Miami Dolphins' Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth-Chart Predictions

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVMay 1, 2016

Miami Dolphins' Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth-Chart Predictions

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    The 2016 NFL draft has come and gone, and the Miami Dolphins believe that after a wild weekend they have some of the pieces in place to lead them into the future. 

    Overall, it was a good draft that addressed two of their major areas of concern (while neglecting another) and added talent that could help out, especially on offense. 

    My prediction that this would be a defense-oriented draft didn't come to pass, as only two out of the eight picks were on that side of the ball, but Miami nevertheless acquired some gems. 

    How does this affect the roster? We'll obviously know more once we get into training camp, but that's still a few months away. Here's a way-too-early prediction of Miami's final 53-man roster and starting lineup. 

Quarterback

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starter: Ryan Tannehill

    2nd String: Matt Moore

    3rd String: Brandon Doughty

    Not much has really changed at this position from last year. Ryan Tannehill is still the starting quarterback, while Matt Moore will continue to back him up. 

    Tannehill didn't get any competition for his job, but Moore did, thanks to the seventh-round selection of Western Kentucky standout Brandon Doughty.

    Doughty, a native of Davie, Florida, who grew up a Miami Dolphins fan (and at times in high school was coached on a part-time basis by Dan Marino, per Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel) is the first quarterback the Dolphins have drafted since Tannehill. While he's not a challenge to the starting job, his traits will allow him to challenge Moore for the second-string role. 

    Those traits include the ability to work through progressions well, manage an offense and throw catchable balls with touch. 

    He doesn't have a great arm, but he does have the cerebral traits that coaches look for in a quarterback. That alone might be a reason for head coach Adam Gase to allow Doughty to compete with Moore for the second-string job before deciding to carry three quarterbacks on the roster, with Doughty being the third quarterback. 

Running Back

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starter: Jay Ajayi

    Reserves: Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, Isaiah Pead

    This is the best guess I can make at this position, as the only two running backs I feel comfortable in saying will be on the roster come Week 1 are Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake. 

    Arian Foster remains a free agent, and while he's no longer the Foster who carried the Texans offense a few years ago, he'd be a serviceable enough back to at least split some of the carries with Ajayi. Foster visited the team in March. If he's signed, that would likely knock Isaiah Pead off the depth chart, barring an injury to one of the running backs. 

    As for Ajayi, he will likely head into the season listed as Miami's top running back regardless of who's on the roster. This was practically the guarantee made by head coach Adam Gase after the first veteran minicamp last week, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald

    “He looks out there right now and he knows he’s the starter,” Gase said. “He’s showing me a lot of great things. I like his skill set. He’s impressed me more both days, from the first day to the second day.”

    Ajayi has a lot of the qualities Gase covets in a running back, but he'll still receive some help in the backfield. The selection of Drake is one instance of that, as he will likely serve as Miami's change-of-pace back. Damien Williams should get some carries as well, as Gase likes to rotate his backs in an attempt to keep them fresh. 

Wide Receiver

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starters: DeVante Parker (LWR), Kenny Stills (RWR), Jarvis Landry (SWR)

    Reserves: Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant

    Miami added to what had been the strength of the offense, drafting Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant over the weekend. 

    Carroo will serve as the replacement for Rishard Matthews and line up as Miami's fourth wide receiver on plays that call for four wideouts. He should beat out Matt Hazel for that spot, as Hazel, despite his upside, will be entering his third season and was not selected by the current regime, nor has he stood out in his first two seasons. 

    Grant is a different animal altogether. You should see him more on kickoff and punt returns, which comes with the added benefit of Jarvis Landry not having to handle those duties and risking any injuries. When Grant is used in the offense, it could be at various places (mainly slot or even in the backfield), utilizing his speed and quickness to create a mismatch. 

Tight Ends

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    Starter: Jordan Cameron

    Reserves: Dion Sims, Thomas Duarte

    Thomas Duarte was one of my favorite overall late-round picks. He has great hands and a good catch radius that should allow him to become a true red-zone threat. 

    He likely won't realize his potential for at least one season as Dion Sims and Jordan Cameron remain above him on the depth chart. The two tight ends struggled last season for various reasons and will look for a bounce-back year in 2016, but if said bounce back doesn't come to fruition, don't be too surprised to see Duarte take some snaps right away. 

Offensive Line

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

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

    Reserves: Jermon Bushrod, Jamil Douglas, Ulrick John

    First-round pick Laremy Tunsil's selection wasn't controversial (it was a stroke of luck for the Dolphins that was also unfortunate for Tunsil), but he is shrouded in some controversy. 

    To many Dolphins fans, the real controversy is the possibility that Tunsil will be Miami's starting left guard in 2016. I wasn't much of a fan of it; however, I can see the merits in it. 

    Branden Albert is the veteran, and when he's been healthy, he's been quite good. Based on that circumstance, Albert should remain the starting left tackle for at least this season. 

    Then there's also the fact that releasing Albert now means Miami has to carry $11.1 million in dead-cap room, as opposed to the $3.4 million in dead cap room the team would carry if it releases him next offseason, per Spotrac

    Tunsil should be on the field when healthy, and despite the fact that he spent his entire collegiate career at tackle, he's already Miami's best guard on the roster. So, as long as Albert is Miami's left tackle and wants to remain there, Tunsil will play guard. 

    With that being said, if Tunsil is impressive in training camp and in the preseason when playing tackle, I'd be willing to have a difficult conversation with Albert. 

    According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, nothing has been decided as to where Tunsil will play to start the season, so everything here is mainly speculation. 

Defensive End

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Starters: Cameron Wake (LDE), Mario Williams (RDE)

    Reserves: Terrence Fede, Andre Branch, Damontre Moore

    I figured Miami would spend at least one draft pick on an edge-rusher considering the age of the two starters, Cameron Wake (34) and Mario Williams (31). 

