Dolphins cannot afford sophomore slump from 2016 draft class

The Dolphins will be counting on second-year player Xavien Howard to lock down one of the starting cornerback spots. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins made a significant jump from six wins in 2015 to 10 wins last year.

There were several factors involved such as a coaching and culture change. But an underlying reason that probably doesn’t get enough credit was due to the immediate impact of Miami’s 2016 draft class.

It started with first-round pick Laremy Tunsil playing at a veteran level at left guard and left tackle and ended with receiver Jakeem Grant amassing 604 total return yards and one touchdown on special teams.

In between the Dolphins also got big plays from running back Kenyan Drake on offense and special teams and six starts from cornerback Xavien Howard when he was healthy.

These players were able to start, provide depth and fill holes for the Dolphins last season. This group cannot afford to have a sophomore slump in 2017. If anything, Miami needs bigger contributions and more consistency from this group in order to remain playoff contenders.

Drake must be ready for more touches on offense behind Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi, who wore down and played through a shoulder injury late last season. After starting 12 games at guard last year, Tunsil has a huge full-time responsibility at left tackle after the offseason trade of veteran Branden Albert. Howard must stay healthy and lock down the No. 2 cornerback position opposite Byron Maxwell.

Second-year players such as receiver and third-round pick Leonte Carroo also need to step up. Three receptions for 29 yards wasn’t nearly enough for a player who considered himself the best receiver in the draft. Carroo’s confidence isn’t a bad thing, but he needs to somehow get on the field to prove it.

Late-round picks such as quarterback Brandon Doughty, tight end Thomas Duarte and defensive back Jordan Lucas all enter training camp on the bubble and must fight for roster spots.

The Dolphins proved this offseason that they believe in keeping and developing their home-grown talent. The 2016 draft class must collectively do its part this year by continuing to improve in Year 2.