Showcasing Miami Dolphins' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

Showcasing Miami Dolphins' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs

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    Expectations were low for the Miami Dolphins entering the 2012 season. The franchise was starting anew after trading star wide receiver Brandon Marshall, drafting quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 pick and hiring Joe Philbin to be the head coach. 

    So when the Dolphins started out 1-3, no one batted an eyelash. A funny thing happened along the way, though: The team began to play to its strengths, however few there might have been, and carved out a solid 7-9 season. 

    In the AFC East, where only the New England Patriots are a threat, that 7-9 record was good enough to give the Dolphins a second-place finish. It was the team's highest finish in the division since 2008, though it still isn't good enough. 

    But the fact that there does appear to be a foundation in place gives hope that this franchise isn't as far away from competing as it seemed six months ago. 

    As the Dolphins look ahead to the NFL draft, their needs are plentiful and they are in a good spot with the No. 12 overall pick. 

    Now we are going to go through each area of the Dolphins' roster and take a look at the positions they need to target. 

Quarterbacks

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    Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins' first-round pick in 2012, was a controversial choice when the selection was made. Coming out of college, he was viewed as someone who beat up on weak teams and couldn't get the job done in pressure situations. 

    In his first NFL season, Tannehill didn't exactly put those fears to rest. He had a solid season by most rookie standards, though he did pick the wrong season to be a rookie quarterback if he wanted to get noticed. 

    Tannehill started all 16 games, throwing for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also completed 58.3 percent of his passes (282-for-484). 

    Matt Moore has proven himself to be a solid backup quarterback throughout his career. He did play a lot in Week 8 against the New York Jets when Tannehill got injured, completing 11 of his 19 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. 

    For better or worse, the future is Tannehill right now. The Dolphins have been given no reason to think he won't develop into at least a solid starting quarterback at the NFL level. He is just 24 years old, so there is plenty of time to look and see what he can do. 

Running Backs

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    The Dolphins have a big decision to make this offseason with starting running back Reggie Bush, who is a free agent and could be looking for one more nice payday. 

    On the one hand, Bush has been very productive in his two seasons with the Dolphins. He has run for 2,072 yards, caught 78 passes for 588 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns since the start of the 2011 season. 

    On the other hand, Bush's yards per carry dropped from 5.0 in 2011 to 4.3 last season. He has managed to stay healthy in Miami, playing 31 of a possible 32 games, but has never been the picture of health throughout his career. 

    At just 27 years old, Bush is not quite at that age where a precipitous dropoff is likely to occur. It also helps that, because he missed so much time with injuries in New Orleans, the number of hits he has taken is far less than that of a normal running back with seven years in the NFL. 

    The team also drafted Lamar Miller out of the University of Miami in the fourth round last year. He played sparingly, accumulating just 51 carries, but was effective with 250 yards and one touchdown. 

    The Dolphins have depth and youth at the running back position, so it will be very low on the priority list in the draft. 

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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    Here is the area where the Dolphins need a lot of help if they want Tannehill to take that next step from promising rookie to legitimate starter capable of leading this team to the postseason. 

    Brian Hartline had a breakout season with 74 receptions and 1,083 yards. Davone Bess turned in a solid performance with 61 catches for 778 yards and one touchdown. 

    Beyond that, the Dolphins wide receivers were a wasteland. Among players listed at wide receiver, Rishard Matthews was third on the team with 11 catches for 151 yards. 

    As good as Hartline and Bess looked at times, they are not dynamic playmakers on the outside that opposing teams fear in a big spot. They both made big plays, but the team needs someone who can provide a spark and let Tannehill show off his impressive arm strength. 

    Anthony Fasano is a solid tight end. He was third on the team with 41 catches and caught five of the 13 touchdown passes the team had in 2012. 

    While the receiving corps in this year's draft is not great, there are a few names at the top worthy of a first-round pick. It is unclear if, say, a player like Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will do enough in workouts to warrant being the No. 12 pick. 

    What Patterson does have when you watch him on tape is size, speed, strength and great hands. That sounds like a first-round pick, and the Dolphins would love nothing more than to fall in love with him or someone of his ilk. 

Offensive Line

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    By every statistical measure, the Dolphins had an average or slightly below-average offensive line in 2012. They were 14th in the NFL in sacks allowed with 37 for 243 yards lost. 

    Digging deeper into the numbers, the offensive line ranked 17th in pass blocking and 21th in run blocking (per FootballOutsiders.com).

    All was not bad, as they averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry on the ground. It is not a great total, but it right in the middle of the pack for offensive lines. They can afford to make an upgrade, especially in a draft that is loaded with impact lineman. 

    It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the Dolphins use one of their top two or three selections on a lineman since it is not their most pressing need. Part of those sacks can be attributed to a young quarterback trying to develop and go through reads and progressions. 

Defensive Line/Linebackers

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    The biggest strength of this Dolphins team is up front on the defensive line and at linebacker. Cameron Wake is the star of the show. He led the team with 15 sacks in 2012, and the team finished seventh with 42 total. 

    Wake is 30 years old, so he is closer to the end of his prime than the beginning. He still has four years left on his contract and is a huge bargain. He made just $615,000 base salary in 2012 and is scheduled to make $3.5 million next season. 

    Their front seven gives them a lot of flexibility, though they are put under a lot of pressure because the secondary isn't very good. Defensive end Jared Odrick is the No. 1 player on the defensive line, and his development next season will be critical to where this defense goes. 

    This front seven really doesn't need to be addressed through the draft, or at least not with a high pick that could be spent plugging one of their other holes. 

Secondary

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    Other than wide receiver, the secondary is the one spot the Dolphins desperately need to address in the early rounds of the NFL draft. They gave up more than 248 yards per game through the air, 27th in the NFL. 

    In addition to being unable to stop anyone from throwing, they didn't force turnovers. The Dolphins had just 10 interceptions in 2012, also 27th in the NFL. Safety Reshad Jones had four of those interceptions. 

    Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they are probably in a spot where Alabama's Dee Milliner, the top cornerback in this draft, is probably going to go before they make their first pick.

    Looking at the second round, Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks would be an intriguing option if he is on the board. There is always the threat of a trade with the Dolphins, who did acquire a second-round pick from Indianapolis in the Vontae Davis trade. 

    If the Dolphins feel that the secondary is a higher priority than wide receiver, they could be very active in trade discussions come draft night. 

Special Teams

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    Special teams was another area of strength for the Dolphins in 2012. They finished in the top 10 in kickoff return yards average and punt return yards average. 

    Marcus Thigpen was fantastic, averaging 27.4 yards per kickoff return and 12.2 yards per punt return. He also had two return touchdowns (one kick return, one punt return). 

    The kicking game was also very good. Dan Carpenter had a terrific season, connecting on 22 of his 27 field goals and not missing once inside of 40 yards. 

    Punter Brandon Fields was great, averaging 50.2 yards per punt and a net average of 41.2. He also had 29 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. 

    When you have a kicker and punter who have performed as well as the Dolphins have, you can rest easy knowing that they will get the job done when it counts. That makes it easier on the coaching staff to focus on other, more pressing areas that need to be fixed.