Early Projections for Miami Dolphins' Final 53-Man Roster
The next major step is training camp, where the rookies and fringe players will battle it out to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
As evident by some of the bold predictions I made for the Dolphins' draft class, I have rather high expectations for many of the rookies they brought in.
That means there may be some veterans who get the axe to make room for these young players.
With that said, let's take a position-by-position look at the projected Dolphins 53-man roster for Week 1 of 2014.
There will still be plenty of positional battles and final cuts to be decided in training camp, but for now here's the projected 53-man roster for the Dolphins (names are listed in alphabetical order):
1. Walt Aikens, CB
2. Branden Albert, OL
3. Sam Brenner, OL
4. Charles Clay, TE
5. Will Davis, CB
6. Louis Delmas, S
7. John Denney, LS
8. Pat Devlin, QB
9. Dannell Ellerbe, LB
10. Brandon Fields, P
11. Cortland Finnegan, CB
12. Jason Fox, OL
13. Jonathan Freeny, LB
14. Nate Garner, OL
15. Brandon Gibson, WR
16. Mike Gillislee, RB
17. Brent Grimes, CB
18. Brian Hartline, WR
19. Ja'Wuan James, OL
20. Jelani Jenkins, LB
21. Anthony Johnson, DT
22. Reshad Jones, S
23. Dion Jordan, DE
24. Jordan Kovacs, S
25. Jarvis Landry, WR
26. Tyler Larsen, OL
27. Arthur Lynch, TE
28. Rishard Matthews, WR
29. Lamar Miller, RB
30. Koa Misi, LB
31. Earl Mitchell, DT
32. Matt Moore, QB
33. Knowshon Moreno, RB
34. Jared Odrick, DT
35. Mike Pouncey, OL
36. Derrick Shelby, DE
37. Dion Sims, TE
38. Shelley Smith, OL
39. Randy Starks, DT
40. Caleb Sturgis, K
41. Ryan Tannehill, QB
42. Jamar Taylor, CB
43. Marcus Thigpen, RB
44. Dallas Thomas, OL
45. Jordan Tripp, LB
46. Jason Trusnik, LB
47. Billy Turner, OL
48. Olivier Vernon, DE
49. Cameron Wake, DE
50. Mike Wallace, WR
51. Philip Wheeler, LB
52. Damian Williams, WR
53. Jimmy Wilson, S
QB1: Ryan Tannehill
QB2: Matt Moore
QB3: Pat Devlin
Ryan Tannehill is firmly entrenched as the Dolphins' starting quarterback and will ultimately be the deciding factor on how far the team goes this year.
Tannehill had an up-and-down season in 2013 but still improved in nearly every way from where he was in 2012.
To read a full breakdown of his performance last year, you can check out the article I wrote following the season.
The simple fact is that the success of the 2014 Miami Dolphins will live and die with Tannehill.
Matt Moore is next on the depth chart, although his spot on the roster in no guarantee considering the amount of money he is owed this year.
According to Spotrac, Moore is scheduled to make $4 million in 2014, with his contract counting a ridiculous $5.5 million against the cap.
After Moore there will likely be a training camp battle for the No. 3 quarterback position between Pat Devlin and undrafted free agent Brock Jensen.
The 6'3", 225-pound Jensen led North Dakota State to three FCS national titles and will have every opportunity to make the main roster.
However, that is more likely to happen in 2015 when both Devlin and Moore are expected to be free agents.
RB1: Knowshon Moreno
RB2: Lamar Miller
RB3: Mike Gillislee
RB4: Marcus Thigpen
The addition of Moreno should infuse plenty of life into what was a very lackluster unit in 2013.
Last year, the Dolphins running backs averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, ranking 26th in the league.
Lamar Miller finished the year with just 709 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per carry, which was nearly a full yard worse than what he averaged the previous season.
However, that number should likely increase with the improved offensive line, as Miller and Moreno could prove to be a solid power-speed combination.
Mike Gillislee should win the job as the No. 3 running back thanks to his ability to hit the holes hard and run with both speed and power, something Daniel Thomas can't do.
With Thigpen likely staying on the roster to be the primary return man, that leaves Thomas as the odd-man out.
The reality is there is no logical case in keeping Thomas, as he has been one of the worst running backs in the league in terms of yards per attempt since getting drafted, averaging just 3.59 yards according to Pro Football Reference.
