Miami Dolphins: What Kind of Impact Will the Rookies Have in 2011?
Without any sort of free agency or the ability to make trades or sign undrafted rookies yet, the Dolphins' only new additions this offseason (albeit unsigned additions) are those six players selected in April's 2011 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins and the rest of the NFL, the lockout-shortened offseason has put a huge dent in the plans to utilize their rookies, as most have been left without playbooks since the draft and all have been without the benefit of true organized team activities.
So just how much will the Dolphins get out of their 2011 rookies and what can we expect to see from them in the coming months?
In this article, I'll take a look at each Dolphins' draft pick and predict with the fearlessness of Khal Drogo the kind of numbers their produce in 2011...
C Mike Pouncey
While many of us were hoping for a franchise quarterback or playmaker elsewhere, the Dolphins did just what they did in 2008 with Jake Long and chose a more boring but likely safe pick in Florida lineman Mike Pouncey.
Pouncey has experience at both center and guard, but general manager Jeff Ireland stated post-draft that his rookie first-rounder would begin his Dolphins career at center.
Joe Berger was a major bust as a starter in 2010 and was the major culprit of the offensive line's troubles last season, so the good money is on Berger not rejoining the starting unit in 2011.
In fact, I'd even go a bit farther as to predict that Berger may not make the team altogether, if you consider that projected left guard Richie Incognito is a capable center and was an upgrade over Berger late last season.
My prediction: 16 games, 16 starts
My rationale: Pouncey was not brought in to be groomed, and even in a lockout-shortened offseason, the Dolphins will expect him to contribute immediately. With Incognito likely staying at guard, Pouncey shouldn't face much competition and should be the unquestioned starter barring injury.
RB Daniel Thomas
With literally no running back from their 2010 roster under contract this offseason, we all pretty much knew the Dolphins would look for one early in this year's draft. They didn't disappoint, trading back into the second round to grab Kansas State's Daniel Thomas.
At six feet and 230 pounds, Thomas has the size and bulk to be a workhorse running back, and he should factor into the offense significantly as both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will probably be moving on in 2011.
That being said, Sparano has utilized multiple running backs through his time in Miami as well as in Dallas, so don't expect Thomas to be carrying the ball 30 times a game any time soon.
The Dolphins will likely bring in a complementary back a la Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles via free agency, and they may even settle for a similar back to Thomas just to split carries, like they did with Brown and Williams.
My prediction: 194 carries, 854 rushing yards, 4.4 average, six touchdowns; 30 receptions, 219 yards, one touchdown
My rationale: Thomas is going to be a big part of the offense, but he's certainly not going to be the whole thing. They aren't going to overwork him in year one, but if the offensive line does well, Thomas should produce decent numbers.
WR Edmond Gates
As reliable as some of the Dolphins' receivers are, one thing the unit is lacking almost entirely is real downfield speed. Brian Hartline is probably the fastest of the bunch, but even he has yet to establish himself as a legitimate deep threat on a consistent basis.
Gates certainly has the speed to be such a threat, but whether or not he'll be a major contributor as a rookie remains to be seen. The obvious best-case scenario for Gates' career would be something like the Steelers' Mike Wallace, who is one of the most consistently productive burners in the game and started off his career that way.
While I like Gates' potential, I don't expect any Wallace-like numbers in his first year, and I think more likely he serves as the team's No. 4 wide receiver who is occasionally used on end-arounds and home-run passing plays.
My prediction: 18 receptions, 311 receiving yards, two touchdowns
My rationale: The bulk of the receptions are sure to go to Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, while I also don't see Gates fully supplanting Hartline in year one. I expect a few big plays from Gates over the course of the season, but not many catches overall.
FB/TE Charles Clay
Clay is probably the most difficult of all the Dolphins' rookies to peg, because with the lockout and no offseason activities to date, we really have no idea how Clay will be used. I don't envision him as a full-time tight end, which makes me think he might be a sort of versatile fullback/H-back type in Brian Daboll's new offense.
As much of a shock as it may be too some, I could envision a scenario where Clay wins the fullback job outright and costs Lousaka Polite not only his starting job but his roster spot entirely. Consider:
- Polite is in the last year of his deal
- Polite is set to earn $1.35 million in 2011
- Polite is coming off a down year that saw his run-blocking effectiveness decrease dramatically
- It's been discussed that Daboll may one more of a playmaking threat at fullback, whereas Polite is almost purely a lead blocker
- The Dolphins almost NEVER keep two fullbacks on the roster
When you consider all that, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Polite's job could be in danger this year. Remember, Polite was the third Dolphins' fullback in 2008 after replacing Casey Cramer, who replaced Boomer Grigsby, so the team has never been shy about shuffling fullbacks.
The one factor that may hurt Clay is the lack of an offseason with the playbook and minicamps, but don't be totally surprised if Polite is on the outs sooner rather than later.
My prediction: Three carries, two rushing yards; 10 receptions, 81 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown
My rationale: Without knowing what kind of role Clay will have on the team, it's nearly impossible to predict numbers for him. These numbers assume he's not going to handle the rock much regardless, but that he'll be used more as a receiver than a runner when he is.
NT Frank Kearse
The Dolphins were able to retain nose tackle Paul Soliai on a one-year deal with the franchise tag, but the depth behind him is much more uncertain.
Soliai's emergence has Randy Starks moving back to defensive end, and I doubt the team wants to shuttle Starks back and forth anymore. Versatile backup Tony McDaniel may also not be around, as a breakout season in 2010 should have him poised to land a starting job elsewhere in free agency.
That being the case, it looks like Kearse will compete with the likes of Chris Baker and Ryan Baker for a backup spot behind Soliai. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the Dolphins added an inexpensive backup, like former Broncos and 49ers nose tackle Ronald Fields, who has experience with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
My prediction: Practice squad for 11 games; active roster for five games; two games played
My rationale: The Dolphins don't have a whole lot of talent to compete with, but Kearse himself is largely unproven and probably not ready to contribute in his first year coming from such a small school. I think Kearse spends most of his rookie season on the practice squad and plays sparingly a few times due to minor injuries.
FS Jimmy Wilson
After going offense with their first four picks, the Dolphins used the final two on defensive projects, and that concluded with a little-known player that has taken quite a road to the NFL in defensive back Jimmy Wilson.
While Wilson primarily played cornerback in college, I'm not sure if he has the speed for it in the NFL and it seems as if he will be first tried at free safety. Assuming that's the case, he's got a big of a log jam in front of him with Chris Clemson and Reshad Jones competing for a starting job and second-year undrafted player Jonathon Amaya behind them.
My prediction: All 16 games on practice squad
My rationale: Considering the two potential starters ahead of him, and adding to that how good Amaya was on special teams last year and how much more experience he has in the Dolphins' system, I can't see a place for Wilson on the Dolphins' active roster right now. It's taken multiple injuries to get him there, so as of now, I'd have to guess he'll spend his rookie season on the practice squad.