Miami Dolphins: Breaking Down Fins' Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
Say what you want about the quality of Miami's offseason moves thus far, but one thing can be guaranteed.
The 2013 Miami Dolphins will be a very different team than the 2012 Miami Dolphins.
Many new faces will suit up in aqua and orange next year. A lot of fresh faces and youthful vigor will make up Miami's roster, which will hopefully translate into more victories for a franchise that's starved for success.
In the spirit of examining the Dolphins' new faces, let's break down Miami's depth chart as it currently stands.
A few notes before we get started, though. First, this depth chart reflects only the moves Miami has made in free agency at this point. This depth chart will not contain any speculative starters.
That being said, it should be kept in mind that many of these positions will change before the 2013 season. Simply put, the Dolphins still have plenty of holes to fill in the remainder of free agency and the draft. That makes it highly unlikely that the current offensive tackles will still be starters come next preseason, for example.
With that out of the way, let's march on!
No. 1: Ryan Tannehill
No. 2: Matt Moore
Quarterback is one of Miami's few no-brainer positions. Ryan Tannehill is the guy.
The Dolphins more or less guaranteed that Tannehill was their franchise option when they handed him the reins prior to the 2012 season opener.
But it's not just based on abstract concepts like hope and belief. Through his struggles as a rookie, Tannehill showed enough to prove that he has what it takes to be a top NFL quarterback. He can make all the big-time throws. He's poised, intelligent and is relatively protective of the football. And that's not even taking his athleticism into consideration.
Matt Moore will provide reliable backup support and continue to serve as a valuable mentor to Tannehill. It was one of Jeff Ireland's wisest moves to retain Moore for at least one more season (the Dolphins could dangle him as trade bait prior to his big payday in 2014).
No. 1: Lamar Miller
No. 2: Daniel Thomas
Miller saw very limited action in 2012, only receiving carries in nine of Miami's 16 games. But much like fellow rookie Tannehill, he showed great promise in those small playing windows. Indeed, he showed enough that the Dolphins were comfortable letting Reggie Bush leave town.
Miller is effectively a shoe-in as Miami's feature back in 2013. However, he must step up to the opportunity and prove that he can fulfill that role. His college production suggests that he can, as well as his natural abilities.
Daniel Thomas is currently slated as the relief back for the third year in a row. However, don't be surprised if that changes. While there hasn't been public statement released by Miami that speaks to this, it's likely the team could add another young back in the draft to add some competition.
Thomas is a decent back who could be a strong complement to Miller's agile style. But the third-year back must prove he can hold onto the ball and stay healthy first.
Starter: Jorvorskie Lane
Lane is a guy who is hard to dislike. One look at his story and the trials he's overcome to get where he's at and you quickly realize what kind of man he is.
The short version: after a standout career at Texas A&M (over 2,000 yards and 49 touchdowns from 2005-2008), Lane's grandfather passed away. The emotional turmoil turned into enormous weight gain for the Aggie, causing him to go undrafted and unsigned.
Cut to last year when former Aggies head coach Mike Sherman takes over as Miami's offensive coordinator. Upon hearing Lane's strides to get back into football shape, he calls him in for a tryout. A few more hurdles later and Lane is the starting fullback for the Dolphins in 2012.
Lane had a below-average season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the 17th best fullback out of 25 starting fullbacks. With only 13 carries for 13 yards (but two touchdowns), it's clear Miami views Lane as a blocker and short-yardage situation player primarily.
Lane is great for picking up 3rd-and-1, but his blocking needs some improvement, especially in clearing out running lanes. He had the lowest overall run-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus (-1.9).
However, like many of his counterparts, Lane has showed enough promise to continue with his second chance at playing football.
No. 1: Mike Wallace (Outside)
No. 2: Brian Hartline (Outside)
No. 3: Brandon Gibson (Slot)
No. 4: Davone Bess (Slot, Inside)
There's no question about who Miami's top receiver will be in 2013. Mike Wallace is guaranteed that spot.
