The time has come to begin previewing the Dolphins position by position entering the offseason (which we all hope officially begins this month with a new CBA). This article focuses on the tight ends.
The Dolphins entered the 2010 season without a legitimate No. 2 option at tight end, with Joey Haynos suffering a torn Achilles' tendon in training camp and re-signed veteran David Martin failing to make the final squad.
While Anthony Fasano held his own as both a receiver and blocker as the Dolphins' starter, the Dolphins sorely lacked another option at the position with a mix of undrafted and late-round rookies trying their hand (and often failing) at the job.
As a result, quarterback Chad Henne had one less option in the passing game, and the running game that had been so productive over the past few years suffered and became one of the worst in the league.
In this article, I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.
- Dedrick Epps—A seventh-round pick out of Miami in 2010, Epps joined the Dolphins' practice squad in September after spending training camp with the Chargers. He was promoted to the active roster in December and appeared in three games.
- Anthony Fasano—The Dolphins' starting tight end once again in 2010, Fasano started 15 games and set career highs in receptions (39), receiving yards (528) and receiving average (13.5) while adding four touchdowns.
- Jeron Mastrud—Undrafted out of Kansas State in 2010, Mastrud was signed to the practice squad and later the active roster in September. He started two games and appeared in six others, but did not record a catch on the year.
- Mickey Shuler—The son of former Jets Pro Bowl tight end, Shuler was drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round out of Penn State. He was claimed off waivers by the Dolphins in late September and went on to appear in six games (two starts), catching two passes for 44 yards.
- Joey Haynos (restricted—non-tendered)—Originally signed off the Packers' practice squad in 2008, Haynos was the Dolphins' third-stringer as a rookie and was the top backup in 2009. He missed the entire 2010 season with a torn Achilles' tendon.
Fasano may not be an elite tight end on the level of an Antonio Gates, but he's certainly a notch below that and is a well-rounded starter. As frustrating as he can be at times, he carries a huge load for the Dolphins offense and is usually a reliable target in the passing game as well as a quality run blocker.
Areas of Need
Part of the reason Chad Pennington and the Dolphins' running game excelled so much in 2008 was due to David Martin, who gave the Dolphins a nice receiving threat and a tremendous run blocker for two-tight end sets.
Joey Haynos was unable to fill that void entirely in 2009, and the Dolphins' pathetic four-man backup of John Nalbone, Jeron Mastrud, Mickey Shuler, and Dedrick Epps was downright terrible.
The Dolphins had only two catches by a tight end not named Fasano in 2010, and both of those came by Shuler in the season finale. The team desperately needs another capable tight end to play with Fasano and get the entire offense back on track.
Free Agency Outlook
The Dolphins are unlikely to shell out big money for a top free agent tight end like Zach Miller (Raiders) with Fasano having just signed a new deal, and the market is pretty bare anyway with Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars) franchised and Owen Daniels (Texans) re-signed.
For a short-term fix, the Dolphins could look at released veterans like Daniel Graham (Broncos), Donald Lee (Packers), and Robert Royal (Browns). The team already showed interest in tight end Jeremy Shockey, who signed with the Panthers after his release from the Saints.
Impending free agents like Kevin Boss (Giants), Jeff King (Panthers), Ben Patrick (Cardinals), Leonard Pope (Chiefs), and Dante Rosario (Panthers) could also draw interest from the Dolphins either as a receiving threat or blocking backup, but the Dolphins seem unlikely to dish out much money to the position.
Aside from a disappointing fifth-round pick used on John Nalbone in 2009, the Dolphins' current regime has entirely ignored the tight end position in the draft despite a few good classes.
This year, the Dolphins will have a handful of options at the position. Considering Fasano's reliability as a blocker, I'm inclined to think the Dolphins will target receiving threats at tight end that offer size and good speed for the position.
In the event of a trade down in the first and the acquisition of a second-round pick, the Dolphins could feasibly be interested in the top tight end of this year's class in Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph. They have bigger needs, but Jeff Ireland has long been a proponent of taking the best player available and Rudolph could fit that bill at some point.
Other early options include Nevada's Virgil Green or Florida Atlantic's Rob Housler in the second round. Jordan Cameron (Southern California) and Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin) could draw interest a little later. As good as he is, Arkansas' D. J. Williams seems unlikely to be on the Dolphins' radar, as he lacks the Dolphins' ideal size for the position at just 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds.
In the unfortunate event that the Dolphins do not address tight end on the first two days of the draft, a pure blocking prospect like Wesley Saunders (South Carolina), Charlie Gantt (Michigan State) or Lee Smith (Marshall) might be options in the later rounds.
I've been arguing against the Dolphins' current depth practices at tight end for what seems like ages now, calling for changes and additions to be made all offseason. In January, I even broke down the Dolphins' significant drop-off in production from the tight ends between 2008 and 2010.
While it'd be nice for the Dolphins to have one of those elite play-makers at tight end, that's certainly not a necessity if you have other good pieces (like a Brandon Marshall) and Fasano is more than serviceable as an NFL starter.
What the Dolphins do need, however, is a capable No. 2 man at the position. The free agent market doesn't offer much more than developmental or short-term options, which is why the draft is probably the place to go for a long-term player to pair with Fasano.
Whether it's a mauling run blocker to team with Fasano in two-tight end sets, or a speedy receiving tight end that could develop into a starter down the road and let Fasano become more of a full-time blocker, the Dolphins simply need two capable players at the position and will have the opportunity to acquire that second one next month.
Such a move would do wonders for the Dolphins' running game that struggled so badly in 2010, as well as help the quarterback (whoever he is) by giving him a reliable rushing attack and one more option in the passing game.
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Chris J. Nelson graduated with a degree in journalism from Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.
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