Each offseason, it seems everyone with voice (or keyboard) use their perceived knowledge of a team's strengths and weaknesses to devise a plan of action for the upcoming draft. I am no different. However, many of these plans involve a strategy that will allow a team to address most if not all of their needs.For example, step #1 is to establish the dolphins have holes that need to be filled which are, in no particular order, Guard, Center, Running Back, Tight End, Quarterback, and a speedy Wide Receiver. Of course it can be argued the Fish could use upgrades at the Middle Linebacker position among others, but for now, we will worry about gaping holes as opposed to luxury style upgrades.
Step #2 is to prioritize these needs. In determining these needs, there are a many things to take into consideration, but on the surface, it should be broadly viewed as understanding what we genuinely NEED, as opposed to what we can LIVE with for now. In my humble analysis, the priorities should be as followed: (1 = most important)...
1. Quarterback - We hear it all the time, "this is a quarterback driven league." And this almost always proves to be true. Perennial contenders such as the Patriots and Colts have their franchise QB's. Despite the fact that the Pats and Colts are no longer in the race, it goes without saying that every year these two teams will always be in the hunt because of their QB's and without Brady and Manning, I don't think its a stretch to say the New England and Indy would be average teams at best. Looking at the current AFC and NFL championship contenders, the Falcons and Packers have elite QB's and one could argue Cutler could be close to being considered elite. I have my reservations about Cutler being considered elite, but I would certainly would take him in Miami in a heartbeat. The Jets get a way with having an average QB at best because of their fantastic defense and an unprecedented amount of good fortune over the past two seasons. The point is, teams like the Jets are the exception, not the rule.
2. Running Back - It has been pointed out that the teams with the league's top RB's are watching the playoffs with our beloved dolphins. Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster (so far), and the D. McFaddens did not even make the playoffs. However, the Falcons, Steelers, Ravens, have superb RB's. The Jets arguably have a solid RB's (again, Jets get away with this because of their Defense). Then you have teams like the Pats, Colts, and Packers that have very average RB's. But when you have the best three QB's in the league as those teams do, you can get by with average RB's because of the incredible QB play that those teams get. Furthermore, the Pats and Colts have great systems of "plug and play" that allow them to effectively utilize their RB's to add different wrinkles to their offense.
Also, it is important to understand that the big key to the whole offensive philosophy is that at the very least, the perennial contenders have well above average RB's that add DIMENSIONS to their offense. This would explain why teams like the Vikings and Titans cannot make the playoffs despite having the league's top two running backs. Meanwhile, the Falcons, Ravens, Steelers, can punish you on the ground and through the air. So, while it is no longer a RB driven league in the old school sense, DYNAMIC offenses rule the day. Because Bill Parcells plays football in the stone age, his outdated philosophy that was passed down through the ranks left the dolphins with basically four RB's who all appear to have the same "power based" skill set. In fact, Miami appears to have the LEAST dynamic RB group which led to one of the LEAST dynamic offenses. Actually, do we even have an actual third down back? Someone that we can give run a draw or screen pass on 3rd and long? Its kind of comical in a sense to hear Dan Henning and other's who are/were on this staff talk about "Game breakers" because it doesn't seem like they even attempted to address it over the last couple of seasons. Unless their plan all along was to utilize a Practice Squad guy like Tristan Davis. Unfortunately, it seems more than likely that, based on the style of play and play calling, the Dolphins coaches and management have zero regard or understanding for the necessity of a dynamic offense.
3. Interior of the Offensive Line - We can thank Tony Sparano's genius for allowing this to be a top priority. We went from having one the top Offensive Lines in football, to one of, if not, the worst. The chaos created by the OL troubles this past season pissed me off more than any single thing about this team. This is the perfect example of why I cannot stand coaches when they decide to use their brain a little bit too much. When something is working, the coach says to himself, "Gee, I am a former offensive linemen and offensive line coach, therefore, I am so smart that I can use my totally awesome brain to make this OL better." This led to the systematic release of the Interior of the O-Line which was apparently based on the fact that Smiley, Thomas, and Grove had injury problems through their career. (I always get a kick out of signing Grove to a massive contract that everyone on planet earth questioned because of his injury history, and then release the guy a year later because, you guessed it, he had injury issues).