Brian Hartline should be able to continue to flourish under the shade of Wallace's threatening abilities. Coming off his first career 1,000-yard season, expect Hartline to be open even more and find more success.
Brandon Gibson is the most intriguing option at receiver. He's likely to see more than a few snaps at the slot position. However, he spent most of his time in St. Louis on the outside, and he has the build for it. I would expect the Dolphins to mix up packages a lot and rotate Wallace, Hartline and Gibson on the outside.
Davone Bess could potentially have some snaps taken from him now that Miami has two new receivers. However, Bess' talents as a proficient route-runner and quick cutter should still earn him plenty of looks at the slot position. Bess is too talented to keep off the field.
No. 1: Dustin Keller
No. 2: Charles Clay
Arguably Miami's shrewdest acquisition was signing Dustin Keller to a one-year deal. First, Keller provides a major upgrade to the tight end position, supplying Tannehill with a very reliable security blanket.
Second, only signing Keller to a one-year deal gives him the chance to prove that he can remain injury-free. If he does, the Dolphins have a chance to ink him to a much longer deal after 2013.
Third, it further wounds the New York Jets, an AFC East rival.
Charles Clay remains Miami's second tight end for now, but that could change. Keller and Clay are fine receiving tight ends (although Clay to a lesser extent than Keller), but neither is terribly proficient at blocking. Miami could look to add a blocking tight end in the draft to fill out the unit.
Left Tackle: Jonathan Martin
Left Guard: Richie Incognito
Center: Mike Pouncey
Right Guard: John Jerry
Right Tackle: Nate Garner
Aside from the secondary, this is the position that is likely to see the most changes between now and the 2013 season.
Jake Long's absence leaves Miami with a few options at tackle. Jonathan Martin could remain at left tackle, the side he played in college and for the final stretch of last season when Long was placed on IR. Martin did OK at left tackle, although he clearly still isn't ready to face the NFL's top pass-rushers, as evidenced by his mauling at the hands of San Francisco's Aldon Smith in Week 14.
The Dolphins have met with Eric Winston. He could be a great option for right tackle, as Nate Garner is best used as in a pinch as a backup.
Guard is a position the Dolphins could address in the mid-to-late sections of the draft. Incognito is fine on the left side, but they could stand to upgrade from John Jerry on the right. If no one is signed in free agency, look for Miami to take a tackle in the early rounds of the draft.
Center is really the only spot that is a lock. Former first-round pick Mike Pouncey has grown into one of the NFL's most dominant centers. He was rated as the second-best center in pass protection last season by Pro Football Focus, (subscription required) and eighth overall.
Left End: Jared Odrick
Interior Tackles: Paul Soliai, Randy Starks
Right End: Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake is an elite pass-rushing defensive end. He's among the top five at his position. His position is not in jeopardy.
Randy Starks was tagged this offseason, which means he'll be starting alongside Paul Soliai again this year. There's hope that Miami can work out a long-term deal with Starks, as Ireland likes his defensive line and would like to keep it together. With the starters knocked out, it would be nice to see Miami add some depth to the position in the draft considering backup Tony McDaniel was released this past week.
Jared Odrick remains a mysterious player. He finally seemed to come into his own last season, but he's playing out of position. Odrick is built like an interior lineman. He did fine last season as an edge-rusher, but the Dolphins could get more out of the defender were he placed inside.
A couple of the big-name pass-rushers have been snatched up already, so Miami may be left addressing its need for another end opposite of Wake in the draft. That may not be so bad, as there appears to be a wealth of athletic defensive ends in this year's draft.
If Miami drafts a young pass-rusher, that would allow Odrick to move inside and give the Dolphins a very good three-man rotation at tackle.
SLB: Koa Misi
MLB: Dannell Ellerbe
WLB: Philip Wheeler
Miami shocked plenty of folks when it signed two free-agent linebackers and cut Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett—all on the first evening of free agency. Clearly, the Dolphins have a plan when it comes to their linebackers.
