This hasn't been the prettiest season for the Miami Dolphins. However, it has been much better than many pundits and fans expected.
When Joe Philbin named Ryan Tannehill the starter, few believed the team would be successful, let alone compete for a playoff spot. But the rookie signal-caller answered the call and took his team to new heights. Bolstered by one of the top defensive fronts in the league and a solid running game, the future looks bright in Miami.
They also have some glaring weaknesses, particularly at cornerback and wide receiver. Shoring up these units will most certainly make the Dolphins a playoff contender for next year.
Here's a look at some of the building blocks the Dolphins have in place that will allow them to rebound from what could be a losing season or an 8-8 record, depending on the results of their last two games against the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
The jury is still out on rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He has had some nice games where people might think he'll be the franchise quarterback for the next decade, but he's also had some games were people might think he'll be the second coming of Chad Henne.
I'm of the opinion that Tannehill has a lot of upside and will only improve with time. He's shown maturity and leadership in his first NFL season. He's not at the level of Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III as of yet, but he has the ability to get to that level with more playing time.
If Miami can get some extra weapons around him, Tannehill will feel more comfortable throwing the ball and will actually have some players that can be a threat to opposing secondaries. An elite wide receiver and a seam-threat tight end would make the offense more dynamic and allow Tannehill to spread the football around.
With 16 NFL games under his belt and another offseason getting comfortable with the offense and the offensive players, Tannehill can lead this Miami team to the playoffs. The defense, aside from the cornerback position, is performing at a postseason level, and with Tannehill improving, they might make the playoffs sooner than people think.
Joe Philbin has clearly stated that he wants to build this team through the draft rather than through free agency. That may be one of the primary reasons the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis for draft picks.
Armed with five draft selections in the first three rounds, Miami will have plenty of chances to add key components this offseason. They're going to need every one of them with pressing needs at cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line and tight end.
The Dolphins can also choose to make moves during the draft. They can use their No. 1 overall pick and then trade their lower selections to move back into the first round, or they can trade out of the earlier rounds for a bevy of picks throughout the entire draft.
There are a lot of scenarios the Dolphins can play with during draft day. It all depends on what players are available and at what point. They have plenty of picks on the first three rounds to come out with a solid draft class that can make an impact right away.
Many teams would love to have a pass-rushing threat like the one Miami has with Cameron Wake.
Wake has been one of the most relentless pass-rushers in the league for the last few seasons. He may not always get the sack, but he will always be in the backfield causing havoc on opposing quarterbacks. He is a nightmare to block for any offensive lineman and has shown improvement against the run.
He may not get the same exposure as the other premier pass-rushers like J.J. Watt, Clay Matthews and Aldon Smith, but Cameron Wake is as good any of those guys. He is a luxury the Dolphins will have for years to come after signing him a long-term deal earlier this season. He is a good piece to keep building the team around and can help lead the Dolphins to the playoffs.
As a defensive end, Wake can't win a game by himself, but he helps take all the attention away from the other defensive players. He forces all quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen to know where he is at all times. His relentless pursuit and overall passion for the game is contagious to his teammates and forces them to match that same intensity on every play.
Miami has bolstered one of the best front sevens in the league for the last couple seasons. They are solid against the pass and don't allow any running backs to find any kind of hole. They are the biggest reason Miami has been in almost every game this year
Miami has a daunting task this offseason in trying to re-sign Randy Starks. With the season he's had, Starks is sure to generate a lot of attention and will surely entice some teams to spend big money on him. Miami gave big money to Paul Soliai last year on on a two-year contract and will surely like to keep this defensive tackle duo intact for next year.
Paul Soliai is a nose tackle who now plays defensive tackle. He is a massive body who will more often than not require a double-team to block him. He is most successful against the run as he is able to clog the holes the running back tries to run through.
We know what Cameron Wake can do as a defensive end, but on the opposite side, Miami has a defensive end who is best against the run. Jared Odrick doesn't really generate a lot of pressure off the edge on passing downs, but he is simply immovable as a run-stopper.
This is a solid group who could really benefit from an upgrade in the secondary and can help lead the Dolphins to bigger and brighter things beginning next year.