Grading Miami Dolphins' Final 53-Man Roster
After a long offseason followed by OTAs, training camp and minicamp, the Miami Dolphins are ready to start their 2014 campaign.
The Dolphins have finally whittled their roster down to the league-mandated 53 players and, along the way, some very tough decisions were made. I didn't agree with all of them. You likely felt the same way as Miami posted its final roster—a roster that was augmented by a couple of signings and releases made only 24 hours later.
Since the roster linked is the one that shows the recent signings (as of the afternoon of August 31), that's the roster we are going to look at as I grade Miami's final 53-man roster.
Starter: Ryan Tannehill
QB2: Matt Moore
Miami spent all training camp looking for who would fit in the Pat Devlin slot of third quarterback.
Devlin was the first choice. However, injuries slowed him down, which made Miami test the market by signing Seth Lobato and Brady Quinn.
Due to those injuries, Devlin wound up being released the Dolphins—primarily to make room on the roster for Quinn.
Lobato was at best uneven, at worst absolutely dreadful. He's the very definition of a "spoiler alert" practice squad quarterback. There's some talent there to be developed, but the best-case scenario suggests he'll handle the clipboard.
While the Dolphins did kick the tires on Quinn, I really think the only reason he came to camp was because he was competent enough to provide an arm to throw to the receivers who were entrenched in one of the toughest positional battles on the team.
Unless anything happened to Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill, Quinn was always meant to be a two-week preseason rental.
I highly doubt one leaves a cushy network job to compete for the third quarterback slot.
With the mess at the third quarterback spot, Miami chose to gamble and only carry Tannehill and Moore. This does make sense since depth is needed at other positions and the Dolphins already have a quarterback hierarchy in place.
Tannehill is Miami's starting quarterback, and for right now, he's an inconsistent but all-around B-plus player who could ascend to a higher level at the position. Moore is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league.
Lobato is on the practice squad just in case the worst of the worst happens at the position. However, I could see the Dolphins instead calling upon Quinn to come back if the worst-case scenario were to occur.
RB1: Knowshon Moreno
RB2: Lamar Miller
RB3: Damien Williams
RB4: Orleans Darkwa
IR: Mike Gillislee
Here's a position Miami desperately needed more depth in, yet its biggest addition came via subtraction.
Since the departure of Reggie Bush, running back has been a difficult position for the Dolphins to really fill. Last season saw Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas unsuccessfully split carries.
Each did have at least one good game to their name—and the team rushed well in quite a few more games than you might remember. However, when they stunk, they stunk.
Some of that is due to the offensive line, which has now been revamped. The backs themselves did have issues of their own, though.
One of those issues was pass-blocking, which led to Miami bringing in Knowshon Moreno. Moreno would battle knee injuries during the offseason, not taking a preseason snap until Week 3 against Dallas. That game saw Moreno break out in a big way for Miami, running for 64 yards on 10 carries.
Miller, whose preseason was quite uneven, seemed to get into the groove in that same game, running for 34 yards on seven carries.
Orleans Darkwa had a tremendous 53-yard run that helped set up a touchdown in that game, and that combined with a good training camp got him onto the roster.
Darkwa will not only be looking up at Moreno and Miller but also Damien Williams, who will serve as Miami's return man at times, likely splitting the role with wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
Mike Gillislee is on injured reserve to start the season, and Daniel Thomas is no longer a Miami Dolphin despite dealing with injuries throughout the preseason.
In his one game back, Thomas ran for 38 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, which wasn't quite good enough to take the last slot—especially with how tentative he had run in gaining those yards.
WR1: Mike Wallace
WR2: Brian Hartline
WR3: Brandon Gibson
WR4: Rishard Matthews
WR5: Jarvis Landry
This position was a tough one for the Dolphins to sort out. In fact, two very good receivers were released by the Dolphins at some point in the last week, while another (Matt Hazel) is currently on the practice squad.
Armon Binns was released last week. On Sunday morning, Omar Kelly of The Sun-Sentinel reported that Damian Williams was cut, despite the fact that Williams had a great training camp and preseason with Miami.
Either one of the three who isn't on the final roster could've made the team—or any team—but in the end, Miami went with the five best receivers it had to round out its roster at the position.
It's a good unit from top to bottom.
TE1: Charles Clay
TE2: Dion Sims
TE3: Gator Hoskins
IR: Arthur Lynch
The Dolphins came into training camp with five tight ends. In some form or fashion, they kept four.
Dion Sims had the best training camp and preseason of them all, firmly entrenching himself into the second tight end position.
Gator Hoskins was impressive as well, especially when it came to catching the football, which gave him a leg up on now-former Dolphins tight end Michael Egnew.
Arthur Lynch was hurt for most of training camp and is now relegated to injured reserve.
LT: Branden Albert
LG: Daryn Colledge
C: Samson Satele
RG: Dallas Thomas
RT: Ja'Wuan James
OL: Nate Garner
OL: Shelley Smith
OL: Billy Turner
OL: Jason Fox
C: Mike Pouncey (injured but not on PUP list, per James Walker of ESPN.com)
IR: Davonte Wallace
Here are a couple of decisions I disagree with.
