2017 NFL Offseason: Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins (Last Year: 10-6)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
TE Julius Thomas, TE Anthony Fasano, C Ted Larsen, DE William Hayes, ILB Lawrence Timmons, S T.J. McDonald, S Nate Allen.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Charles Harris, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Cordrea Tankersley, G Isaac Asiata, DT Davon Godchaux. Dolphins Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
TE Jordan Cameron, TE Dion Sims, OT Branden Albert, DE Mario Williams, NT Earl Mitchell, OLB Jelani Jenkins, S Isa Abdul-Quddus.

2017 Miami Dolphins Offense:
“Ryan Tannehill could be down to his final chance.” That was written in this space last year, and yet that still seems to be the case. Tannehill did just fine in Adam Gase’s offense in his first year, throwing 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, all while completing a career-best 67.1 percent of his passes. However, Tannehill suffered a knee injury in December, and there wasn’t any sort of drop-off from Tannehill to Matt Moore. In fact, Moore maintained a better YPA (8.3) compared to Tannehill (7.7). Moore is a very good backup, but this should make Miami fans wonder if their team would be better off going in a different direction as far as a starting quarterback is concerned.

The offense as a whole was a roller coaster in 2016, as the status of the offensive line determined how well the unit performed. Three of the team’s best blockers, Mike Pouncey, Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil, missed action at times this past season, and the offense predictably took a hit when they were out of the lineup. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they can’t rely on just better health in 2017. Albert is gone, while Pouncey’s Week 1 status is in doubt because of a hip injury. Pouncey hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since 2012, so this is hardly a surprise. It has to be disappointing for the Dolphins, however, as their offense is much weaker without their stud center.

Tunsil, meanwhile, will be moving to left tackle on a full-time basis with Albert gone. He should thrive in this new role eventually, given his great talent level, but there might be a learning curve. Of course, Tunsil’s move created a void at guard. It’s unclear which two players will start at the position. The three candidates are the pedestrian Ted Larsen, the awful Jermon Bushrod, and the inexperienced Isaac Asiata, who was just chosen in the fifth round. The Dolphins are at least set at right tackle with the solid Ja’Wuan James.

It’s not all bleak for the Dolphins on this side of the ball, as Jay Ajayi exploded this past season following a disappointing rookie campaign. Ajayi gained 200-plus yards in three games, finishing the year with 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. However, Ajayi’s great performances came when the entire offensive line was healthy. If Pouncey is out of the lineup, and the guard situation isn’t figured out, it’s unlikely that he’ll reach 200 yards in any game this year.

As for Tannehill’s downfield targets, the one change in this regard is Julius Thomas, who was obtained for Albert. Thomas is a big name, but has never accomplished anything positive without Peyton Manning. He’s an overrated player who could easily flop in Miami, just as he did in Jacksonville. Tannehill does, at least, have DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills to throw to. They form a talented trio. Landry recorded 111 receptions in 2015, while Parker has enjoyed an extremely impressive offseason and figures to take over as the No. 1 receiver. Stills is a potent deep threat, but drops too many crucial passes.

2017 Miami Dolphins Defense:
The Dolphins were obviously not satisfied with how their defense performed this past season, given that they spent their first three selections in the 2017 NFL Draft on upgrades on this side of the ball. They also signed a couple of big names in free agency. None of this was surprising, as Miami finished 29th in yards allowed this past season.

Two upgrades were spent on defensive ends, which wasn’t a surprise because outside of Cameron Wake’s 11.5 sacks, the Dolphins accumulated just 21.5 sacks, with no other player recording more than 5.5. Initially, William Hayes was acquired from the Rams. Hayes tallied five sacks as a part-time player for Los Angeles, so he seems like a nice addition. Hayes could start right away, but he’ll ideally be a reserve behind Wake and first-round pick Charles Harris. The Missouri product disappointed at the combine, but was highly productive in college.

The best player on Miami’s defensive front will once again be Ndamukong Suh, who continues to need help in the interior. Jordan Phillips saw plenty of action next to Suh last year, but was just a pedestrian player. The Dolphins spent a fifth-round pick on Davon Godchaux, who has some talent, but fell in the draft because of character and effort issues.

