Power Rankings: Ranking Each Unit on the Miami Dolphins

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

A power ranking of each positional unit on the Miami Dolphins.

The Miami Dolphins team has been broken into eight categories for these power rankings: four offensive units, three defensive units and special teams.

8. Linebackers

We start this list off with what I think is the most troublesome unit on the team. The linebacking corps will be the decisive unit on this defense. The linebackers will determine whether the defense will perform at the level that it did when Mike Nolan was the coordinator or continue the downward slide it has been on since Joe Philbin's arrival in Miami.

The move of Koa Misi to middle linebacker plants hope within me. Not necessarily because I think Misi will be great in the middle, but because I know Dannell Ellerbe, last year's MLB, will be better as an outside linebacker (the position he's more comfortable with).

I have confidence that Misi will tighten up the leaky run defense as stopping the run is one of his strengths, but I am also confident that the Dolphins will continue to have big problems with scatbacks (such as Darren Sproles and Jacquizz Rodgers) and tight ends.

If Misi doesn't work at MLB, or gets injured, then the Dolphins have no back-up plan besides moving Ellerbe back to that spot, which would not be a good thing for the run defense (Miami allowed 1,998 rushing yards with Ellerbe at MLB in 2013).

This unit is extremely scary because the returning starters' play was very questionable last season and quality depth is absent from the roster.

After spending luxuriously to replace two very good linebackers (Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, the latter of which was one of the best LBs in football last season) with two very mediocre linebackers, the state of this group has to leave many slapping their foreheads.

7. Offensive Line

Even with all of the additions and focus on fixing the offensive line this offseason, I still nearly ranked this unit as the worst on the team. However, the additions of Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and offensive line coach John Benton were enough to keep this unit from being the blacksheep of the team heading into training camp (and, of course, the worry over the linebacker unit helped).

Actually, this unit could have been a few spots higher on this list if I had done this before Mike Pouncey's injury (not much though, the right side of the line had me nervous before Pouncey's injury and even more so now). Pouncey's injury was a huge blow to this unit and the offense as a whole.

This unit is very troubling as Albert, the Dolphins' biggest acquisition of 2014, has played a full 16-game season just once in his career, the Dolphins Pro Bowl center, Pouncey, is out for three months and a rookie, Ja'Wuan James, has been trusted to hold down the right tackle position.

The Dolphins haven't identified Pouncey's replacement yet and neither guard position is settled. This was the worst unit on the 2013 team and even after the offensive line rebuild of the offseason we are still left with more questions than answers regarding this group.

6. Tight Ends

Dolphins' tight end Charles Clay is a fine player, a rising star and could find himself in his first Pro Bowl if he can repeat his 2013 performance which earned him a spot on the list of the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2014.

However, behind Clay the landscape is quite bare.

The Dolphins have Michael Egnew, a disappointing third round pick trying to turn his career around, Dion Sims, who was drafted for his blocking prowess but didn't show much in his rookie season, Arthur Lynch, a 2014 fifth round pick, Kyle Miller, a practice squad player, and Harold Hoskins, an undrafted rookie who was a touchdown machine during his days at Marshall.

Either one of these players could step up to become a reliable number two tight end, but banking on it would be almost as irresponsible as Jeff Ireland's linebacker swap of the 2013 offseason.

If I had to put my money on one of these guys it would be Egnew as he has the most physical tools and fits this system a bit better, although a new playbook could be a hindrance that could keep Egnew, who struggles with the mental part of the game, from finally contributing this year.

As it stands now, this unit, overall, is simply just average. If a second tight end can transform himself into a reliable in-line blocker and/or dependable pass catcher than this unit could find itself a few spots higher on this list when I revisit and re-rank these units later in the season.

5. Special Teams

The Dolphins' special teams unit has played a huge role in both victories (winning the field position battle thanks to the monstrous punts of Brandon Fields) and heartbreaking losses (missed field goals by now-sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis).

Fields, a 2013 Pro Bowler, is one of the top punters in the NFL and has averaged at least 48.8 yards per punt for the past three seasons. He is paired with long snapper John Denney, the longest tenured Dolphin.

If I had broken up special teams into separate categories then the punting unit may have been higher. But, I didn't do that so the great punting unit must carry the weight of Caleb Sturgis' 2013 struggles.

Sturgis made only 76.5% of his field goals in his rookie season. All eight of Sturgis' missed field goals came in a nine-game stretch in the middle of the season and three of those games were decided by three points or less. Sturgis needs to be much more consistent in 2014 if he wants to keep his job long-term.

Marcus Thigpen had a touchdown on both a kickoff and punt return in 2012, but was a bit disappointing in 2013 with his averages on both punt and kickoff returns decreasing by about five yards. Thigpen needs to find his 2012 form if he wants to keep his return job and his spot on the roster.

4. Secondary

This unit is lead by Pro Bowler Brent Grimes, who didn't allow a single touchdown to a receiver in 2013. Behind him, though, there is nothing but question marks.

The Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan to compete with two 2013 draftees, second round pick Jamar Taylor and third round pick Will Davis, as the starting boundary cornerback opposite of Grimes.

All three of them dealt with injuries last season.

Finnegan was rated as the worst cornerback in football by ProFootballFocus.com's rankings for much of the season and Taylor and Davis played less than 50 snaps each.

However, there is hope as all claim to have completely overcome their injuries. Finnegan was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL a few years ago when he was fully healthy, Taylor was a highly touted prospect in the 2013 draft and Davis was an interception machine in summer workouts last year.

The Dolphins signed former Detroit Lions' safety Louis Delmas to pair with Reshad Jones in the back-end of the secondary. The duo has potential to be one of the best tandems in the league, but both are presently huge question marks.

Jones was a Pro Bowler in 2012 and one of the best safeties in football. However, Jones' play took a serious dip in 2013 after a big pay day and the loss of two linebackers who had the ability to cover tight ends (yes, were back to that linebacker swap....).

The linebacker swap forced Jones into much more one-on-one coverage situations than he was comfortable with, and if coverage from the second level of the defense doesn't improve then Jones will continue be put on an island against tight ends.

Delmas has a clear impact when on the field but has struggled to do that due to lingering knee issues. Fortunately, Delmas played his first full 16-game season in 2013 and looks to continue that good health throughout his tenure in Miami.

Delmas may be able to pick up some of the slack when it comes to covering tight ends, but his injury history is troubling. Luckily, the Dolphins have Jimmy Wilson as a reliable back-up safety.

Wilson, a former seventh round pick, has gotten better each year in the NFL. Wilson has been switching between safety and cornerback nearly his entire career and has held role of nickel back for the past two seasons. Wilson is versatile and a valuable member of the secondary because of it.

Overall, this unit has a few solid pieces but more question marks than solid starters. It is still one of the most talented groups on the team and will likely end up being one of the strengths of the team.

3. Offensive Backfield

The Dolphins' offensive backfield, like many other groups, has question marks. This group has one of the greatest amounts of potential, though, and needs to live up to that potential for this team to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

This group is, of course, headlined by quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was one of the bright spots on the team for most of the 2013 season and I had even written about how he avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump", but then the eyesore that was the final two games of the season took place.

Tannehill has to be more consistent in 2014. This is Tannehill's year to prove he either is or isn't the Dolphins' franchise quarterback. Do I think he will do it? I will say this, based off of everything that I've seen over the past two years, and this offseason specifically, I would be surprised if he didn't.

Then you have the running backs, a stacked position. Free agent acquisition Knowshon Moreno recently received surgery on his knee but should be ready for training camp. Moreno is the "do-it-all" back who adds a consistency that this offense needs. Moreno will likely play on third downs due to his ability to pass block, catch passes out of the backfield and put his nose down to gain short yards.

Lamar Miller will produce many big plays in the Dolphins' new offense this season. Miller might be able to earn the starting spot over an out-of-shape and freshly cut-open Moreno in training camp, but either way the two will form a very complementary one-two punch.

2. Defensive Line

The defensive line, which I had deemed to be the deepest unit on the team a few weeks ago, has dropped one spot on my rankings. Yes, this is due to the Dion Jordan suspension.

This unit is still one of the deepest and most talented on the team, but I had trouble saying it was deeper or more talented than the receiving corps.

The group's real girth starts with the defensive tackles. This unit is loaded from top to bottom as the three main rotation players, Earl Mitchell, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, are all proven talents. The Dolphins also have a couple of interesting prospects in AJ Francis and Anthony Johnson. Both of these two could earn playing time with a strong performance in training camp.

The Dolphins have two defensive ends who are Pro Bowl candidates this season and one who was set to shock the world but will now have to wait until after the Dolphins' bye week to do so.

Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake are two very talented defensive ends who could both end up with double digit sacks next season. Throw in Derrick Shelby, a fundamentally sound role player who provides very good relief minutes, and this unit has a good rotation.

The hard part will be working in Dion Jordan when he returns from his suspension.... But this is a good problem to have.

1. Wide Receivers

If we went back in time two years ago then this unit would without a doubt be at the bottom of this list. The Dolphins receiving corps has transformed from a barren wasteland that featured Brian Hartline and Davone Bess as the only viable options into a unit so stuffed with talent that management will be forced to cut multiple NFL-caliber receivers.

Mike Wallace is the key to this group as his speed opens things up for every other receiver and forces defenses to shade a safety towards Wallace's side of the field.

After him the Dolphins have a slew of technicians and crisp route-runners. This is an extremely deep group after the drafting of former LSU star Jarvis Landry, the drafting of intriguing Coastal Carolina product Matt Hazel, the return of Brandon Gibson from his knee surgery and the emergence of Rishard Matthews as a reliable and talented receiver.

This group will be loaded from top to bottom. Ryan Tannehill will have a dependable option to throw to no matter who lines up on the field. This receiving corps is a far cry from the barren arsenal that Tannehill had to work with in 2012.

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