Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Miami Dolphins
RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Damian Williams, OT Branden Albert, OT Jason Fox, G Daryn Colledge, NT Earl Mitchell, CB Cortland Finnegan, CB R.J. Stanford, S Louis Delmas.
Early Draft Picks:
OT JaWuan James, WR Jarvis Landry, OT Billy Turner, CB Walt Aikens, TE Arthur Lynch, OLB Jordan Tripp. Offseason Losses:
OT Jonathan Martin, G Richie Incognito, G John Jerry, NT Paul Soliai, CB Dimitri Patterson, CB Nolan Carroll, S Chris Clemons.
2014 Miami Dolphins Offense:
The Dolphins had high hopes for their offense when they signed Mike Wallace during the preceding offseason, but the unit proved to be completely inept. It averaged 19.8 points per game, as Ryan Tannehill was sacked a whopping 58 times. Tannehill wasn’t responsible at all for this; his offensive line imploded because of the well-documented bullying scandal.
Both Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin deserve heavy blame for what happened, so it’s a good thing that both are gone. Because of how poorly the offensive line performed, the expectations were that Miami would spend most of its resources retooling the front during the offseason – and that’s exactly what happened. The Dolphins started off by signing Branden Albert to a 5-year, $46 million contract. Albert is a skilled left tackle, but this deal carries lots of risk because of his poor durability. Albert has played only one full 16-game slate in six NFL seasons. He’s missed seven combined contests in the past two years, and on top of that, he’ll be 30 in November. It’s highly unlikely that Miami will get what it paid for.
The Dolphins also spent the No. 19 overall selection on Tennessee tackle Ja’Wuan James, who should be in the lineup at right tackle immediately. However, James was widely considered a reach; many sources have said that James was a third-round prospect. Miami panicked when all of the top tackles were off the board, so that’s why it chose a player at No. 19 that it could have easily obtained in the second frame. Oddly enough, the third-round choice, Billy Turner, could end up being a superior player. Turner can play every position up front except center, so he could challenge for the left guard spot as a rookie. He won’t have much competition, since Incognito’s replacement there is 2013 third-rounder Dallas Thomas, who has played just two career snaps.
Filling out the offensive line are right guard Shelley Smith and center Mike Pouncey. The latter was also involved in the bullying scandal, but he wasn’t let go because he’s the best blocker Miami has. Unfortunately, he’ll be out for several games because of hip surgery. Smith, meanwhile, was another offseason acquisition. The former Ram started only two games in 2013.
Overall, Miami’s blocking will be a bit better this upcoming season, but it won’t be great, so Tannehill will once again struggle at times. It’ll help him if he and Wallace strengthen their connection. Tannehill barely missed Wallace on some deep downfield shots in 2013. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Wallace has been dropping lots of passes at OTAs, so it’s looking like he’s yet another one of countless receivers who have busted in free agency because they left a superior situation for a money grab.
Tannehill’s overall supporting cast is pretty solid. Brian Hartline is coming off his second-consecutive 1,000-yard campaign, but tore his PCL in Week 17. Second-round rookie Jarvis Landry figures to be the team’s slot receiver. He was viewed as a third-round prospect, but he could contribute right away. Meanwhile, tight end Charles Clay was a big part of the offense this past season, hauling in 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns. The 25-year-old is entering his contract season.
Another player the Dolphins added in free agency was Knowshon Moreno. He won’t cost the team as much (one year, $3 million), which is fortunate for the Dolphins because Moreno showed up out of shape. He has since underwent knee surgery, and it’s no guarantee that he’ll make the roster; let alone be ready for Week 1. It’s a good thing then that Lamar Miller has shown signs of improvement at OTAs.
2014 Miami Dolphins Defense:
While the offensive line continues to be Miami’s biggest issue, there are a number of glaring questions on every level of the defense. Perhaps the greatest one is what the Dolphins plan on doing at one of the starting cornerback positions. They’re fine on one side with Brent Grimes, who was one of the top corners in the NFL this past season. The other starter could be Cortland Finnegan, who may have been the worst player at his position in the entire league in 2013. That’s not hyperbole; Finnegan was so bad that he was essentially exiled from St. Louis. Miami’s decision to sign him to a 2-year, $11 million deal was extremely puzzling, especially when it could have obtained him for the veteran minimum. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, chosen on the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft, will compete for the starting gig across from Grimes. They both struggled in brief action last year, however.
Elsewhere in the secondary, the Dolphins lost safety Chris Clemons in free agency. Jimmy Wilson should be an adequate replacement, though he’s not as talented as Clemons. He’ll start next to Reshad Jones, who is coming off a down year but should be able to rebound.
There are also major issues in the linebacking corps. In fact, many thought the Dolphins would go after C.J. Mosley or Ryan Shazier at No. 19 overall, but both were off the board. The front office spent a ton of money bringing in Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler during the previous offseason – a combined 10 years, $60.5 million – but both were atrocious in 2013. Ellerbe and Wheeler will be starting once again this upcoming season along with two-down run-specialist Koa Misi, unless fifth-round rookie Jordan Tripp can crack the lineup. That’s not as far-fetched as it seems, given how bad Ellerbe and Wheeler were last year.
The defensive front is Miami’s strongest unit, but there is one issue there as well. Paul Soliai left for Atlanta, prompting the Dolphins to sign former Texan Earl Mitchell. Will Mitchell be able to transition to the 4-3? He has never been a full-time player in that scheme, and he wasn’t even very good as Houston’s starting nose tackle this past season. He’ll be starting next to Randy Starks, a very talented interior lineman who was re-signed this spring.
The Dolphins are best on the outside. Cameron Wake is an exceptional pass-rusher; he’s two years removed from a 15-sack campaign. He mustered only 8.5 sacks in 2013, but that was because he dealt with a knee injury. He’ll bounce back this season, though his age (32) might begin to be an issue. He’ll start across from Olivier Vernon, who registered 11.5 sacks in his second NFL campaign. Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, won’t be able to crack the starting lineup, but the hope is that he’ll provide solid depth when he returns from his four-game suspension.
2014 Miami Dolphins Schedule and Intangibles:
The Dolphins, unsurprisingly, don’t have much of a homefield advantage. Since 2007, they’re a pathetic 24-33 as hosts. As a barometer, they’re pretty much the same as visitors (23-31) in that span.
Dan Carpenter was deemed too unreliable, so the front office spent a fifth-round pick on kicker Caleb Sturgis in 2013. Sturgis was even worse, going 26-of-34 as a rookie, including 3-of-7 from 50-plus.
Punter Brandon Fields had another terrific year, ranking second in net average and fourth in terms of attempts placed inside the 20.
No touchdowns were scored for or against the Dolphins on special teams, but they were outgained on punts and kickoffs.
The Dolphins have a mixed schedule. On one hand, they have to battle the Packers, Bears, Chargers, Broncos, Lions (away) and Patriots twice. On the other hand, they can beat up on the Jets twice, Bills twice, Raiders, Jaguars and Vikings.
2014 Miami Dolphins Analysis: The Dolphins haven’t done enough work to fix their offensive line. As a result, Ryan Tannehill won’t be able to live up to his potential. He’ll need to, given that the defense has plenty of holes, particularly in the linebacking corps. As a consequence, it’ll be difficult for Miami to compete with the Patriots for the divisional title. A wild-card berth isn’t out of the question, but it’s highly unlikely.
Projection: 6-10 (Tied 2nd in AFC East)