Predicting Miami's Starting Lineup After the First Wave of Free-Agent Signings
The Miami Dolphins are in the midst of an active free-agent signing period and as each new Dolphin is signed, their 2014 starting lineup emerges more and more.
Is it complete? Not at all, the Dolphins still have holes to fill but now those holes will have to be filled either through bargain free agents or the draft. What they do now have is a foundation to build upon, making the job easier than it was just nine days ago.
Here's a preemptive look at Miami's starting lineup, using as our guide Miami's depth chart courtesy of ourlads.com.
2013 Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Projected 2014 Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill goes into the 2014 season with a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor and new hope along the offensive line.
The new offensive line that will be protecting Tannehill (which is still under construction) hopes to be a major upgrade over a 2013 line that allowed 58 sacks during a turbulent season.
Cutting down on those sacks should improve the timing that Tannehill has with his receivers, which affected him a lot on deep passes.
The Dolphins are also banking on Tannehill's further development under Lazor, who last year as Philadelphia's quarterbacks coach, did a great job developing Nick Foles into having one of the best seasons statistical by a quarterback, as he threw for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while completing 64 percent of his passes.
If Tannehill can turn in a season similar to that, Miami will know they have their quarterback.
2013 Starter: Lamar Miller
Projected 2014 Starter: Lamar Miller
Miller, like Tannehill, is also hoping that a revamped offensive line leads to a breakout season in 2013.
For much of last year Miller split carries with Daniel Thomas, resulting in Miller finishing with 709 yards on 177 attempts. The good news is when Miller got the majority of the snaps during a game, he did well. The bad news is, he rarely got the majority of the snaps and was unable to get going in some games.
Miller's main issue is in pass-blocking, which at times left him unable to play on third down. With an improved offensive line, pass-blocking should be less of an issue for Miller this season.
One thing to keep in mind is that Miami could look for a running back in the draft or free agency. The running back would likely take Daniel Thomas' place on the roster, but it also would mean less snaps for Miller, especially if he proves to be good at pass protection.
2013 Starters: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson
Projected 2014 Starters: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson
I'm one of a few people who think the Dolphins should tinker a bit with their wide receivers. The unit they have is pretty good, but they are missing that big receiver that can go up and grab the ball at it's apex in the air.
The Dolphins like to start in three-wide sets, which makes the need for a big target even more important and pressing.
Also something to keep an eye on is the fact that Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson are both coming off of knee injuries suffered last season.
2013 Starter: Charles Clay
Projected 2014 Starter: Charles Clay
I'm a pretty big Charles Clay fan, as are many Dolphins fans due to the impressive 2013 season he had.
Clay finished the year with 69 catches for 759 yards and six touchdowns, proving to be one of Ryan Tannehill's most reliable targets on the field. With that you'd think I'd say the Dolphins are set at tight end.
Not quite, I'd still like to see the Dolphins draft a big, athletic tight end in the draft that can provide what Clay can't quite: blocking. Clay would be great used either as an H-Back or even lined up as a wide receiver alongside a big tight end in 2014.
2013 Starters: LT Jonathan Martin, LG Richie Incognito, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Tyson Clabo
Projected 2014 Starters: LT Branden Albert, LG Shelley Smith, C Mike Pouncey, RG Wade Smith (UFA/Houston), RT Billy Turner (North Dakota State)
Yes, I have a free-agent signing that hasn't happened yet and a potential third-round pick as my starting right side of the offensive line.
The reason for that is the cold, hard reality that Miami still doesn't have the right side of an offensive line, and they are currently working to build it.
This is just a reminder of how much work is left for Miami this offseason, however, considering how they have addressed other issues, I have a feeling of confidence that the right things will be done to address the rest of the offensive line.
Even if I had left the right guard and right tackle positions as "TBD", it's still a better offensive line than last year's.
