Miami Dolphins: Breaking Down Final Roster and Week 1 Starters
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Snap into the Miami Dolphins roster.
Here, we've compiled a look at the depth charts for every position, as well as a closer look at the starting lineups at each spot.
I feel foolish using the word "final roster," though, because there's absolutely nothing "final" about it. The Dolphins are liable to continue making changes and tweaks to their roster as the season wears on, and even early on. There could be changes as early as Week 2, when veteran contracts are no longer fully guaranteed as they would be for veterans who make the initial 53-man cutdown.
That being said, here's a look at the full 53-man lineup that will open the 2015 season for the Dolphins.
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Logan Thomas
Running back: Lamar Miller, Damien Williams, LaMike James, Jay Ajayi (short-term injured reserve)
Wide receiver: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, Rishard Matthews, Matt Hazel
Tight end: Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims
Offensive line: Branden Albert, Dallas Thomas, Mike Pouncey, Jamil Douglas, Ja’Wuan James, Jason Fox, Billy Turner, Jeff Linkenbach, Jacques McClendon
Defensive line: Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby, Terrence Fede, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips, C.J. Mosley, A.J. Francis
Linebacker: Kelvin Sheppard, Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins, Chris McCain, Zach Vigil, Spencer Paysinger, Neville Hewitt
Cornerback: Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor, Will Davis, Zack Bowman, Brice McCain, Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett
Safety: Reshad Jones, Walt Aikens, Michael Thomas, Jordan Kovacs
Specialists: Andrew Franks, Matt Darr, John Denney
Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Backup: Matt Moore, Logan Thomas
There's not a whole lot to analyze here, so let's keep it short and to the point.
Ryan Tannehill enters his fourth year with the Dolphins and his second year under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. He has improved in each of his first three seasons in the three key metrics of quarterback performance—completion percentage, touchdown-interception ratio and passer rating—and should continue that trend in 2015 with an improved set of weapons.
Matt Moore was the only logical choice as a backup. Sure, he may make a little more than the average backup quarterback at $2.6 million per year, according to Over The Cap, but it's worth the extra money to avoid a situation where McLeod Bethel-Thompson or Josh Freeman has to suit up in meaningful games.
The Dolphins chose not to carry either, but instead claimed Logan Thomas off waivers after sending running back Jay Ajayi to the short-term injured reserve.
Starter: Lamar Miller
Backups: LaMike James, Damien Williams, Jay Ajayi
There was some speculation that Lamar Miller could be challenged for his status as the top dog in the Dolphins backfield. The man who was supposed to challenge him, Jay Ajayi, couldn't stay healthy enough to do so and didn't perform up to standard when he got the opportunity.
Thus, Miller's continued leadership of the backfield is expected.
LaMike James had a preseason finale he'd probably like to forget, having fumbled on a punt return, but it didn't prevent him from making the roster. He showed enough promise over the course of the preseason that he could be asked to fill in as a receiving back on passing downs from time to time. The same could be said for Damien Williams, who will probably end up splitting those snaps with James.
Ajayi has some work to do before he can get back into the good graces of the coaching staff and back onto the field in a meaningful role, but the first thing he must do is get healthy. As of now, he's on the short-term injured reserve and is not eligible to return until Week 8.
Starters: DeVante Parker, Rishard Matthews, Jarvis Landry
Backups: Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, Matt Hazel
Things did not go exactly as it seemed they would this preseason at the wide receiver position. A couple of injuries caused some shakeups in the reps, and while one player (DeVante Parker) figures to go right back to the starting lineup after returning from the physically unable to perform list, another (Kenny Stills) might have to fight his way back into the starting lineup after missing a few weeks of practice in August.
Rishard Matthews got the starting nod in the Dolphins' third preseason game. In the past, that might have been perceived as an attempt at raising Matthews' trade stock so that the Dolphins could finally get rid of a player that's been a headache for them for years. In light of recent praise for Matthews by head coach Joe Philbin, though, there's some legitimacy to the idea that Matthews could be a fixture in the starting lineup.
At 6'1" and 202 pounds, Matt Hazel has the frame to play on the boundary for the Dolphins. He played more snaps than any other wide receiver on the roster this preseason, and the coaching staff apparently liked what they saw in his 14 catches, 204 yards and one touchdown. His role could be big early in the season if Parker isn't ready to go right away.
Starter: Jordan Cameron
Backups: Dion Sims
If the Dolphins didn't look smart immediately after signing the 6'5", 249-pound Jordan Cameron, they looked like geniuses after Charles Clay took the money and ran to the Buffalo Bills. With Cameron, the Dolphins were adding a big-bodied red-zone threat that has been sorely absent from their offense for the past couple of seasons.
Dion Sims has shown some versatility to catch the ball and block as a backup over the past two years, and with Cameron's concussion history, Sims could be a very important backup once again in 2015. Sims hauled in 24 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns in 2014, but he played only 52.9 percent of the snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Most of his snaps were as a blocker, and that will likely be the case once again in 2015 since Cameron is much better as a receiving threat.
It's not a huge surprise that the Dolphins carried only two tight ends. The team just didn't see enough out of their other backups to keep a third. They might be looking to add one in the next couple of days, but they could also just keep the third on the practice squad and call him up if an injury strikes.
Starters: Branden Albert, Dallas Thomas, Mike Pouncey, Jamil Douglas, Ja'Wuan James
Backups: Jason Fox, Billy Turner, Jeff Linkenbach, Jacques McClendon
Between Branden Albert, Ja'Wuan James and Mike Pouncey, the Dolphins entered the offseason with 60 percent of their offensive line sorted out. Unfortunately, 60 percent of the time does not work every time.
They had to get answers at the two guard spots, and finally, after nearly six weeks of training camp and four preseason games, they found what they were looking for. Dallas Thomas will be the starter at left guard and rookie Jamil Douglas will get the nod at the right guard spot ahead of second-year guard Billy Turner.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that Douglas "pulled ahead" of Turner in the battle for the right guard spot, and it makes perfect sense. Douglas' scouting report pegs him as a perfect fit for the Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme, and the team has not had a guard who can pull out in front of plays ever since Joe Philbin came in and implemented the zone scheme in the first place.
The Dolphins kept some insurance in the form of Jason Fox (backup tackle), Billy Turner (backup guard) and Jeff Linkenbach (backup at both). The only real surprise of the group is Jacques McClendon, who got the roster nod as the backup center over versatile veteran Sam Brenner.
Starting defensive ends: Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon
Backup defensive ends: Derrick Shelby, Terrence Fede
Starting defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell
Backup defensive tackles: Jordan Phillips, C.J. Mosley, A.J. Francis
No surprises in the starting lineup. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon team up for a third season as an explosive bookend duo of pass-rushing dynamos. Ndamukong Suh and incumbent Earl Mitchell are the obvious choices as the starting defensive tackles, and Mitchell has proved that he's not to be ignored in the Dolphins front with some stout performances this preseason.
Derrick Shelby and Terrence Fede round out the depth chart with two solid developmental, rotational defensive ends to help take some of the workload off Wake and Vernon's plates.
In the past, the Dolphins have carried just eight defensive linemen, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post. Nine is a little more than was to be expected, but the talent at defensive tackle is worthy of the third backup spot. Of course, that could always change in the coming days/weeks, but for now, both C.J. Mosley and A.J. Francis are safe.
Starters: Jelani Jenkins, Kelvin Sheppard, Koa Misi
Backups: Chris McCain, Zach Vigil, Spencer Paysinger, Neville Hewitt
The Dolphins came into the summer with a lot of questions at the linebacker position, not the least of which was what the starting trio would look like. It took them awhile to land on their answer, but at least they did it before the regular season kicks into gear.
James Walker of ESPN.com notes that Koa Misi has moved to the outside to make way for Kelvin Sheppard to start at the middle linebacker position. Jelani Jenkins will resume his starting role on the opposite side of Misi, but the shake-ups allow for a group of young, athletic linebackers to be on the field in the base defense.
Sheppard is limited in his ability to cover tight ends over the middle and running backs out of the backfield, so he'll be the most likely candidate to come off the field in nickel packages. There's also the possibility that Misi could kick back inside at times if the Dolphins want backup Chris McCain to get some snaps on the outside.
McCain looked like a candidate for the starting lineup earlier in the summer, but he didn't do enough to lock down that spot and prove that he's one of the three best linebackers on the defense.
It looked like the Dolphins would only carry one of their four undrafted rookie linebackers, but the coaches liked what they saw out of both Zach Vigil (the safer of the two) and Neville Hewitt. The only surprise is that Jordan Tripp was sent home, but Spencer Paysinger will probably take his role on special teams.
Starters: Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor, Brice McCain
Backups: Will Davis, Zack Bowman, Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett
Brent Grimes' status as one of the Dolphins' top cornerbacks was never in any jeopardy. Jamar Taylor is undoubtedly in a make-or-break year for the Dolphins, but as a former second-round pick, he always had the inside track to the starting job as long as he didn't completely blow it. He missed the last week of preseason with a quad injury, but as long as he's ready to go for Week 1, the starting job is all his.
If Taylor isn't ready to go, veteran slot cornerback Brice McCain could be asked to line up on the boundary to start the regular season. He spent 284 of his 442 coverage snaps in the slot in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, so the boundary will not be completely foreign to him, but it is not seen as his strong suit.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins have been shopping Will Davis to other teams over the past few days. Apparently they like him enough to keep him on their roster, but not enough to keep him if they can get something else in exchange. He had two interceptions in the Dolphins' fourth preseason game, which probably helped his chances of making the team.
Tony Lippett is making the switch from wide receiver to cornerback, and the coaches like what they've seen from him so far. The 6'2", 192-pound rookie is by far the biggest cornerback on the roster and gives the Dolphins an intriguing long-term developmental prospect. On the flip side, Bobby McCain is a bit undersized at 5'9" and 195 pounds, but the rookie has potential as a slot cornerback for the future.
Zack Bowman balances out the two rookies with a veteran presence to line up on the outside or inside and also contribute on special teams. The Dolphins have a very deep group here, but it's well-rounded.
Starters: Reshad Jones, Walt Aikens
Backups: Michael Thomas, Jordan Kovacs
The Dolphins thought they had all the answers at safety, and they did until Louis Delmas tore his ACL for a second straight year. Now, they have no choice but to thrust a backup into a starting role.
That means Walt Aikens, the converted cornerback, will probably get the nod. He's started in each of the Dolphins' four preseason games, at both strong safety and free safety, so he has shown the versatility that is necessary to play alongside another versatile safety in Reshad Jones.
No surprise, Michael Thomas is the backup safety. That's been his role for the past two seasons, and he's stepped up as a starter in the past without much of a drop-off. He could be asked to do that again if Aikens falls short of expectations in his new role.
The surprise cut of the group is Cedric Thompson, a rookie fifth-round draft pick whose special teams value was seen as a huge advantage in his prospects of making the roster. Instead, the Dolphins went with Jordan Kovacs, who also has special teams value but has limited value on defense. Thompson could be a practice squad player if the Dolphins are able to sneak him through waivers.
Kicker: Andrew Franks
Punter: Matt Darr
Long snapper: John Denney
It took until the final day of the preseason, but the Dolphins finally made a decision at kicker, and they went with rookie Andrew Franks. Caleb Sturgis only converted 77.5 percent of his field-goal tries in his first two years in the NFL, and while Franks had struggles of his own at Rensselaer Polytech Institute, he made all three of his preseason field-goal tries, including a 51-yarder against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Dolphins didn't wait until the last minute to make their decision at punter, and instead sent Brandon Fields packing after eight long years as the Dolphins punter in favor of rookie Matt Darr. From the look of it, they made the right decision based on Darr's performance in the preseason finale. He had five punts for an average of 42.4 net yards, and pinned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside their own 20-yard line on three of those punts and inside their own 5-yard line twice.
The Dolphins enter the season with undrafted rookies at both kicker and punter, so this could be an interesting story to follow during the season.
John Denney has been the Dolphins' long snapper since 2005, and entering his 11th season, there's no reason to think he'll let go of his hold of that position anytime soon.