    The position was left untouched in this draft, which means the lineup you see here at defensive end will likely be the Week 1 lineup...unless the team moves Chris McCain from linebacker back to defensive end, which is still a good possibility (chances are he'll play both depending on the situation). 

    If you're wondering where Dion Jordan is, keep in mind that he still hasn't been officially reinstated by the league. If he is, he'll likely have to impress in training camp in order to hold onto a job with the Dolphins. 

Defensive Tackle

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    Joe Skipper/Associated Press

    Starters: Ndamukong Suh (LDT), Earl Mitchell (RDT)

    Reserves: Jordan Phillips, Deandre Coleman

    The Dolphins didn't really look for a defensive tackle in this draft, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

    What will be interesting to watch with this unit is the development of second-year player Jordan Phillips. While Phillips showed flashes last season, he was inconsistent. With another year of seasoning, one has to wonder if he will be able to compete with Earl Mitchell for the starting job. 

    I have my doubts that he's ready for that yet, but he should become a main part of Miami's defensive tackle rotation in 2016. He'll get more and more snaps each game, especially against the run. 

Linebacker

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Starters: Kiko Alonso (MLB), Jelani Jenkins (WLB), Koa Misi (SLB)

    Reserves:  Zach Vigil, Chris McCain, Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull

    All of these players listed will get a good amount of snaps throughout the season. 

    One reason for that is while the talent is there, Miami's starting linebackers are injury-prone. It wouldn't surprise me if at least one of the starters missed a game or two throughout the course of the season. 

    Another reason is while there's no true superstar in the group, the Dolphins linebackers are a better unit than last year thanks in part to the development of Zach Vigil, Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull (all of whom showed promise when on the field last season), as well as the addition of Kiko Alonso, whose speed should help the Dolphins defend from sideline to sideline better than they have in quite a while. 

    Chris McCain will get plenty of snaps at both weak-side linebacker and as a defensive end, just as he has the last two seasons. 

Defensive Backs

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Starters: Byron Maxwell (LCB), Reshad Jones (SS), Isa Abdul-Quddus (FS), Xavien Howard (RCB)

    Reserves: Bobby McCain (NCB), Tony Lippett (CB), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB), Jordan Lucas (CB), Walt Aikens (S), Michael Thomas (S), Shamiel Gary (S)

    Miami traded for one starter at corner in Byron Maxwell and then drafted another in Xavien Howard. They are already the best corners on the roster, which says more about the corners Miami has than those players themselves. 

    There's still promise in Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett, as McCain will serve as Miami's slot corner and Lippett's size (6'2", 200 lbs) fits into Miami's new defensive philosophy at cornerback. 

    As for the safeties, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Walt Aikens should fight it out in training camp for the free safety position. The edge goes to Abdul-Quddus right now due to his good play in Detroit the last two seasons, but the opportunity is still there for Aikens, who is entering his third season, to make an impact. 

    Miami's sixth-round pick, Jordan Lucas, played both cornerback and safety at Penn State, but with the Dolphins, he'll likely play cornerback, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald

Special Teams

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    Kicker: Andrew Franks

    Punter: Matt Darr

    Long Snapper: John Denney

    Punt Returner: Kenyan Drake

    Kick Returner: Jakeem Grant, Kenyan Drake

    No changes here at this point with the kicker, punter and long snapper, but come training camp, watch out for one possibility. 

    Per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Miami signed long snapper Ryan DiSalvo from San Jose State as an undrafted free agent. 

    Long snappers aren't typically positions that one specifically looks for, but John Denney is 37 years old and has a cap hit of $1.215 million this season, per Spotrac. 

    Releasing him saves the Dolphins $1.125 million, as the dead money would be $100,000, and that could be something they consider doing if DiSalvo performs well in training camp. 

    The Dolphins practically did the same thing to Brandon Fields last year, so don't rule it out. For now, Denney is the starting long snapper, but keep your eye on this battle. 

    As for the return men, Jakeem Grant's speed would best be put to use as a return specialist; he averaged 24.9 yards per return while scoring four touchdowns in four seasons at Texas Tech. Kenyan Drake should get some time returning kicks as well, thanks to his speed and elusiveness. 

Full 53-Man Roster

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    Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty

    Running Back: Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, Isaiah Pead

    Wide Receiver: DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant

    Tight End: Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims, Thomas Duarte

    Offensive Line: Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Mike Pouncey, Billy Turner, Ja'Wuan James, Jermon Bushrod, Jamil Douglas, Ulrick John

    Defensive Ends: Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Terrence Fede, Andre Branch, Damontre Moore

    Defensive Tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips, Deandre Coleman

    Linebackers: Kiko Alonso, Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi, Zach Vigil, Chris McCain, Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull

    Cornerbacks: Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jordan Lucas

    Safeties: Reshad Jones, Walt Aikens, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Michael Thomas, Shamiel Gary

    Kicker: Andrew Franks

    Punter: Matt Darr

    Long-Snapper: John Denney

    The final Dolphins 53-man roster should look like this come Week 1, but as always there are plenty of surprises. 

    Note the absence of Daniel Thomas, which I was on the fence about. He does have the benefit of playing alongside Ryan Tannehill and played for coach Adam Gase last season while in Chicago, which could help him keep a roster spot in Miami. 

    The collection of undrafted free agents (per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald) could produce some gems that get a spot on the team as well. The Dolphins have played at least one undrafted free agent in each of the last three seasons. 

    This team isn't ready to contend for a playoff spot, but 2016 is more about setting the foundation for the future. It should be a fun collection of talent to watch on the field, assuming the coaching staff uses the players in a way that best suits their talent. 

    Stats provided by Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.