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Miami Dolphins Depth Chart Projections: Defensive Line

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Which defensive linemen will make Miami’s final 53 man roster, and where will they place on the depth chart?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is a magical time in the NFL. All players are “in the best shape of their lives” and every single coach is going to “create a winning culture.” All teams are “poised to make a playoff run,” and perennial losing teams are “finally ready to turn things around.”

That being said, the offseason is also a time when coaches need to make the tough decisions about who is going to make their team’s roster. No matter how much talent a team brings in through free agency and the draft, cuts are inevitable. An offseason roster of 90 players will eventually have to be trimmed down to the best 53, and outside of the team’s top players, there are never guarantees as to who will make the team.

This offseason, I am running a series of depth chart projections, breaking down Miami’s roster by position, and predicting who will make it to week 1 of the 2017 season. Today, we review the defensive line positions.

Roster

Defensive End

Cameron Wake

Andre Branch

William Hayes

Terrence Fede

Julius Warmsley

Arthur Miley

Charles Harris (R)

Praise Martin-Oguike (R)

Cameron Malveaux (R)

Joby Saint Fleur (R)

Defensive Tackle

Ndamukong Suh

Jordan Phillips

Nick Williams

Lawrence Okoye

Davon Godchaux (R)

Vincent Taylor (R)

Roster Locks

DE Cameron Wake

Wake is without a doubt, one of the best Miami Dolphins players of the modern era. He’s been a model of consistency and professionalism since joining the team out of the CFL back in 2009. Since then, he’s accumulated a staggering 81.5 sacks as one of the most feared defensive ends in the league and has been a source of stability for a very up and down Dolphins defense. Wake proved last season that he isn’t ready to slow down anytime soon, as he came off of a torn achilles to earn 11.5 sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Now at age 35, Wake is set to lead a much improved (at least on paper) Miami defense, while at the same time mentoring the next generation of Dolphins pass rusher in 2017 first round pick Charles Harris. As long as Wake is willing to lace up his cleats, everyone associated with the Miami Dolphins is more than willing to watch him terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

DE Andre Branch

Branch began his NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2012, never emerging as anything more than a rotational player up until 2015, when he started 9 games for the team. After completing his rookie deal and entering free agency, Branch signed a one year “prove it” deal with Miami, and he definitely “proved it” last season. Branch started 11 games for the Dolphins following the benching of free agent flop Mario Williams, during which he earned 5.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles en route to signing three-year $24 million contract to stay in South Florida.

While coaching staff might like to see a little bit more sack production out of the sixth year pass rusher, there’s no reason to believe he’ll disappoint given the fact that he’s entering the season as a starter and will have every chance to continue to prove his worth. He’s also surrounded by established talents such as Wake and Ndamukong Suh who will take a large amount of attention, opening up some one-on-one opportunities for Branch to take advantage of.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

DT Ndamukong Suh

Suh is one of the most dominant and respected defensive players in the league, as evidenced by his placement at number 55 on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2017. While many give both Suh and Miami’s front office flak for his mega contract (six-year $114,375,000) that he signed with the Dolphins in 2015, the behemoth defensive tackle has done nothing but reinforce the notion that he’s worth the money in two years with the team.

Suh’s started all 32 possible games and racked up 133 tackles, 11 sacks, and 11 passes defended while being routinely double-teamed by opposing offensive linemen. Not only does he make a strong statistical impact of a player at his position, but he opens up plays for his defensive teammates. Suh can be categorized as nothing short of a game-wrecker, and he should continue with his disruptive play alongside a stacked defensive line this season.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

DT Jordan Phillips

Phillips is supremely athletic for a man of his size, as evidenced by his interception against the New York Jets last season. However, he’s yet to apply that athleticism to reach his full potential as a full time starter for the Dolphins. In two seasons since being selected out of Oklahoma in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Phillips has earned just 42 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 15 starts and 31 games played.

This season, with Earl Mitchell having departed to the San Francisco 49ers, Phillips is going to be expected to take over as Suh’s partner in crime on the interior. As a full-time starter, Phillips must step up and become the run stopping force that is necessary to take Miami’s defensive line play to the next level. He’s reportedly dedicated himself to improving his conditioning and technique in order to be capable of playing at a high level for the full length of an NFL game, and if he can put that together with his already present athleticism, he could provide the level of play that fans have been waiting for over the past two seasons.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

DE Charles Harris (R)

When the Dolphins took Harris with the 22nd pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, the selection was met with mixed feelings among many Dolphins fans. For starters, Harris wasn’t connected to the Dolphins in any pre-draft rumors, which, despite being the front office’s intention, surprised many fans. In addition, defensive end was not seen as a position of need when compared to positions such as offensive guard and linebacker, which is why many were hoping the team would take a prospect such as Reuben Foster when he was available at 22.