2013 Starters: LDE Cameron Wake, DT Jared Odrick, DT Paul Soliai, RDE Olivier Vernon
Projected 2014 Starters: LDE Cameron Wake, DT Jared Odrick, DT Randy Starks, RDE Olivier Vernon
Paul Soliai will be a huge void in the Dolphins' defensive line this season, but they recovered well by signing the talent and upside of Earl Mitchell.
Mitchell will rotate out with Odrick and Starks, who will likely be your starting defensive tackles. We've seen this lineup before last season, and it was still a pretty good defensive front.
As for the ends, I have Vernon as a starter for now but would it surprise anyone (aside from Joe Philbin) if after a year working with defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, Dion Jordan is ready to take over for Vernon? I don't see that happening, but I do see Jordan playing a lot more snaps and making a bigger impact in 2014.
2013 Starters: SAM LB Koa Misi, MIKE LB Dannell Ellerbe, WILL LB Philip Wheeler
Projected 2014 Starters: SAM LB Koa Misi, MIKE LB C.J. Mosely (Alabama), WILL LB Dannell Ellerbe
Welp, I just gave you all my projected first-round pick for the Dolphins.
Last year's linebackers were low-key as bad as the offensive line. If there was a big play, you could point to the linebackers as the reason most of the time, as the defensive line was great at stopping the run and forcing pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary for the most part handled receivers fairly well.
Teams just loved attacking the soft and gooey middle of the Dolphins defense, which featured players who were either out of position, or at times just plain hopeless.
Drafting Alabama's C.J. Mosely fixes that. He can plug in and play middle linebacker from the start. which would slide Ellerbe to the weak side while Misi patrols the strong side (which he does do well).
Wheeler can be a rotational linebacker, but on pass-rushing plays where Miami might want to show a 3-4 look, I'd go with Dion Jordan instead of Wheeler.
2013 Starters: LCB Brent Grimes, RCB Dimitri Patterson
Projected 2014 Starters: LCB Brent Grimes, RCB Jamar Taylor
The Dolphins did sign Cortland Finnegan this offseason, and his contract (two years, $11 million, $5.5 million guaranteed, according to spotrac.com) does suggest starter.
His play the last two seasons, as well as the coming emergence of Jamar Taylor, say otherwise.
Taylor was Miami's second-round pick last season and didn't get much play, however James Walker of ESPN.com claims that Taylor could be the breakout player of 2014 for Miami.
BTW I’m hearing good things about the offseason of #Dolphins CB Jamar Taylor. He could be my Miami sleeper pick for 2014.— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) March 19, 2014
Now Taylor does have a tough road ahead and will have to stay healthy in order to lock down the starting job. If he does, he will be the starter, and Finnegan will be a nice piece to use on passing downs and a good locker room presence.
Finnegan is still overpaid in my opinion.
2013 Starters: FS Chris Clemons, SS Reshad Jones
Projected 2014 Starters: FS Louis Delmas, SS Reshad Jones
The Dolphins feel that they've upgraded at safety by signing former Lion Louis Delmas this offseason and in terms of big play ability they did, but they might have given up the consistency that Clemons had shown while with the Dolphins.
In addition to Delmas, Miami has a long list of potential safeties waiting behind their tandem, such as Patriot-killer Michael Thomas, Jimmy Wilson, Don Jones and Jordan Kovacs. This is a deep position for Miami, even if it isn't exactly the strongest.
2013 Starters: K Caleb Sturgis, P Brandon Fields, KR/PR Marcus Thigpen, LS John Denney
Potential 2014 Starters: K Caleb Sturgis, P Brandon Fields, KR/PR Devin Hester (UFA/Chicago), LS John Denney
Embattled kicker Caleb Sturgis will likely get another season to prove himself after a turbulent 2013 season that saw him hit 26 of 34 field goals but started off well not missing a kick in his first four games.
Brandon Fields' spot at punter is as set in stone as you would expect someone at the position to be, as is John Denney at long snapper.
The return game is a bit different. I do see the Dolphins getting involved in trying to sign Hester, who Chris Perkins of The Sun-Sentinel reports would love to play in Miami. This despite the fact that Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com) reports that Hester visited the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday.
Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise specified.