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State of the Team: Pre-Draft Edition

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What is the state of the Miami Dolphins at each position before the 2018 NFL Draft?

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL offseason is officially in full swing, as the peak free agency has concluded and the Draft is rapidly approaching. Your Miami Dolphins have undergone a massive roster makeover already, with stars like Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncey bidding South Florida farewell, while newcomers Josh Sitton, Robert Quinn, and Danny Amendola are ready to make their mark.

Will this whirlwind of changes actually yield more wins when the season kicks of a few months from now? That much has yet to be determined. But that’s not going to stop myself and Phinsider FanPoster Finatic64 from making some premature evaluations of the current roster as it stands.

Quarterback

Quarterback has been a position of criticism over the last few years for Miami, basically since Ryan Tannehill became the starter in 2012. Tannehill has been anointed the starter for 2018 by coach Adam Gase, but Gase never said anything about the future beyond this season. Since this is an assessment for this year’s roster and not beyond, we will not focus on potential here.

Tannehill has had an average career in Miami. For his tenure, Tanny has a 62.7 completion percentage, has thrown for over 18,000 yards, and has 106 touchdowns to 66 interceptions. These numbers don’t pop off the page but are solid considering that Tannehill has not had a consistent supporting cast over the last few years (some would argue).

Tannehill had the most productive year of his career when Gase came on board, but that year was cut short with an ACL injury. Tannehill then had a second ACL tear during training camp last year, so he has been out of football for almost two years. He is not a premier player at the position, but with a strong offensive line, production from his weapons around him, and a defense that keeps him in games (that seems like a lot, huh?), Tannehill should be fine as a starter. Those aren’t the most encouraging words, but Tannehill will be good enough, barring any setbacks with his knee, to keep Miami in games.

Miami also signed Brock Osweiler in the last few days to add depth to the position and replace the departed Matt Moore. Osweiler had loads of potential but didn’t really live up to the hype as a starter with the Houston Texans. That being said, he definitely adds value as a backup, especially with his familiarity with Gase’s offense.

Third in line is David Fales. The chances of Fales seeing the field are slim and, while he may develop, his goal is to simply be ready in case the top guys go down.

Oh yeah, Brandon Doughty is on the team, too.

Grade: B-

Wide Receiver

Over the past few seasons, the front office has done a commendable job adding quality pass catchers to the receiving corps, and even with the team’s best offensive weapon leaving town this offseason, wide receiver is a position of strength for Gase’s offense. Yes, Jarvis Landry is gone, and yes, plenty of fans are saddened by it (and rightfully so), but Mike Tannebaum and co. have found respectable replacements.

Albert Wilson may not have Landry’s name brand, nor does he necessarily have the production Landry’s had over the past few seasons, but that by no means indicates that he doesn’t have a great deal talent. While in Kansas City, Wilson was stuck behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on the totem poll, two players who commanded a great deal of targets that couldn’t be funneled Wilson’s way. Anyone who’s watched Wilson in game knows that the 25-year old separates from defenders like no one else and is dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Danny Amendola, a wily veteran who’s leadership should pay huge dividends in the locker room. was also brought in through free agency this year. There are few players I’d rather have running the most important route of a game when I need a clutch catch than Amendola. His success during the playoffs for the New England Patriots speaks for itself.

Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker are slated to return as starters. In Kenny, the team has a talented speedster who can take the top off of defenses. We’re also waiting (again) for Parker to finally have his breakout year, and for that, he must stay healthy.

Behind the top four is a plethora of potential. Jakeem Grant should make the roster on his kick-return prowess, though he did begin to make an impact on offense last season as well. Then there’s Leonte Carroo, a 2016 third-round draft pick who’s yet to pan out, followed by Malcolm Lewis, Drew Morgan, Francis Owusu, Rashawn Scott, and Isaiah Ford. Who grabs the last roster spot or two is anyone’s guess.

Grade: A-

Running Back

This is a position at an interesting point in the makeover process. Miami traded away Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi last season, opening the door for Kenyan Drake to take over as the starter. Drake did not disappoint. He finished with 644 rushing yards, added another 239 yards through the air, and scored a total of four times on the year. He showed explosiveness, good vision in between the tackles, and caught the ball with ease. Drake has all the qualities of a feature back, but he is still unproven. He should be given the chance to be shine this year and with a number of new blockers helping him out.

