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Dolphins running backs: Better, worse, or same in 2016?

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A position by position look at the Miami Dolphins’ roster, and whether the team is better, worse, or the same as the 2015 roster.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, NFL rosters see change, whether it is free agents moving to new clubs, trades being executed, or players retiring. Sometimes, those changes involve depth players, and sometimes they are starters who should have had bigger roles in their previous team’s offense before departing. The latter would be the case for today, with the Miami Dolphins on the wrong side of the starter’s free agent signing.

Yesterday began a series of articles here on The Phinsider, taking a look at the 2016 version of the Dolphins’ roster, trying to determine if the team is the same, better, or worse at each position. Today, we move from the quarterbacks to the running backs.

Running backs

Jay Ajayi
Kenyan Drake
Damien Williams
Daniel Thomas
Isaiah Pead

Analysis

Obviously, the biggest change is Lamar Miller not being in the position group anymore, having moved on to the Houston Texans after being under-utilized by the Dolphins. A new coaching staff and offensive scheme was not enough to keep Miller in Miami, instead agreeing to a 4-year, $26-million contract in Texas. That moves second-year runner Jay Ajayi into the top spot on the depth chart for Miami, followed by rookie Kenyan Drake and third-year running back Damien Williams. The bottom of the depth chart features fifth-year running back Daniel Thomas and third-year runner Isaiah Pead, both of whom are hoping to jump-start their career by winning a roster spot this summer. Ajayi carried the ball just 49 times as a rookie, gaining 187 yards with a touchdown, after missing the first seven games of the year with broken ribs. Drake is a rookie who worked as a backup during his career at Alabama, while Williams has 52 career carries with the Dolphins, picking up 181 yards. Thomas, Miami’s 2011 second-round pick was out of football last year, but has 409 career carries for 1,480 yards with 10 touchdowns, and Pead, who was the second-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2012 and missed the 2014 season and all but two games last year, has 19 carries for 78 yards.

Better, Worse, Same

Worse. Again, we are basing this purely on a look at the roster - not on expectations. At this point, Miller is the better player than Ajayi, so the Dolphins have taken a step back. Can Ajayi prove to be a NFL starting running back? Absolutely. Will he? Hopefully. Overall, Miami is counting on a running back corps with 520 career carries, and 409 of those come from a player who may not make the roster. If the Dolphins keep Ajayi, Drake, Williams, and Pead, they would have 111 career careers of experience within the group, which works out to about 5.5 games of experience if you assume 20 carries a game for a running back. Personally, I think the Dolphins will be fine with Ajayi as the starter, but this exercise is all about just the names on the paper, and Miller’s absence hurts the results.