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03 Apr 2013

State of the Team: Miami Dolphins

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.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

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.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

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.

BACKFIELD

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.

RECEIVERS

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.

OFFENSIVE LINE

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.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

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.

DEFENSIVE LINE

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.

  • Weeks 1-12: 3.59 yd/carry by RB, 3.55 ALY, 23% Stuffed rate, 50% vs. short yardage.
  • Weeks 13-17: 4.44 yd/carry by RB, 4.41 ALY, 16% Stuffed rate, 78% vs. short yardage.

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.

LINEBACKER

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.

SECONDARY

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 03 Apr 2013

22 comments, Last at 05 Apr 2013, 9:38am by Aaron Brooks Good Twin

Comments

1
by Insancipitory :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 4:59pm

Would you say Brain Hartline is 'deceptively fast?' :)

2
by Theo :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 6:20pm

hahahaha this is so funny.

3
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:14pm

No. The new buzz phrase is "sneaky-fast".

4
by Guest789 :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:24pm

He somehow reminds of me of Wes Welker, Brandon Stokley, AND Jordy Nelson.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

5
by Will :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:36pm

So annoyed that even FO makes these comments, even if they word it differently. Hartline was the downfield threat at Ohio State, so anyone who watches college football wouldn't consider him "faster than you might expect."

Will

7
by coboney :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:57pm

Not all of us do watch college football though.

8
by Anonzee (not verified) :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 8:08pm

I dunno, I'd think that pretty clearly qualifies. Being the downfield threat at Ohio State is like being the tallest man with a napoleon complex.

11
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 9:57pm

Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Paul Warfield, and Ted Ginn respectfully disagree with you.

20
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 12:39am

Yes but, you know Hartline isn't like any of them, ahem...

So, excluding Ginn, is Hartline more Terry Glenn or more Dane Sanzenbacher?

9
by Noah of Arkadia :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 8:55pm

I follow the Dolphins and ever since he was drafted there's been a lot of confusion as to how fast he is. Many people thought -and still do- he was slow, so "faster than you may think" would be accurate. Either way, he's not really that fast. I'd say he's kind of fast. Fastish even. But not much more than that.

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FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

10
by Aloysius Mephis... :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 9:11pm

So he's a not-unslowish receiver who's prone to outbreaks of unforeseen fastishness. Got it ;-)

13
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:53am

You went right to the core of what I meant!

------
FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

19
by rageon :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 11:02am

He played in the slot right? Just like Eric Decker.

22
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 9:38am

But Ohio State seemed to use Hartline like Texas Tech used Crabtree or OK State used Blackmon -- they were the downfield threats, but they never really came across as track stars.

Although though there is the Randy Moss school of "slow-looking fast".

That said, I'm not sure I'd call as 4.5 guy a burner. He's not exactly Bob Hayes out there.

6
by Rivers McCown :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:53pm

I don't know. I might say that he has unanticipated quicks.

12
by Led :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 10:56pm

Hmm, Moore is "good" and Tannehill is "adequate"? I'd say the jury is still out on Tannehill (there is some reason for optimism he may turn out to be "good") and Moore is adequate.

14
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 12:56am

I'd say Moore is solid and Tannehill is already good. But I'm a homer. Even so, I thought Benoit's comments were spot on. You can tell he really does watch film on every player, no matter how insignificant his role.

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FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

15
by JayBee (not verified) :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 2:19am

Alex Smith was just a guy, Matt Moore is good. I do appreciate these rankings and the articles are well written, but I think those grades are getting the best of you Andy. Maybe it would have been better to just rank units and not every single player.

16
by Tim R :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 3:50am

I read at as Moore was good for a back up QB not for a QB in general. But maybe i'm reading it wrong.

17
by Steve in WI :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 9:48am

That's my understanding, too...the intro to these articles explains that a starting player who's rated poorly might be a decent backup but over his head as a starter, so I assume that players are being evaluated based on their status on the team and not just overall talent level.

18
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 10:02am

That would make sense and explain why Vernon is green as well.

------
FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

21
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 12:50am

I thought the opposite premise posed in the home page intro to this post -- would going to Miami hasten Mike Wallace's growth? Does Tannehill have Roethlisberger's ability to fling the ball downfield? Does Wallace have the willingness to help a young QB if he gets into trouble? I just have trouble distinguishing Wallace from DeSean Jackson -- a WR who will never be much more than an occasional (albeit dangerous) downfield threat who will need other good receivers around to draw attention. In other words, he's no Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, or Calvin Johnson.