Backing him up will be University of Miami alum and Miami native Frank Gore. Entering his 14th season, Gore has slowed down slightly from his days in San Francisco. And yet, he is still putting up solid numbers, especially as a 34-year old running back. He finished with 961 yards last year with four scores. Not great production in the endzone, but Gore can provide leadership and quality chunk yards that the team will need. He will be the thunder behind Drake’s lightning.

Further down the depth chart, we have Senorise Perry and Brandon Radcliff. Both should be guys to come in a take a few, make that very few, carries when Gore and Drake need a break. The four of them will form a unit that has the potential to be significantly improved in 2018, and that’s before another rookie can even be drafted in the coming weeks.

Grade: B

Tight End

Tight end has long been the bane of many South Floridians’ fandom of the Dolphins. Since choosing not to re-sign Charles Clay back in 2015, the Dolphins have swung and missed multiple times when searching for a pass-catching threat and the position. Jordan Cameron’s injury problems kept him from making an impact, while Julius Thomas looked slower and less interested in football than my grandmother on the field this season.

Currently, Miami has MarQueis Gray heading the depth chart, while A.J. Derby and Thomas Duarte are close behind. Gray recorded just one reception last season while sitting behind Thomas and Anthony Fasano (whose NFL future is yet to be determined), but accumulated 14 receptions for 174 yards in 2016, showing that he can make an impact (albeit a minimal one) when called upon. Derby had two somewhat productive years for the Broncos before joining the Dolphins last season, while Duarte has yet to see action in a regular season game.

To put it simply… Miami needs help at the tight end position, badly.

Grade: C-

Offensive Line

By my estimates, the offensive line will be the most improved unit on this team in 2018. For the first time in perhaps 3-4 years, Miami has quality players across the offensive line. Let’s start left to right.

Laremy Tunsil wasn’t the superstar Miami expected over the last two years, but he hasn’t been terrible. Some of his struggles could be attributed to lack of stability at the left guard spot.

In comes Josh Sitton to fix that. Sitton signed a 2 year, $15 million dollar deal with Miami this offseason after playing for both Green Bay and Chicago over his career. He has made four pro-bowls and last year was ranked as one of the top guards in the league. He will bring stability to a position that Miami has struggled with over the last few years.

Daniel Kilgore will take over for departed Mike Pouncey, who left after requesting to be released. Kilgore is a solid player and doesn’t have the same injury history Pouncey had.

Jesse Davis turned a lot of heads last year and ended up starting 10 games for Miami. He got better as the season progressed and should be starting again in 2018 at right guard.

Finally, that brings us to Ja’Waun James. James, when healthy, has the potential to be one of the better tackles in the league. He has had some injuries issues in the past, but if he can overcome them this year, the line will be vastly improved.

One thing that is exciting about the line is it’s depth. Resigning Sam Young is one of the more underrated moves Miami has made this offseason. Couple him with last year’s signing, Ted Larsen, and Miami has a couple of quality guys who could step in should there be an injury.

Grade: B+

Defensive Line

Miami’s defensive line rotation will look significantly different going into the 2018 season and will be the source of some of the most interesting storylines come training camp and the preseason.

Obviously, the biggest headliner here is the departure of highly paid superstar Ndamukong Suh, and his absence will absolutely be felt on the interior. However, the Dolphins do have Jordan Phillips and Davon Godchaux to take his place. The former saw massive improvement in his consistency of the course of last season while the latter was a pleasant surprise who should continue to make waves. Look for sophomore Vincent Taylor to rotate in, as well as veteran William Hayes who is capable of pass rushing from the inside or outside.

The defensive end position is where things get even trickier. The front office brought in Robert Quinn to fortify the pass rush, but who the coaches choose to deploy and in what order is anybody’s guess at this point. Coach Gase has repeatedly praised Charles Harris, last year’s first-round draft pick, who’s sure to be more involved this season. Still, Miami also has the highly paid Andre Branch who will demand snaps too. And what about Cameron Wake? What about Hayes? Both veterans are highly effective and deserve plenty of snaps on game day.

My guess is that the team uses a combination of Harris, Quinn, and Branch in the primary rotation, while Wake and Hayes will be brought in on specific scenarios to maximize their effect. That’s what smart coaches do with effective veterans, and that’s what Gase and co. should plan to do this season.

