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Most people with at least a cursory understanding of the Miami Dolphins had a pretty good idea of where the team was looking to go in the offseason. It's a safe assumption that nobody thought linebacker was a key need for the Fins.
Which is why it was so shocking that Miami had replaced two of its starting linebackers before the first day of free agency had come to a close. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were cut and replaced by Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, respectively.
Admittedly, there hasn't been a ton of angry noise made about this move. The general atmosphere has been one of "let's wait and see if this works out." However, many (myself included) have wondered if Dansby and Burnett were so bad—or Ellerbe and Wheeler are such clear improvements—that the moves are justified.
Let's examine it a little closer. First up, the middle linebacker shift is one that seems fairly sensible. Dansby led the Dolphins with 134 combined tackles and led Miami's linebackers with nine pass deflections. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) listed him as the 13th-best middle linebacker last season.
Ellerbe, on the other hand, was right behind Dansby at 14. The former Raven graded similarly to Dansby in run defense (6.2 to Dansby's 7.5), but is inferior to Dansby in coverage (-5.0 to Dansby's 0.6). The key difference between the two is pass-rushing, where Ellerbe crushes Dansby's -2.7 with a 4.5 grade.
The gulf between Burnett and Wheeler is a bit wider, though. Burnett's run grade (6.5) was vastly superior to Wheeler's (-1.7). However, Wheeler dominated Burnett in coverage (5.1 to 1.6) and pass-rushing (8.5 to 2.3).
Looking at the numbers, it becomes apparent what Miami wants out of their linebackers: athletic, dynamic guys who can get after the quarterback. In that sense, Wheeler and Ellerbe fit the mold perfectly.
Shuffling the linebacker corps appears as though it was a move in the right direction for the Dolphins.