Ranking Miami Dolphins' 10 Most Important Players in 2015
It will take the efforts of all 53 men on the Miami Dolphins roster to push the team beyond its 8-8 morass of the past two seasons.
However, there are 10 men that are most important to the team in its efforts to clinch its first playoff berth since 2008.
Today we're ranking those 10 men, and the rankings will be based off of a combination of the talent of said players, the position that they play, depth at said position and their stature on the field.
For instance, left tackle and quarterback are the two most important positions on offense, while on defense a pass-rusher is more important than a slot corner. That's a loose explanation of how they're ranked based on position, however talent is heavily factored into these rankings as well.
Here's a look at the 10 most important players on the Miami Dolphins roster.
10. DeVante Parker
The Dolphins are deep enough at wide receiver that only one could make this list, and it was a difficult decision to think of which one it would be.
You could make the argument that Jarvis Landry should've been the receiver in that slot, seeing as how he was Miami's top receiver in terms of receptions and the receiver who has the best chemistry with Ryan Tannehill.
I still chose rookie DeVante Parker, a player who Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald points out is likely to begin training camp on the PUP list.
Despite the surgery Parker underwent that could delay his official Dolphins training camp debut, the Dolphins say he is still on track to be ready for the season opener against Washington on September 13, per Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel.
When he is ready, Parker adds a dimension Miami's offense has lacked since trading Brandon Marshall in 2012: a big-bodied receiver that can run multiple routes and serve as a true No. 1 threat both in short yardage and down the field. His play can open up the middle for Landry, as well as new veteran additions Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills.
For that reason alone, I chose Parker as the most important wide receiver and the 10th most important player on the Dolphins.
9. Cameron Wake
He has better control of a giant tiger than you probably have of your house cat (picture via Cameron Wake's Twitter, h/t Uproxx.com).
He has amassed 63 sacks in six seasons in the league and graded out at 24.9, via Pro Football Focus, in 2014.
He is the most interesting man on the Miami Dolphins, based off of his recent vacation posted on his Twitter feed.
He's also the ninth most important player on the team.
Why is Wake so low? The Dolphins actually have decent depth at pass-rusher with Terrence Fede and Derrick Shelby behind Wake and Olivier Vernon. None of those players can replace Wake long-term (which is why edge-rusher is shaping up to be Miami's primary need in the 2016 NFL draft), but they can fill in for him if that nightmare happens and he gets hurt.
That doesn't go for a lot of other positions on the Dolphins, specifically the ones ahead of him.
8. Mike Pouncey
The 2014 season was a forgettable one for center Mike Pouncey, despite him making a Pro Bowl appearance.
Starting off the year with a hip injury that required surgery, Pouncey wouldn't make his 2014 debut until Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers.
Making things worse was a decision that looked good on paper that was made by Pouncey and the Dolphins—the decision to play him at guard.
It made sense at the time, as Pouncey played guard during most of his time at Florida alongside his brother Maurkice, who handled duties at center. Pouncey would move to center in his final year with the Gators after Maurkice made the jump to the NFL and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Miami's center at the time was Samson Satele, and in the first four games of the season, he graded out at 1.3 overall with a 0.2 grade as a pass blocker and a 3.2 grade as a run blocker, per Pro Football Focus.
However, the Dolphins interior offensive line faltered, as Satele came crashing down to earth (and closer to his 2013 grades) by finishing at minus-11.9 overall with a minus-13.7 grade in pass blocking but a 4.7 grade in run blocking.
Pouncey looked worse, as he finished the season with a minus-17.6 grade overall, including a pass-blocking grade of minus-13.1 and a run-blocking grade of minus-3.3.
Moving back to center this year, Pouncey should aim at getting back to his 2013 form. That season, despite being surrounded by one of the worst offensive lines in recent memory, he finished the season grading out at 8.2, with a pass-block grade of 6.2 and a run-block grade of 1.6.
More importantly, Pouncey is healthy this season and will be a part of team activities from the beginning, which should allow him to better round himself back to form quicker and get a better grasp of Bill Lazor's offense and John Benton's blocking schemes.
