Outside of a little tinkering, the Miami Dolphins are done remaking the 2014 roster.
Last weekend’s selection of eight draftees, and the addition of 18 undrafted rookie free agents has brought the roster to 87 players, three shy of the 90-player training camp limit. What Dolphins fans must hope is that the infusion of talent via free agency and the draft has upgraded the roster enough to turn last year’s 8-8 team into a winning product.
Here is a quick and easy breakdown of the Dolphins' depth chart, which has been renovated by new General Manager Dennis Hickey.
Quarterback - Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Pat Devlin, QB Brock Jensen (R)
Breakdown: The Dolphins are going into 2014 with the same trio of quarterbacks they had last season. Tannehill, who has produced a 79.1 passer rating in his 32 NFL starts, is the clear cut starter. Moore and Devlin are his backups. This trio will be learning Bill Lazor’s new offense, which will likely move the pocket more than in past years. This is Tannehill’s make-or-break season, which will likely determine if the position gets addressed in the future considering Tannehill has a fifth-year option worth $14.6 million Miami must decide on by May of 2015.
Split End WR - Brian Hartline (injured), Armon Binns (injured), Rantavious Wooten (R), WR Stephen Williams.
Flanker - Mike Wallace, Damian Williams, Ryan Spadola, Kevin Cone, Matt Hazel (R)
Slot receiver - Brandon Gibson (injured), Rishard Matthews, Jarvis Landry (R)
Breakdown: Three of Miami's front-line receivers - Hartline, Gibson and Binns - are coming back from knee injuries this summer. But all are on track to be cleared for training camp. However, that didn’t stop Hickey from adding Landry in the second round. The former LSU standout is a tough, quarterback-friendly receiver who could challenge Gibson for the starting slot spot. The Dolphins generally keep five or six receivers on the 53-man roster so this will be one of the fiercest unit battles of training camp.
LT - Branden Albert, David Hurd (R), Evan Finkenberg (R)
LG – Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner (R), Michael Ola
C - Mike Pouncey, Sam Brenner, Tyler Larsen (R)
RG - Shelley Smith, Nate Garner, Davonte Wallace (R)
RT – JaWuan James (R), Jason Fox, David Arkin
Breakdown: Signing Albert and drafting James in the first round addresses the team’s biggest weakness. Both of those tackles excel at pass protection, which should help Miami cut down on the franchise-record 58 sacks allowed last season. The battle for the starting offensive guard spots should be competitive considering there are eight players vying for two spots. Smith, who was signed as a free agent, Thomas, a third-round pick in 2013, and Turner, a third-round pick in 2014, should be viewed as the frontrunners. But don’t count out Garner or Brenner, who both started at guard last season. Fox, the former Hurricanes standout, is also competing for one of nine spots on 53-man roster.
TE - Charles Clay, Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller, Arthur Lynch (R)
Breakdown: The tight ends and tailbacks all struggled protecting the quarterback last season, contributing to the 58 sacks the offense allowed. Sims needs to develop as an in-line blocker or he’ll likely be leapfrogged on the depth chart by Lynch, a Georgia tight end who is technically sound. Clay, who caught 69 passes for 759 yards and contributed a team-leading seven touchdowns, is playing on the final year of his rookie deal. Another big season could get him handsomely rewarded, but Clay needs to prove he can handle the blocking duties that come with his position.
RB - Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Marcus Thigpen, Mike Gillislee, Cameron Marshall, Damien Williams (R) and Orleans Darkwa (R).
FB - Emmanuel Ogbuehi, Harold Hoskins (R)
Breakdown: Adding Moreno this offseason provides the offense a veteran tailback that can run efficiently, pass block, and pass catch effectively. Moreno has averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his five previous seasons. This 2009 first-round pick has caught 157 passes for 1,401 yards during his NFL career, and he's scored 35 touchdowns, which breaks down to seven a season. That's far more than anything Miller, Thomas and Gillislee have accomplished collectively. His addition should enhance the Dolphins' running game, which averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and consistently failed at producing short yardage runs. Hoskins was a dynamic H-back for Marshall, but must prove he can serve as a lead blocker to earn his keep.