But I digress....the fact of the matter is that despite their injuries, they played long enough and well enough to give us a top ranked rushing attack. Ironically enough, the same undrafted free agents and journeymen the Dolphins replaced last years OL with had problems with.....yep you guessed it.....injuries!!!!! The only difference between this year and last year was that last season, when those guys were not hurt played really well if not outstanding. Even when our OL was healthy, which was never, were absolutely abysmal. Riddle me that Sparano?!?!?! The offensive line is THE MOST important unit of an offense, hands down. You can have Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson in the backfield and they won't do jack without a solid OL. This is one reason why I haven't 100 percent closed the book on Chad Henne yet. Don't get me wrong, I have very, very little faith in him (hence my Priority #1 is a QB), but I know for a FACT that his coaches completely failed him with their tutelage, offensive schemes and strategy, and the fact that Henne was playing behind one of the worst OL's in the NFL.
I know people will say that despite this, they do not think Henne has IT, which I fully acknowledge and respect. But as a former Division 1 quarterback just a few years ago, I fully understand the massive, massive importance of having good coaches who actually help enhance your game, and the even more important factor of having a quality O-Line you can trust. For those who have never played the QB position, it is tough to truly understand that psychological importance of having an O-Line that you can fully depend on and how a QB MUST be confident that when he drops back, he is not going to get railed. If a QB is not 100 percent focused on the field for even half a second, disasters happen. And guys, I am telling you, confidence goes a long way in decision making, timing, leadership and should not be taken for granted.
4. Tight End - I rank this need ahead of a speedy WR because of the simple fact that it is harder to find a quality TE in the draft then a WR with elite speed who can stretch the field. We have Fasano who is pretty good and under utilized in the passing game because of the need to keep him to to block thanks to our garbage O-Line. However, he is still useful and did a pretty good job considering the circumstances. While stressing the need for multi-dimensional offenses, teams nowadays NEED a TE who can stretch the field and threaten the middle linebackers and safeties of a defense. Again, this is something that this organization has completely underestimated and there is great evidence for this, much like the running backs. We let David Martin go, I don't know why, because it doesn't seem like it would have been overly expensive to least keep him around for another season. And in typical dolphin fashion, we let someone go who is somewhat proven, and replace them with undrafted free agents who play like....well...undrafted free agents.
5. Speedy WR - This is something that we can address in the later rounds or in free agency. Guys with top end speed aren't too hard to find. They do not necessarily need to have hands of glue, but decent enough hands will suffice as they are used to stretch the field and pose that threat. If Ted Ginn wasn't a number one draft pick with the hope of being a number one WR, he would be have been a decent enough WR who could stretch the field with the added bonus of being a pretty decent KR. Once again, Miami traded him without even attempting to replace him with anyone. However, this is probably the quickest hole that can be filled because, as mentioned before, it shouldn't be too hard to bring in 3 or 4 guys who run 4.3 40's and keep the one with the best hands. Then again, this team's brass and coaching staff could still F' this up in a heartbeat.
Step #3 would then be to look at the upcoming draft and FA class , then determine, in order of our priorities, which can practically be addressed. The key word here is practically. It is not enough to say, "ok, these are our priorities, so lets figure out a way to address all of them in one offseason." People who think like this do not live in reality. Furthermore, there are many who think that unless we address all of our needs in one offseason, we cannot be a playoff team. This is false. Every team has some weakness. Just because you have a hole somewhere on your team does not mean you can be a good or great team. In reality, for this team to improve, you only need to address one gaping hole and fill it if nothing else. Assuming the defense gives us quality performances that it did this past season, successfully addressing one of the major needs can help us go from 7 wins to maybe 9 or 10, depending on which need was filled. Accordingly, if we address TWO major needs in one offseason, this team could become a 9/10/11 win team and maybe contend for more than just a play off spot. I'm not saying this is what will happen for sure, but it is not out of the question. But to be certain, there is NO WAY a team with this many needs can successfully address all of their needs in one off season.
So, lets look at our needs and compare it with the FA class and upcoming draft possibilities (Jesus would I love to have a 2nd round pick right now!!).....
1. Quarterback- Unfortunately, between the draft and free agency, getting a franchise QB this offseason seems EXTREMELY unlikely, even in the best possible scenario. Its hard for many to come to grips with the fact that just because our biggest need is arguably the QB position, that it doesn't mean we MUST draft or trade for a guy just for the sake of filling this position. That is a horrible, childish, impatient mentality. I would love more than anything for this to be a QB rich draft class, but guys, it's not. I'm not saying that some of these guys cannot be franchise QB's, sure they could be...but I could nail all three Kardashian sisters at the same time by next Christmas, but it just highly unlikely. While I for one am tired at the hyper-conservatism that plagues this organization and coaching staff, being reckless is not a remedy either. One must make highly educated assessment, especially when it comes to QB's, and then have the nuts to pull the trigger.
