Predicting Starters at Every Position for Miami Dolphins in 2012

Scott AltmanCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2012

Predicting Starters at Every Position for Miami Dolphins in 2012

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    Over the next few months, mock drafts and free agent speculation will dominate the Miami Dolphins news cycle. 

    In fact, the madness has already started—just take a look around the Internet. 

    But it's only February, and I don't want to bore you all with more premature draft talk. Plus, it gets pretty tough to discuss the draft when the combine is still multiple weeks away. 

    So let's look forward to next season. 

    What might Miami's roster look like after free agency and the draft?

    Here's a prediction. 

Quarterback: Matt Flynn

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    Stephen Ross might be "infatuated" with Peyton Manning, but remember, he's not calling the shots. Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin are. 

    It'd be extremely difficult for Miami's front office to pass on Peyton, but Armando Salguero makes a convincing case for why they should resist the temptation. In fact, he completely changed my outlook on the situation. 

    Ultimately, I think the Dolphins will opt for the 26-year-old quarterback who Joe Philbin has worked with for the last four years. 

Running Back: Reggie Bush

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    After last season's breakthrough, Reggie Bush will be the Dolphins' unquestioned go-to running back heading into next season. 

    If Daniel Thomas ever pans out, then he will cut into Reggie's workload. But after averaging five yards per carry, Bush ensured himself a starting role for 2012. 

Fullback: Charles Clay

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    I'm always surprised by the number of commenters who want/believe Charles Clay will be moved to tight end next season. 

    Yeah, Clay played some tight end at Tulsa, but the Dolphins drafted him to be a fullback. He played fullback all of last season and will continue to do so. It'd be great to see Clay utilized more in the passing game, but he needs to concentrate on shoring up his pass protection and run blocking skills first. 

Wide Receiver: Brandon Marshall

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    Brandon Marshall caught 81 passes for over 1,200 yards last season. Yet, he's a breakout candidate for next season. 

    Think about it. 

    Joe Philbin will implement a more pass-heavy offense, the Dolphins are going to bring in an upgrade at quarterback and Marshall looked amazing at the Pro Bowl. He is Miami's No. 1 wide receiver, and there's no reason to believe that will change before next season. 

Wide Receiver: Davone Bess

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    In 2009 and 2010, Davone Bess was one of Miami's most consistent and reliable players. But last season was the worst of his career. Bess posted career lows in receptions and receiving yards, so the Dolphins might look for an upgrade. 

    They're not going to reel in a big name, but a cheap veteran like Donald Driver would make sense (and would let Bess play more in the slot). 

    As of now, though, Bess should be penciled in as Miami's second starting wideout. One bad season doesn't mean Bess is declining, but he will have to elevate his play in 2012 if he wants to retain a starting job. 

Tight End: Anthony Fasano

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    I fully expect the Dolphins to bring in another tight end, but there aren't many options that can immediately dethrone Anthony Fasano. Miami won't splurge on Jermichael Finley because they have to address so many needs and will probably hand out a huge contract to a quarterback. 

    In all likelihood, the 'Fins will draft a tight end. Don't expect the rookie to make an instant impact, though. Rookie tight ends—with the exception of Gronk and Jimmy Graham—generally take a few seasons to blossom. 

    One name to watch in free agency is John Carlson. He missed all of last season with a torn labrum, but that should lower his price tag. 

Left Tackle: Jake Long

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    There's no debate here.

    Long has to recover from bicep and knee injuries this offseason, but he should be ready to go by the start of next season. Hopefully, he has a clean bill of health and returns to form. 

Left Guard: Richie Incognito

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    Richie Incognito was the unsung hero of Miami's offensive line last season. While everybody was talking about Jake Long's health, Mike Pouncey's impact and Marc Colombo's deterioration, Incognito was playing some of the best football of his pro career.

    Incognito is slated for free agency, but the Dolphins should—and probably will—re-sign him. 

Center: Mike Pouncey

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    Mike Pouncey might have been a "safe" draft pick, but he was also the right pick.

    Last season, Pouncey soothed all concerns about his snapping accuracy and played strong throughout the year. His job isn't in jeopardy and probably won't be for a very long time. 

Right Guard: Jake Scott

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    Unless the Dolphins bring Vernon Carey back (not entirely out of the question), they're probably going to pick up a guard in the draft or via free agency.

    John Jerry deserves some consideration, but he was only effective as a tackle. Plus, Jeff Ireland can't feel comfortable handing Jerry a starting job at this point—he's still too unproven. 

    Miami should have a few options to choose from, but former Titan Jake Scott would be an ideal acquisition. He's a proven starter and won't break the bank. Tennessee will probably try to re-sign Scott, but if he makes it into free agency, then the Dolphins might put in a bid for him. 

