I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.
This article focuses on the running back positions.
- RB Patrick Cobbs (through 2010) — A valuable special-teamer and occasional offensive contributor, Cobbs is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in October. One of the hardest workers on the team and a contributor in multiple areas, I expect him to be back as the Dolphins' No. 3 back in 2010.
- RB Tristan Davis (through 2011) — An undrafted rookie out of Auburn in 2009, Davis was signed to the practice squad last season for scout-team purposes. He has virtually no shot at making the team in 2010.
- RB Lex Hilliard (through 2010) — Hilliard was serviceable toward the end of last season and has a big receiving day in the finale, but his rushing average was mediocre and he's largely unproven. He's not a lock to make the team in 2010, but I suspect he will.
- FB Rolly Lumbala (through 2011) — A special-teamer from the CFL's BC Lions, Lumbala will have to stand out in that area to make the team, as Miami typically only keeps on fullback.
- FB Lousaka Polite (through 2011) — Polite was simply fantastic in 2009, performing very well as a lead blocker and short-yardage back in what should have been a Pro Bowl season. The Dolphins wisely locked him up to an extension last offseason, and he'll definitely be back starting in 2010.
- RB Kory Sheets (through 2010) — Signed off the 49ers' practice squad mid-season in 2009, Sheets was a solid running back at Purdue and has a little upside as a pro. The Dolphins are stacked at running back though, so it'll be hard for him to earn a spot.
- RB Ricky Williams (through 2010) — Williams is once again supposed to retire after this coming season, but you never know if he's going to re-up for one more year as he's done before each of the past two seasons. He doesn't have a ton of wear for his age and can still carry the load if called up, making him an ideal guy to split time.
- RB Ronnie Brown (restricted) — Originally slated to be under contact for $5 million in 2010, the Dolphins declined Brown's option yesterday and tendered him an offer at the first-round level. The move means the team will likely keep Brown at a cheaper price, but they would no doubt love for some team to give up their first-round pick for him. Brown is a great back when healthy but he's had trouble staying on the field and is approaching 30. He seems unlikely to get a long-term deal given his age and the other factors, so this could be his last year in a Dolphins uniform.
- The Dolphins have more than enough talent in the backfield, with two capable starters in Brown and Williams, a great role player in Cobbs, and one of the best fullbacks in the NFL in Polite. Combine that with one of the league's best power-blocking offensive lines, and you have little to worry about.
Areas of Needs
- There aren't any immediate needs at the running back positions, but if you had to say something, it'd be that they will need a new long-term running back in the not-so-distant future. I don't believe Brown gets a long-term team, while Williams will retire soon, Cobbs can't carry the load, and I'm not high on Hilliard.
Free Agency Outlook
- There is virtually no chance the Dolphins sign a running back via free agency, especially a starter. But, if Brown, Williams, Cobbs and Hilliard were all in a car crash, and the league took away all the team's draft picks, they could look at Chester Taylor (Vikings), LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers), Jamal Lewis (Browns) and Willie Parker (Steelers).
- The Dolphins are unlikely to draft a running back high, with the only possible exceptions being a dynamic player that could help in multiple facets, Clemson's C. J. Spiller or Dexter McCluster of Ole Miss. Spiller would cost the team a first-round pick, and with the Dolphins' offensive line being as good as it is, they just have too many other needs to use the pick on a running back.
- It wouldn't surprise me if the Dolphins picked up a running back in the middle rounds of the draft, given the uncertainty at the position a few years into the future. Two of my favorites are Anthony Dixon (Mississippi State) and Ben Tate (Auburn). I'm an Auburn fan, and I can honestly say that, while he doesn't really stand out compared to guys like Spiller of Jahvid Best, Tate has the ability to be a very good NFL running back. He's a hard, instinctive runner with excellent blocking skills and more speed than people realize. (He ran a 4.43 forty at the NFL Scouting Combine, third among backs behind only Spiller and Best.)
- The Dolphins could also very well use one of their five picks in the last two rounds on a running back, such as Oregon's LeGarrette Blount or UConn's Andre Dixon.
- There are a handful of potentially-undrafted prospects that could be intriguing, including Stafon Johnson (USC), Javarris James (U. of Miami), and Brandon Minor (Michigan).
The Dolphins might need to look for a starting tailback two years from now, but for the time being, they are more than set.
I would argue the Dolphins have one of the deepest and most versatile backfields in all of football, with three or four guys that can contribute and bring different things to the table.
When combing the talent at tailback with a Pro Bowl-caliber fullback and a great offensive line, there is simply little to worry about or address this offseason.
How do you feel about the Dolphins' running backs heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!