Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Position for the Dolphins to target in undrafted free agency

As we sit here in NFL offseason limbo, the Dolphins' offseason roster consists of 56 players. Add to that six rookie draft picks that will need to be signed, at least four players with expiring contracts that will be back (Nate Garner, Lex Hilliard, Lydon Murtha, Kory Sheets), and any free agents once the NFL league year begins, and the team will probably be hovering around 70 players under contract.

That means the Dolphins could have around 8-10 spots on their 80-man offseason roster to fill with undrafted rookies. Like the rest of the league, players that went undrafted last month have no options when it comes to signing with NFL teams. Some may opt to head to Canada, the arena league, or the UFL, but many are going to wait out the lockout.

When that time comes, here are some positions I expect the Dolphins to target, along with some of the better players they could look at for each position.


Quarterback

The Dolphins failed to address the position in the draft, so any long-term replacement for Chad Henne won't be added this year. The team will likely add a veteran via free agency or trade to at least compete with Henne.

Beyond that, it wouldn't surprise me if the Dolphins added an undrafted rookie at quarterback. With Tyler Thigpen likely out of the picture, Tom Brandstater because the de facto third-stringer. Unless the Dolphins are completely sold on him in that role, it makes sense to bring in some competition.

Pat Devlin (Delaware), Adam Froman (Louisville) and Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin) are probably the best of the bunch, and all would present adequate competition for Brandstater. Other options include Josh Portis (California (Pa.)), who could be appealing from a wildcat standpoint, or local prospect Jeff Van Camp (Florida Atlantic).


Running Back

The Dolphins likely landed their feature back in the second round in Daniel Thomas, but they still have no players at the position under contract and are going to need to completely restock their depth chart.

I'd expect a complementary back a la Darren Sproles through free agency, and exclusive-rights free agents Lex Hilliard should be back as well, but neither has shown much at the NFL level and they aren't locks to make the roster, let alone serve as the third and fourth running backs.

Undersized by dynamic backs like Derrick Locke (Kentucky) and Noel Devine (West Virginia) could be appealing, but's unclear just how many backs of that type the Dolphins would want to bring to camp if they already have Sheets and add a similar one through free agency.

For your standard, unflashy ball-carrier, prospects like Damien Berry and Graig Cooper (Miami (Fla.)) and Darren Evans (Virginia Tech) could draw interest, although they would need to shine on special teams more than anything else.
 

Tight End

The Dolphins tired an failed repeatedly to find a No. 2 tight end to play alongside Anthony Fasano in 2010, as indicated by the Dolphins' unproductive running game and the fact that Mickey Shuler was the only other Dolphins tight end to catch a pass at all (which came in Week 17).

While sixth-round fullback/tight end Charles Clay may help fill the void his exact role remains unclear and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in the backfield often. In that event, the Dolphins will need to find someone else to line up on the line.

Still recovering from a foot injury, Weslye Saunders (South Carolina) is the best of the bunch with huge size, good blocking ability, and soft hands. Cameron Graham (Louisville), Charlie Gantt (Michigan State), Mike McNeill (Nebraska) and Brett Brackett (Penn State) would also be suitable options to compete for a reserve job in camp.


Offensive Line

You can never have enough offensive line depth, and considering that three of the Dolphins' five starting spots on the line were problematic last year (four, when you consider Vernon Carey's injury) it's as important as ever to groom good linemen.

The Dolphins already have a handful of camp bodies, but guys like Allen Barbre and James Marten have been in the league long enough to pretty safely establish that they aren't going to develop into much more than they are. Guys like Ray Feinga and Matt Kopa certainly aren't indispensable, either.

I could realistically see the Dolphins adding at least two, maybe even three, undrafted linemen. A former college tackle with potential at guard would be nice, and you can't rule out center either with Joe Berger a strong candidate to be released and Richie Incognito possibly starting at guard again.

Guys like Josh Davis (UGA), Zach Hurd (Connecticut), and Willie Smith (East Carolina) all have the potential to stay outside, but also profile as guards. They'd all be strong candidates for the practice squad and could even land a job as a reserve on the active roster.

There are also a few quality center prospects out there, including Alex Linnenkohl (Oregon State), Ryan Bartholomew (Syracuse), and Kristofer O'Dowd (USC). Bartholomew, while undersized, is an impressive specimen who led his position in both the forty and bench press in pre-draft workouts.


Outside Linebacker

The Dolphins failed to address outside linebacker, and thus it appears Koa Misi will go largely unchallenged for the starting job opposite Cameron Wake. With Quentin Moses unlikely (hopefully) to return and Ikaika Alama-Francis largely unproven, the Dolphins certainly need more depth at the position behind their Pro Bowler.

The best pass rusher still available is probably Ugo Chinasa (Oklahoma State), who certainly has the talent to be a backup and potentially develop into a role player on defense. Other options include Kentrell Lockett (Ole Miss), Eddie Jones (Texas), Mario Addison (Troy), and numerous small school prospects.


Inside Linebacker

The Dolphins are also always in the market for more competition at the backup inside linebacker spots, so don't be surprised if the team adds a body to compete with the likes of Austin Spitler and Mike Rivera.

Mark Herzlich (Boston College) headlines the bunch, although his prospects are far less certain after his well-documented health issues robbed him of his elite range and athleticism. He certainly makes for a good story though and has the talent and drive to be an impact special teams player at the least.

Guys like Nick Bellore (Central Michigan) and Scott Lutrus (Connecticut) are also appealing, although it's important to remember that any player added here will have to really shine on special teams to make the roster.

Other players of note
  • WR Darvin Adams (Auburn) — Adams left school early due to a spread-option offense ill-suited to showcase his receiving ability. He doesn't have great size and sometimes drops the easy ball, but he has the talent to be a starting NFL receiver.
  • DE Brandon Bair (Oregon) — A great run stuffer for the Ducks, Bair profiles as a 3-4 defensive end and could certainly compete for a backup job.
  • WR Tori Gurley (South Carolina) — Gurley has excellent size (6-4, 216) and could be an impact player on special teams before developing into a backup receiver.
  • K Kai Forbath (UCLA) — Despite a down year, the 2009 Lou Groza Award winner was one of the top kicking prospects in the draft and should be doing it in the pros very soon.
  • SS Joe Lefeged (Rutgers) — A quality safety with nice athleticism and ball skills that could be a special teams monster and even develop into a defensive starter.
  • WR Ricardo Lockette (Fort Valley State) — An extremely raw prospect, Lockette has a track background and has blazing speed that can't be taught.
  • SS DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson) — Character concerns knocked him down from a potential second-day selection, but he's a talented ball-hawk worth taking a flier on.
  • WR Dane Sanzenbacher (Ohio State) — His physical tools don't pop out at you, but he's a tough, sure-handed receiver that could be highly productive in the slot in the right situation.
  • WR Terrence Toliver (LSU) — A solid all-around receiver with big school experience, Toliver is a relatively safer prospect that could be developed into a strong backup.
  • NT Ian Williams (Notre Dame) — Widely regarded as a potential mid-round selection, Williams is a monster in the middle with the bulk to be a 3-4 nose tackle despite his lack of height.

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