Breaking Down All the New Faces on the 2014 Miami Dolphins
Whether it's free-agent signings like Branden Albert and Earl Mitchell or draft picks like Ja'Wuan James and Jarvis Landry, there are plenty of new faces on the 2014 Miami Dolphins.
In total, the Dolphins signed 34 free agents and drafted seven players who are all currently on the 90-man roster in training camp.
Obviously, taking a look at each and every new player would be largely a waste of time, as the vast majority of these new guys won't make the final 53-man roster.
Even drafted players like Matt Hazel and Terrence Fede don't warrant much analysis at this point since both will likely spend their rookie seasons on the practice squad.
When whittling down the list to the players who are expected to make the active roster, you get 12 new faces, and many of them will be counted on to be integral parts of the team.
Let's take a look at these new additions and break down how each player is going to fit in and perform with the Dolphins this season.
Louis Delmas, S
Delmas was the first domino to fall in the Dolphins' offseason plan, agreeing to a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Miami just before the start of free agency.
Replacing Chris Clemons, Delmas should bring a newfound toughness and leadership to the position.
While Clemons was consistent for Miami, he was never the type of player who made a major impact on a game.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Delmas can consistently take over games, he's certainly a better playmaker than Clemons. Just last season alone, Delmas picked off nearly as many passes (three) as Clemons has recorded in his five-year career (four).
The problem with Delmas is that he's had issues with injuries.
The 2013 season was the first time in his five-year career that he played a full 16-game season, although he was limited to just one day of practice each week in an attempt to preserve him for game day.
Providing he can stay healthy, he should provide a solid boost to the Miami defense as he works on a one-year prove-it deal.
Branden Albert, LT
Branden Albert was the Dolphins' top priority heading into free agency, and Dennis Hickey got his man, signing the big left tackle to a five-year, $47 million deal.
When healthy, Albert is a Pro Bowl player and will be counted on to lock down Ryan Tannehill's blind side all season long.
But health continues to be the only thing stopping him from becoming one of the best left tackles in the league. Over his six-year career, he has played a full season just one time and has missed a total of seven games over the last two seasons.
As long as he can stay healthy, there's no reason to think Albert won't be making a second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.
However, if the injury bug does bite him again, it could be another long season for Tannehill in the protection department.
Earl Mitchell, DT
When Paul Soliai took his talents to the Atlanta Falcons, Earl Mitchell became an impressive replacement option.
The former Houston Texan inked a four-year, $16 million deal and will work in a rotation at defensive tackle along with Randy Starks and Jared Odrick.
At just 26 years old, Mitchell is an extremely athletic player who will finally be able to play in his natural position in Miami's 4-3 defense.
Despite playing out of position as a nose tackle in Houston's 3-4 defense last season, he still made his mark. According to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Texans run defense allowed just 3.1 yards per carry when Mitchell was on the field, compared to a 4.2 average when he was off it.
While it's possible that he won't develop into the caliber of player that the Dolphins expect him to be, the sky is truly the limit for him and his talent.
At the very least, he should easily surpass his numbers from last season (48 tackles and 1.5 sacks).
He will also provide a major impact in both stopping the run and getting after the quarterback from the interior of the defensive line.
Shelley Smith, G
In the second step of the offensive line rebuild, Miami signed former St. Louis Rams guard Shelley Smith to a two-year, $5.5 million deal.
The 26-year-old was drafted by the Texans in the sixth round in 2010 and was picked up by the Rams a year later.
At 6'4" and 312 pounds, he is a fierce run-blocker who is very good at getting to the second level.
He played in 14 games in 2013—starting two—and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the fourth-best run-blocking guard in the league.
Smith is very much an unknown, as it is yet to be determined how he will hold up as a full-time starter.
He has had his struggles as a pass-blocker, but his run-blocking ability is superb, and he should bring much-needed help to the running game.
With Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner expected to battle for the starting left guard position, Smith should slot in nicely on the right side.
Cortland Finnegan, CB
One of the most questionable decisions the Dolphins made this offseason was cutting Dimitri Patterson and then signing Cortland Finnegan to a two-year, $11 million deal.
Finnegan is coming off a horrendous 2013 season. He played in just seven games before being placed on injured reserve with a fractured orbital bone.
When he did play, Pro Football Focus indicates that he allowed quarterbacks to complete 76.5 percent of their passes thrown at him for a 136 passer rating. He ranked 109th out of 110 cornerbacks.
However, despite those struggles, early reports out of OTAs say that Finnegan is the current favorite to land the No. 2 cornerback role opposite Brent Grimes, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.
