Tuesday, August 21, 2012

53-man Roster Projection: Preseason Midpoint Edition

My initial 53-man roster projection came in late July at the start of training camp, and just two preseason games in, it's amazing how things have changed.

Ryan Tannehill has gone from a raw rookie destined to ride the bench to a Day One starter. Projected starting receiver Chad Johnson had his career rejuvenation derailed by an arrest for domestic assault. Some players have fallen out of favor while unknowns have stepped up and staked claims to roster spots.

As we head into the second half of the preseason, it's time to update the 53-man roster projection, whittled down from the 89 players currently under contract. The Dolphins will cut down to 75 players by Monday, Aug. 27 at 4 p.m. ET and eventually to 53 players that Friday, Aug. 31 at 9 p.m. ET.

Feel free to make your own predictions and share them in the comments, on the forum, or at my facebook discussion group. There is certainly to plenty of differing opinions on who will and won't make this team and it's always interesting to discuss with other fans.

Starters in italics

Quarterbacks (2): Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore
Released: David Garrard, Pat Devlin

With Tannehill named the starting quarterback and likely on a fairly long leash as the future at the position, the Dolphins will almost certainly part ways with one of their two high-priced veterans. My guess is they will keep Moore and reach an injury settlement with Garrard, whose health remains a concern and a liability if he's your only backup.

Devlin can probably be slipped to the practice squad just like last season, saving the Dolphins a roster spot to use elsewhere.

Running backs (4): Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Marcus Thigpen (KR)
Released: Steve Slaton
Reserve/Non-Football Injury: Jonas Gray

Bush, Thomas and Miller are all locks to make this roster. Up until last week, I assumed Slaton was the favorite for a potential fourth spot, with a lot of that depending on how ready Miller is to have a role on offense.

From what I've seen, Miller should be just fine as the No. 3 back, making Slaton expendable. That's why I'm predicting they keep CFL signing Thigpen instead. Thigpen showed good hands and moves in last week's preseason game at Carolina and has remained atop the depth chart at kick returner all offseason, so he seems to have a legitimate shot.

Fullback (1): Jorvorskie Lane
Released: Jerome Messam

With the release of Ryan Mahaffey yesterday, the Dolphins' fullback battle is down to two. Lane has been listed as the start since camp began and has been working with the first team all preseason, so he's got the clear edge over Messam, who is more of a halfback hybrid and has lingering knee issues. How much the Dolphins utilize a true fullback remains to be seen, but Lane is the guy for now.

Wide receivers (6): Legedu Naanee, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess (PR), Marlon Moore, Jeff Fuller, Chris Hogan
Released: Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt, Rishard Matthews, B. J. Cunningham

This is easily the most difficult position to project. Even with Chad Johnson's release, I think I have the top three set in Naanee, Hartline and Bess. That is of course assuming that Naanee maintains the starting job he's earned with a great camp despite doing nothing in two preseason games, and that Hartline can get back on the field sooner rather than later from his calf injury. Bess is locked in as the slot receiver.

Projecting the potential fourth, fifth and sixth receivers is an absolute mess. Moore seems to be next on the depth chart right now, while I'm also cutting "Ankle Weights" Wallace. The team just seems to be down on him and I'm not sure he makes it.

Gates certainly doesn't seem to be a leader for a spot despite his blazing speed, which is unfortunate given the promise we all thought he had as a rookie fourth-rounder in 2011. Pruitt just doesn't have the upside and loses out to Moore and Wallace despite a solid camp.

Late-round rookie Matthews and Cunningham probably haven't done enough to earn a roster spot and could be vying for one place on the practice squad if Hogan doesn't make the team.

Tight ends (4): Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Jeron Mastrud, Michael Egnew
Released: Les Brown

Third-round rookie Egnew certainly didn't make this easy, and seems to be having about as bad a start as you can have. I was seriously close to projecting him to be cut, which is a rarely in the NFL for a guy drafted so high but does happen on occasion.

In the end, I kept four tight ends, with Fasano and Clay both having significant roles in the passing game. Mastrud sticks around for blocking and Egnew doesn't dress on game days. Both won't have secure roster spots and will be sweating even after final cuts.

Offensive tackle (4): Jake Long, Jonathan Martin, Lydon Murtha, Ray Feinga
Released: Will Yeatman, Andrew McDonald, Will Barker

Martin appears entrenched at right tackle despite his rough start, while Murtha makes it as a top backup for both sides. I like Feinga's versatility at tackle and guard, so I'm keeping him around.

Yeatman doesn't seem to be quite there after his conversion to tackle, while Barker doesn't offer any upside and McDonald is probably better suited for the practice squad, where he can work behind Martin on the right side in practice.

Offensive guard (3): Richie Incognito, Artis Hicks, Nate Garner
Released: Eric Steinbach, John Jerry, Chandler Burden

Incognito is entrenched at left guard, but that's about the only thing that's certain at this position. Hicks has been handed the starting right guard job but hasn't had a good preseason and has no real upside. However, I think he keeps the gig and ends up having the versatile Garner behind him.

My guess with Steinbach is that if he doesn't earn a starting job, the team won't pay the veteran to be a backup. Steinbach has been hurt some during practice and has been working solely behind Incognito at left guard, never once sniffing a competition with Hicks on the right side.