WR1: Mike Wallace
WR2: Brian Hartline
WR3: Jarvis Landry
WR4: Brandon Gibson
WR5: Rishard Matthews
WR6: Damian Williams
With the addition of Jarvis Landry, wide receiver has quickly become one of the deepest position the Dolphins have.
Mike Wallace will return as the team's top weapon, looking for an improved performance than the 73 catches, 930 yards and five touchdowns that he had in 2013.
That will likely come with another year playing with Tannehill along with better usage in Bill Lazor's offense compared to how he was used under Mike Sherman.
Brian Hartline should continue to be a steady and reliable weapon for Tannehill on the outside as the No. 2 receiver.
Then we get to what will be the key training camp battle at receiver, with the rookie Landry looking to stake claim to the slot receiver role over Brandon Gibson.
He will likely have a leg up on the veteran, as Gibson is still working his way back from a torn patellar tendon that he suffered in 2013.
I expect Rishard Matthews to stick on the roster after putting up some solid performances last season, especially the 11-catch, 120-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The No. 6 receiver job will be up for grabs, with rookie Matt Hazel, Armon Binns and veteran Damian Williams the most likely candidates to win the job.
Among these options, look for Williams to outperform Hazel and Binns and earn the last spot.
TE1: Charles Clay
TE2: Arthur Lynch
TE3: Dion Sims
After the performance he put up last year, you can write Charles Clay down as the top tight end on the depth chart in ink.
With Dustin Keller going down with an injury in the preseason, Clay responded with a very impressive season, catching 69 passes for 759 yards and six touchdowns while earning the nickname "Big Play Clay" for some clutch performances late in games.
However, the Dolphins still didn't feel comfortable at the position, which is why they drafted Arthur Lynch in the fifth round.
Lynch is already the best all-around blocker they have and should be a major boost to the running attack thanks to his in-line blocking ability.
I expect Lynch to win the job as the No. 2 tight end and get a lot of work in the red zone and on rushing downs.
That leaves Dion Sims and Michael Egnew to battle it out for the last tight end job.
For Egnew, it's really his last chance to prove his worth after he has been a bust since being drafted in 2012.
He has caught just seven passes in the last two seasons and continues to be a porous blocker.
Unless he can really shine in training camp, the Dolphins will be moving on from him by the start of the season.
LT: Branden Albert
LG: Billy Turner
C: Mike Pouncey
RG: Shelley Smith
RT: Ja'Wuan James
OT: Jason Fox
G/T: Dallas Thomas
G/C: Nate Garner
C/G: Sam Brenner
C: Tyler Larsen
The Dolphins front office made fixing the offensive line its top priority heading into the offseason and has done significant work to improve it.
After hiring John Benton to coach the offensive line, the Dolphins signed Branden Albert and Shelley Smith at the start of free agency before using two of their top-three picks on Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner in the draft.
While most are projecting Turner and James to both start on the right side of the line, I can't imagine the Dolphins starting two rookies on the same side.
Instead, Turner should slot in nicely at left guard playing between Albert and Mike Pouncey, while James will slide into the right tackle position.
Dallas Thomas and Sam Brenner will also attempt to make their case over training to start at guard, although I don't expect them to beat out Turner or Smith.
Nate Garner will provide his usual reliability off the bench, while Jason Fox will be the primary backup at offensive tackle.
Undrafted free-agent center Tyler Larsen should round out the depth chart at offensive line, providing security behind Pouncey.
LDE: Cameron Wake
DT: Randy Starks
DT: Jared Odrick
RDE: Olivier Vernon
DE/LB: Dion Jordan
DT: Earl Mitchell
DT: Anthony Johnson
DE: Derrick Shelby
The Dolphins didn't have much turnover on the defensive line, making just one major move in replacing Paul Soliai with Earl Mitchell.
While Mitchell likely won't start, the 26-year-old should get plenty of snaps, as he is an extremely athletic player who will finally be able to play in his natural position in Miami's 4-3 defense.
Meanwhile, with Soliai gone, Jared Odrick will slide into the starting lineup at defensive tackle along with Randy Starks.
At defensive ends, Cameron Wake and 2013 breakout star Olivier Vernon will continue as the two starters.
However, just how many snaps they each get will remain to be seen with the 2013 No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan healthy and primed for a breakout season.
