The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Miami Dolphins team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
After finishing 8-8 in the 2014 season, the Miami Dolphins seemed on the verge of the breakthrough, looking to finally clinch a playoff berth after six years of missing out on the postseason. The organization made a number of high-profile moves in free agency, adding defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in March from the Detroit Lions, as well as cornerback Brice McCain from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They upgraded on the offensive side of the football as well, giving incumbent quarterback Ryan Tannehill some new weapons in tight end Jordan Cameron, and wide receiver Kenny Stills.
During draft weekend, the Dolphins tried to bolster the offense some more, selecting Louisville WR DeVante Parker with the 14th overall selection. They then tried to add to their defensive line in the second round, taking DT Jordan Phillips out of Oklahoma. On day three, Miami added depth at cornerback via Bobby McCain from Memphis and Tony Lippett from Michigan State. They also added running back Jay Ajayi, an intriguing option from Boise State. Given these numerous additions, and the talent already present on the roster, a number of prognosticators believed that Miami would win not only the AFC East, but the conference. Pro Football Focus posited that with a four-game suspension looming over Tom Brady, the Dolphins “were positioned to make a run at the AFC East.” A Harvard study predicted that the boys in teal would not only win the conference, but dominate.
Then the games started.
After opening the season with a road victory over Washington, Miami dropped three straight AFC games, losing to Jacksonville before dropping divisional games against Buffalo and the Jets. After the loss to Gang Green on the pitch at Wembley Stadium, head coach Joe Philbin extended his London vacation, as he was relieved of duties prior to boarding the flight back across the Pond. Tight end coach Dan Campbell was instilled as the team’s interim coach, and he led the squad to consecutive wins over Tennessee and Houston, victories that gave the ownership group as well as fans hope for a turnaround. But the Dolphins lost seven of the next ten games to limp to a 6-10 finish.
After the season ended, a number of individuals were fired and / or replaced. General manager Dennis Hickey was fired, replaced by former director of college scouting Chris Grier. Additionally, the front office looked to replace Campbell with a long-term option, and decided on former Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator Adam Gase. With respect to the roster, out were running back Lamar Miller, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, CB Brent Grimes and defensive ends Derrick Shelby and Olivier Vernon. Some additions were made, including DE Mario Williams and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus. The team also added linebacker Kiko Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell as part of a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. As part of this deal the teams swapped first-round picks, with the Dolphins moving down from the 8th over selection to pick 13.
With the departure of Grimes via free agency, the Dolphins lost one of their starting cornerbacks in the offseason. While they added Maxwell, they will still looking for another top-flight cornerback, and that is assuming that the former Seahawk can return to the form he displayed while playing with Seattle and the Legion of Boom. The two McClains, as well as Lippett and Jamal Taylor, are very serviceable depth options, but the Dolphins need to find another starter-level CB before the season begins.
Adding Alonso to the roster is an attempt to address a glaring need at the second-level of the defense: The MLB spot in Miami’s 4-3 defense. Koa Misi is a solid option at the SLB spot in this defense, but Alonso’s strength is playing at the WLB position. Gase indicated recently that Alonso would begin the season at MLB, with Jelani Jenkins slotted to play weakside linebacker. But Alonso is better suited to play at WLB, where he can use his speed and quickness to flow to the football and make plays. Miami would be very smart to select a true MLB in this draft, perhaps Reggie Ragland from Alabama.
With the loss of Lamar Miller, Ajayi slides into the top RB spot on the roster. While the former Boise State Bronco displays a number of impressive traits on film, his injury history is a cause for concern for Gase and the offensive coaching staff. Given the talent behind him on this roster, and the depth of this running back class, the Dolphins would be very smart to select a running back in the mid rounds to compete for carries with Ajayi.
At the outset, the Dolphins look to be pretty set along both the offensive and defensive line. Mike Pouncey remains one of the upper-level talents at the center position in the league, and Branden Albert and Jermon Bushrod are solid options at the two tackle spots, and the guard positions are held down by Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas. Bolstering the depth at each of these spots would be smart, as injuries to any of the starters would likely cause some difficulties for the offense.
The defensive line looks very formidable – and deep. While the Dolphins lost Vernon via free agency, they added Williams whom they can slot right in at one defensive end slot and expect to contribute. Cameron Wake is one of the elite edge defenders in the NFL, and – provided that he can bounce back from his Achilles’ injury – he gives Miami another great option off the edge. Suh returns to handle the interior of the defensive line as well. Depth-wise, Andre Branch and Julius Warmsley are solid backups, and if Phillips can return to the form he displayed at Oklahoma, he should be another great option for Miami. The only issue is the other DT spot opposite Suh. Earl Mitchell is a decent NT for this 4-3 scheme, but they might want to at least investigate upgrading this position. But that would be a luxury move, and given other needs the Dolphins might simply wait to address this position next offseason.
With Reshad Jones returning to start at strong safety, and Abdul-Quddus slated to start at the free safety spot, Miami has their starting safeties for their defense. Behind them, Walt Atkins looms as a large, imposing defender who can play the deep middle, while Shamiel Gray is a more traditional SS type who adds depth behind Jones. Both are decent depth options but adding another safety who is versatile enough to play both roles would be a good addition to the back of this roster.
Set, for Better or Worse
Tannehill returns to the roster hoping to correct the career course that saw a slight setback in 2015. After improving in each of his first three seasons as a starter in the NFL, the former Texas A&M Aggie saw his completion percentage dip from 66% in 2014 to 61% in 2015, while his touchdowns dropped as well. With the addition of Gase, a creative offensive mind, Dolphins fans hope Tannehill can continue to grow as a passer in the league. The Dolphins still have Matt Moore, a longtime backup QB, on the roster behind Tannehill, as well as Logan Thomas, a developmental project. Given the depth here, it is unlikely that Miami drafts a quarterback. But with the depth in this class, they might take on a developmental QB on day three, perhaps former Florida Gator Jeff Driskel or former Florida State Seminole Jake Coker.
After Parker was selected in the first round in the 2015 Draft, the former Louisville Cardinals receiver missed a lot of time because of a lingering foot injury. He returns for the 2016 season fully healthy, and basically gives the Dolphins a first-round rookie. A full season of Parker with Stills and Jarvis Landry gives Tannehill three solid WRs to target in the passing game. Miami has some decent depth and rotational options behind these three players, including Tyler Murphy (a former QB at Boston College) and Matt Hazel, but they might consider some depth additional late in the draft.
This is another position that seems established for the Dolphins. Cameron was considered a developmental project out of college with only one collegiate start to his career, but has developed nicely into a very strong TE target in the passing game. Behind him, Miami has a number of interesting players, including Dion Sims, Jake Stoneburner and MarQueis Gray. With the number of bodies currently on the roster, and the needs elsewhere, it is unlikely that the Dolphins address this position before 2017.