Things get complicated at this point. The original starting Guards were Richie Incognito, a free agent signee of 2010, and John Jerry, a third-round rookie, and neither really lived up to much at those spots.
The mess began when all three of the original 2009 interior linemen starters did not heal properly from past injuries coming into 2010. The Miami brass kept high-expectations, hoping Offensive Guards Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas would recuperate in time for the new year. Unfortunately for them, they would not, and Miami put all of their chips on a wish, rather than securing a back-up plan.
Before you knew it, they needed an entirely new interior offensive line, having to suffice with a back-up at center, a rookie on the right interior and the man who was considered to be the dirtiest player in the NFL on the left.
It became very apparent, as soon as the Week 1 matchup in Buffalo concluded, that the run game was nowhere to be seen, and would remain covered under a veil of non-existence for the rest of 2010. The same running backs were in place from the year before, in which one had a 1,000+ yard season in 2008 and the other in 2009, so what was wrong?
The run-blocking was getting run-off.
Incognito was drafted as a center, but had been used as a guard throughout his career, failing to do much, if anything at all, at the position. He fared well in pass coverage, but couldn’t open up a lane for the life of him. His Dolphin debut as a center during the Thursday night, NFL Network bout against the Chicago Bears showed decent promise, but the scenario (and Chi-Town D) proved to be too over-baring for the offensive line as a whole for anyone to really care how well he’d transitioned.
I would keep him around, at least to tryout at center.
John Jerry also took beatings on the line. He was selected as an All-Rookie right guard, but to be honest, he was getting manhandled by the likes of Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Haloti Ngata and Kyle Williams throughout the year.
Then again, those four are Pro-Bowlers and some of the best at what they do; so with that being said, let’s hope Jerry took it all in as a learning experience. He is still very young and has the potential to grow and become a real-deal starter.
Regardless, Miami needs a proven, reliable, healthy left guard. The draft offers a couple of worthy candidates. Mike Pouncey of Florida, twin brother of now Pro-Bowler Maurkice Pouncey, is arguably the best college guard prospect coming into the draft, and is on many Dolphins short-list mock drafts as a first-rounder, on mine as well.
At 6’5", 320 lbs, he has the perfect build the size-happy Dolphin offensive line loves to have. Incognito was clearly smaller than what they prefer, which is a testament to their late desperateness at bringing in whoever they could.
Another sleeper, potentially as a second-rounder if available, is Danny Watkins of Baylor. The Canadian-born guard has already been drafted by the CFL as the fourth-overall pick back in 2010, but wants to give the NFL a shot, and is one of the top candidates at the position.
Problem is, he’s 26 years old, but the upside is he’s ready to contribute as a starter today. Standing at 6’4", 310 lbs, if he falls into the second-round, and Miami has used the first-round choice on another position, they’d be making a great move at picking up Watkins if they could manage to get themselves a pick between 33-64.
Lastly, Orlando Franklin of the Miami Hurricanes, at 6’7", 315 lbs, has the ideal enormous size the Dolphins love to have.
His criticism stems from being too slow off the line, or that he may be too tall for the interior line and would be better suited as a tackle. Thankfully, Franklin did play tackle for a few years, so anyone willing to take a chance on him would be pretty happy to know that the big boy is quite multi-faceted.
If he drops between picks 65-96, the Phins would be dumb to pass up on him if they haven’t addressed guard by then. He’s an enormous specimen and I doubt Tony Sparano would have many complaints of having two 6’7” monsters on his o-line.
Now, halting the hype train.
Rodney Hudson of the FSU Seminoles has the drive, stamina, persistence and will to contribute in the NFL right now, but he’s only about 6’2" and is under 300 lbs as far as I know. Fact is, he won’t get much respect from the big-body D-tackles in the league, and will likely get tossed around for the next few years. Miami would be better off passing up on him.
Another slightly over-rated candidate is Benjamin Ijalana of the Villanova Wildcats. He has the body the Phins crave, but truthfully, he is a tad bit slow, and for coming out of the Colonial Athletic Association, you would think that he would’ve been considered God’s gift to the offensive line. He was perceived as a great prospect, but even still, doesn’t have the tape to be considered a top pick playing against lower echelon football programs.
Something about that makes me wonder if he’s worth bringing into South Florida at all. I’ll take my chances elsewhere; NAY.
Thankfully, the free agent market brings plenty of talented offensive guards to the fore! Three Pro-Bowlers are slated to be let go as their contracts expire, including Davin Joseph of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carl Nicks of the New Orleans Saints and Logan Mankins of the New England Patriots.
Mankins is the ideal player to fit the left guard gap. A three-time Pro Bowler, and two-time All-Pro selection, he is arguably the best guard in the league. If Miami were smart, they would jump on acquiring him as soon as possible to save their picks for a skill-position heavy draft.
Having Logan Mankins beside Jake Long would make for the most dominant left side of an offensive line for years to come! It would immediately revamp the run game, and give unprecedented protection for whoever the quarterback turns out to be.
Carl Nicks will also become available as a restricted free agent, as he and Jahri Evans have become one of the best guard tandems in the NFL. He would definitely fit the bill… I just don’t have much more to say about another guard with Mankins being available. Sorry, big guy.
There’s also a fare number of aging free agents, like Alan Faneca of the Arizona Cardinals, and a few hot/cold prospects like Daryn Colledge of the Green Bay Packers, but honestly, Miami needs to think about its future and its reliability thereof. They are both great at what they do, but how long will they last?
My outlook on the situation?
Miami would be better off choosing someone from free agency before they draft anyone. Three years have gone by, and those years of development are over. The blocking/core position players should have already been dealt with, not reverting back to the beginning. Those draft picks should go towards a new, young, healthy running back, or a speed-bursting wide receiver, or an athletic tight end. Not replacing the same position for a fourth time.
1st Free Agent Choice: Logan Mankins (New England Patriots)
2nd Free Agent Choice: Carl Nicks (New Orleans Saints)
1st Round Draft Choice: Mike Pouncey (Florida Gators)
2nd Round Draft Choice: Danny Watkins (Baylor Bears)
3rd Round Draft Choice: Orlando Franklin (Miami Hurricanes)
Best Choice: Logan Mankins
Logan Mankins has been uncomfortable with his situation in New England for over a year now and has been wanting out since. He’s arguably the best guard in the league, and would prove to be the best left-side tandem in the NFL with Jake Long.
The running backs weren’t the slackers as those players did not change and cause the ensuing drop in rushing stats during 2010. By revamping the line, you bring back the rush that once was. In fact, I would go as far as to say Mankins is the single most important player the Dolphins should go for in free agency.