All in all, there’s plenty of depth here, but don’t be surprising if the team brings on another interior defender to compete for a chance to help replace Suh.

Grade: A-

Linebacker

Linebacker has been an area of need for Miami for a number of years now. The front office has tried to fill this void by bringing in Kiko Alonso, Lawrence Timmons, Rey Maualuga, and Stephone Anthony in the past two years, and yet this group has still underperformed. Last year, they were consistently out of position and their ability to cover tight ends was abysmal at best. Alonso has been the most consistent starter of that group, but even he has had his up and down moments in a Dolphins uniform. He did have 115 tackles last year, but his play was not outstanding and, all year, he seemed like he wasn’t in the best position to succeed.

With Raekwon McMillan coming back, and 24-year old Chase Allen playing reasonably well throughout the season, the Dolphins have a couple of younger players who may be able to develop and contribute on a weekly basis. But even with these guys, linebacker is an area of need that Miami must address in the draft.

Grade: C

Cornerback

The cornerback position is the most difficult to evaluate simply because of how young everyone is on the depth chart. Xavien Howard, Miami’s 2016 second-round draft pick, struggled to open last season, yet he was absolutely phenomenal from weeks 10-17. At age 24, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to improve, but nothing’s guaranteed. On the other boundary, 24-year old Cordrea Tankersley and 25-year old Tony Lippett will compete for the starting job. Tankersley had a mixed bag of a rookie season that, at times, had him looking like a quality starter, while others saw him burned too often. Lippett is also a question mark given that he’s returning from a major Achilles injury.

The slot position is held down by 24-year old Bobby McCain. McCain’s first two seasons in Miami were frustrating for both him and the coaching staff, as he struggled to remain consistent in coverage. However, last season, everything clicked. He should continue to be just as impressive going into 2018. Behind the starters are Tracy Howard, Torry McTyer, Jordan Lucas, and Taveze Calhoun, all of whom will compete for roster spots. The best special teammers will likely earn the positions.

The success of Miami’s cornerback position will hinge on the development of the cavalcade of youngsters currently at the top of the depth chart. If Howard, Tankersley, and Lippett continue to improve, the team’s defensive backfield as the potential to be special.

Grade: B+

Safety

The safety position is, again, interesting to evaluate. Reshad Jones is coming off of his second pro-bowl season, as he racked up 122 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions. He is as big a hitter as they come on the field and provides quality leadership. Yet, while his hits are big, his coverage skills leave a lot to be desired. He is at his best when he is in the box and not asked to cover players downfield, which is why his pairing with T.J. McDonald raises a few eyebrows.

McDonald, like Jones, is a hard-hitting safety who is best served laying out running backs in the box. Following his eight-game suspension last season, McDonald tallied 45 tackles and one interception. Jones and McDonald are, in theory, the same player. Both are great at what they do, but without a true, legitimate free safety, Miami doesn’t have a strong “last line of defense.”

Enter Maurice Smith, a player who caught the eye of the coaching staff with his ability to play a complementary role to Jones in the back of the defense. All signs indicated that Smith would see more playing time until his appendix ruptured towards the end of the season, shelving his chances temporarily. Walt Aikens adds some depth and quality play on special teams, but isn’t somebody to trust as a full time starter.

The best scenario here would be to have Smith and Jones start as safeties and move McDonald to linebacker. But until then, we will grade them based on the position itself, as is.

Grade: B

Special Teams

The Dolphins retained three of their top four special teams gunners this offseason. Walt Aikens, Mike Hull, and Chase Allen will all be returning, while Michael Thomas has left for the New York Giants. Losing Thomas is a big blow considering the former captain’s leadership in the locker room, not to mention he was awarded All Pro honors by Pro Football Focus.

The Dolphins also lost kicker Cody Parkey to the Bears. Parkey was a highlight acquisition by the front office last season, and the large contract given to him by Chicago was the primary reason for his departure. The grade for this unit will be incomplete until a kicker is added.

The punter and long-snapper spots are where the team is sticking to its incumbents for now. Sophomore leg Matt Haack is the lone punter currently on the roster, but it’d be surprising if competition isn’t brought in during training camp, while 39-year old legendary long-snapper John Denney is returning for his fourteenth season.

Grade: Incomplete