That being said, since April, Harris has done nothing but confirm to fans, coaches, and the front office that drafted him that the team made a solid selection. The former Missouri defensive end has shown nothing but professionalism and maturity off the field, as well as pass rushing dominance off of it (albeit during offseason practices). He’s also shown a desire to learn and absorb as much information and mentoring as possible, as he’s professed his appreciation for being able to study under a pass rushing master like Wake. Harris has also contacted Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, requesting to watch tape and work out with the Dolphins legend, a wish that Taylor was happy to grant. With time to grow and develop behind established starters, the sky's the limit for the uber talented rookie.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Probable Backups

DE William Hayes

Hayes was acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for moving down at the very back end of this year’s draft. That trade seems like a steal for a rotational defensive end who should help improve Miami’s bottom barrel 2016 run defense, especially one who is also capable of getting to the quarterback as evidenced by Hayes’ 5.0 sacks last season.

This season, Hayes projects to be the third man in the defensive end rotation. With Cameron Wake and Andre Branch starting off the edge, the Dolphins will need to insert someone with more run-stopping acumen on more likely rushing downs. That’s where Hayes flourishes, as he’s one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the league. Hayes earned a top 25 grade at his position from Pro Football Focus this season, in large part to his skills defending the run.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 98%

DT Nick Williams

At this point on the depth chart, roster spots are already up for grabs, as it’s certainly possible Williams does not make the roster this season. That being said, due to his position versatility (he can play defensive end) and familiarity with the team, I give him a better shot than the defensive tackles below him of making the roster.

However, that does not mean Williams is automatically ahead of younger talents like Vincent Taylor and Davon Godchaux on the depth chart. The battle for depth spots at the defensive tackle position will be one of the most interesting battles to watch, and the most impressive of the bunch will definitely earn the primary rotational position behind Suh and Phillips.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 60%

Must Impress

DE Terrence Fede

Fede is entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Dolphins, meaning the 2017 season represents a sort of “prove it” year for the fourth year defensive end. Thus far, Fede has failed to make a regular impact with the team, and coaches have been hoping for him to take that next step as someone who can consistently contribute on defense. Unfortunately, most of Fede’s impact has been limited to special teams.

If Fede wants to ensure a spot on the roster, he will need to show that he is capable of becoming a stronger player on the defensive side of the ball. Making a big impression on special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi wouldn’t hurt either.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 60%

DT Davon Godchaux (R)

The Dolphins drafted Godchaux in the fifth round of this year’s draft with the hopes that he could become the primary rotational defensive tackle that the team lacked on the roster. If his stats during his final season at LSU show anything, they certainly represent a player who is capable of becoming just that. Last season, Godchaux recorded 62 total tackles and 6.5 sacks as a capable pass rushing interior lineman.

What worries me about Godchaux is that despite his feistiness as an interior pass rusher, he seems to struggle occasionally as a run defender. When looking at his college tape, the 310 lb lineman was far too often and too easily pushed back and out of plays against the run. While he has a strong burst off the line on some plays, there were too many others where he seemed to lack the motor to make a play. His athleticism and talent are there, but he’s going to have to put those together with a consistent drive if he wants to make the team.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 50%

DT Vincent Taylor (R)

Taylor was drafted just one round later than Godchaux in this year’s draft, and will compete with him and Williams to become Miami’s third defensive tackle in the rotation. Over three years at Oklahoma State, Taylor has recorded impressive production, especially in his last season. In 2016, Taylor accumulated 51 tackles and 7.5 sacks. While those numbers would be difficult, if not impossible to replicate at the NFL level for a rotational defender, they portray the potential that Taylor has to make an impact.

Taylor has also made his name known on special teams, with four blocked field goals last season. His impressive length and hand size are a big contributor in his ability to make those blocs, as well as his capacity to stuff rushers at the point of attack. Taylor’s athleticism is somewhat limited, especially when it comes to his lateral quickness, but his upper body strength and ability to create push at the line are very important in defending the run. While his style is different from his draft counterpart in Godchaux, the competition during training camp between the two could very well decide who gets the top spot on the depth chart behind Suh and Phillips, as well as which may miss the roster altogether.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 50%

DE Julius Warmsley

Warmsley spend three years on the practice squads of the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks before finding a home with the Dolphins. Last season he played in 5 games, recording 8 total tackles. Warmsley is under contract through the 2018 season and becomes a restricted free agent in 2019, but the 27-year old defensive end carries no guaranteed money, and therefore would leave no dead money on the cap if cut.

His primary competition will be Fede for the fifth spot on the defensive end depth chart, and the winner will be the player that impresses most during camp and the preseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if the player that makes a bigger impact on special teams, and therefore the player that would gain more endorsement from Darren Rizzi, is the player that makes the roster.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 40%

Training Camp Bodies

DE Arthur Miley

Any player this low on the list will have a very difficult time making the roster given the amount of depth the team has on the defensive line. That being said, outside of the roster locks, no spots are guaranteed, and any player has a chance to impress and make a push for a position. Miley spent his first season in the NFL (2015) on injured reserve with the Carolina Panthers and was cut by the team in September of last season. He then signed a reserve/future contract with the Dolphins back in January.

