Saturday, August 29, 2009

Unlucky 13: Who Won't Be Making the Cut in Miami

The cut-down deadlines are looming in the not-so-distant future, and with 66 players currently on the roster Miami will have to make some tough decisions. 13 players will soon be shown the door to get down to the mandatory 53-man roster limit on Sept. 5.

But who will those players be? It's not hard to figure out the players definitely will make the team, but which of those players on the roster bubble will avoid the axe, and which will be getting unfortunate visits from the Turk?

The following 13 players are the ones I feel will not be on the Dolphins' active roster when the team opens up the regular season in Atlanta on Sept. 13:

Lex Hilliard

Yes, everyone's favorite preseason star will not make the team in my view. He's had some good moments this past month, but he's been vastly overrated by the media and fans. People forget that all of his production has come late in preseason games when he's facing other third- and fourth-stringers.

Yes, Hilliard's a good special teams guy too, but we have other bubble players that are as well, and we have some (like Brandon London and Erik Walden) that are more able to contribute in other ways. Miami doesn't often keep four tailbacks on the roster, and with three far superior ones on the team, there just isn't enough reason to keep Hilliard around.

James Robinson

Robinson has crazy speed, but he's very raw and doesn't have a shot to make the Dolphins' active roster out of the gate. He's worth consideration for a practice squad spot, but nothing more.

John Nalbone

You don't always see fifth-round picks cut, but they certainly aren't locks either. Nalbone is a project after coming out of Division II Monmouth College and hasn't done anything to separate himself from incumbent third-stringer Joey Haynos in the preseason. Haynos is a better red-zone threat at this point and a superior blocker as well, so I think Nalbone's destined for the practice squad.

Mark Lewis

There were a couple times the beat writers singled out Lewis in training camp for fantastic blocks, but we've seen little of him in preseason games. The undrafted guard out of Oregon is the longest shot of any of Miami's offensive linemen and doesn't have a real chance to beat anyone out for a roster spot. He could be signed to the practice squad, or he could get a day job.

Nate Garner

Garner failed to get into a game last year after being claimed off waivers from the New York Jets prior to last season. He currently sits behind Vernon Carey at right tackle, though I expect the team to only keep three tackles and nine linemen total, with Garner being the odd man out. Seventh-rounder Andrew Gardner should wind up with the backup job to Jake Long, while guard Brandon Frye has tackle experience and can be able to double-up there as well.

Ryan Baker

Defensive end is perhaps the Dolphins' deepest position on that side of the ball, making it a monumental task for Baker to work his way onto the roster. Tony McDaniel and Lionel Dotson are both better prospects and should be able to secure the fourth and fifth end spots.

Baker is a candidate for the practice squad, but with five likely on the active roster, it's possible the team won't feel the need to have the position represented on the developmental squad.

Rodrique Wright

A prototypical 3-4 end, Wright seemed like a steal when Miami grabbed him in the seventh round out of Texas in 2006. Since then, he's failed to appear in a game during two of his three pro seasons and didn't show much as a part-time starter in 2007. The Dolphins are stacked at defensive end, and there's finally no room for Wright on the team even as a backup. He has no practice squad eligibility either, so this will likely be the end of the line for Wright in Miami.

Quentin Moses

I'm not going to lie, Moses has looked good at times this preseason. The problem for him is that the outside linebacker position in Miami is very crowded, even when you exclude the enigma that is Matt Roth.

Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson should earn the top backup jobs, and I'm choosing to keep Erik Walden over Moses for a couple reasons. 1) Walden has had a strong preseason as well and is a stud on special teams, whereas Moses doesn't stand out there; 2) Walden is a little younger; and 3) Moses has been around longer and has largely been a disappointment in the NFL.

I wouldn't object if Moses made the team because the kid does have talent hidden away in there somewhere, but overall I think Walden is the more valuable player.

J. D. Folsom

Folsom has made a few plays late in the team's preseason games, but he didn't even get into their last game against Tampa Bay and I think he might be better suited for the practice squad at this point. William Kershaw (who might not make the team either) is a more seasoned special teams player and can likely contribute more in 2009, whereas Folsom should be able to develop on the practice squad without being snatched up by another team.

Joey Thomas

Thomas hasn't looked bad at times in camp and the preseason, but he was always a long shot to make the team even before Eric Green was released. Nathan Jones is the superior blitzer and special teams player, while Jason Allen, bust as he may be, is a standout special teamer. The Dolphins won't be keeping more than five corners, which once again put Thomas out of a job. He might not land anywhere else, so the Dolphins could come calling during the regular season if they need an injury replacement.

Will Billingsley

Quite possibly the longest shot of anyone still on the roster, Billingsley's impending release is about as certain as tomorrow's sunrise. He's been the lowest corner on the depth chart for the entire camp (though he did move from 8th to 7th with Green's departure) and was the quarterbacks' whipping boy in practice all August. He could get another year on the practice squad, but I suspect the team would prefer a better prospect in that spot.

Courtney Bryan

Bryan is one of those unfortunate guys that's had his NFL career screwed up by getting too much playing time early on. 12 appearances as a rookie in 2007 has rendered him void of practice squad eligibility, thus making it much harder for a fringe player like Bryan to continue to play pro ball because he's either on the active roster or a free agent.

Bryan is a solid special teamer and could always end up with a job in Miami or elsewhere down the line (likely due to injury) but he doesn't have a shot at beating Chris Clemons or Tyrone Culver for a backup safety job in 2009.

Matt Roth

No, I'm not cutting Miami's best run-stopping outside linebacker. I am, however, placing him on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list to start the season. (You can't add an active player to the PUP list if he doesn't begin camp on it, but Roth can be moved there since he began camp on the Non-Football Injury list.)

Roth's a strong contributor when healthy and I dare say Miami needs him against the run because Joey Porter is so weak on that department, but I can't justify giving him a roster spot after all he's done (or not done) this preseason. I honestly don't know what the deal is with him and his mysterious, invisible groin injury.

By placing him on the PUP list, the team gives Roth six weeks to get his act together and get healthy (if he isn't already). If he still isn't willing to get on the field in October, they will probably place him on injured reserve. He's only hurting himself in a contract year if he doesn't play.

The positive side of a Roth deactivation would be that it gives Miami another roster spot with which to play and lets them to keep one more player that normally would be cut. I'd recently predicted a final roster spot could come down to Lex Hilliard, Brandon London, Erik Walden and Quentin Moses, but Roth off the active roster has allowed me to keep both London and Walden—two very valuable special teams players.

The Lucky 53 (for now...)

I often hear disagreements when I said a certain player should be cut, but I feel that without going through the roster and picking out 53 men to make the team, you can't really get an idea of whether or not a Hilliard or London or Moses anyone else is really worthy of a spot.

That being the case, here are the 53 players that would be making the team if the cuts go as I've outlined above. I encourage you to look at this roster before second guessing any of my cut decisions.

Quarterbacks (3): Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Pat White
Running backs (4): Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs, Lousaka Polite
Wide receivers (6): Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Greg Camarillo, Patrick Turner, Brandon London
Tight ends (3): Anthony Fasano, David Martin, Joey Haynos
Offensive linemen (9): Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, Donald Thomas, Vernon Carey, Andrew Gardner, Brandon Frye, Joe Berger, Shawn Murphy
Defensive linemen (7): Jason Ferguson, Paul Soliai, Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, Phillip Merling, Tony McDaniel, Lionel Dotson
Outside linebackers (5): Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, Cameron Wake, Charlie Anderson, Erik Walden
Inside linebackers (4): Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, Reggie Torbor, William Kershaw
Cornerbacks (5): Will Allen, Sean Smith, Vontae Davis, Nathan Jones, Jason Allen
Safeties (4): Gibril Wilson, Yeremiah Bell, Tyrone Culver, Chris Clemons
Special teams (3): Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney

Now keep in mind, just because a player survives final cuts does not mean he will be on the roster come opening day. Every team claims a couple guys off waivers from other teams' cuts each year, and Miami is sure to do the same. Last year, the team waived three players that survived cuts and claimed three off waivers from other teams.

If I had to highlight a few players that are most likely to be replace but a waiver claim, I would go with Brandon London, Joey Haynos, Brandon Frye and William Kershaw. These are all bottom of the roster guys that could end up being shown the door if an upgrade becomes available on the waiver wire.