Miami’s second-round selection was used on Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, who figures to bolster a very weak linebacking corps. The only plus player the Dolphins had at the position this past season was Kiko Alonso, who can’t be trusted to stay healthy. Alonso has missed 22 games in the past three seasons. He was on the field for 15 contests in 2016, but was very banged up in some of them and struggled at times as a result. Still, he was Miami’s top linebacker, so the front office also decided to sign Lawrence Timmons from the Steelers. Timmons used to be a terrific player, but has fallen off completely in recent seasons.

The Dolphins’ third-round choice was spent on the secondary, as they picked Cordrea Tankersley out of Clemson. Tankersley, like Harris, was productive at school, but struggled in testing. Tankersley could compete with Xavien Howard as the starting cornerback across from Byron Maxwell, who thrived in his first season with the Dolphins. Howard, however, struggled immensely as a second-round rookie, though he’s expected to improve.

Rounding out the secondary, no draft choice was used on a safety, but the Dolphins did sign T.J. McDonald. The former Ram is very talented, but he has been suspended for eight games. McDonald could be a force down the stretch next to Pro Bowler Reshad Jones, whose return to the lineup will be a huge boon for Miami’s defense; Jones was knocked out for the season in Week 6 with a torn rotator cuff. Until then, however, Michael Thomas and Nate Allen will battle to see who gets to start in the meantime. Neither player is very good.

2017 Miami Dolphins Schedule and Intangibles:
The Dolphins, unsurprisingly, don’t have much of a home-field advantage. Since 2007, they’re a pathetic 37-43 as hosts. As a barometer, they’re pretty much the same as visitors (34-44) in that span. Things could be turning around, however, as Miami was 6-2 at home in 2016.

Andrew Franks missed only one extra point last year, but was just 16-of-21 on field goals, including 1-of-2 from 50-plus.

Punter Matt Darr has been sub par the past two years, finishing 20th and 17th in net average.

Miami was exceptional on special-teams returns, scoring two touchdowns and surrendering none.

The Dolphins don’t have a very difficult schedule. Excluding the Patriots, they play just three teams that made the playoffs in 2016.

2017 Miami Dolphins Rookies:
Go here for the Dolphins Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 Miami Dolphins Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Miami Dolphins Analysis: The Dolphins overachieved last year despite major injury problems on the offensive line. They still have those problems, and it’s not yet clear if Ryan Tannehill is the answer. However, the defense has seemingly improved, so Miami could once again compete for a wild-card playoff spot. It will really depend on how quickly Mike Pouncey can recover from his troublesome hip.

Projection: 7-9 (2nd in AFC East)

2017 Projection: 4-12. 2016 Actual Result: 10-6.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Dolphins are in a weird situation with Ryan Tannehill, where they have to decide if he’s the answer for the long haul. They need to make sure he’s protected well in 2017, unlike last year, so adding a guard makes sense. On the other side of the ball, a pass-rusher and a linebacker are desperately needed.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Miami was very focused on addressing its needs, though I can’t say it reached for anyone while doing so. At least not with its first four picks.

Charles Harris was seen by some as a top-15 prospect. There were some teams in the top 20 that were targeting him, but were able to obtain superior falling prospects instead. The Dolphins capitalized, landing an edge rusher for the future. They then made two solid second-day selections in Raekwon McMillan and Cordrea Tankersley. The latter should see the field sooner and offer an upgrade at linebacker. Tankersley, a steal in the third, will also compete for playing time in a middling cornerback group.

The Dolphins had one more glaring need to address after that, and they managed to do so in the fifth round, acquiring Isaac Asiata. I thought Asiata could’ve easily been chosen on Day 2, so that was another major steal. He could start right away, taking Laremy Tunsil’s spot, as Tunsil transitions to left tackle. Vincent Taylor and Isaiah Ford were quality late selections.

Miami came away from the 2017 NFL Draft with a nice group of prospects. The team filled most of its needs, all while obtaining talented players. I graded just one pick of theirs below a “B” (Davon Godchaux), so a high mark makes sense.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

22. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri: B+ Grade
There was some speculation that Charles Harris could be chosen in the top 15. I wasn’t quite sure even though I slotted him to the Colts because he tested poorly at the combine. Harris had great tape, however, and the Dolphins are getting a great talent at defensive end. Miami has some aging players there and needed some young blood at the position. Harris could be a double-digit sack artist for Miami over the next decade.

54. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State: B Grade
Some thought the Dolphins would select Jarrad Davis in the first round. They never got a chance to do so because the Lions plucked him off the board, but he’s a solid choice in the second round. He fits the range and fills a big need, as Miami absolutely had to address its poor linebacker situation. McMillan will be able to help a lot in run support, though he can’t be counted on much in coverage.

97. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson: A Grade
The Dolphins kick off the compensatory portion of the third round with a great selection. I had Tankersley slotted to the Dolphins in the second round of my mock draft, so I obviously love this value. Miami had to find another cornerback, and Tankersley was one of the best prospects still on the board. He didn’t test well, but he was very productive at Clemson.

164. Isaac Asiata, G, Utah: A- Grade
Isaac Asiata is a powerful run blocker who probably would’ve been chosen earlier than this if he weren’t turning 25 at some point during the season. Asiata is a solid prospect, however, and he’ll be able to open big running lanes for Jay Ajayi.

178. Davon Godchaux, DT, LSU: C- Grade
I’m not too sure about this pick. It potentially fills a need, but Davon Godchaux is a low-effort player who was arrested for assaulting a woman last summer. The charges were dropped, but Godchaux is too much of a risk with not enough payoff.

194. Vincent Taylor, DT, Oklahoma State: B+ Grade
I had Vincent Taylor going off the board 24 picks earlier than this. Taylor is a pass-rushing specialist, as he notched seven sacks in 2016 – a solid number for a player at his position. Taylor needs to improve in run support, but he’ll be a rotational player in the meantime.

237. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech: B Grade
Isaiah Ford has speed concerns – he ran a 4.6 at the combine – but I’m still shocked he lasted this long. I had him in the fourth round, so I love this pick. Ford battled injuries in college, but he makes the most difficult catches look easy. He’s talented and has lots of potential.

Season Summary:
The Dolphins snuck into the playoffs, but they never had a chance against superior competition because of all the injuries they suffered. They were missing their starting quarterback, center, and top three members of their secondary. Perhaps they’ll have better luck with health in 2017.

Offseason Moves:
  • Dolphins sign QB David Fales
  • Dolphins sign S T.J. McDonald
  • Dolphins re-sign OT/G Jermon Bushrod
  • Dolphins sign S Nate Allen
  • Dolphins sign ILB Lawrence Timmons
  • Dolphins announce retirement of TE Jordan Cameron
  • Dolphins acquire DE William Hayes, 7th-rounder from Rams for 6th-round pick
  • Dolphins sign C Ted Larsen
  • Dolphins cut S Isa Abdul-Quddus
  • Dolphins sign TE Anthony Fasano
  • Dolphins re-sign WR Kenny Stills
  • Dolphins re-sign DE Andre Branch
  • Dolphins acquire TE Julius Thomas from Jaguars
  • Jaguars acquire OT Branden Albert from Dolphins
  • Dolphins cut DE Mario Williams
  • Dolphins cut NT Earl Mitchell
  • Dolphins cut OT Branden Albert

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Linebackers: The Dolphins had an abysmal showing in Pittsburgh, as their poor linebackers and injury-ravaged secondary were exposed. Both Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins were banged up throughout the 2016 campaign, and now Jenkins happens to be an impending free agent. The front office will have to put some serious effort into upgrading the linebacking corps, especially if Jenkins isn’t retained. Signed Lawrence Timmons

    2. Defensive Tackle: Le’Veon Bell gashed Miami in the team’s playoff affair, which wasn’t a surprise, as the Dolphins had struggled versus the rush all year. A new defensive tackle is needed next to Ndamukong Suh.

    3. Guard: When everyone on the offensive line is healthy, which hasn’t been very often, the lone liability is at one of the guard spots. Miami will need a new guard anyway in the near future when Laremy Tunsil moves to left tackle.