At 6’6” and 270 lb, Miley has good size for a defensive end and could try to make a name for himself with a strong performance on special teams. However, he has quite a bit of competition to shuffle past and will have to be special to stand out from the pack.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 10%

DE Praise Martin-Oguike (R)

Martin-Oguike was signed as an undrafted free agent this offseason out of Temple. He played 40 of 42 possible games with the team over three seasons, recording 54 tackles and 7.5 sacks in his final season. Martin-Oguike also accumulated 10 tackles for loss in 2016, along with 2 blocked kicks and 3 forced fumbles.

Much like Miley, Martin-Oguike will have to make a strong training camp and preseason impact for any hope of making the team. With a strong showing on special teams, I wouldn't be surprised to see the team stash a young talent like Martin-Oguike on the practice squad as a developmental prospect.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 10%

DT Lawrence Okoye

Okoye can be described as nothing less than an all-around athlete. Growing up in England, Okoye was a promising Junior Rugby Union player until he decided to shift gears and focus on discus. He placed sixth in the 2010 World Junior Championships in Athletics as a discus thrower, following which he won a gold medal at the 2011 European Athletics U23 Championships at 19 years old.

In March of 2013, Okoye decided to make a run for the NFL, and in April, following the NFL draft, Okoye signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Since then, he’s bounced around the league on several practice squads, eventually signing a reserve/future contract with Miami in January of this year. Much like the other players in this category, Okoye has the potential to find a backend roster spot with a strong showing in camp and during the preseason. His athletic ability should help him greatly in that endeavor, but he’ll have to show that he has the technique to make an impact at the NFL level. Like Martin-Oguike, he’s a strong candidate for the practice squad.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 10%

DE Cameron Malveaux (R)

Malveaux signed with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL draft. As a senior with the Houston Cougars, Malveaux earned just 21 tackles and 1.0 sack over 12 games. Malveaux shows some burst off the edge, but lacks any eye-popping pass rush moves or particularly impressive athletic traits. As you’ve read a few times already, the path to a roster spot for a player this low on the depth chart is by standing out during camp and the preseason, especially on special teams. That will be the only way for Malveaux to sneak onto the 53.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 5%

DE Joby Saint Fleur (R)

Joby Saint Fleur was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern Oklahoma State University. You read that right, Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Coming from a Division II school does not make Saint Fleur’s chances of making the team any better, as he has clearly not played against top end talent during his collegiate career.

If you’ve read this far, I salute you, and I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this… If Saint Fleur wants to make the roster, he MUST stand out over the next few weeks before roster cuts begin, and he MUST show an affinity for special teams.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 5%

Projected 2017 Defensive Line Depth Chart

Defensive End

1. Cameron Wake

2. Andre Branch

3. William Hayes

4. Charles Harris

5. Terrence Fede

Defensive Tackle

1. Ndamukong Suh

2. Jordan Phillips

3. Vincent Taylor

4. Nick Williams

Current Depth Chart Projections

As we move through this series, I will keep a running list of past projections. By the time roster cuts roll around, we will have a full depth chart projection for the 2017 season.

Quarterback

Running Back

  1. Jay Ajayi
  2. Kenyan Drake
  3. Damien Williams
  4. De’Veon Smith

Wide Receiver

  1. Jarvis Landry
  2. DeVante Parker
  3. Kenny Stills
  4. Leonte Carroo
  5. Jakeem Grant
  6. Isaiah Ford (R)

Tight End

  1. Julius Thomas
  2. Anthony Fasano
  3. MarQueis Gray

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Defensive End

1. Cameron Wake

2. Andre Branch

3. William Hayes

4. Charles Harris

5. Terrence Fede

Defensive Tackle

1. Ndamukong Suh

2. Jordan Phillips

3. Vincent Taylor

4. Nick Williams

Linebacker

WLB

  1. Kiko Alonso
  2. Neville Hewitt

MLB

  1. Lawrence Timmons
  2. Mike Hull

SLB

  1. Raekwon McMillan (R)
  2. Koa Misi*
  3. Deon Lacey

Cornerback

  1. Byron Maxwell
  2. Xavien Howard
  3. Tony Lippett
  4. Bobby McCain (starter at nickel corner)
  5. Alterraun Verner**
  6. Cordrea Tankersley (R)
  7. Jordan Lucas

Safety

  1. Reshad Jones
  2. Nate Allen
  3. Michael Thomas
  4. Walt Aikens
  5. (Suspended)*** T.J. McDonald

Special Teams

Current Roster Spots Occupied: 39

*Koa Misi was moved to injured reserve after the publishing of the linebacker depth chart projections, and will not take a spot on the 53 man roster.

**Alterraun Verner was not signed as of the publishing of the cornerback depth chart projections. I have him sliding in as the backup nickel corner behind Bobby McCain, possibly pushing McCain for the starting spot.

***Suspended players do not occupy a spot on the 53 man roster until their return to the team following the end of their suspension.