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This is the second entry in my position-by-position grading of the 2009 Miami Dolphins, and today I'll be focusing on the team's running backs.
The running game was one of the Dolphins' strongest aspects in 2009, as a quality offensive line and a slew of talented backs propelled Miami to a fourth-place ranking in rushing yards while tying for the league lead in rushing touchdowns.
Here is how I grade each of the team's backs individually and collectively:
Lousaka Polite: A+
Polite was simply outstanding in every aspect of the game this season, and was one of the biggest snubs from the 2010 Pro Bowl. (He was named a second alternate; Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain was voted the starter.)
Polite delivered punishing blocks on a game-by-game basis, teaming with the offensive line to create one of the best power running games in the league this season.
Polite was also extremely reliable when asked to carry the ball, converting short-yardage situations for first downs whenever called upon.
Ricky Williams: A
Williams was forced to carry the full load when Ronnie Brown went down for the season with a foot injury in mid-November, and I think all of us had a few flashbacks of 2002.
Looking as talented and fresh as ever, Williams topped 1,100 yards rushing and scored 13 total touchdowns (11 rushing, two receiving), despite taking a backseat to Brown for more than half the season.
Williams' undersized hands gave him problems late, as he dropped a few very catchable passes and fumbled five times, including four times during a two-game span against the Jaguars and Titans in December.
That being the case, Williams' highly-productive running allowed the Dolphins' offense to not miss a beat after the injury to Brown, and also eased the development of young starting quarterback Chad Henne.
Ronnie Brown: B+
After playing in all 16 games in 2008, Brown suffered his second season-ending injury in the past three seasons with a foot fracture against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 15.
Prior to his injury, Brown was on pace to demolish his 2008 numbers in which he split time with Ricky William and rushed for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In nine starts before the injury in 2009, Brown rushed for 648 yards and eight touchdowns on a 4.4-yard average. He had his struggles against a few tough defenses, but overall ran very well and would have put up Pro Bowl numbers if his season had not been cut short.
Patrick Cobbs: C+
Cobbs is sort of a jack-of-all-trades for the Dolphins, contributing as a runner, receiver, returner, blocker and special teams player.
A torn ACL forced Cobbs out for the season after only five games, but he played well in the action he did see, posting a six-yard average on six carries and catching three passes for 23 yards.
Cobbs doesn't have feature back ability, but he works hard and always seems to exceed expectations when called upon.
Lex Hilliard: C
Hilliard was a brief fan favorite during the preseason, and that kind of picked up again late in the season when Ricky Williams was banged up.
Hilliard performed fairly well as a ball-carrier during the season's last few games, finishing the year with 89 rushing yards on a 3.9 average and a touchdown to go along with 20 catches for 158 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
While he certainly showed some ability as a power runner and receiver, his yards-per-carry leave something to be desired, and his pass protection was also mediocre as well.
Kory Sheets: n/a
Signed off the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad in mid-October, Sheets played in just two games and carried the ball one time for five yards with the Dolphins due to inadequate special teams ability and a stacked depth chart.
Overall Position Grade: A-
There is very little to complain about when it comes to the Dolphins' running game in 2009.
Although success in this department is heavily dependent on good offensive line play, the Dolphins got plenty of help from their primary tailbacks as well as their blocking fullback.
Although significant changes loom for the Miami backfield given Ricky Williams' likely impending retirement and Ronnie Brown's expiring contract after next season, the Dolphins' ground game is currently quite sound.
Based on the performances of Brown and Williams at tailback and near-flawless play from fullback, I simply see no reason not to give this unit a very high grade.