Let the speculation begin! Just watching the final few minutes of the 2012 NFL Draft - always one of my favorite times of year. Congratulations to all the new Dolphins! It really is amazing how their lives are going to change over the next few months - school is done, their professional lives in a new city awaits. But in the end, who makes the team, veteran or rookie, all depends on how they perform on the field and how they are projected into the future. Here is my initial attempt to see how the Dolphins roster shakes out for the 2012 season.
Quarterbacks: Moore, Garrard, Tannehill.
Easy to forecast who will make the team here. I think Moore will get the opportunity at the start of the year to take the team to the playoffs, with Garrard as the #2 QB. If the team starts heading south and it is obvious the playoffs are not a possibility, I'd look for Tannehill to get a few starts towards the back end of the season (maybe week 11-12).
Running Backs: Bush, Thomas, Miller, Messam
Definitely a camp battle here, with Medlin, Slaton, and Messam all fighting for basically one, possibly two slots. If the Dolphins add a full time FB, the battle gets even tougher. I think the Dolphins keep six receivers and four tight ends, so there is one less spot on the team for a RB. Messam can be a bruising back as well as play some FB, so I think he wins out.
Wide Receivers: Hartline, Bess, Naanee, Gates, Wallace, Cunningham
Another big camp battle here as well, with Moore, Pruitt, and newly drafted Matthews as potential candidates to make the team as well. This will be a receiving core by committee here, similar to Green Bay, and I'm not as concerned as others are that there is no stud #1 guy there. Hartline, Bess, and Naanee are solid professionals who run good routes. Gates will make the team as a returner and a speed guy - if he develops this year I think the group can really be productive. The last two spots will make the team as spot players and special team players. Wallace was a beast on special teams, edging out Pruitt, and I think one of the two rookies will make the team as well, with Cunningham being a little more polished at this point.
Tight Ends: Fasano, Clay, Egnew, Brown
Green Bay loves TE's, so I think the Dolphins will keep four. Blocking tights ends are not as important in the team's new offensive scheme, so the big guys are out. I'm listing Clay as a TE, although he will obviously play some FB as well (what a great pick he was last year, I expect big things from him this year). I'm stretching a little on Brown, who the Dolphins signed a month or so ago, as a future projection the Dolphins will want to keep around for his potential and athleticism.
Offensive Linemen: Long, Incognito, Pouncey, Perry, Martin, Murtha, Hicks, Garner
The big guys are out, so Cook, Feinga, and Barker are on a short fuse and I don't think make the team. I think the team will try to find a free agent OG who will fight Garner for a spot on the team as well, who makes it because he can basically play all five positions. Perry played well and I think will get a chance, but he'll be asked to lose some weight I'm sure and must produce or Hicks will be starting in his stead. Still worried about the RG and depth here with the teams's new zone blocking scheme. Will probably see some more changes next year.
Defensive Linemen: Wake, Starks, Soliai, Odrick, Misi, McDaniel, Baker, Vernon, Randall
I'm still bummed about Merling flaming out with the new regime. What a waste. Without him I think the team is one guy short on the DLine, and I'm not sure at this time where the 9th guy will come from (projecting Randall). The above seven are pretty solid and will all see game time each week and is a strength of the team. At least against the run. Odrick has a great chance to show his pass rushing skills and hopefully Vernon will show some good rush skills as well. Misi could move down to DE, possibly being a better position for him as he played this position in college. With players like Wake and Misi, there is nice adaptability to show 4/3 or 3/4 schemes with them on the field, which I really like - hopefully the new DCoordinator will take advantage of things like that.
Linebackers: Dansby, Burnett, Guyton, Westerman, Trusnick, Kaddu, Spitler
This is probably the weakest part of the Dolphins defense. Dansby is solid and Burnett came on strong, but at this point, every other player is average or a stretch to make an impact at best. Not sure who will play the MLB in the 4/3 defense - Dansby or Burnett could both probably fill that role. Misi and Wake could potentially play the 3rd LB as well on occasion in some formations. The rest of the guys are back-ups or special team players - could be the top priority of the Dolphins in next year's draft.
Cornerbacks: Davis, Smith, Marshall, Carroll
The Dolphins are strong here with Davis and Smith on the outside and Marshall playing the nickel. Carroll was shaky last year but still shows potential and has speed to burn. I was hoping the team would pick up a late round steal (like the Patriots did with the Nebraska CB) in the draft but that didn't happen. If the top three play to their potential, this could be the strongest part of the team along with RB's.
Safeties: Clemons, Jones, Culver, Wilson, Johnson
Who will play FS - this is the secondary question going back for years and years. I'm placing Clemons back there with Jones moving to his more natural SS role. Wilson will have a chance to make a splash here if he has a training camp as impressive as last year. If both those guys flame out, going the grizzled veteran route with Culver or Johnson is still an option.
Special Teams: Carpenter, Fields, Denney
The Dolphins have one of the best core special teams in the league, with all three of these guys being Pro Bowl level. I don't see anything changing here.
So that is my projection at this point. I'm sure the Dolphins will still pick up a few veteran free agents out there who might be released or who are willing to sign on minimum salary deals (I'm rooting for Ahmad Hall, FB, as one of those guys). And of course there are always 2-3 free agent rookies who make an impact. I think there could be a surprise on the OLine, the Dline, LB, and CB positions - all these areas last spots have an opening for someone to come in and steal. The bottom eight guys on the roster I think are OL Garner, DT Randall, LB Spitler, FS Johnson, TE Brown, RB Messam, LB Trusnick, and WR Wallace. I think the other 45 guys are pretty solid and have their spots in place unless someone really regresses or doesn't show up with their full effort.
I'll try and update this on a monthly basis, as new players are added or dropped from the team.