Right Tackle: Zebrie Sanders

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    The odds of Miami actually drafting Zebrie Sanders may be slim, but I expect the team to draft an offensive tackle early and plug him in at right tackle immediately. 

    Lyndon Murtha should be given the chance to compete with whomever the Dolphins bring in, but he is too unproven to enter camp as a starter. 

Defensive End: Cameron Wake

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    Assuming the Dolphins make the switch to a 4-3, Cameron Wake will step down and play defensive end. 

    This is scary news for opposing defenses. As a 4-3 defensive end, Wake can stand up at the line and make offensive lines guess whether he will drop back in coverage or rush. 

    Expect big things from Wake next season. 

Defensive Tackle: Randy Starks

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    Randy Starks has been flip-flopping between defensive end and defensive tackle for the last few years, and he'll have to transition once again. 

    Starks played defensive end last year, but he is better suited as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. 

    No matter what position he's playing, Starks always manages to make a difference. The Dolphins will probably add depth at defensive tackle, but Starks' job shouldn't be in any danger. 

Defensive Tackle: Jared Odrick

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    Dolphins fans were calling for Jeff Ireland's head a few weeks ago, but the animosity has subsided ever since Stephen Ross announced his retainment. Ireland might be getting a bad rap, though. 

    Exhibit A: Jared Odrick.

    In his first full season, Odrick racked up six sacks, setting high expectations for next season. Odrick will definitely be a starter, and he'll be one of the most exciting players to watch in 2012. 

Defensive End: Melvin Ingram

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    Melvin Ingram might be undersized at 6'2", 276 pounds, but he has plenty of time to thicken his frame and develop NFL strength. 

    With the eighth or ninth-overall pick, the Dolphins might get to choose between Ingram, Quinton Coples and Courtney Upshaw (the three highest rated pass-rushers in the draft). We'll have to wait and see how these three fare over the next few months, but Ingram should be the early favorite. 

    He is a forceful, consistent pass rusher who could form an overpowering tandem with Cam Wake. 

Strong-Side Linebacker: Karlos Dansby

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    Although Miami's defensive line should transition easily into the 4-3, the linebacker corps may encounter some difficulties. 

    The Dolphins don't have to worry about Karlos Dansby, though. He has played weak-side linebacker, strong-side linebacker and middle linebacker. 

    We'll have to wait and see where Kevin Coyle puts him, but my money is on strong-side linebacker. Dansby played the "Sam" position in Arizona, and he was dominant there. 

Middle Linebacker: Kevin Burnett

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    Like Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett might be best suited as an outside linebacker in the 4-3. But if the Dolphins moved Burnett outside, they wouldn't have anybody to plug in at middle linebacker. 

    Burnett should suffice, though. He's an athletic player who can drop back in coverage and play the run well. 

    Does he have the instincts to thrive as a middle linebacker? We'll have to wait and see, but expect Burnett to start here. 

Weak-Side Linebacker: Koa Misi

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    Ah, the curious case of Koa Misi. 

    He could benefit from the defense's transition, but could also become a "man without a position."

    Misi clearly wasn't built to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. He couldn't generate pressure and registered just one sack all of last season. But in a 4-3, Misi have more run-stuffing responsibilities.

Cornerback: Vontae Davis

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    Vontae Davis still hasn't become the elite cornerback we all hoped he would, but he's getting closer. Davis was dominant down the stretch last season, and if he can carry that momentum into 2012, he can ascend into stardom. 

    So long as he stays out of trouble, Davis will be Miami's No. 1 cornerback next season. 

Strong Safety: Yeremiah Bell

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    Two things must happen for Yeremiah Bell to stay with the Dolphins next season.

    First, he has to restructure his contract. And second, Miami has to bring in an upgrade at free safety. 

    Bell isn't always reliable in coverage, but he is a team captain who has recorded over 100 tackles in four consecutive seasons. If the 'Fins can put a coverage-savvy free safety next to Bell, then Miami's secondary should fare just fine. 

Free Safety: Reggie Nelson

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    I'll attribute this one to Omar Kelly. He astutely suggested that Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson—who is a free agent in March—could follow defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to Miami. 

    Nelson is a Florida native (played at UF), and he would fill one of Miami's most pressing needs at a reasonable price. 

    Chris Clemons has slipped into oblivion, and the Reshad Jones experiment got ugly. It's time for the 'Fins to pick up a legitimate free safety, and Nelson might be their best bet. 

Cornerback: Sean Smith

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    Sean Smith—like Vontae Davis—hasn't met expectations quite yet. 

    But he will have every opportunity to do so next season. Smith will most definitely enter 2012 as a starting cornerback. 

    Let's hope he finally realizes his potential.