Jordan will likely split time at defensive end and outside linebacker, hoping to live up to the massive potential he has.
Rounding out the defensive line depth chart should be veteran Derrick Shelby and undrafted free agent Anthony Johnson, with both players just beating out Isaako Aaitui, A.J. Francis and rookie Terrence Fede in training camp.
WLB: Dannell Ellerbe
MLB: Jordan Tripp
SLB: Koa Misi
LB1: Philip Wheeler
LB2: Jelani Jenkins
LB3: Jason Trusnik
LB4: Jonathan Freeny
The weakest unit on the Dolphins defense last season, not much has changed at the linebacker position over the offseason.
Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, two major busts of the 2013 free-agent class, both still seemed locked in for major roles this season, with both hoping for bounce-back performances.
However, rookie Jordan Tripp may throw a wrench into the defensive depth chart, as a strong training camp should propel him into the starting lineup.
That will send Ellerbe to the weak-side linebacker position and Wheeler to the bench as Koa Misi stays on the strong side.
Jelani Jenkins should also get plenty of snaps, both as an outside linebacker and on special teams along with Jason Trusnik and Jonathan Freeny.
CB1: Brent Grimes
CB2: Jamar Taylor
CB3: Cortland Finnegan
CB4: Will Davis
CB5: Walt Aikens
Despite being the strongest unit of the 2013 Dolphins defense, it has a chance to get even better with second-year players Jamar Taylor and Will Davis healthy and ready to contribute.
Brent Grimes remains the No. 1 cornerback on the team and the leader of the secondary after re-signing in the offseason.
After Grimes, the No. 2 cornerback position is up for grabs, although Taylor seems most likely to win the job.
Cortland Finnegan will likely take over duties as the nickel cornerback, hoping to regain his mojo after a pair of terrible seasons in St. Louis.
Last season Finnegan ranked 109th out of 110 cornerbacks in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
If Finnegan struggles again this season, the Dolphins can turn to either Davis or rookie Walt Aikens to take over his role.
If not, that leaves Davis and Aikens competing over training camp for the No. 4 cornerback position.
Providing the young players can develop, this could once again be the team's top unit this season.
FS: Reshad Jones
SS: Louis Delmas
S3: Jimmy Wilson
S4: Jordan Kovacs
At safety, the Dolphins replaced the reliable but average play of Chris Clemons with what they hope will be the playmaking of Louis Delmas.
The hard-hitting safety signed a one-year prove-it deal and is expected to bring a toughness and leadership to the defense that Clemons didn't bring.
Opposite Delmas will be Reshad Jones, who struggled mightily in 2013 after a Pro Bowl season the year prior.
Jones has all the talent in the world and will be counted on to return to his 2012 form and be a key contributor in the secondary.
When it comes to Delmas, the major question will be his health, as the 2013 season was the first time in his five-year career that he played a full 16-game season.
If Delmas struggles or cannot stay healthy then it will be up to Jimmy Wilson to step in and fill the role.
The former seventh-round pick has improved every year and could potentially be the safety of the future if he can continue to develop.
Jordan Kovacs will round out the depth chart at the safety position, mainly being an emergency option and special teams contributor.
K: Caleb Sturgis
P: Brandon Fields
LS: John Denney
PR: Marcus Thigpen
KR: Marcus Thigpen
On special teams, the Dolphins will return both 2013 Pro Bowler Brandon Fields and 2013 fifth-round pick Caleb Sturgis.
Fields continued to be one of the best punters in the league last season, with a booming average of over 48 yards per punt.
Sturgis had an up-and-down season last year, starting off strong and making his first 10 field-goal attempts, but then he made just 16 of his next 24.
He finished the year making just 76.5 percent of his kicks, a number that needs to improve if he is going to remain the kicker this season.
Elsewhere, John Denney should continue as the long snapper for the 10th straight season.
Meanwhile, Marcus Thigpen seems to have little competition for the kick and punt return duties, although he struggled there last season.
Thigpen has very little upside as a returner, as he failed to return a single punt or kickoff back for a touchdown last season.
Although he doesn't have the explosiveness or playmaking ability needed to be a great returner, as of now Thigpen seems to be the best option the Dolphins have.
He will be the guy against next season unless the team can sign someone or someone else impresses in training camp.