Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2011 Offseason Preview: The Wide Receivers

The time has come to begin previewing the Dolphins' position by position entering the offseason (whenever that eventually begins). This article focuses on the wide receivers.

The Miami Dolphins made major strides to fix their receiving corps in 2010, shipping first-round disappointment Ted Ginn, Jr. to San Francisco for a fifth-round pick and acquiring Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall from the Denver Broncos.

The team also returned fan favorite slot receiver Davone Bess and 2009 fourth-rounder Brian Hartline, while giving two roster spots to undrafted rookie free agents in Marlon Moore (Fresno State) and Roberto Wallace (San Diego State).

Not everything went well for the Dolphins' passing game, however, as opportunities were limited by the lack of a running game and a struggling quarterback in Chad Henne. Marshall topped 1,000 yards but found the end zone just three times, while Hartline struggled with drops at times and ended the year on injured reserve with a hand injury.

In this article, 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.


Under Contract
  • Davone Bess (through 2013) — The Dolphins' struggles in other areas were Bess' gains, as he set career highs in receptions (79) receiving yards (820) and touchdowns (five) in his third season.
  • Patrick Carter (through 2012) —The brother of former NFL receiver Tim Carter, he spent the 2010 season with the UFL's Hartford Colonials before joining the Dolphins' practice squad in December.
  • Brooks Foster (through 2012) —A 2009 fifth-round pick of the Rams who missed his rookie season with an ankle injury, Foster joined the Dolphins' practice squad on Sept. 30 and remained there the entire season.
  • Brian Hartline (through 2012) — The Dolphins' fourth-round pick in 2009, Hartline started 11 of 12 contests this past season and caught 43 passes for 615 yards and a touchdown. He was placed on injured reserve with a hand injury on Dec. 11.
  • Brandon Marshall (through 2014) — Marshall notched his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season in his first year with the Dolphins in 2010, totaling 1,014 yards and three touchdowns on 86 catches. Despite missing two games over the course of the season, he led the Dolphins in receptions and yards.
  • Marlon Moore (through 2012) — Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State in 2010, Moore appeared in nine games with zero starts as a rookie. He caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown on the year.
  • Julius Pruitt (through 2012) — Signed in September 2009 out of Oauchita Baptist, Pruitt has spent most of the past two seasons on the Dolphins' practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 31 and was inactive for the 2010 season finale.
  • Roberto Wallace (through 2012) — An undrafted free agent out of San Diego State, Wallace appeared in 12 games and caught six passes for 62 yards. He also notched eight tackles on special teams.

Free Agents
  • The Miami Dolphins do not have any players at the wide receiver position with expiring contracts in the 2011 offseason.

Strengths

Brandon Marshall has his problem child moments for sure and he failed to be an elite play-maker in 2010, but that was primarily due to the struggles around him. Marshall is under contract for some time and is still a top-10 talent at the position, giving the team security after lacking a true No. 1 wideout for so long.

Davone Bess, while limited on upside and big-play ability, continues to be a sure-handed and reliable slot receiver. He does a good job of making guys miss with the physical tools he has, and should remain the Dolphins' highly-productive slot receiver for years to come.


Areas of Need

When they traded Ginn, the Dolphins lost their only speed receiver and deep threat, and that void has yet to be filled. Marshall is an elite receiver but hardly stretches the field, while Davone Bess is purely a possession slot receiver and Brian Hartline has yet to establish himself as a starter. More than anything, the Dolphins need a complementary receiver to start alongside Marshall and threaten defenses vertically.

The Dolphins could also use some more depth behind their current top three, as both Moore and Wallace have fairly limited upside on offense.


Free Agency Outlook

The Dolphins aren't going to be handing out any huge contracts with $50 million devoted to Brandon Marshall, so you can pretty much forget anyone like Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, or Sidney Rice landing in Miami.

That doesn't mean the Dolphins won't be entirely quiet in free agency, however, as there are a few appealing options for talented speed receivers that won't require blockbuster contracts. Guys like Steve Breaston (Cardinals), Johnnie Lee Higgins (Raiders), Jacoby Jones (Texans), Lance Moore (Saints), and Brad Smith (Jets) could either start alongside Marshall or be a situational deep threat and returner.

Other potential No.2 receiver options that don't necessarily fit the pure-speed mold include James Jones (Packers) and Mike Sims-Walker (Jaguars). Sims-Walker flashed starter ability in Jacksonville and was Marshall's teammate at UCF.


Draft Outlook

While the Dolphins don't have a glaring need at receiver, they could use another talented player at the position and thus will be considering it throughout the draft in April. While I find it unlikely the team uses a first-round pick on one, they could potentially target a speedster like Torrey Smith (Maryland) or Titus Young (Boise State) if they trade down to the late first.

Assuming the Dolphins get back into the second round via trade, there are a handful of potential players available that could be of interest, including Leonard Hankerson (Miami), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Jerrel Jernigan (Troy), and Edmond Gates (Abilene Christian). Smith and/or Young could also be available in the second, depending on how things unfold.

If you're looking for burners a little later, players like Denarius Moore (Tennessee), Ricardo Lockette (Fort Valley State), Ronald Johnson (USC), and Aldrick Robinson (SMU) could probably be had in the middle or late rounds.

In terms of undrafted free agent possibilities, someone like West Virginia's Jock Sanders could be intriguing. He measures in at just 5-foot-6 an 181 pounds, but he has the second-best 10-yard split time in this year's class behind Julio Jones.


Conclusion


You can't really consider wide receiver a top priority for the Dolphins this offseason, because they already did the hardest thing in finding a true No. 1 talent in Marshall. They also have guys like Bess and Hartline, who are either reliable in their role or have shown flashes of ability.

What the Dolphins do need, however, is a speed receiver and deep threat to complement Marshall and open up the offense. While Ginn wasn't necessarily that guy and it's probably best the two parted ways, his speed was exactly the kind of thing the Dolphins could use.

Odds are the Dolphins' depth chart at receiver will look pretty similar to last year, aside from some shuffling at the bottom as more Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace clones are brought in to compete. What could shake things up a bit is if the Dolphins do decide to look in free agency or the early rounds of the draft for a new starting receiver opposite Marshall.


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