Cian Fahey breaks down a key cog in Dallas' surprising defense, as well as Minnesota's present quarterback of the future.
03 Apr 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
A lack of downfield receiving weapons limited the Dolphins in their first season under Joe Philbin. The offense may have been a bit limited anyway given the inexperience of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, though he showed a lot of impressive veteran-like traits (pocket poise, pre-snap diagnosis, accuracy on the move). These traits were only the beginning, and Tannehill still has a long ways to go, but at least his film thus far is much better than his stats. Philbin would like to run an up-tempo, multi-receiver, spread West Coast-style offense. If he can get the right ball-handlers in it, he won’t need a formidable offensive line. Perhaps that’s why Mike Wallace was signed and Jake Long was allowed to walk.
QB: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore
RB: Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Charles Clay (H-Back); Lost: Reggie Bush
Tannehill has a good foundation of dropback quarterbacking skills. It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins put his mobility to use with some read-option concepts. They did a little bit of this down the stretch last season. There should be some concern about the running back position. Thomas is big, but shows a bit too much finesse. Miller offers some physical resemblance to fellow former Hurricanes Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, but like those two late in their careers, he can take a bit too long to change directions. He’s also been a very poor pass-blocker thus far, both mentally and physically. Clay is the wild card. As a No. 2 tight end or receiving fullback, he can create matchup problems in the pass game.
WR: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Brandon Gibson; Lost: Marlon Moore
TE: Dustin Keller, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller; Lost: Anthony Fasano
Re-signing Hartline was money well spent. He’s not quite a No. 1, but he can be an excellent No. 2. He’s faster than you’d guess, and has a knack for making contested catches -- especially outside the numbers. The question is how much he'll benefit from playing across from a true No. 1 receiver. The Dolphins certainly paid Wallace like a true No. 1. And thanks to his sheer speed over the top, a lot of defenses treat him like a true No. 1. But in order to fully prosper, the ex-Steelers wideout must become a more diverse route runner. Bess is the consummate slot receiver, but that’s about the only spot he can contribute at for an offense. At tight end, Keller is a mild upgrade over Fasano, but he’ll need some assistance from the system as he’s not a true mismatch creator.
LT: Jonathan Martin LG: Richie Incognito C: Mike Pouncey RG: John Jerry RT: Will Yeatman
Backups: Lance Louis, Nate Garner; Lost: Jake Long
Many pundits were unimpressed with Martin’s rookie season. Indeed, he struggled in pass protection on a few big stages. But there were also plenty of times where he showed the athleticism that got him drafted with the 42nd overall pick. The real worry should be reserved for Yeatman on the right side. The undrafted third-year pro is utterly untested. Inside, Incognito can scrap his way to success when his head is screwed on right. Pouncey is on the cusp of true stardom. He’s very mobile and, like his brother, he has the technical aptitude to stalemate bigger opponents in a phone booth. Jerry managed to control his weight and survive last season, but there are still doubts about him doing either long-term. Garner and Yeatman will battle for the right tackle job, assuming the Dolphins don't draft someone, but Louis will also get a crack starting at either guard or tackle before the season ends.
The Dolphins under Kevin Coyle are a multifaceted defense that gives opponents a lot to process mentally. Thanks to versatile personnel, they do a good job changing up their 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 nickel fronts. Down the stretch last season, they were able to use man-based coverage concepts to help solidify some of their sub-package wrinkles. Doing that again in 2013 could be a challenge given the downgrades they’ve had in personnel on the back end.
DE: Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby
DT: Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Kheeston Randall, Vaughn Martin Lost: Tony McDaniel
Starks and Soliai can both command the occasional double team. This was one of the stingiest run-stuffing fronts in football last season, until it wore down in the final month of the season.
Against the pass, outside of Wake, this group could stand to be a tad more active, though the natural improvement of youngsters Vernon, Randall, and Shelby could be enough to change that. Vernon is a guy to watch. There’s not a "wow" factor to his game, but he plays with good athletic tempo and flexibility, moving well in all phases of the game.
OLB: Koa Misi, Phillip Wheeler, Jason Trusnik, Josh Kaddu; Lost: Kevin Burnett
ILB: Dannell Ellerbe, Austin Spitler; Lost: Karlos Dansby
Dansby was a terrific all-around finesse linebacker who could also hold his own in traffic. And not many potent run defenders could also cover like him. The Dolphins essentially spent a boatload of money on the hope that the younger Ellerbe can be Dansby 2.0 for the next half-decade or so. We’ll see. Misi is best served taking on outside blocks close to the line of scrimmage. He assumed a larger role as an end in the sub packages last year. Wheeler was an emerging player in Oakland, but don’t expect him to ever become a full-fledged star. $26 million over five years was a lot to spend on him.
CB: Richard Marshall, Brent Grimes, Nolan Carroll, R.J. Stanford, Bryan McCann; Lost: Sean Smith
S: Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson; Lost: Tyron Culver
Marshall is a quality nickel slot corner, but he’s never quite been consistent enough at other spots. Grimes is a semi-star-caliber cover corner if he can regain his athleticism after last year’s Achilles injury. Carroll is a mistake waiting to happen. Jones is an active run defender when he’s playing with confidence. His pass defense could be sharpened a bit. Clemons is serviceable. Wilson spent most of last season filling in at nickel slot, which should make him valuable as a multifaceted piece in a sub-package.
K: Dan Carpenter P: Brandon Fields
Fields is one of the league's better punters, although it can be hard to tell because the Dolphins have had poor punt coverage for the last three seasons.
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