7. Brent Grimes
The numbers bear out how important elite cornerback Brent Grimes is to the Dolphins defense.
Nine interceptions and 100 tackles in two seasons with the team will do that, along with a Pro Football Focus grade of 16.5 overall and 15.3 against the pass in 2013, and a grade of 0.3 overall in 2014.
Even more important than that is the wasteland behind Grimes at cornerback on the depth chart.
Grimes is Miami's No. 1 cornerback, but the distance between him and the team's No. 2 man is about the size of the Grand Canyon, followed by a mystery of who is Miami's No. 2 cornerback.
The Dolphins secondary is a fragile group because of this, if any one of three players go down, the whole unit likely will. Grimes is one of those players.
6. Koa Misi
It doesn't make sense to a lot of Dolphins fans why Miami didn't go out and sign or draft a potential starting middle linebacker.
It also doesn't make sense to a lot of Dolphins fans why Koa Misi will open the season as the starting middle linebacker.
Allow me to tell you why: When healthy, he was actually pretty good at the position despite the fact that he was still adjusting to it.
Misi started out as a defensive end in his career, then moved to strong-side linebacker. After the linebackers' horrendous 2013 performance, a shake-up was made that included moving Misi to the middle.
He responded by collecting 50 tackles and a sack in 11 games while grading out at 5.6 overall, 9.2 against the run and a—respectable for his first time at the position—minus-1.9 in pass coverage.
On top of that, he got better in every game, despite injuries and inexperience.
Misi is confident, as Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post reports, with Misi saying:
“Just being out here, playing the same position I did last year is that much of a difference. I’m able to learn from things I did last year. I know the defense now so I don’t have to really study anymore. I know all the plays, all the calls. I don’t have to second guess myself during practice.”
Head coach Joe Philbin is confident as well, as he noted that Misi is "definitely more comfortable," adding:
“He’s been able to be on the practice field every day and make strides and develop. I think he is understanding of adjustments and checks based on formation, coverage and the safety alignments and those types of things.”
On it's own being a good middle linebacker is important to the team, but making Misi more important is Miami's depth behind him.
Or shall I say, lack of depth.
Behind Misi stands Kelvin Sheppard, Jordan Tripp and a host of undrafted free agents, many of whom won't be on the roster come Week 1. Considering the inexperience, that's a rather steep drop-off at the position.
5. Louis Delmas
Earlier we mentioned how important Brent Grimes was to the Dolphins defense, partially due to the depth behind him and production.
The nightmare of a Grimes-less secondary hasn't been seen yet in Miami, but last season the team did live through the nightmare of a Louis Delmas-less secondary in the final three games of the season, a three-game stretch that saw Miami go 1-2 while allowing an average of 37.7 points and 415.3 yards per game.
That's missing a player, especially one who was a very reliable player on defense and second on the team in tackles upon getting hurt.
Do the Dolphins want to live that nightmare again? Absolutely not. The good news for them is Delmas has participated in minicamp and will be ready for training camp (per Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel).
4. Reshad Jones
Both of Miami's starting safeties are important to the team, and both are on this list.
How important are they? In the nine games when Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas were together, Miami only allowed 18.1 points and 329.4 yards per game.
We'll look at how poorly they did without Delmas when we get to him, but without Jones in the first four games of the season (due to a suspension), the Dolphins allowed 24.3 points and 322.3 yards per game.
Jones was fantastic in 2014, finishing second on the team in tackles with 70 while also recording a sack, a forced fumble and three interceptions, and finishing with a Pro Football Focus overall grade of 14.4 (including 6.0 against the run, 5.9 in pass rush and 1.4 in pass coverage).
If Jones puts in a full season with those numbers (similar to his 2012 season), he'll nudge his way into the ranks of the NFL's elite safeties and be an All-Pro.
3. Ndamukong Suh
We've spent time showing how important Ndamukong Suh is to the Dolphins defense and even made a chart referencing the effect he will likely have on the defensive line this season.
