The Miami Dolphins are coming off two consecutive 7-9 seasons. There's a tight leash on quarterback Chad Henne to overcome last season's inconsistency, and head coach Tony Sparano faces a lot of pressure himself to produce results with a roster capable of reaching the playoffs.
The Dolphins had a decent draft this year; nothing spectacular, but it wasn't bad.
Let's take a closer look at how the rookies can contribute to the 2011 Dolphins.
Once again, Miami went with a safe pick in the first round, selecting Mike Pouncey out of Florida to anchor the middle of the offensive line.
He played both guard and center in college, and can improve the interior of a Dolphins line that gave up 38 sacks last season. Pouncey should start the first game and will probably play center so that Richie Incognito can move back to guard, his natural position.
Miami needs an improved O-line to give Henne more time in the pocket as well as better blocking for a new running back.
On a side note, improved blocking could make the Wildcat offense effective again; defenses were much more prepared for the Wildcat scheme last season, holding the formation to 189 yards on 57 plays, only 3.3 yards per play.
I don't expect the Wildcat to come back as strong as when Miami surprised New England with it in 2008, but if the formation stays in the 2011 playbook, I'd be surprised if it wasn't more effective than last season.
Pouncey should bring stability and dependability to a line that needs that interior conistency to open up the offense.
Miami will almost assuredly not have Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams for the 2011 season. That's why when Alabama running back Mark Ingram was available for the Dolphins' first pick, it was kind of disappointing that they passed over the former Heisman winner, though Pouncey was also a good pick.
The 2011 draft would've been a discouraging one for Miami had they not chosen Daniel Thomas at the end of the second round.
Thomas will more than likely be the feature back for Miami this season; he's confident in his abilities and has reason to be. He rushed for nearly 1,600 yards in his senior year at Kansas State, seventh-most in the NCAA.
Thomas will probably have the greatest impact on the team of all the rookies. He could be the guy in Miami for many years.
Miami selected a small-school wide receiver with blazing speed in the fourth round, giving Henne an additional target as a deep threat.
Gates isn't big, old for a rookie at 25 years but I think he's a perfect addition to Miami's receiving corps. As a student at ACU, I've personally seen No. 8 blow right by defenders. Last season, Gates caught 13 touchdowns and had nearly 1,200 yards receiving, including six 100-yard games.
Gates can be a great third receiver, complementing Brandon Marshall's height and Davone Bess's ability to find holes in the defense.
Bess thrives in the slot and gaining yards after catch, and Gates, clocked at 4.35 on the 40-yard dash, can stretch the defense to open up more opportunities underneath.
Henne, though inconsistent and not the most accurate of quarterbacks, has a rocket for an arm and will force the defender to stick with Gates all the way down the sideline. He also has a good shot to be a special teams returner.
Clay did a little bit of everything at Tulsa and would fit in well with the Wildcat offense, another reason why I think Miami will continue to use that formation.
He's a big guy, 6'3" and 235 pounds, and can be a good goal-line option for Henne. He can run, he can catch, and he can block and scored 38 touchdowns in college, 28 receiving.
The problem with this selection is that Miami already has three tight ends on the roster and an excellent fullback in Lousaka Polite. It might be hard for Clay to earn playing time this season but he has good versatile potential for years to come.
Kearse won't see much playing time in his first year in Miami's 3-4 defense.
He had good numbers in his senior year (57 tackles, 14 for loss), but playing behind Paul Soliai and Chris Baker at defensive tackle won't give Kearse much opportunity on the field, at least not soon.
Wilson is another older draft pick, 24 years of age, due to a three-year gap between his junior and senior season.
After spending more than two years in jail before his murder trial was acquitted, he only played in eight games last season, not recording an interception.
He's still a hard hitting defensive back, bringing toughness and self-awareness with him to the Dolphins. He faces an uphill battle in Miami, as there are already six cornerbacks and five safeties on the roster, and will have a hard time earning opportunities on the field.