State of the Franchise
Last offseason, the Dolphins drafted a player in Ryan Tannehill, who they believe will become their franchise quarterback. More recently, they went about adding playmakers in the passing game by signing free agent wideouts Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, along with TE Dustin Keller, who caught 65 passes for the Jets in 2011. Though the team decided to let running back Reggie Bush go, as he didn't fit the system that second-year head coach Joe Philbin wants to run, the position has now been addressed by Miami in three straight drafts.
Heading into the 2013 campaign, several questions regarding the team's attack remain unanswered: Can the Dolphins produce enough on offense to be a threat game in and game out? Can Tannehill make the jump from promising, but inconsistent rookie QB to someone who can be relied upon to run the offense proficiently? Can Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee force defenses to account for the running game, leading opposing safeties to play closer to the line of scrimmage, thus allowing Wallace the room he needs to get open? If the answer to those questions is yes, then Miami could emerge as a dark horse in the AFC.
On the other side of the ball, the defense features a solid front seven, led by pass rushing DE Cameron Wake. This year, the Dolphins are trying to give him some help, with the addition of third overall pick, DE Dion Jordan. The team will need to put as much pressure as possible on opposing quarterbacks, as the secondary remains a work in progress. The team traded Vontae Davis to Indianapolis last year and fellow starting cornerback Sean Smith left in free agency this past offseason. To counteract that, the team signed Brent Grimes, who looked to be one of the better cover cornerbacks in the league before tearing his Achilles' last year, plus right corner Richard Marshall is presumably healthy after missing 12 games in 2012. In addition, the team further reloaded at cornerback by drafting Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
Will the Dolphins challenge the Patriots for the division title? Probably not, but they may be the second best team in the division. Of course, that may not be saying much with the Jets in a complete rebuilding mode and the Bills still trying to figure out which direction they want to take. At least the Dolphins are confident they have their quarterback of the future in place and the aggressive pursuit in free agency of Wallace demonstrated a commitment by the team to give Tannehill a top-flight target to throw to, which only helps his cause in his second season as the team's No. 1 signal-caller.
Mike Wallace - WR, Steelers
Gives the team a true deep threat who defenses will have to game plan for.
Dustin Keller - TE, Jets
A big pass-catching TE is generally a QB's best friend, and Keller could take advantage of defenses paying close attention to Wallace.
Dion Jordan - DE, Oregon
(Round 1, 3rd overall)
Gives opposing offenses someone else to worry about up front other than Cameron Wake.
Brent Grimes - CB, Falcons
Certainly comes with some risk as he's recovering from an Achilles' tear, but effective when healthy.
Caleb Sturgis - K, Florida
(Round 5, 166th overall)
Incumbent Dan Carpenter is still on the team, but teams don't draft a kicker in the fifth round if they're not intent on using him.
Karlos Dansby - LB, Cardinals
May not have been the impact player the Dolphins thought they were getting, but still, that's 134 tackles and a leader on defense they'll have to replace.
Sean Smith - CB, Chiefs
Never truly lived up to his potential in south Florida, but still a reliable corner who wasn't afraid to match up one on one with top wideouts.
Davone Bess - WR, Browns
May not have been flashy, but was adept at moving the chains.
The Dolphins thought they had solved their problems at wideout a few years back when they acquired Brandon Marshall from the Broncos, but that didn't quite work out as planned. This year, they decided to go the free agent route and gave a truckload of money to former Steeler Mike Wallace. You can make an argument that he is just as important, if not more, to the team's success as QB Ryan Tannehill. Why, you ask? Wallace is known as a burner and someone who opposing defenses most definitely have to account for, given his field-stretching prowess. This reality should force opposing safeties to play well off the line of scrimmage, leading to fewer defenders in the box to stop the running game. That's not to mention the wonders it can do for the play-action pass. The addition of Wallace also allows Brian Hartline to serve as a WR2, a role he's better suited for after being miscast as the team's top wideout. While slot receiver Davone Bess was dealt away, the Dolphins hope that adding Brandon Gibson will give the team another legitimate wideout weapon to complement Wallace and Hartline. Meanwhile, Dustin Keller was brought in to replace Anthony Fasano at TE. Fasano wasn't flashy, but he was a solid red zone target. Keller would seem to have more upside, but has yet to live up to that potential, however.
THE LINE ON THE LINE
As we witnessed during the 2013 NFL Draft, offensive linemen are at a premium, and this is an area where the Dolphins seemed to be lacking leading up to that much-anticipated event. There was quite a bit of noise leading up to and during the draft that Miami would acquire left tackle Brandon Albert from the Chiefs. In the end, the price tag (in terms of both salary and trade compensation) was deemed to be excessive and Miami backed away. Still, they needed someone to replace Jake Long, who bolted for St. Louis. To that end, after kicking the tires on the likes of Eric Winston and Winston Justice, the team signed Tyson Clabo, who is expected to play right tackle for Miami, with Jonathan Martin moving from the right side to fill the void on the left side created by Long's departure. It wasn't necessarily the team's Plan A, but the Dolphins hope their retooled line is able to adequately protect Tannehill, as well as open up running lanes for Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. If not, it won't matter how much they've tried to improve the passing offense.
Rising: Ryan Tannehill should see a considerable jump in his play during his sophomore season, as Mike Wallace will help open up the passing game for him.
Declining: The Dolphins drafted Daniel Thomas with the idea that he would take over the starting job once Reggie Bush was done, but Thomas can't seem to stay healthy and may be nothing more than a backup.
Sleeper: While Lamar Miller has a clear path to the starting RB job and is a big play waiting to happen, questions still remain as to whether he can handle the grind of a full NFL season.
Supersleeper: Dion Sims may have been the most athletic tight end taken in April's draft. It remains to be seen, however, how the Dolphins will use him.
Cameron Wake - DE
The addition of Dion Jordan should take some of the offensive focus off of the team's sack leader.
Phillip Wheeler - LB
Had 110 tackles last season and now takes over the spot vacated by the departed Kevin Burnett.
Dannell Ellerbe - LB
The former Raven could reap the dividends of full-time play.
RotoWire Rank: 27