As for Jerry, he's made things interesting by working with the first team in Hicks' absence at practice the past few days. I'm still inclined to believe he'll ultimately be cut, however, because he just doesn't fit the blocking scheme and offers no versatility as a backup.

Center (2): Mike Pouncey, Josh Samuda
Released: Ryan Cook

Undrafted rookie Samuda has been listed as Pouncey's top backup all preseason and he's made the most of it with some great play on the field. He seems a near lock to make the roster, while Cook and his $1 million salary get the boot.

Defensive end (5): Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby, Jamaal Westerman
Released: Jacquies Smith, Jarrell Root

With Wake and Odrick entrenched as starters, the question here is whether the Dolphins keep four ends or five. After seeing how much Vernon struggled against Carolina, I'm inclined to believe they keep five with Westerman, although he could end up being replaced by a waiver claim.

One guy that's really exciting is the undrafted rookie Shelby, who has had a great preseason and looks promising as a backup. I'd say he's already locked up a roster spot and might even be worth a look ahead of Vernon on defense.

Defensive tackle (4): Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Tony McDaniel, Kheeston Randall
Released: Ryan Baker, Isaako Aaitui, Chas Alecxih

Starks and Soliai are having a great preseason and look to be the strong point of the Dolphins' defense in 2012. The depth is the question, as McDaniel and his $3 million salary certainly aren't safe as a rotational player. I love what Randall has done in the preseason so I really don't see him getting cut, and McDaniel stays for now because neither Aaitui nor Baker has stepped up.

Outside linebackers (4): Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Jason Trusnik, Josh Kaddu
Released: Gary Guyton, Jonathan Freeny, Shelly Lyons

Trusnik is having a very strong preseason and looks to be entrenched as a backup across the linebacker unit. I also don't see the team parting ways with fifth-rounder Kaddu, who is raw but is certainly worth keeping considering the team's lack of depth.

The biggest name among the cuts is certainly Guyton, but he won't be worth keeping if he doesn't win a starting job and he's having a poor preseason thus far. Guyton has been tried and failed as a starter in the NFL and the Dolphins will want to stay younger.

Middle linebackers (2): Karlos Dansby, Austin Spitler
Released: Cameron Collins, Josh Linam

Dansby returns as a starter for the third straight year, while special-teamer Spitler backs him up. Spitler is having a very nice preseason and shouldn't be feeling any head from undrafted rookies Collins or Linam.

Cornerbacks (4): Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Vontae Davis, Nolan Carroll
Released: Quinten Lawrence, Jonathan Wade, Vince Agnew, Marcus Brown, Trenton Hughes, Kevyn Scott

There are still a lot of question marks here. Will Smith be able to translate his strong camp to the regular season? How will Marshall do in his first season in Miami? Will Vontae reclaim his starting job or stay dejected by his demotion?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, the top three here should be set in some form or another. The question is whether or not the Dolphins keep four or five corners and who else will stick. I'm going with Carroll sort of by default, because I really don't see anyone else here worth keeping. This will remain a fluid situation after final cuts.

Safeties (5): Chris Clemons, Reshad Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jimmy Wilson, Kelcie McCray
Released: Anderson Russell, Tyrell Johnson

While neither is a proven starter, Clemons and Jones are essentially unchallenged for the jobs this year. There is a school of thought that says Culver could be cut to save money, but I see value in keeping him around as the most experienced safety on the team.

Wilson still has a bit of promise and should stick as a backup safety that can also play corner and special teams. I'm also keeping McCray, who has been out most of camp with a fractured foot but has a lot of promise.

Special teams (3): Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
Released: none

What more is there to say here? Nothing. These guys rock.

Practice Squad

The Dolphins will likely get a few of their practice squad players from other teams' cuts, but if I were to make an eight-man practice squad from the Dolphins' cuts above, this is how it would look:
  • QB Pat Devlin — Devlin sticks at the third quarterback but saves the Dolphins a roster spot to use elsewhere but staying on the practice squad.
  • WR Rishard Matthews — An intriguing draft pick, Matthews is worth keeping around for a longer look.
  • WR B. J. Cunningham — Cunningham hasn't really stood out, but I see the Dolphins keeping two receivers on the practice squad and Cunningham is the only option of my receiver cuts. Hogan getting cut could change that.
  • OT Andrew McDonald — McDonald has surprisingly worked himself into the second team and would continue to work behind Jonathan Martin at right tackle in practice.
  • DE Jacquies Smith — Smith is a fairly accomplished undrafted rookie from Mizzou and stays for practice depth.
  • LB Cameron Collins — Collins will work on special teams and behind Dansby and Spitler in the middle of the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme.
  • CB Quinten Lawrence — A converted receiver, Lawrence reportedly did well on the Chiefs' practice squad last year and can continue to tune his craft here.
  • CB Vince Agnew — With only four corners kept on my active roster, Agnew sticks around a second straight season for practice depth.
    One thing to keep in mind is that not every cut is eligible for the practice squad. For example, Clyde Gates and John Jerry have too much NFL experience to be eligible, so they are not options here.

    Discuss this article in the comments below or on the forum here!