    4. Tight End: Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims are entering free agency, but Miami needs an upgrade at tight end regardless. This draft class is stacked at the position. Traded for Julius Thomas; signed Anthony Fasano

    5. Defensive End Depth: Cameron Wake and Mario Williams are well into their mid-30s, so some young blood is needed at defensive end, especially with Andre Branch headed for free agency. Traded for William Hayes; re-signed Andre Branch

    6. Center Depth: Miami’s offense struggled mightily when Mike Pouncey was out of the lineup. The front office will have to obtain a viable backup at center. Signed Ted Larsen

    7. Wide Receiver Depth: Kenny Stills’ contract is expiring, so the Dolphins may opt to find a new No. 3 receiver. Re-signed Kenny Stills

    8. Kicker: Andrew Franks was just 16-of-21 in the regular season. In his two NFL seasons, he’s only 5-of-9 from 40-49.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. T.J. McDonald, S, Rams. Age: 26.
      Signed with Dolphins (1 year)

      T.J. McDonald had a rough offseason leading into 2016, coming off shoulder surgery and then being arrested for a DUI. However, none of this affected his play this season, as McDonald put together another decent campaign.

    2. Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Steelers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Dolphins (2 years, $10 million)

      Lawrence Timmons has always been an underrated player; the NFL routinely keeping him out of the top-100 players list was a crime. Unfortunately, Timmons has regressed rapidly over the past couple of years, and he was a liability at times this past season.

    3. Nate Allen, S, Raiders. Age: 29. — Signed with Dolphins (1 year)
    4. Ted Larsen, C/G, Bears. Age: 30. — Signed with Dolphins
    5. Anthony Fasano, TE, Titans. Age: 33. — Signed with Dolphins
    6. David Fales (RFA), QB, Bears. Age: 26. — Signed with Dolphins

    Miami Dolphins Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $13.7M.
    1. Kiko Alonso (RFA), ILB, Dolphins. Age: 27.
      Tendered by Dolphins

      There’s no questioning Kiko Alonso’s talent, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He missed 21 games in 2014 and 2015, and while he was out for only one contest this past season, he was very banged up and ineffective as a consequence by the end of the year.

    2. Isa Abdul-Quddus, S, Dolphins. Age: 28.
      Isa Abdul-Quddus is a terrific safety when healthy, but the Dolphins cut him for medical reasons. He has a nerve problem in his neck and may not be cleared anytime soon.

    3. Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Dolphins. Age: 25.
      Signed with Raiders

      Jelani Jenkins was awful this past year, but I think that may have had to do with a knee injury that nearly caused him to miss Week 1. Jenkins ultimately played in only nine games. He was a solid player beforehand, and he’s only 25 in March, so he should be able to rebound.

    4. Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins. Age: 25.
      Re-signed with Dolphins (4 years, $32 million)

      The one thing that stands out to me about Kenny Stills is that he’s only going to be 25 in April. It feels like he’s been around forever! Stills is a situational deep threat, which would explain his yards-per-catch average (42 receptions, 726 yards), but despite an amazing catch in the playoffs at Pittsburgh, he has poor hands and tends to drop a lot of passes.

    5. Mario Williams, DE, Dolphins. Age: 32.
      Mario Williams was terrible in 2015, and he wasn’t any better this past season. He notchd just 1.5 sacks, and he was ultimately a healthy scratch at the end of the year. Williams has lost all of his pass-rushing ability, but still happens to be decent versus the run. If he can stomach signing a deal for the minimum and being a two-down run specialist, that might be the only way he can continue his career.

    6. Jordan Cameron, TE, Dolphins. Age: 29.
      Announced retirement

      Jordan Cameron probably doesn’t deserve two stars, but I wanted to do a write-up for him. Cameron played in only three games this past season because of a concussion that was so severe that he’s contemplating retirement. Cameron caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, but his combined stats in the next three years haven’t matched that.

    7. Andre Branch, DE, Dolphins. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Dolphins
    8. Earl Mitchell, DT, Dolphins. Age: 29. — Signed with 49ers
    9. Spencer Paysinger, OLB/ST, Dolphins. Age: 29. — Signed with Jets
    10. Michael Thomas (RFA), S, Dolphins. Age: 27. — Tendered by Dolphins
    11. Dion Sims, TE, Dolphins. Age: 26. — Signed with Bears (3 years, $18 million)
    12. Damien Williams (RFA), RB, Dolphins. Age: 25. — Tendered by Dolphins
    13. Anthony Steen (RFA), C, Dolphins. Age: 27.
    14. Jermon Bushrod, OT/G, Dolphins. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Dolphins
    15. T.J. Yates, QB, Dolphins. Age: 30. — Signed with Bills


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