With the 2014 NFL draft in the books, the next few weeks will be spent evaluating the actions the Dolphins chose to make, and how this class will affect the 2014 season and beyond.
There is no question that the roster is more talented after this draft class.
Considering that, let’s look at the early roster questions the Dolphins face entering the 2014 season.
Will the Line Allow the Offense to Flourish?
After four out of five starters on the offensive line for the Dolphins were allowed to walk away with no resistance, Miami has put serious resources into the offensive line.
Not only has Miami spent over $60 million on free-agent signings Branden Albert, Shelley Smith and Jason Fox, but also they’ve now invested a first- and third-round pick into more linemen.
More importantly, all of these players fit into the zone-blocking scheme that new offensive line coach John Benton (formerly of the Houston Texans) is an expert in.
With the talent upgrades and better scheme fits, I believe the offensive line will be one strength of the team in 2014. Sure, with two rookies potentially starting, there will be hiccups and issues. But it’s not as if veterans Bryant McKinnie or Tyson Clabo were any good.
The Dolphins are looking to become a more balanced offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, instead of being predictable, as they were with Mike Sherman.
Expect the running game to benefit a suddenly deep backfield, after former Bronco Knowshon Moreno signed for the 2014 season. He is joined by incumbent starter Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. The wildcard of the group is 2013 fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee, who is a talented back out of Florida.
As for the passing game, there is no question Miami will improve upon the 58 sacks allowed on Ryan Tannehill.
Thus, expect Miami to be more effective at sustaining drives and being less predictable in 2014.
What Lies in Store for the Receiving Group?
After adding rookies Jarvis Landry and Matt Hazel, reports surfaced that slot receiver Rishard Matthews could be in the doghouse.
Despite having a few good weeks in 2013, Matthews hasn’t been able to see the field and contribute consistently so far in his career—although as a former seventh-round pick, he’s done well to stay on the roster and post this type of night.
Brian Hartline is also entering a critical year, despite being a model of consistency for the franchise. He could be cut after 2014—saving the team $4 million—and considering the Dolphins just selected a potentially better version of him in Landry, he could be let go if Landry performs well.
Mike Wallace, 2013’s major free agent signing, is likely going to be around through 2015 due to his contract structure. After a pedestrian 2013 season statistically, Wallace is looking to connect with Tannehill more often, and he should have an easier time as his offensive line gels, theoretically giving the quarterback more time to deliver a strike to the speedy playmaker.
Brandon Gibson is also returning from injury for 2014, which could be bad news for him. With his cap hit being so low, if he struggles to look as good as he did last year, he can be let go at any point, allowing rookie Matt Hazel to potentially take his spot.
To sum it up, I believe this is the last season in Miami for multiple Dolphins receivers. They’ve spent a lot of resources on the position, and now have similar receivers at different prices. Usually, the younger and cheaper talent prevails. Expect the same result here as well.
How Will the Dolphins’ Linebacker Situation Shape Up to Start the Season?
After 2013 signees Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe struggled to make more of an impact than their predecessors, many fans wanted to see a new middle linebacker, which would allow Ellerbe to be moved to his more natural spot of weak-side linebacker, and Wheeler to become a situational player.
Suffice to say, there weren’t many options at linebacker in free agency or the draft, forcing Miami to add a developmental player in Jordan Tripp in the fifth round of the draft.
I don’t expect Tripp to make a big impact this season, so Miami will have to hope that Ellerbe is fully healthy this season—which he wasn’t in 2013—and that Wheeler finishes plays more effectively.
Oh, and let’s not forget, Miami needs to use former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan more.
Jordan is an excellent cover linebacker and a good pass-rusher. Like Ellerbe, now that he’s fully recovered from a shoulder injury, expect to see his production increase.
Can the Dolphins Reach the Playoffs?
Well, for as poorly as the Dolphins played at times in 2013, they were literally one win away from making the playoffs, and this draft class should help address Miami’s biggest weaknesses.
Also, after getting so little from the 2013 draft class, Miami is essentially able to utilize 14 new players that didn’t impact the team last season.
Of course, not all of those players will make a difference, but if the Dolphins can perform better against their division foes, they have a good chance of at least making the wild card.
Hopefully, Thad Lewis won’t be leading the Buffalo Bills against Miami, as he was the unlikely villain who helped the Bills go 2-0 against the Dolphins in 2013.
If Miami is healthy in 2014, and their draft class comes together as the talent suggests it should, they have a good chance to be right in the mix for the division and wild-card race at the end of the 2014 regular season.
In summation, Hickey and the Dolphins did well in their quest to land players that can impact Miami immediately and improve throughout their careers.
They addressed all of their pressing needs with immediate contributors besides inside linebacker, but it’s not as if their current starter is devoid of talent.
Miami showed a new draft approach, adding players with considerable upside with their later picks, which could be the key to sustained success.
All in all, Miami had a productive draft, filled with a good balance of instant impact and future potential. The coaching staff must develop and refine these raw talents for Miami to take the next big step.
Ian Wharton is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Miami Dolphins. Be sure to check out his entire archive, including draft analysis and insight on the 2014 NFL draft.
You can follow and interact with Ian on Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy