Envisioning Miami Dolphins' Starting Lineup for 2015 Season

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMay 8, 2015

Envisioning Miami Dolphins' Starting Lineup for 2015 Season

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    On paper, the Miami Dolphins may have one of the best rosters we've seen from them in years. 

    General manager Dennis Hickey and executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum performed reconstructive surgery on several positions on their roster this offseason, particularly at defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver.

    The starting lineup will look dramatically different in those spots as a result. 

    Of course, no NFL team makes it through a season without an injury or two to a key starter; that, in turn, shifts the spotlight onto the depth chart, and whether or not the team did an adequate job of preparing for worst-case scenarios.

    But right now, in the beginning of May, every team is enjoying a best-case scenario where they all have an equal shot at being a playoff team in 2015. Here are the players that will play a key role in getting the Dolphins to the postseason for the first time since 2008—of course, if they're able to do so.

Quarterback

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starter: Ryan Tannehill

    There's still some doubt as to whether Ryan Tannehill will be the top-10 quarterback the Dolphins hoped he would become when they took him with the No. 8 overall selection in 2012. There's no doubt, however, that he still gives them the best chance to win, and it's not even close.

    By the numbers, Tannehill has improved in each of his first three years in the league, jumping from a 76.1 passer rating as a rookie to 81.7 in his second year to 92.8 in his third year. Now entering the final non-option year of his rookie deal, it's time for Tannehill to start putting the team on his back and carrying them to victory. That's what upper-echelon quarterbacks do.

    Fortunately for Tannehill, he has one of the best skill-position groups around him that he's had in his three-year career. If he can get onto the same page with new receivers like Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and rookie DeVante Parker, the Dolphins offense could be dangerous. 

Running Back

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Starter: Lamar Miller

    As a rookie, Lamar Miller was underutilized; in his second year, he didn't get enough help from his offensive line; in 2014, it all came together and he put up the best season of his career by a long shot. And to think it all happened because Knowshon Moreno went down with a season-ending knee injury.

    But now, Miller is firmly entrenched as the starter in the Dolphins backfield. He notched 1,099 yards on 216 carries in 2014 (5.1 yards per carry) and tacked on 38 receptions for 275 yards. His 1,374 yards from scrimmage are the most by a Dolphins running back since Reggie Bush in 2011 (1,382). 

    There are a host of backups waiting to give Miller a run for his money, though. The Dolphins drafted Boise State's Jay Ajayi in the fourth round, helping to round out a backfield that was missing a solid between-the-tackles ball-carrier. Miller and Ajayi could be a solid one-two punch at running back, but that could also cut into Miller's opportunities as a starter. 

Wide Receiver

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starters: DeVante Parker (X receiver), Kenny Stills (Z receiver), Jarvis Landry (slot)

    Someone should call Jarvis Landry the cheese, because he stands alone among the Dolphins' 2014 receivers that were brought back for a return bid in 2015. Yes, Rishard Matthews also remains on the roster, but Matthews does not figure to be a big part of the Dolphins' offensive plans—at least not as much as Landry, who hauled in 84 passes as a rookie, the most by a Dolphins rookie since...well, ever

    By acquiring DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, the Dolphins have shown a commitment to improve the variety and the playmaking ability within their passing game. Gone are the days when the Dolphins fielded a bunch of possession receivers and a one-dimensional deep threat. Now, the Dolphins have three versatile receivers.

    Parker can line up inside and outside, but is at his best on the boundary, where he can make the most out of his 6'3", 209-pound frame to win one-on-one matchups and make contested catches. Stills runs great intermediate routes, and has enough size to beat press coverage (6'0", 194 pounds) and enough speed to force defenses to respect the deep ball. Landry dominates in the slot with the quickness to shake away from corners in tight spaces.

    What more could a quarterback want in a receiving corps?

Tight End

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Starter: Jordan Cameron

    In hindsight, the Dolphins are geniuses for taking a low-risk, high-reward chance on free-agent tight end Jordan Cameron. After losing a bidding war with the Buffalo Bills for Charles Clay, Cameron is the closest thing the Dolphins have to a reliable starter at the position.

    Cameron's history of concussions is a little scary, but the Dolphins can cut him after the 2015 season and recoup $7.5 million of his $9.5 million 2016 cap hit, according to Spotrac. In any case, the 6'5", 249-pound Cameron has shown his potential when fully healthy, putting up impressive numbers in 2013 (80 catches, 917 yards, seven touchdowns). 

    Dion Sims could fill in as a No. 2 tight end, and might be the team's primary option as a blocker seeing as Cameron's strengths come in the receiving game. Without the move to sign Cameron, though, this position would be shaky at best.

Offensive Line

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starters: Branden Albert (LT), Jamil Douglas (LG), Mike Pouncey (C), Billy Turner (RG), Ja'Wuan James (RT)

    If this is how the Dolphins offensive line looks in Week 1, they may have finally found a formidable group up front.

