The Miami Dolphins wrapped up the preseason on Thursday night with a 14-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Thursday was the final game of pure evaluation, and many fringe players were attempting to take advantage of the final opportunity to impress coaches before rosters cut down to 53 players on Aug. 30 at 4pm.
As you read this 53-man projection keep in mind that if the Dolphins can claim any players off the waiver wire to make the team better. If Miami does scavenge the waiver wire, however, they will have to make room for each player they claim.
Also keep one thing in mind when trying to decide why my projections fell the way they did: versatility is key. The more you can do, the more valuable you are to the team.
You can find my original roster prediction here.
OL - 10
THOUGHTS: The guys at the top are obviously safe, but a few tough decisions are looming with this group.
First, will Mike Pouncey go on the Physically Unable to Perform list, a designation that would keep him sidelined until Week 7? I voted no and added him to the 53-man roster. I believe that Pouncey will be back Week 4 against Oakland at the latest.
The second tough decision is regarding the final spot with this group. Will the position go the Jason Fox, a back-up tackle, David Arkin, who can play both guard and center, or Evan Finkenberg, a guard who looks like he might be worth developing?
QB - 2
THOUGHTS: Tannehill and Moore are clearly the best QBs on the roster.
Moore is one of the best back-up QBs in the NFL.
If the Dolphins were ever placed in a scenario where a third QB was asked to win games, the season would go on a downward spiral.
The roster spot for the third QB could provide much more benefit if used on an extra offensive lineman, defensive tackle or member of the secondary.
Therefore, the Dolphins will only carry two QBs.
RB - 4
THOUGHTS: Moreno and Miller are the only ones completely safe from this group. I believe Williams has done enough to secure his roster spot, and status as the third RB on the team, but nothing is set in stone.
The fun part of this projection comes at the bottom. Who will be the final RB on this team, Marcus Thigpen, Daniel Thomas or Orleans Darkwa? (If the team decides to keep four running backs, which I think they will.)
Thomas didn't show me enough to prove he deserves to elongate his stint in Miami another year. Thomas has the second best vision of any back on the Dolphins roster, but Thomas still doesn't run physical enough to be productive.
Darkwa has flashed a few times, but in reality he was fighting for a practice squad spot all preseason (which I think he earned).
Thigpen had a very polarizing game Sunday, which featured both a muffed punt and a long return. With that being said, Thigpen is still a very versatile weapon that could provide big plays in this offense.
There's a certain degree of "risk vs reward" with Thigpen, but the reward could far outweigh the risk if he is used properly and produces. Not to mention, the reward on either Darkwa or Thomas isn't worth the roster spot.
For the record, I expect a RB to be brought in off the waiver wire. In fact, I think there's only one position that they will hunt for more vigorously on the waiver wire (but we'll get to that when the time comes).
WR - 6
THOUGHTS: I have said since the second week of the preseason that the top five wide outs had solidified themselves and that the final job (if six WRs are indeed kept on the 53-man roster), would come down to Damian Williams, Armon Binns or Kevin Cone.
After Binns was cut, and Cone didn't do much in the final preseason game, it became clear that Williams was the sixth WR on this team. Williams also has added value as a returner.
TE - 4
THOUGHTS: Charles Clay and Dion Sims will be an excellent combination. If Hoskins can indeed make this team, and find consistency, then we will see a wonderful passing game in the middle of the field.
I think that this group will definitely have someone added to the mix via waiver wire. This means that while Miller or Hoskins may initially make the team, they shouldn't exhale or get comfortable.
DT - 5
THOUGHTS: This position is one of the toughest to decipher after four back-up DTs battling for two spots shined on Thursday night against the Rams. Anthony and Kamal Johnson combined for a sack, Garrison Smith had a beast of a sack and tackle for loss, and Isaako Aaitui was tough to block all night.
Smith, Kamal Johnson or Aaitui will likely make this roster due to AJ Francis being put on the Reserve/Injured list. Francis plays 1-technique DT (in between the center and guard) and Jared Odrick and Randy Starks both play the 3-technique DT (planted firmly in the B-gap of an offensive line).
This means that if Anthony Johnson, also a 3-tech DT, is the only of these back-up DTs to make the final 53-man roster, then Earl Mitchell will have no back-up at the 1-tech and it will force Randy Starks to play more and experience more wear-and-tear (a 1-tech is usually the focus of double teams).