The answer is scary good, considering you're adding a Pro Football Focus grade of 27.5 (not counting the 3.9 he received in the playoffs against Dallas) to an already good defensive line as well as 46 tackles and 8.5 sacks (his totals in 2014).
Suh isn't just about stats and grades, though, but what he does for the rest of the team.
We already highlighted Koa Misi and how important he is to the team, however Misi highlights how important Suh is to the team and how he'll make him a better player (per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post):
Suh’s an animal. He’s hands down one of the best in the league.
He takes up another guy, so basically it allows us to move around a little bit better.
Per Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel, Joe Philbin also points out the advantages of Suh, stating:
I think one of the things that would come to mind is if teams are involved in double-teaming Ndamukong Suh, then sometimes what can happen is that they either hang on the double team a little bit longer based on his ability to penetrate which may free somebody up.
Misi, along with Jelani Jenkins and Chris McCain, will be freed up by the presence of Suh. So will whoever is playing alongside Suh at defensive tackle (whether it's Earl Mitchell or rookie Jordan Phillips), and edge-rushers Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
Suh, rightfully so, is the focal point of Miami's defense and the most important player on that unit, but the third most important player on the team.
2. Ryan Tannehill
It's a long-held belief that the quarterback is the most important player on the field.
In the case of Ryan Tannehill, he's the second-most important, at least for this season.
Tannehill earned his fat new contract extension (per James Walker of ESPN) thanks in part to his progressively good play in his first three years in the league.
Three years was all it took for him to go from looking like a wide receiver learning how to play quarterback that threw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2012 to a 4,045-yard passer with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions (with 110 more attempts) in 2014.
This despite getting criticism for not being able to throw a consistent deep ball to a receiver known for dogging it at times, having one of the worst offensive lines to protect a developing quarterback since David Carr and locker room drama at wide receiver.
Quarterback is important, but for the 2015 Miami Dolphins, it's not the most important position.
1. Branden Albert
Why would Branden Albert be the most important player on the team?
For starters, look at what's behind him: either Jason Fox or Ja'Wuan James, which would be a nightmare that's still a possibility (per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald). The preference would be for James to play right tackle, a position he's played since high school and played well in his first eight games as a Miami Dolphin. We'll get to how he did as a left tackle for Miami later.
Secondly, we saw the nightmare of Ja'Wuan James at left tackle, which moved Dallas Thomas to right tackle. It was not a pretty sight.
Just looking at some stats, it didn't seem that bad without Albert in 2014. Ryan Tannehill completed 69 percent of his passes and threw for 1,934 yards, 12 touchdowns, five interceptions and a quarterback rating of 96.4 after the Albert injury. Prior to the injury, he completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards, 14 touchdowns, six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 83.3.
He did get sacked more post-injury, as he was sacked 17 times with Albert protecting his blind side and 26 times without Albert.
The run game doesn't look like it suffered either, as the team averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns both before and after the injury.
Note: Not included in either of those stats is the Detroit Lions game where Albert got hurt.
However, look at the record of the Dolphins: Prior to Albert's injury, they were 5-3 but after the injury, they went 3-5.
Along the offensive line is when it really got bad. Albert graded out at 12.6 in pass block and 6.3 in run block for a grade of 17.5 overall, via Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately Albert and Billy Turner—who only played 19 snaps all season—were the only offensive linemen to finish with positive Pro Football Focus grades.
The rest of the offensive line combined to grade out at minus-76.7 in pass blocking, minus-51.4 in run blocking and overall graded out at minus-131.
Now look back at Tannehill's stat line and how impressive it is, especially when you factor in that he was only sacked 17 times when Albert played (with Albert allowing only three sacks and five hurries), but he was sacked 26 times without Albert despite throwing 10 less pass attempts.
For those reasons, I named Miami's 2014 MVP.
Albert is not only Miami's most valuable player, but he's its most important. If anything happens to him, the Dolphins might as well install a turnstile at the left tackle position.