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The 2021 Miami Dolphins will, for the first time under their current regime, be returning a healthy amount of the starting lineup from the previous season — the best look yet at the Dolphins’ ability to build a roster from scratch in three offseasons. With more continuity in personnel comes more expectations, both inside and outside the building. The work must be put in for the Dolphins on the practice field in order for their potential to be realized, but the growth in expectations has become apparent in how the outside world perceives the Dolphins.

As an example, Miami ranks No. 14 overall in ESPN’s latest Power Rankings for the 2021 NFL season; a spot that would have the Dolphins in the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 7 seed based on the teams in front of them in the rankings. Here’s why ESPN feels the Dolphins deserve a seat at the table on that front as things currently stand.

“Player who benefited most from draft: QB Tua Tagovailoa

All of the offseason chatter surrounding the Dolphins was about building around Tagovailoa, and build they did. Adding a speedy wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle, an NFL-ready offensive lineman in Liam Eichenberg, depth at tight end in Hunter Long and a power running back in Gerrid Doaks is key for the maturation of the Dolphins’ offense under its second-year signal-caller. And let’s not forget Miami addressing the potential mentor role, signing backup QB Jacoby Brissett in free agency and declining to draft any competition at the position. This is Tagovailoa’s team, and it’s set up for him to take the Dolphins to the next level.” ESPN staff

There’s certainly a different sense of energy exuding from the Dolphins than this time last year, when the team was perceived as a lovable underdog after a 5-4 stretch to close the 2019 season to rebound from an 0-7 start. And if fortunes favor the Dolphins on the injury front this season and Tagovailoa gels with his new pass catchers quickly, it will be hard to predict just how high the ceiling is for this team goes.