With the first wave of free agency over, some of the overall plan of Ireland and Philbin is coming into focus. Get younger, faster, and build new leadership both on offence and defense away from the Sparano/Parcells years. One of my main concerns about the Dolphins over the last decade is poor drafting. Obviously this has been greatly discussed, but where I'm disappointed is that the team rarely comes out of the draft with more than one obvious starter. If you look around the league, good drafting teams typically come out of each draft with 2-3 players that start and a few more that have an impact.
With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to rank the Dolphins starters to see where the most obvious holes are on the team and see if they match up to what the various writers and bloggers are saying. There are a few ways to improve a team, two of which are replacing starters with better starters and building better depth (other ways would include improving players by coaching/experience, better off/def schemes). Here is my ranking of the starters and who would be candidates to replace through the draft or the remainder of free agency.
#1 Wake: Best player on the team.
#2 Pouncey: Best player on offense.
#3 Starks: Pro Bowl player on defense, good at both run/pass.
#4 Soliei: Pro Bowl player, great run defense.
#5 Wallace: Will change look of offense to opposing defenses; knows how to get TD's.
#6 Jones: Great year, still improving.
#7 Tannehill: Good year, massive room for improvement.
#8 Hartline: Perfect second receiver, should thrive with Wallace across the field
#9 Incognito: Steady player making Pro Bowl last year. Not a perfect scheme fit though.
#10 Ellerbe: Very impressive half year of starting, should get better with experience.
#11 Wheeler: Career hit a new gear last year, playmaker.
#12 Bess: Slot receiver is starter of FB, just dependable in all areas.
#13 Keller: Seam threat target Dolphins have been missing for years; over injury hopefully.
#14 Odrick: Still a lot of potential, flashes at times both against run and pass.
#15 Misi: Solid against run/pass now, just no big plays.
#16 Martin: Hopefully a big jump between years 1-2, smart and athletic.
#17 Clemens: Some solid games last year, just no big plays.
#18 Miller: Flashes of big play potential, can he carry the load questions.
#19 Jerry: Good at times, not so good at times. Needs to keep weight down.
#20 Carroll: More of a 4th CB rather than starter.
#21 Marshall: Incomplete picture, health concerns.
#22 OT Position: Umm...
I'm sure you can move a few positions around here and there, but I think the order is fairly accurate for most casual observers of the Dolphins. The following players could be thrown in as well as impact players that will potentially have a big part in whatever the team does (Fields - would rank in top 10, Carpenter - late teens, Gibson - late teens, Thomas - late teens, Lane - 20+, Clay - 20+, Vernon - 20+ with potential). Beyond that, I think anyone on the team is potentially replaceable (with players like Trusnick, Denny, Wilson, Spitler, and maybe a few others pretty much on the team because of the Special Team prowess as well).
So where does the above information tell us on how best to impact the team in the remainder of the offseason? If we look adding starters to replace less talented starters and adding quality back-ups as two ways to improve the team, here is what I see:
It tells us that OT is the top priority. The next priority is not one but two CB. An OG might be next, followed by a RB to compliment the two unknowns on the roster. Safety might be next, followed by back-ups at OT, TE, and DT. That is 9 players, 4 potential starters at OT, OG, CB, CB and 5 potential depth players at RB, S, OT, TE, DT.
Some of these potential targets can be brought in during the bargain phase of free agency (maybe Winston and Garner to solve the OT situation, and a veteran RB to be the 3rd RB) while others will be need to be drafted. The 5 picks in Rounds 1-3 could potentially go to these other need spots. Interestingly DE isn't shown to be a major need here with solid play by Wake, Odrick, and potentially Vernon. If you include better pass rushing capabilities by Wheeler and Ellerbe, DE might not be as big of a hole as most might think. Then again, a team can never have enough pass rush.
My particular hope is that the Dolphins sign the two OT's listed above as well as a solid RB. I think picking up a veteran CB on the cheap would be a good idea and letting either Marshall or Patterson go possibly to pick up some salary cap space. In the draft, I'd go with the best player available at each pick matching one of the remaining needs (CB, CB, OG, S, TE, DT) until these holes are filled as well. If all goes right, that would be 9 new players that impact the Dolphins in a positive manner to add to what has been added to the team already.