Super Bowl or Bust? (Part 1)
The Miami Dolphins seem to be a trendy pick to make it to the NFL Promised Land every year lately. This off-season has certainly been no exception. Between the addition of some key free agents, and the suspension of Tom Brady for his alleged involvement in the Deflategate scandal, the Miami Dolphins are the chic pick to finally unseat the Patriots as the kings of the AFC East. Some, including a model done by students at Harvard University, even have the Dolphins going so far as facing the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. All this has many Dolphins fans asking “Is this the year we finally put it all together?”
In this post, the first of two, I’ll be taking a look at the Dolphins roster, both offense and defense, and providing my breakdown. Is the Super Bowl a realistic expectation for this team with the pieces they’ve added through free-agency and the draft? Let’s find out.
Quarterback: Since joining the Miami Dolphins as the number 8 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Tannehill has made significant improvements every year, increasing his completion percentage, yardage, and touchdowns each season. The transition from college WR to NFL QB is not an easy one, and Tannehill has certainly had some struggles with the move, as is to be expected. The offensive line has come under a lot of fire since 2012 for not being able to protect the franchise quarterback, and for good reason.
With that being said, when I watch Tannehill play, I see a quarterback who, in spite of all his talent, still does not have a great command of the pocket. He takes a lot of sacks that should be avoided by being aware of your surroundings and knowing when you need to find a receiver, scramble, or simply throw the ball away and move on to the next play without taking a loss. If Tannehill can finally develop the pocket awareness he’s been so desperately lacking his first 3 seasons, I think he has the potential to be one of the best in the league.
Running Back: Running back has been the single most disappointing position for the Miami Dolphins franchise since the 70’s. After the days of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris, the Dolphins success at this position has been few and far between. Karim Abdul-Jabar, Lamar Smith, and Ricky Williams each had some successful seasons with Miami, but no one has had consistent success for the franchise in roughly four decades. Miami hopes their fortunes have turned with Lamar Miller.
After two disappointing seasons, Miller finally broke out last year as “the guy” in the running back corps. Last season he rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 8 touchdowns, which is a big success in this franchise. If Miller can expand upon the success he achieved last season, it will do wonders to take some of the pressure off of Tannehill and let defenses know that they have to be on their toes in both facets of the game.
In an effort to keep Miller healthy while bringing some stylistic diversity to the running game, the Dolphins brought in rookie Jay Ajayi with their selection in the third round of this year’s draft. The running back out of Boise State should be an asset to the Dolphins, particularly in goal line and short yardage situations, where you don’t necessarily want your star running back taking an unnecessary beating. Ajayi, at 6’, 220lbs, should bring a level of physicality to the running game that will provide a nice one-two punch that is increasingly necessary in today’s NFL.
Receivers/Tight End: The Wide Receiver position has probably seen the most turmoil this offseason. Mike Wallace was traded in the off-season to the Minnesota Vikings, for a mere pittance. While I understand the need to move Wallace after the way that last season ended, I’m incredibly disappointed in how little we accepted to move him. In addition to Wallace, we also lost Brain Hartline, Brandon Gibson, and tight end Charles Clay to free agency.
After losing nearly all of our corps from the previous season, this position absolutely terrified me. But, to the front office’s credit, they did a lot to address this concern. They were able to pull off a trade to bring in speedster Kenny Stills from the New Orleans Saints to replace Wallace. While Stills may not have the ceiling that Wallace does, I feel like he’s an upgrade in the long run. He’s younger, he comes at a much lower cost than Wallace, he has much less of an ego, and if you look at their production, it’s pretty similar.
To complement Stills, we’ve also brought in long-time veteran Greg Jennings in free agency from the Minnesota Vikings. Jennings largest contribution to this team will be his experience. Between his days in Minnesota and previously with Green Bay, Jennings knows what it takes to be a winner in this league. Though his production on the field may not be what it used to be, this kind of leadership cannot be overlooked.
We also added rookie DeVante Parker as our first round pick in the NFL Draft. While at Louisville, Parker demonstrated a great ability to pull off the highlight-worthy catch. In 3 years as a starter at Louisville, two of which he was paired with Teddy Bridgewater, Parker amassed 138 receptions for 2,484 yards and 27 touchdowns. He stands to be the third WR on the depth chart to open the season, behind Kenny Stills and second-year stand out Jarvis Landry.
To lessen the blow from losing Charles Clay to our division rivals the Buffalo Bills, Miami went out in free agency and signed Jordan Cameron away from the Cleveland Browns. While stifled by poor quarterback play during his time in Cleveland, Cameron was still able to put up stats that make him one of the better tight ends in the NFL. He’s not of the caliber of a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, but he’s more than adequate, and in my mind is an improvement upon Clay. He possesses the size (6ft 5in, 260lbs), speed, and talent to be the red-zone threat that this team has desperately needed for years.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with Cameron, however. There are significant injury concerns to be had. During his career in Cleveland, he was sidelined for four games last season and two games the season before due to concussions. As we’re seeing more and more every year, concussions are nothing to play around with. We’re just starting to scratch the long-term effects of concussions, and this is something that could weigh heavily on his mind if he suffers another. If Cameron is sidelined for multiple games, it could be a significant detriment to the Dolphins passing game. Can you name his back-up? I know I can’t.
Offensive Line: The offensive line is, without a doubt in my mind, the weakest part of this team. Which is a frightening proposition when you’re talking about a team with the potential for success. Our two best linemen, Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey, are returning from injury. While I have no doubts that Pouncey will be able to return to his Pro Bowl form and anchor the middle of the offensive line, I do have my worries about Albert.
Albert, who is now 30, tore both his ACL and MCL during last season. Many, himself included, wondered if Albert would ever be able to play again after such a gruesome injury, but he’s back this season and seems to be on track to start opening day. If Albert can return to the player he was in Kansas City, Tannehill’s blind-side should be adequately protected, which should go a long way towards making him more comfortable in the pocket.
As for the rest of the offensive line, that’s where the majority of the problems lie. Specifically at the Guard position. We currently have 3 players fighting for 2 starting spots, and I’m not sure that I trust any of the three to be solid. We currently have, by all projections, Billy Turner, Jamil Douglas, and Dallas Thomas. Turner seems to be the odds-on favorite to get the nod at Right Guard, with Douglas and Thomas battling it out for the remaining position. Any Dolphins fan reading this should have some trepidation at that thought.
While anyone worth their salt will tell you that guards are not as important as tackles to the overall success of your offensive line, if you have sub-standard guards, even the best tackles in the world aren’t going to be able to keep your quarterback upright. A bad offensive line can take an excellent QB and a great group of WR’s and RB’s and quickly downgrade them to simply “good”. It remains to be seen just how good these guys can be, but as of today, I’m disappointed in our front office for not picking up a free-agent at the guard position.
Does all of this equal a run deep into the playoffs for Miami? Did we do enough in the off-season and through the draft to position ourselves for continued playoff success? Does the suspension of Tom Brady for the first four games of the season make Miami the favorites in the AFC East? Only time will tell. But I do know one thing, there is plenty of reason for excitement in South Florida, and for Dolphins fans across the nation. Tune in next week as I bring you part two of my position-by-position breakdown.
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Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.