bicep in 2011, knee and triceps problems in 2012, and back-to-back ACL tears with the St. Louis Rams have derailed what should have been a long and promising career. While his time in Miami was short, he was an incredibly skilled run and pass blocker in his time here, and his accomplishments cannot be forgotten.
Second Team — Norm Evans
1966-1975 (2x Pro Bowl)
Evans was the right tackle of the incredible offensive line of the 1970s that paved the way for Csonka, Morris, and Kiick to carve up opposing defenses. He also has the distinction of being the only player on the list to be an original Dolphin from the inaugural 1966 team. Evans is the only right tackle in franchise history to make a Pro Bowl, and he started 135 out of a possible 138 games for Miami.
Second Team — Wayne Moore
1970-1978 (1x Pro Bowl)
Wayne Moore has a little bit of more of an interesting story. During the 1972 perfect season, he started out as the backup to left tackle Doug Crusan, who had been Miami’s left tackle since 1968. When Crusan got hurt in the middle of the season, Moore was promoted to starter and Shula decided to stick with him when Crusan recovered. Moore rewarded Shula with his only Pro Bowl appearance in 1973, and remained the left tackle until 1978 – four seasons after Crusan retired.
Honorable Mention: Vernon Carey, Jon Giesler
First Team — Larry Little
1969-1980 (Hall of Fame, 7x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
In the 1960s Vince Lombardi was famous for using the “Packer Sweep.” It involved the quarterback pitching the ball to the halfback or fullback in an attempt to go through an “alley” created by blocking linemen. The most important of these linemen was the “pulling” guard, as he had to quickly move from his original position to get to the outside to block incoming linebackers. The idea of a pulling guard is still incredibly important in today’s running game, and perhaps the best pulling guard of all time is Larry Little. The success of the traps and counters that made the Dolphins running game so deadly was mostly predicated on the mobility and blocking prowess of Little. He is also one of three different Dolphins (along with Bob Griese and Jason Taylor) to play for the franchise in three different decades. Not bad for an undrafted rookie.
First Team — Bob Kuechenberg
1970-1984 (1x All-Pro, 6x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Notable stats: 196 games played (3rd)
From 2002-2009, Kuechenberg was a finalist to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – each time he did not make the final cut. Today his Hall of Fame fate can only be decided by the Senior Committee. Hopefully they rule in favor of Kuechenberg, because he is the best eligible Dolphins player not yet in the Hall of Fame. Kuechenberg was considered the work horse of the offensive line, he started in four of the team’s five Super Bowl appearances (and was on the roster for all of them) and only Jason Taylor and Dan Marino have appeared in more games as Dolphins. Perhaps his most famous accomplishment came during Super Bowl VIII when he shut down Hall of Famer Alan Page… with his still broken arm in a cast. While his reputation as grumpy old man persists – Jason Taylor once called him out for needing “a hug and a hobby,” – his skill on the field cannot be questioned.
Second Team — Ed Newman
1973-1984 (4x All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowl)
Notable stats: 167 games (6th)
Ed Newman is a fascinating story and perhaps one of the best Dolphins players you’ve never heard of. He was a very late round draft pick in 1973 and served mainly as a backup until 1978 when he began to start for the increasingly aging Larry Little. He became a full-time starter in 1979, and in 1981, at the age of 30, he was named both a Pro Bowler and Second Team All-Pro. He repeated these honors in 1982 and 1983, but he saved his best season for his final season. At the age of 33, Newman – while going to night school at the University of Miami for his law degree – made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and his only First Team All-Pro selection. While that 1984 team was extremely impressive for many reasons, one of the most outstanding accomplishments was that the offensive line only allowed only 14 sacks. Despite having his best season ever, Newman retired after the season, finished his law degree, and now serves as a judge here in South Florida.
Second Team — Keith Sims
1990-1997 (1x All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowl)
Drafted the same year as Richmond Webb, Keith Sims formed a formidable left side of the offensive line during the 1990s. His best years came from 1993-1995 when he made three consecutive Pro Bowls and was named a Second Team All-Pro in 1994 – the same year the offensive line only allowed 18 sacks. Sadly during the 1997 season injuries began to catch up with him. During his final four seasons (including his last three in Washington), Sims only started 26 out of a possible 64 games.
Honorable Mention: Roy Foster
First Team — Dwight Stephenson
1980-1987 (Hall of Fame, 5x All-Pro, 5x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
Bear Bryant, the longtime coach of Alabama, had seen many future Hall of Famers pass through his football program. But when asked who the best player he ever coached was, Bryant named Dwight Stephenson.
Drafted in the second round, Stephenson spent his first year and a half as a backup and special teamer, but when starter Mark Dennard was injured Stephenson took on the starter role. Starting in 1983, Stephenson was named to five consecutive Pro Bowls and four consecutive First Team All-Pros. While this statistic is not totally reliable, Stephenson was never officially credited with allowing a sack. That is how dominant he was. He might have become the indisputably best center of all time if a tragic knee injury against the Jets did not end his career. Despite his career’s brevity, he was still elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is still widely considered one of the best offensive linemen of all time.
Second Team — Jim Langer
1970-1979 (Hall of Fame, 6x All-Pro, 6x Pro Bowl, Honor Roll)
In college Jim Langer was a linebacker for South Dakota State, which naturally resulted in him going undrafted, but the Dolphins clearly saw something in Langer and signed him, subsequently moving him to center. Somehow the linebacker from a Division II school became a Hall of Fame center. He first started a full season during the 1972 perfect season, and followed that up with six straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro appearances. His good fortune ended in 1979 when his then-franchise record of 128 consecutive games played (including his time as a special teamer before getting the starting job) was snapped due to injury. He spent his last two seasons as a backup in Minnesota.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Ruddy, Jeff Dellenbach, Mike Pouncey
For the 50th Anniversary Defense, click here