The twelfth question on depth from CBS Sports takes a look at the return game. CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan recently asked what it means to have depth in the NFL, then developed 13 different questions about each NFL franchise, looking at key positions on the field and who would fill in if needed, in an effort to find the clubs that do have "depth." Kirwan ultimately reached the conclusion that two teams, the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and the Cincinnati Bengals, best fit the idea of "depth" on a roster.
He also listed five teams that could be considered "honorable mention" franchises when it comes to the ever-important depth: the Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and a "tossup" between the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. Kirwan explained the honorable mention list, writing, "they don't satisfy all the categories but they did better than most teams hitting on at least nine of the 13."
The depth questions start with an entry criteria question, one that if you answer no, you do not move on to the rest of the fields and simply do not have depth. Since the Dolphins met the entry criteria for the depth discussion by having a backup quarterback that "can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch" with Matt Moore, we have been breaking down the rest of the questions Kirwan poses. The twelfth area for consideration is:
Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?
We finally move off of the Jimmy Wilson portion of our look at the Miami Dolphins' depth, and on to something not involving the jack-of-all-trades defensive back. In this case, the Dolphins' return man, an area that could lead to an interesting debate throughout training camp this year.
Heading into the 2013 season, the return specialist was clearly running back Marcus Thigpen, and things looked to be heading in the right direction for the Dolphins' special teams. A year later, and Thigpen, who is now working exclusively as a receiver, is no longer assured to make the roster, let alone locking down the returner position.
In his rookie season, Thigpen averaged 12.2 yards per punt return and 27.4 yards per kickoff return. In 2013, those numbers dropped to 7.8 yards and 22.5 yards, respectively.
What the Dolphins do if they choose to replace Thigpen is yet to be seen. Could rookie receiver Jarvis Landry become the guy? Damian Williams and Damien Williams could also be in the mix, while Mike Wallace said he would be interested in returning kicks as well.
If Thigpen is the Dolphins returner in 2014, how he fits into his new role as a receiver will have to bee seen. He was limited in what he brought the team as a running back last year, carrying the ball six times for 18 yards, with eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown. More should be expected of him, and, if he is on the roster this year, hopefully he will provide it.
At this point, it does not appear the Dolphins meet this criteria from Kirwan's list. That could change if someone is able to step up to replace Thigpen, or Thigpen is able to step up into a receiving role. Training camp and the preseason will be the key to determining where Miami falls on this question.