First off, if Dallas Thomas is starting ahead of Shelley Smith—as the depth chart on OurLads has it right now—that would be a huge mistake, one Miami should and likely will rectify this week prior to their matchup with the New England Patriots.
Secondly, I would've gone with Sam Brenner over Jason Fox for that final offensive line spot. Miami needs to get younger, and while Brenner should develop fine on the practice squad, he could provide better upside than the well-traveled Fox.
Other than that, kudos to Mike Pouncey for working hard to at least be on Miami's active roster. His return isn't likely to come until either Week 4 in London against the Oakland Raiders or Week 6 against Green Bay (Week 5 is a bye week).
However, being on the active roster is a victory itself for both Pouncey and the Dolphins, as he will be able to practice and get acclimated to the new offensive line as he continues to get healthy.
This is an improved unit from last season, but a couple of bad decisions—one of which can still be rectified—have me looking at this position group in a bit of a negative light.
LDE: Cameron Wake
LDT: Randy Starks
RDT: Jared Odrick
RDE: Olivier Vernon
DT: Earl Mitchell
DE: Derrick Shelby
DE: Terrence Fede
DT: Anthony Johnson
IR: Kamal Johnson
IR: A.J. Francis
Suspended: Dion Jordan
It felt like no matter how this position was going to shake out, you would be happy with it.
That's what happens when you have such a talented unit coached up by one of the best in the business. Miami couldn't go wrong on defensive line, and it's somehow managed to find a way to hold on to two other talented players that couldn't crack the final 53-man roster.
Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald reports that Kamal Johnson is on injured reserve due to a meniscus injury. He had as good a camp as Anthony Johnson, who wound up making the team.
Garrison Smith was also superb in the preseason, and he's on the practice squad.
Dion Jordan will start the year suspended for the first four weeks of the season, so when the time comes, another tough decision will have to be made in Miami.
WLB: Dannell Ellerbe
MLB: Koa Mis
SLB: Philip Wheeler
LB: Jelani Jenkins
LB: Jason Trusnik
LB: Jordan Tripp
LB: Jonathan Freeny
LB: Chris McCain
Miami's best preseason linebacker was Chris McCain, and there was absolutely no doubt about that.
Overall, we know the weaknesses of this unit. Two of the starters are overpaid and one of them is in a new position for him.
This was Miami's worst defensive unit last season, and the unit that could wind up ruining the season.
This preseason did nothing to show me it will be any different from last season. While Jordan Tripp and McCain were very good in preseason, both showed that time will be needed. However, don't be too surprised if McCain steals the strong-side linebacker job from Philip Wheeler by season's end.
LCB: Brent Grimes
RCB: Cortland Finnegan
Nickle: Will Davis
Safety: Louis Delmas
Safety: Jimmy Wilson
CB: Jamar Taylor
CB: Walt Aikens
CB: Sammy Seamster
CB: Brandian Ross
Safety: Michael Thomas
Suspended: Reshad Jones
I have another complaint to bring up with the Dolphins' player selection in the secondary, although it has more to do with special teams.
No Jordan Kovacs, no Don Jones.
Kovacs was released on cutdown day. According to Omar Kelly of The Sun-Sentinel, Jones was released on Sunday.
One of these players should've made the squad. My preference was Kovacs, who was the better player on special teams during training camp as Jones struggled. However, due to his familiarity with the team and decent play on special teams last year, I would've understood keeping Jones over Kovacs.
In the end, though, I thought it was a mistake to release either of them.
Nothing against Sammy Seamster or Brandian Ross, who will likely take their place on special teams. I just prefer to go with familiarity.
Other than that grievance, Miami built its secondary pretty solidly considering there weren't a lot of pieces to really work with.
It'll need the depth at corner, and I'm really interested in seeing what Walt Aikens can do this year if he can crack the lineup. I see him as a potentially good boundary cornerback, which Miami really doesn't have at this time.
K: Caleb Sturgis
P/Holder: Brandon Fields
LS: John Denney
PR/KR: Damien Williams
PR/KR: Jarvis Landry
I like this unit a lot, with the only real uncertainty being at kicker, which you could say is the most important special teams position.
Caleb Sturgis struggled with a groin injury throughout the preseason, just as he did in 2013. That's not a trend I like to see in a kicker, as it indicates the possibility that he might not be keeping himself in the best shape during the offseason.
I'm probably—make that definitely—the wrong person to comment on how an athlete should always stay in shape, so you can take my input about that as comments from a fool if you choose to.
If Sturgis struggles—a possibility as his leg strength wasn't at 100 percent against the Rams last Thursday—expect the Dolphins to shop for some kickers.
As for the rest of the unit, it's solid. Brandon Fields remains one of the best punters in the NFL, while John Denney continues to be one of the best long snappers out there.
As for the return men, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Damien Williams will share duties, and both add an exciting jolt to the unit.
I'm undecided at kicker, but with everyone else, I'm sold on a good unit.
I won't be grading the practice squad, which will remain fluid throughout the season, but here's a handy list of said squad:
- QB: Seth Lobato
- C: Sam Brenner
- TE: Jacob Maxwell
- WR: Matt Hazel
- DE: D'Aundre Reed
- OT: Tony Hills
- LB: David Hinds
- CB: Lowell Rose
- DT: Garrison Smith
- WR: Tommy Streeter