The 2011 QB class, however, doesn't give much reason to believe that there are franchise QB's available in the first round. I could be wrong, but it would be tough to rationalize that Newton, Locker, are Quarterback enough to be an NFL QB let alone a franchise QB. Mallet and Gabbert look like QB's, but are massive question marks. People have been critical of Mallet for a couple of reasons, some of which I do not understand but he seems to have all the physical tools necessary, but the question is whether he has the mental capacity to be a franchise QB, which I from what I understand, concern many people. Gabbert's stock seems to be rising in a very odd manner. I mean, if you look at mock drafts, he has become the #1 QB overall in many of these mocks. I'm not quite sure how a guys stock begins to rise so rapidly weeks after his season ends. I am worried this could be completely based on people listening to other people, who heard from other people, as opposed to hard evidence. Guys like him scare me because during the NCAA season, he was not mentioned very much and he played in a QB friendly system. Watching him on film, nothing really stands out to me, although he is young and does have a good arm and mechanics. However, any team's QB who throws all game will put up good numbers. I admit that he still has a lot of upside.
Between Locker and Newton, I would not draft Newton at all, he has HORRID mechanics and his strengths of being a good runner lose much of its advantage when you go from college to the NFL. He has strong arm, but who doesn't? He is so undisciplined its scary. I know a lot of people think this can be coached, and perhaps it could, but I wouldn't risk the only pick a team has in the first and second rounds on it. Locker is versatile has a lot of tools, but its hard to tell because of the fact that Washington is not a good team. Locker however, played pretty well against better opponents save one game against Nebraska that I remember. And it cannot be denied that the Huskies went from Terrible to Average with Locker as their QB.
Free Agent and Trade Options for a QB:
Kolb might be acquired, but at way above what he is currently worth. Vince Young....No thanks. Orton I like, at least for a year or two at the right price. He has played pretty well on lousy teams and put up good numbers. Sometimes its nice to know what you are getting while we reluctantly wait for next year to draft a franchise QB.
2. Running Back - There are a lot of good RB's in the draft. A lot mocks have us taking Ingram, which I wouldn't be upset about. He is big, strong, and has great vision. He didn't have the statistical success this season as he did last year, but this can be due to a couple of injuries that limited him. I remember his first game back from injury this year, I think it was against Duke, although I could be wrong, and every time he touched the ball it seemed like he took it to the house. Furthermore, following my philosophy discussed above, if we only satisfied one gaping hole in a draft we will be better than we were last year. Seeing as we do not have a 2nd rounder, I think the most realistic position of priority that can be sufficiently addressed is using our first and third rounder to give ourselves immediate improvement at the RB position by drafting a guy like Ingram in Round 1 and in Round 3 getting a dynamic back such as Vereen at of California. Don't sleep on this Vereen kid, I watched him play a couple seasons ago when Jahvid Best went down and he was fantastic and explosive and continued that this season as their feature back. by getting an Ingram and Vereen (or someone with a similar skill set) will not only address huge priorities, but will give us different dimensions allowing us to open up and expand the play book, which will help out other positions in both the passing and running game.
3. Interior O-Line - We need a Center and Guard. A lot of people are advocating to keep Incognito at Center, which I wouldn't mind, but I must admit I have not really studied his performance at Center and will hold off on giving an opinion regarding this issue. Either way, we will either need a guard and/or a Center. I would love for Incognito to be the answer at Center because that way we can either draft or sign a top Guard and let 3 guys currently on the roster battle it out for the other Guard position. Ideally, I would bring in a solid guard in free agency and move Incognito to Center, which would allow us to use our first rounder for a greater need. But, I would not be upset if we drafted a Monster Center and either signed or had current players battle it out for the guard positions. If all else, quality guards can be drafted in later rounds. I would propose the idea of drafting skill guys in rounds 1,3, and 4 and using the rest of the draft to pick a bunch of Guards and let them compete for one or both of the guard positions. It is a cheap and practical approach.
4. Tight end - We do not need an every down tight end, realistically, we just need a guy with some wheels to put in on passing situations. This can be addressed in Rounds 3 or 4 at most. If there is one priority that we can hold off addressing for now, it is the TE position because you can still add dimensions to your team by bringing in a WR with blazing speed late in the draft or through free agency which would temporarily serve the same purpose of stretching the field.
5. Speedy WR - see #4 TE.
Your Thoughts are appreciated!!!