For this reason, and the strong games by the back-up DTs last night, I think the Dolphins will keep five DTs. The final spot is tough to forecast, as both Garrison Smith and Kamal Johnson played well last night. However, I think Johnson will win the job and Smith will be stashed on the practice squad.
DE - 4
THOUGHTS: First of all, this is a monstrous group. This unit alone could produce a good 35 sacks between the four.
Cameron Wake, Vernon and Shelby are all locks to make this roster.
The big news here is that Fede will make the roster and could even see time in the rotation before Dion Jordan returns after Week 4.
Fede hasn't been playing due to a knee injury, but he should be ready for the regular season.
Fede, who has a great amount of upside due to his size and athleticism, has proved enough this preseason to earn a spot on the roster spot. The first step of his NFL journey is (almost) complete, not Fede must take advantage and make plays when he gets on the field.
LB - 6
THOUGHTS: Many think that this is the most troublesome unit on the roster. I agree for one reason, depth is concerning.
I believe that Ellerbe will have a much better year than 2013 due to his position switch, and I believe that Misi will solidify the run defense as the middle linebacker.
Wheeler will even have a better year as he will be used as a strongside linebacker and will be near the line of scrimmage much more often.
However, if any of them goes down it could be devastating. Misi's only back-up is Trusnik. While Trusnik is an excellent special teams player, he isn't an every-down middle linebacker. Trusnik plays the run well, but is a liability in coverage.
If Ellerbe goes down, he has only Jordan Tripp to back him up. Tripp will eventually be very good, but needs to put on more weight before being effective, Having Tripp in the lineup will greatly decrease Miami's ability to stop the run.
Wheeler going down would be the least debilitating as he is the most replaceable linebacker on the roster. Chris McCain could step in effectively for Wheeler, but McCain still needs to be more consistent before he is ready to start.
With all that being said, I am confident in the LBs listed above as the three starters will play much better this year, the two developmental guys will have time to grasp the game at the NFL level, and Trusnik provides an above-average insurance policy.
CB - 5
THOUGHTS: We all know that the top four CBs listed above are safe with this team.
The challenge is deciding who will grab the final CB spot.
I believe that the job will go to Michael Thomas. While Thomas didn't have his best game on Thursday, he has the versatility to be able to play both safety and cornerback for this team.
The more you can do, the more valuable you are!
S - 3
THOUGHTS: All three of these safeties are unquestionably safe. Delmas and Wilson will start, while Aikens will be ready to step in if either suffers an injury.
This position seems thin right now, but Michael Thomas could also move back to play safety in a pinch if needed.
Reshad Jones will return to this unit after his four-game suspension is served. This will bolster the CB unit as well as the safety group as Jimmy Wilson will be able to return to his role of nickel back.
The Dolphins have three different CB/S hybrids. That versatility means less players/roster spots will need to be dedicated to the secondary.
THOUGHTS: Will Sturgis be ready for the preseason? A lingering groin injury is one of the worst a kicker can suffer.
If Sturgis isn't ready for the season, a replacement kicker will need to be held on the 53-man roster until Sturgis heals.
It's unclear if that will be needed as Sturgis was kicking in warm-ups on Thursday and even came in to attempt a 56-yard field goal in the game. Sturgis seems to be on track to be ready for the season opener next Sunday, but a setback could be suffered at and time.
THOUGHTS: Brandon Field is the best punter in the league. Need I say more?
Denney is one of the longest tenured Dolphin players, and that streak will keep going this year.
Denney's name is rarely heard, as long snappers' names are only heard after a mistake, but Denney is very valuable to the team.
Denney is good at covering punts on special teams as well.
PRACTICE SQUAD -
(all must clear waivers before being added to the PS) -
QB Seth Lobato (or a waiver wire QB), DT Garrison Smith, WR Matt Hazel, RB Orleans Darkwa, OG Evan Finkenberg, DE Tevin Mims, OLB Jelani Jenkins, CB Kevin Fogg, ILB Andrew Wilson, S/CB Don Jones
(NOTE: Reshad Jones and Dion Jordan won't count as a part of the roster until they return from their 4-game suspensions. When they return, two will need to be cut to make room for them.)