    Branden Albert was proving to be worth every penny of the five-year, $47 million contract the Dolphins gave him in 2014; he yielded only nine total pressures (five hurries, one hit, three sacks) on Ryan Tannehill in nine games, according to Pro Football Focus

    Ja'Wuan James was playing well on the right side before being forced to move to the left tackle spot, his less natural position, after Albert's injury. A move back to the right side should signal a return to form.

    Mike Pouncey is a lock as the starting center. He proved his value by moving to guard last year when the Dolphins needed him to, but he should be calling the protections from the middle of the line. His value is as easy to see as the quarterback-center snap exchange, where the Dolphins struggled in the 2014 preseason without Pouncey. 

    Arizona State guard Jamil Douglas should be a plug-and-play left guard in the Dolphins scheme simply because of his perfect fit as a zone-blocker. He has the quickness and open-field blocking ability that the Dolphins have been missing ever since Joe Philbin took over.

    Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas should duke it out for the starting duties at right guard, but Thomas has struggled in his first two years, and the job may already be Turner's to lose. 

Defensive Line

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Starters: Cameron Wake (DE), Olivier Vernon (DE), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Jordan Phillips (DT)

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Dolphins have made some dramatic changes at defensive tackle by moving on from two starters and making a huge splash in free agency, but they didn't make any changes at defensive end. 

    In the long run, the new-look defensive line is similar to the old-look defensive line in that it will be a unit that features multiple talented pass-rushers who can disrupt the pocket either by collapsing it from the middle or squeezing it from the outsides.

    Over the past three seasons, Cameron Wake (2012, 2014) and Olivier Vernon (2013) have taken turns notching more than 10 sacks in a season. Ndamukong Suh, on the other hand, has notched at least eight sacks in alternating seasons with the Detroit Lions. Add rookie Jordan Phillips to that mix, and the Dolphins have a formidable line that stacks up against any in the NFL.

Linebacker

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Starters: Koa Misi (MLB), Jelani Jenkins (OLB), Chris McCain (OLB)

    The Dolphins stripped the cupboards bare and did not take many (or any) measures to restock them. Thus, it seems, they've put the keys into the hands of their young players: Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins and Chris McCain.

    Misi has been moving around the defense for the first four years of his career, as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the beginning of his career, a 4-3 strong-side linebacker in 2012 and 2013 and then as a middle linebacker in 2014. He could feasibly fit in anywhere the Dolphins want at this point.

    Jenkins stepped up as a starter in the face of adversity when Dannell Ellerbe went down with an injury at the start of the 2014 season, and he figures to be a factor in the starting lineup whether it's in a base defense or a nickel package. When the Dolphins are in the 4-3, though, they'll need another linebacker to step onto the field.

    McCain was used primarily as a defensive end in 2014, but he saw some time as a stand-up outside linebacker as well. He could be the player who is asked to fill Dion Jordan's role—and hopefully he gets a little more time doing it, too.

Cornerback

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Starters: Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor, Brice McCain

    This position group was one of the hardest to determine all three starters. The Dolphins have taken drastic measures to reshape the cornerback depth chart by signing two free agents (Brice McCain and Zack Bowman) and adding a player in the draft (Bobby McCain). Yet, with Jamar Taylor, Will Davis and Walt Aikens still on the roster, there's still all kinds of uncertainty on the depth chart.

    Grimes should start on one side; Brice McCain should start in the slot. Outside of that, there are a lot of question marks. The Dolphins spent a second-round pick on Taylor in 2013, so they're probably hoping he emerges as the front-runner to start opposite Grimes, but after an up-and-down start to his career, Miami is right to make him compete for the job.

    Between Bobby McCain, Bowman, Taylor, Davis and Aikens, the Dolphins have given themselves plenty of options. As long as one of them proves himself worthy of a starting job, the Dolphins secondary should be OK. If not, they could face some problems in pass coverage.

Safety

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Starters: Louis Delmas (FS), Reshad Jones (SS)

    Whatever happens at safety, the Dolphins can sleep easy knowing that Reshad Jones can do just about anything he's asked to do. He's lined up at free safety and strong safety at different points throughout his career, and while he emerged as a strong safety, he can play either spot at a respectable level. 

    He and Louis Delmas were used interchangeably at free safety and strong safety in 2014, but after suffering a season-ending knee injury last season, there are doubts as to whether Delmas can return to his old level of play in 2015. 

    It makes sense, then, that the Dolphins drafted Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson in the fifth round, fortifying their depth chart at safety. Thompson has "free safety" written all over him due to his size, play recognition and long speed, and if he cleans up some of his flaws (lacking instincts versus pass, patience versus run), he could become a starter in the NFL. It just may take a year or two for that to happen.

    Assuming Delmas returns to form, there may not be any rush to get Thompson on the field. 

    Unless otherwise noted, all advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus.

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