RDE - Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan, Tevin Mims (R).
DT - Jared Odrick, A.J. Francis, Isaako Aaitui, Kamal Johnson (R)
DT - Randy Starks, Earl Mitchell, Anthony Johnson (R), Garrison Smith (R)
LDE - Cameron Wake, Derrick Shelby, Terrence Fede (R)
Breakdown: The Dolphins produced 42 sacks last season, which averages out to be 2.6 sacks a game. This unit should have done better, but Wake struggled with a knee injury for a month, and Jordan, the team's 2013 first-round pick, was just learning how to play the position. Jordan, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, should blossom this season under Kacy Rodgers’ instruction. But Miami’s defensive front needs to be stouter against the run considering the Dolphins allowed 1,998 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns last season. Starks, Odrick and Jordan provide the unit versatility, but need more girth. Mitchell is athletic for a 300-pounder, and might thrive in a 4-3 scheme. Francis, Aaitui and Shelby have each been training camp standouts from past years. Johnson was one of the draft’s top 75 prospects, but went undrafted because he failed a combine drug test.
SLB - Koa Misi, Jonathan Freeny, Darrell Johnson (R), Tariq Edwards (R)
MLB - Dannell Ellerbe, Jason Trusnik, Andrew Wilson (R), Chris McCain (R)
WLB - Philip Wheeler, Jelani Jenkins, Jordan Tripp (R), Marcus Thompson (R),
Breakdown: This unit is the weakest link on the defense because none of the linebackers have exhibited the instincts needed to quickly diagnose a play, and the skills required to consistently shed a block. The Dolphins are banking on Mark Duffner, the team’s new linebacker coach, bringing the unit together. Wheeler, who led the team in tackles last season, will likely compete with Jenkins, a 2012 fourth-round pick, and Tripp, this year’s fifth-round pick, for his role as one of Miami’s starting weakside linebacker.
RCB - Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor, Walt Aikens (R), Steven Clarke (R)
LCB - Brent Grimes, Will Davis, Jalil Brown, Deion Belue (R)
Nickel CB - Jimmy Wilson, Michael Thomas
FS - Louis Delmas, Don Jones, Demetrius Wright (R)
SS - Reshad Jones, Jordan Kovacs
Breakdown: Grimes, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was just named the NFL’s 95th best player by his peers. He’s the only reliable player in Miami’s secondary. Two years ago Cortland Finnegan was viewed as one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks, but his game fell off in St. Louis. This is Finnegan’s change to redeem himself, but he’ll need to thrive to hold off Taylor and Davis, two early picks from the Dolphins’ 2013 draft. The Dolphins hope Taylor and Davis can blossom following their injury-plagued rookie season. Aikens, the team’s 2014 fourth-round pick, adds some height to the cornerback unit, and Belue, an undrafted rookie from Alabama, was a top rated cornerback prospect before a turf toe injury ruined his senior season. Adding Delmas potentially upgrades the free safety spot, but he's struggled to stay healthy throughout his NFL career. Thomas, Jones and Kovacs are all fringe NFL players who need to prove themselves to make it to the 53-man roster for a second season.
Punter - Brandon Fields
Kicker - Caleb Sturgis
Long Snapper - John Denney, Jordan Tripp
Return Specialist - Marcus Thigpen, Damian Williams, Damien Williams
Breakdown: Sturgis struggled as a rookie, missing eight of his 34 field goal attempts (four of which came from 50-plus yards). The former Gators standout has the potentially to improve in his second season. Fields is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, and has been very reliable. Thigpen struggled in his second season as Miami's return specialist, which is why adding competition would be beneficial. But Damian and Damien Williams have experience as returners.