When you hear of the Miami Dolphins and their explosive offense, you think primarily of Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle. If the ground game is your thing, then you think of Raheem Mostert or De'Von Achane.
However, when looking for an offensive weapon that the Dolphins could not live without, you have to look at the smallest guy on the field, who wears the smallest shoulder pads.
Enter kicker Jason Sanders.
Sanders converted 16 of his last 17 field goals to end the season. That statistic includes a game against Dallas where he literally won the game for Miami, kicking five field goals, including going 3-for-3 from over 50 yards.
Those are things that MVP's are made of.
In 2021 Sanders earned a new contract from the Dolphins and he signed a five-year $22 million extension that made him one of the highest paid kickers in the league. Sanders earned $2,449 million and earned every penny of it. Paying a kicker is like paying a lawyer. You don't want to have to do it, until you have to and when you do, you are glad you did.
Miami could have had Tyler Bass who went wide right with under 2:00 to play in the divisional round for Buffalo against Kansas City, adding to the Bills post-season futility. Bass' miss cost the BIlls a shot at the AFC Championship against Baltimore.
It got so bad for Bass after the game, that he was forced, according to reports, to take down all social media accounts as he and his family were the subject of death threats and other violent actions. It makes you glad that you have an accurate kicker like Sanders playing for the Dolphins.
Sanders had a kick like that in the game against Dallas when Miami was trailing late in the game and Tagovailoa & Company led the offense down the field and Sanders connected on a last minute game winner.
“Every time we send Jason out there, we expect positive results," special teams coach Danny Crossman said during his Thursday press conference after the Cowboys' game. "We haven’t run him out there a lot with as aggressive as we’ve been on fourth downs, but in this particular game, it was his time and fortunately, not surprisingly at all, he answered the bell.”
Sanders knows that he has to answer the bell, and if he does not, he could very well end up feeling the way Bass did after the playoff game this past Sunday.
“I mean, the games like that are always good for you. It won’t hurt. But as a kicker, you’re painted as a villain if you miss, and you’re the hero if you make it," Sanders said after the Dallas game. "So I mean, all of that is just noise and if you just continue to do what you know you can do. I think that’s the most important piece in being a kicker.”
Sanders hit a 57-yard effort that looked like it would have cleared the crossbar from 65 yards plus. Crossman believes that it is due to his leg strength and that Sanders is a more imposing specimen this season than he has been in the past.
“If I had it in a bottle, I would bottle it and sell it, and probably be doing ok and make a couple of bucks," Crossman added. "He had a good week. He usually has a good week, but had a good week, had a good Friday, was good in pregame. It was not surprising that he hit the ball well. For whatever reason, if it looked like he was hitting it better, good. I hope that we can find the answer and we can find that every week.”
For his efforts against Dallas, Sanders was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. That is an award that Sanders relishes.
“It’s cool when you get recognized because I’m not the only one that gets recognized. It’s the whole offensive line that is on the field goal unit the series leading up to the kick," Sanders said after the award was announced. "When I get recognized, they also get recognized too. Then I have a phenomenal snapper and holder that I think are Pro Bowl worthy this year."
In nine of 17 games this season Sanders was perfect. He made every kick he attempted. Sanders was money in the bank. He was nearly perfect on grass, the surface at Hard Rock Stadium as he went 18-for-20 and his only misses were from 40-49 and from 50 plus. His 130 points in 2023 was good enough for eighth among all scorers in the NFL.
He also booms his kickoffs to the point that they are not returnable. It is common place to see opponents either down the ball in the end zone or watch the ball go sailing through the end zone and start their drives at the 25-yard line. Sanders has one of the strongest legs in the league.
It is safe to say that Sanders, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, will not have to worry about the Dolphins drafting his replacement. This is a strong year for kickers in the upcoming NFL Draft, but that is not a position of need for the Miami Dolphins for the reasons set forth above.