Where Are the Silver Linings for Miami Dolphins' Future?

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IDecember 30, 2015

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla.  (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins are 5-10, but believe me, things are much worse than they look. 

It's going to be a long offseason for the Dolphins, who will begin picking up the pieces of this broken season to try to find which pieces should be salvaged to help for the future and which pieces are beyond saving. 

There are a lot of major components that will be gone next year; general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Dan Campbell are likely among the prominent figures who will be on their way out. There are also some major components that the Dolphins have no choice but to hang on to; quarterback Ryan Tannehill and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh have contracts that simply can't be unloaded.

But there are some things the Dolphins won't want to get rid of. As bad as the Dolphins have been this year, there are some things to look forward to. 


Wide Receivers

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Consider this one of very few positions where the Dolphins have done a good job of drafting and developing talent. Between Rishard Matthews, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, the Dolphins have found a few weapons they can build around on offense.

Matthews really came into his own this year, and he has a career-high 43 receptions for 662 yards and four touchdowns through 11 games. It's unfortunate, however, because Matthews is set to become a free agent in 2016 and could sign with another team if the Dolphins are unable to meet his demands. 

There are, however, two receivers the Dolphins can count on for 2016 and beyond: Landry and Parker.

Landry set the Dolphins' single-season record with 104 receptions in the 2015 season, but more than the stats, he has made the spectacular seem routine on a weekly basis, with amazing displays of acrobatics and athleticism such as his twisting, leaping, one-handed catch against the Indianapolis Colts. 

Parker, on the other hand, has only recently emerged as a real threat in the Dolphins' passing game. He started slow due to a foot injury that kept him sidelined through training camp and most of the first two months of the season, but he has come on strong over the past five games with 17 receptions for 339 yards and two touchdowns. 

If the Dolphins can hang on to Matthews, they'll have a fearsome trio of receivers to build around for the future.


Offensive Line

Whoa, really? The Dolphins actually have pieces worth saving on the offensive line?

Believe it or not, yes, they do. They have three of them, in fact: center Mike Pouncey and tackles Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James. The problem is, all three have dealt with injuries this year.

Albert, in particular, has dealt with a lot of injuries over the past couple of years, but he is a dominant left tackle when he's healthy. According to Pro Football Focus, Albert's pass-blocking numbers put him among the five best offensive tackles in the NFL—he has yielded just two sacks, three hits and 10 hurries in 429 snaps in pass protection.

James ranks 12th on that same list, having allowed eight hurries, one hit and two sacks in 545 snaps in pass protection. The second-year tackle has been out since Week 8 with a toe injury, but he has given the Dolphins reason to believe he can do the job when he's 100 percent. 

Pouncey was injured in Week 12 against the New York Jets and again versus the San Diego Chargers in Week 15. Unfortunately, his most memorable moments this season are moments he would probably like to forget: a couple of miscommunications on the quarterback-center snap exchange that led to safeties. Outside of those miscues, though, Pouncey has been one of the most consistent centers in the league.

If the Dolphins can find answers at the two guard spots—no small feat given the fact that they've been searching for those answers for the better part of four years—their offensive line woes might finally come to a close.


Defensive Line

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Suh has been unfairly handed the blame for the Dolphins' defensive struggles. It's not up to one man to stop the run. That has to be a team effort. And when it comes to a team effort, the Dolphins have been dreadful. The other three defensive tackles—veterans C.J. Mosley and Earl Mitchell and rookie Jordan Phillips—all earned negative grades from Pro Football Focus in 2015. 

But Suh has been a force, and he currently ranks fifth among all defensive tackles in pass-rushing productivity with 41 hurries, 12 hits and five sacks on his 483 pass-rushing snaps this season. His impact against the run has been much smaller, but he has also been the target of double-teams almost all season long. 

Elsewhere on the defensive line, the Dolphins have both questions and answers. Cameron Wake has been one of the best defensive ends in the league over the past six years, but after rupturing his Achilles tendon earlier this season, there's fair concern as to whether the 33-year-old pass-rusher will ever be the same again.

Olivier Vernon has come on strong in Wake's absence, but the fourth-year defensive end is in a contract year, and given the Dolphins' current cap situation (they have more cap space allotted for 2016 than any other team), it's fair to wonder whether he'll be back for a return stint with the team that drafted him. 

If they're able to keep Vernon and if Wake comes back as the same player he was prior to the injury, the Dolphins defensive line could still be a strength. That being said, there are still weaknesses on defense that need to be addressed if that unit is ever to realize its full potential. 


Ryan Tannehill

Joe Skipper/Associated Press

Is Tannehill actually a bright spot? The jury is still out.

On one hand, he showed great improvement from his rookie year through his third year. On the other hand, he took a step back this year.

On one hand, he has never won more than eight games in a season. On the other hand, he's not the only player on the team.

On one hand, he could be considered a victim of some bad offensive coordinators in Mike Sherman and Bill Lazor. On the other hand, elite quarterbacks have earned their coordinators high praise in the past, only for those coaches to go on and prove that they were not the reason for the success of the quarterback, but that the opposite was true.

It really doesn't matter, because Tannehill is under contract, and he has a $11.64 million cap figure that simply can't be unloaded in 2016. If Tannehill is a bright spot, he has exactly one more year to prove it.