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2014 Miami Dolphins needs, free agents, draft, and more - Defensive Line

A look at the Miami Dolphins roster heading into the NFL's 2014 Free Agency period. We break down the team's needs, the top players available, and what could happen. This morning, we continue with the defensive line this morning.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

The seconda day of the three day "unofficial" free agent contact period, when teams can speak with agents, but are not able to actually sign the players until the league year changes at 4pm ET on Tuesday, in underway. As we get ready for the madness that is free agency, we take a look at the status of the Miami Dolphins' roster, as well as the needs and potential solutions for each area of the roster. We've already looked at the secondary and linebackers, so today we move to the defensive line.

Current Roster:

Number Player Position HT WT Age Exp School
97 Aaitui, Isaako DT 6'4" 315 27 1 UNLV
95 Jordan, Dion DE 6'6" 248 24 1 Oregon
98 Odrick, Jared DT 6'5" 302 26 4 Penn State
79 Shelby, Derrick DE 6'2" 270 25 2 Utah
50 Vernon, Olivier DE 6'2" 268 23 2 Miami
91 Wake, Cameron DE 6'3" 250 32 5 Penn State
90 Francis, A.J. DT 6'3" 316 23 1 Maryland

Potential Free Agents:

Number Player Position HT WT Age Exp School
96 Soliai, Paul DT 6'4" 345 30 7 Utah
94 Starks, Randy DT 6'3" 305 30 10 Maryland

Roster Status:

How Miami handles the defensive line this offseason really comes down to two players - Paul Soliai and Randy Starks.  If the team brings back either of the former Pro Bowl defensive tackles, the entire line could look really similar to the line that ended last season.  If they do not re-sign either of them, and currently that appears to be the route that is being charted, then defensive tackle becomes a need for the team and will have to be addressed.

Without Soliai and Starks, Miami will be left with Jared Odrick, who served as the third defensive tackle starter in a two man position last year, and two young players, A.J. Francis and Isaako Aaitui.  How desperate the Dolphins are could indicate how they feel about Francis and Aaitui.

The other issue the Dolphins defensive line will have this offseason is simply figuring out how to use the talent they do have, specifically at defensive end.  All Pro Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, who was seventh in sacks in the league last year, and Dion Jordan, for whom the team traded up to the third overall pick last year, all need to see playing time.  Add in a developing Derrick Shelby, and Miami's defensive end position seems set.

Top 5 Free Agents:

Defensive Tackle

Rank Player 2013 Team
1 Henry Melton Chicago Bears
2 Jason Hatcher Dallas Cowboys
3 Earl Mitchell Houston Texans
4 B.J. Raji Green Bay Packers
5 Tony McDaniel Seattle Seahawks

Defensive End

Rank Player College
1 Greg Hardy Carolina Panthers (Franchised)
2 Michael Bennett Seattle Seahawks
3 Michael Johnson Cincinnati Bengals
4 Lamarr Houston Oakland Raiders
5 Jared Allen Minnesota Vikings

Top 5 Draft Prospects:

Defensive Tackle

Rank Player College
1 Aaron Donald Pitt
2 Louis Nix III Notre Dame
3 Timmy Jernigan Florida State
4 RaShede Hageman Minnesota
5 Stephon Tuitt Notre Dame

Defensive End
(Note: These are pure defensive ends.  Not included were the OLB who could be turned into a DE, as they were listed with the linebackers.)

Rank Player College
1 Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina
2 Kony Ealy Missouri
3 Dee Ford Auburn
4 Scott Crichton Oregon State
5 Trent Murphy Stanford

Nogle's Offseason Projection:

As I said above, the defensive line all comes down to the defensive tackle position.  At this point, I am assuming both Soliai and Starks are leaving, though I would prefer to sign one - Soliai if I got to choose.  Also, my assumption is that the Dolphins use free agency to try to go into the draft with most of the offensive line in place.  If both of those assumptions happen, Donald, Nix, and Jernigan could all be in play with Miami's 19th overall pick.

No matter what happens, the Dolphins will likely add a defensive tackle at some point in the Draft.  I'll predict that player to land behind Francis on the depth chart, but it is absolutely possible that an early round draft choice, like Donald or Nix, could claim the spot next to Odrick.

Projected Depth Chart: