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2014 Team Preview: Miami Dolphins

George Kurtz

George Kurtz

George Kurtz writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Under second-year coach Joe Philbin, the Dolphins opened their 2013 campaign with a three-game winning streak, but by the conclusion of Week 8, the team's record stood at 3-4. While the Dolphins proceeded to mount a midseason rally that put the team in control of their own playoff destiny, consecutive losses to close the season resulted in an 8-8 mark that left the squad just shy of claiming a postseason berth.

It was a trying season to say the least, with the Dolphins enduring a bullying scandal that both shook the organization's leadership core and left the team's offensive line short. The team will now try to move on from the situation, with Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito no longer in the mix and a new-look offensive line set to work in front of QB Ryan Tannehill.

While Philbin survived the storm, GM Jeff Ireland parted ways with the Dolphins after a five-season run with the team that included some debatable personnel moves and resulted in zero playoff appearances. He was replaced by Dennis Hickey.

To bolster the team's O-line heading into the 2014 season, reinforcements were brought in at both offensive tackle slots (namely free agent Branden Albert and draftee Ja'Wuan James) with the hope of keeping Tannehill upright. Moreover, the Dolphins signed running back Knowshon Moreno to put pressure on Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas after the team finished 26th in the league with an average of 90 rushing yards per game.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the Dolphins' passing game can improve enough to force teams to play their safeties off the line of scrimmage. That will largely depend upon what, if any, improvement Tannehill makes in his deep ball accuracy. There was plenty of heat directed at wideout Mike Wallace last season for a lackluster campaign after he signed a big free agent contract, but it can be argued that Wallace was open plenty and Tannehill simply couldn't hit him deep. It's an element of the attack that needs to be fixed for the Dolphins' offense to be optimized. Starting opposite Wallace will be Brian Hartline, who caught 76 passes for 1,016 yards last season, while Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie Jarvis Landry will compete for the team's No. 3 receiver assignment.

On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins' defense surrendered an average of 20.9 points per game, which placed them eighth in the league in that category. While the unit lost cornerbacks Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll, as well as defensive tackle Paul Soliai this offseason, the likes of cornerback Cortland Finnegan, safety Louis Delmas and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell were added to the mix to fortify what figures to remain a capable unit.

OFFSEASON MOVES

Key Acquisitions

Knowshon Moreno RB, Broncos
Can he put up All-Pro numbers without an All-Pro quarterback and with teams game-planning to stop him? Will his knee hold up?

Branden Albert OT, Chiefs
The offensive line was a disaster last season and needed an overhaul; the addition of Albert should go a long way toward solving the Dolphins' problems on that front.

Cortland Finnegan CB, Titans
You can never have enough cover corners in the pass-happy NFL and Finnegan should also add a little vinegar to the defense.

Jarvis Landry WR, LSU (Round 2, 63rd overall)
The sure-handed wideout gives Ryan Tannehill another weapon in the passing game.

Ja'Wuan James OT, Tennessee (Round 1, 19th overall)
The Dolphins deserve kudos for addressing their biggest need by signing Albert and using their top draft pick on James.

Key Losses

Paul Soliai DT, Falcons
His run-stuffing presence will be missed by the Dolphins.

Dustin Keller TE, FA
The tight end's short-lived career with the Dolphins was thwarted by a serious preseason knee injury.

TEAM NOTES

TIME TO PRODUCE
This will be Ryan Tannehill's third season at the helm of the Dolphins' offense and the organization will be looking for proof that the team doesn't need to consider bringing in a veteran or rookie to challenge him next year. While Tannehill showed some statistical improvement last season, with 3,913 passing yards and a 60.4 completion percentage, he still needs to work on his deep ball with an eye toward making more big plays in tandem with wideout Mike Wallace, last year's big ticket free agent addition. Moreover, Tannehill was sacked a whopping 58 times last season, 10 times more than the runner-up (Joe Flacco) in that category. Improved line play will thus be crucial in order for Tannehill to reach the next level, as will improved production from the team's backfield.

GETTING THE RUN OFF THE GROUND
After the team recorded a modest average of 90 rushing yards per game in 2013, the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno away from the Broncos in order to bolster a backfield that also rosters the likes of Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee and Marcus Thigpen. Moreno, who turns 27 in July, should provide the team with a lift in that area, but after he put up career-high numbers (1,038 rushing yards and 10 TDs) in 2013, Moreno could be hard-pressed to duplicate that sort of production as a Dolphin while potentially operating in a committee, and outside the parameters of Denver's explosive offense. Moreover, Moreno's left knee flared up in June, and while the issue is not thought to be serious, an arthroscopic procedure hasn't been ruled out.

GOOD ENOUGH D
The Dolphins' defense should keep the team in quite a few games. Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon can get after the quarterback, so opposing offenses know they don't have all day to throw. Even when they do, Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan could prove to be one of the more capable cornerback tandems in the league. The linebacking corps returns Dannell Ellerbe and the team's leading tackler in Philip Wheeler, and there is hope that moving Koa Misi to the middle will help tighten the unit up. Meanwhile, the Dolphins added hard-hitting Louis Delmas to pair with strong safety Reshad Jones, who recorded 107 tackles after signing a big money extension with the team last summer.

VALUE METER

Rising: Charles Clay proved that he could handle the starting tight end gig, racking up 69 catches to go along with 759 receiving yards and six TDs, while carving out fantasy utility in the process.

Declining: With the addition of Knowshon Moreno, Daniel Thomas moves down a peg on the depth chart and may not be a lock to stick.

Sleeper: If Ryan Tannehill improves on his deep throws, he could make a big leap in production.

Supersleeper: The 2014 NFL draft was a deep one for receivers, and second-rounder Jarvis Landry could make an impact if/when Mike Wallace or Brian Hartline get hurt.

IDP WATCH

Cameron Wake - DE
Last season was a down one for Wake with only 8.5 sacks, but his presence did open up room for others to get to the quarterback.

Olivier Vernon - DE
Was the beneficiary of all the attention paid to Wake, as he had 11.5 sacks in his sophomore season.

Philip Wheeler - LB
Should lead the team in tackles once again after racking up 118 stops for Miami last season.

TEAM DEFENSE
RotoWire Rank: 19