That plan appears to include getting younger and more athletic at the position, which Wheeler and Ellerbe both provide.
Unfortunately, both players still have a lot to prove. Ellerbe hasn't started many games, and while he had a good year replacing Ray Lewis in 2012, it's still unknown how effective he'll be as the full-time starter.
Wheeler, on the other hand, has been a full-time starter for a few years now. He's coming off an especially strong season in which he was graded as the sixth-best 4-3 outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus. He excels as a pass-rusher, further testament to the fact that Miami wants to pressure quarterbacks more in 2013.
Koa Misi is the only returning linebacker for 2013—for now. He could just as easily be replaced in the draft. Far from a game-changer, Misi has always been a reliably decent outside linebacker. One possible move, however, is to draft another outside linebacker and shift Misi to his college position of defensive end.
LCB: Nolan Carroll
RCB: Richard Marshall
FS: Chris Clemons
SS: Reshad Jones
The Dolphins' corner unit is in trouble. That should be obvious any time Nolan Carroll is one of your starting corners.
Nothing against Carroll, but he is best suited as a dime corner in pass-defense packages. Richard Marshall could be a serviceable No. 2 corner as he possesses adequate coverage abilities.
But make no mistake. The Dolphins largest remaining need is a No. 1 cornerback. Which is why Xavier Rhodes is a favorite to go to Miami at 12th in the draft.
Chances are Miami will double down on corners, though. Dimitri Patterson was a late-season acquisition by Miami last year, and he could serve as a decent nickel corner. But an upgrade at the position must be Miami's biggest priority right now.
Safety is another story. The Dolphins appear to be set. Chris Clemons was re-signed to a one-year deal coming off his best season. The Dolphins would be wise to hammer out an extension with Clemons, providing he doesn't regress this year.
Reshad Jones had an emergence year in 2012. By playing lights-out football, he launched himself into the public eye. People should know who this guy is by now, and if they don't, for shame.
Bleacher Report's own scouting guru Matt Miller believes Miami has two top 10 safeties on its roster (Clemons was rated ninth, while Jones was third). The Dolphins should try to keep this duo together for as long as possible.
Starter: Dan Carpenter
Carpenter has been money for the Dolphins for so long that it was tough to figure out what happened to him last year.
The usually reliable kicker was awful at kicks over 50 yards, hitting only two of his five attempts. He also missed two kicks in the 40-yard range, resulting in his lowest percentage for that range since his rookie year.
Simply put, Carpenter cost the Dolphins a couple of games. There isn't much bad a kicker can do, but that is the absolute worst thing a kicker could do. And Carpenter did it.
Perhaps the Dolphins can overlook his unusual performance last season and chalk it up as an anomaly. But consider this: Carpenter will be a cap hit of just over $3 million in 2013—$3 million for a kicker. Carpenter will make more money next season than many of the Dolphins' playmakers.
That cap hit alone should be enough to persuade Miami to explore its options at kicker.
Starter: Brandon Fields
No question here, folks. Fields was a top-five punter last season (according to Pro Football Focus). He had the NFL's highest average (50.1), sixth-highest net average (41.2) and was 11th in punts landed inside the 20-yard line (29).
It's obviously not a good thing when your offense must punt, but having a weapon like Brandon Fields booting the ball means the Dolphins can turn an inauspicious event in their favor.
Kick Return/Punt Return
Starter: Marcus Thigpen
In 2012, Marcus Thigpen emerged as the Dolphins' best special teams threat since Ted Ginn.
In fact, he proved himself to be better than Ginn, at least in terms of records.
Last year Thigpen became the first Dolphins player in team history to return both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same season.
Thigpen is an explosive talent who, if he continues gathering steam in 2013, could give the Dolphins a legitimate threat in the return game. That's a luxury the Dolphins have rarely possessed.
Moreover, Thigpen could find himself earning snaps at running back. He did record one carry and one reception during 2012.