If Finnegan can win the job, it may mean that he's returning to his 2011 form when he was one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
Pairing a rejuvenated Finnegan with Grimes would make an already formidable Dolphins defense even more dangerous.
Knowshon Moreno, RB
Heading into the offseason, the Dolphins desperately needed to add another running back to replace Daniel Thomas, and they got their man when they signed Knowshon Moreno to a one-year, $3 million deal.
He is coming off a career season in 2013, rushing for 1,038 yards on 241 carries with 10 touchdowns.
Most people assumed that he would step right in and be the starting running back.
Whether or not Moreno will eventually take over lead-back duties in the offense remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that he's going to bring plenty of toughness and a great blocking ability that was sorely lacking in the backfield in 2013.
Ja'Wuan James, OT
Ja'Wuan James was a somewhat surprising first-round pick for the Dolphins, but he will likely make a major impact throughout the season.
At 6’6” with 35” arms and 311 pounds, he is an ideal option for Miami’s zone-blocking scheme and is expected to step in and start at right tackle from Day 1.
The former Tennessee Volunteer should have a smooth transition into the offense and has an impressive combination of quickness, awareness, technique and hustle.
He is also a high-character player and a great leader, something the offensive line was sorely lacking last season.
As long as he can stay healthy, James should be a solid contributor all season long for Miami.
Jarvis Landry, WR
Many people wondered if the Dolphins were going to be in the market for a playmaker early in the draft, and the team answered that question by grabbing Jarvis Landry in the second round.
He is going to step right in and battle with Brandon Gibson for the No. 3 receiver slot, although the rookie also has the versatility to play on the outside as well to give the defense different looks.
At 6'0" and 205 pounds, Landry is very good at fighting for the ball in the air and is already the most sure-handed player on the roster.
Last season, he hauled in 73 percent of the passes thrown his way from quarterback Zach Mettenberger, dropping just one while catching 77, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
Along with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Gibson, Landry should give Tannehill another solid weapon and may even turn into his go-to receiver this season.
Billy Turner, OL
At 6'5" and 315 pounds, Billy Turner is a strong player whom many expected to come in and start right away at one of the guard positions.
While he still has plenty of time left to win that job, it appears that Dallas Thomas is the leading candidate to start on opening day.
According to ESPN's James Walker, Thomas received all the reps with the first team at left guard during OTAs.
This news changes the outlook a bit on Turner for Year 1.
If he can't win a starting job in training camp, he will likely spend much of his rookie season on the bench.
While a redshirt season may be disappointing to him, it may be good for his development in the long run. It will give him time to improve some of his raw skills without the pressure of performing on game day.
Walt Aikens, CB
When looking at each draft pick the Dolphins made, Walt Aikens may have the toughest road to climbing up the depth chart.
As it stands right now, at least four other players are ahead of him at cornerback—five depending on Jimmy Wilson's position—and he has very little room to move up.
While Aikens does have plenty of skill and potential, it would take an extreme circumstance for him to jump ahead of Will Davis, Jamar Taylor and Cortland Finnegan in training camp.
With that said, he will still likely make the 53-man roster and serve as solid depth in the secondary, although he won't be asked to make much of an impact early on.
Arthur Lynch, TE
By drafting Arthur Lynch in the fifth round, the Dolphins showed that they aren't content with the players they currently have slotted after Charles Clay on the depth chart at tight end.
Lynch wasn't drafted to be a major receiving weapon, but there's no question that his great blocking ability is going to earn him plenty of playing time.
Before even stepping on the field, he is already the best all-around blocker at the position and should be a major boost to the running attack thanks to his in-line blocking ability.
Because of this, you can expect him to get plenty of work, especially in the red zone where he can use his massive 6'5", 258-pound frame to take advantage of smaller defenders and post up for easy touchdowns.
Lynch will compete with Dion Sims and Michael Egnew for the No. 2 tight end position throughout training camp and should win the job due to his great blocking ability.
Jordan Tripp, LB
One of the most intriguing selections the Dolphins made in the draft was selecting Jordan Tripp in the fifth round.
It's no secret that the play of the linebackers was the Achilles' heel of the defense last season, and Tripp is a versatile player who can line up on both the outside and inside.
However, with Koa Misi likely moving over to middle linebacker, Tripp will be competing for playing time on the weak side with Philip Wheeler and Jelani Jenkins.
Coming from Montana, there is going to be a big learning curve for Tripp as he tries to quickly adjust to the speed of the NFL game.
If he can develop over the course of training camp, he has the potential to be a major contributor for the team early on in the season.