Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ryan Tannehill reports to camp after agreeing to contract

The holdout is over in Miami, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins agreed to terms on a four-year, $12.688 million contract Saturday. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft will report to training camp Sunday, July 29.

Tannehill had been working out at the IMG Football Academy in Bradenton, Fla. with former Florida State and NFL quarterback Chris Weinke as negotiations were ongoing. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Tannehill caved on the one sticking point of the deal in exchange for a contract $110,000 over slot value.

Holding up the deal was what is called "offset language," which involved the money the team would have to pay him if he is released him before his deal is up and he find another NFL job. Frankly, it's a silly issue that I'm disappointed the Dolphins won, because they never should have been fighting it in the first place.

The reality is that you drafted Tannehill to be your franchise quarterback, so unless you're expecting to release him within the next four years, it's a moot point. And if they did end up releasing Tannehill so soon, the franchise would certainly have bigger issues than some money.

Although reported as a four-year deal, the contract will include a fifth-year option as all first-round contracts do. That option must be exercised before the fourth year of the contract.

Now that Tannehill is in training camp, expect him to take reps with the first and second teams, but don't expect him to compete for a starting job in 2012. As big a deal as people have made that out to be since between April and now, the reality is that Tannehill was never going to realistically push for a starting job and it's not a bad thing that he won't.

Tannehill was only a college quarterback for one-and-a-half seasons, meaning he's far more raw than your typical pro prospect even if he does have experience in the offense with Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. The Dolphins like Tannehill's upside as much as they always have, but he's not an Andrew Luck type of level of readiness and it's fine if he takes more time to develop.

With two NFL veterans in David Garrard and Matt Moore competing to start, there's simply no reason to even put the expectation on Tannehill that he could win the job, because it sets him up to be labeled a failure if he doesn't. His job is to sit and learn for most if not all of the season while putting himself in position to take the reigns in 2013.


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Friday, July 27, 2012

53-Man Roster Prediction: Training Camp Edition

The Miami Dolphins officially hit the first for 2012 training camp today—with of course the added bonus of having HBO's Hard Knocks cameras rolling. As I do every year at this time, I'll be taking a look at the Dolphins' current roster (now at 90 rather than the traditional 80) and predicting my final 53 that will make the team.

There's an additional level of difficulty with making these predictions due to a predominantly new coaching staff, new schemes and a new way of doing things. Philbin and his staff have no allegiances to any holdovers or previous years' draft picks. That means any and everyone could be on the chopping block and they look to make this team their own.

Nevertheless, I'll do my best to predict the Dolphins' 53-man roster out of the 90 names I have right now. Keep in mind that the final 53 likely all are not on the roster at this time. That's because waiver claims from other teams' cuts, and perhaps even a trade or two, will further shape the Dolphins' roster before the regular season kicks off on Sept. 9.

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

I really struggled with this group, simply because I don't think it's necessarily a lock that both Garrard and Moore make the team. Garrard seems to have the edge, meaning Moore would have potential trade value toward the end of the preseason. However, with Garrard's recent injury history and the team potentially wanting to keep Tannehill off the field until he's ready, I don't know if the team can risk defaulting the rookie to the No. 2 spot behind Garrard.

In the event the Dolphins do trade or release one of Garrard/Moore, it's possible the team would only keep the starter and Tannehill on the active roster, while moving the third-stringer (Devlin) to the practice squad as has become common practice in the NFL and was the case in both Miami and Green Bay last season.


Running backs (4): Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Steve Slaton, Lamar Miller
Released: Marcus Thigpen, Jonas Gray

Bush returns as the starter after an impressive 2011 season, but whether or not he'll carry the same load remains to be seen. I'd say Thomas is in line for guaranteed touches between the tackles and the rookie Miller has some intriguing tools as well. Slaton is the wild card here, as he could easily win a top backup job or be cut altogether. With no great options behind the three locks, I'm keeping Slaton for now.

Thigpen will return to Canada, leaving Gray as an intriguing option for the practice squad. He was a top recruit out of high school and is still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in November at Notre Dame, so giving him some time to develop is ideal.


Fullback (1): Charles Clay
Released: Jerome Messam, Ryan Mahaffey, Jorvorskie Lane

This is an interesting position, because we don't really know what kind of fullback Mike Sherman wants for his offense. Clay is more of an H-back type and has a lot of receiving ability, but he's not a pure lead blocker. That being the case, I really don't see any of the other guys cracking this roster.

The only exception would be Messam, who was a great runner in Canada and is an interesting tailback/fullback hybrid at 245 pounds. However, with two knee surgeries this offseason and no way to know if he's healthy or not, I can't justify predicting him to make the team right now.


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

The newly-renamed Chad Johnson opened camp with the starters and appears motivated to win the job, even if he's not a lock to make the team. Bess and Hartline should continue to have their roles on the offense, while the team seems to like Naanee a lot even if he hasn't shown much in his career to date.

The final two spots (as I'm keeping six total) go to Wallace, who excels on special teams and has great size, and Cunningham, who is sure-handed late-round rookie. It's a killer blow to 2011 fourth-rounder Clyde Gates, who has blazing speed but doesn't seem to be on the coaching staff's favor. Hopefully, Gates can change opinions in Miami before camp is done.


Tight ends (2): Anthony Fasano, Michael Egnew
Released: Jeron Mastrud, Les Brown

This is one position that I had a lot of difficulty with. Keeping only two tight ends (or three if you count Clay, but then you have no fullback) seems unlikely, but I don't see Brown making the team and Mastrud offers no upside either. Fasano is locked in as a starter entering the final year of his deal and I'm sure the Dolphins are hoping the athletic rookie Egnew can contribute as a rookie.

Look for this position's depth to be addressed after final cuts, because keeping just two doesn't seem very likely even if that's what I'm predicting here.


Offensive tackle (4): Jake Long, Jonathan Martin, Nate Garner, Lydon Murtha
Released: Will Barker, Will Yeatman, Dustin Waldron, Andrew McDonald

With Artis Hicks competing at guard, it seems likely the Dolphins' second-round rookie Martin starts at right tackle unless he falters badly and/or Murtha plays lights out in the preseason. Murtha still has some value as a backup so he should stick regardless, while Garner's versatility is a plus even if he had a very rough 2011 season.

Barker offers no upside, while Yeatman (moved from tight end and given No. 60 at the beginning of camp) is far too raw to contribute right away. Either Yeatman or undrafted rookie Waldron would make an excellent practice squad project, however.


Offensive guard (3): Richie Incognito, Artis Hicks, Eric Steinbach
Released: John Jerry, Ray Feinga, Josh Samuda

The writing has been on the wall for Jerry all offseason, and I have him getting the ax here as he simply doesn't have the size and athleticism for the new blocking scheme. Incognito should remain the starting left guard, while Hicks is the most likely stopgap at right guard.

Steinbach could enter the right guard mix, but he's been a left guard for most of his career and is working there on the first day of camp. He has a bit of experience at center so that versatility could help him make the team and allow Ryan Cook and his $1 million salary to be cut.


Center (1): Mike Pouncey
Released: Ryan Cook

Last year's first-rounder is entrenched as the starter, so the only question here is whether or not Cook makes the team as his backup. I have guard Eric Steinbach making the team instead, as he could serve as the backup to Pouncey on game days and a practice-squadder could spell Pouncey in practice.


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

Wake returns to his old position of right defensive end in the Dolphins' new 4-3 scheme. By default, Odrick gets the other starting end spot, even those he's more of an interior lineman in this scheme. Odrick does have some pass-rushing ability and should handle the run well on the outside.

Behind them, third-rounder Vernon will make the team while trying to earn time as a situational rusher, while Westerman will do the same and also play special teams. I'm predicting undrafted rookie Shelby also make the squad as a backup and developmental player.


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

The Dolphins remain extremely set at defensive tackle with Starks and Soliai back as elite starters and McDaniel still around as a capable backup. (Not to mention Odrick out at end.) The Dolphins have nothing to worry about with this position and it should be a real force during the regular season.

As for the fourth and final spot, I'm giving it to seventh-round rookie Randall based on upside. He's a smart kid and really has potential to develop, while the same cannot be said for the rest of the bunch. Baker has no upside at all, while Aaitui is more of a 3-4 nose tackle and Alecxih is practice-squad material.


Outside linebackers (5): Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Gary Guyton, Jason Trusnik, Josh Kaddu
Released: Jonathan Freeny, Shelly Lyons

Burnett is locked in as a starter after a great first season in Miami, while Misi seems destined to work at the other spot. Drafted as a pass rusher, Misi failed in that department but has some run-stuffing ability and the team doesn't have many internal options. Guyton is his true threat with plenty of experience starting in New England (albeit at a sub-par level) but Misi seems to be the favorite for now.

I'm keeping Jason Trusnik for his special-teams ability and as a backup pass rusher (he too was a former defensive end), while rookie Kaddu can learn from the bench and play special teams in his first year.


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

Karlos Dansby returns as a starter (hopefully in better shape than he shaped up in last year) and is the natural  guy in the middle with plenty of smarts to call the defensive plays and get everyone organized.

As for the backup spot, I give it to Spitler only because Collins still has practice-squad eligibility. On game days, Spitler would be limited to special teams if he dressed and someone like Burnett would move over to the middle if Dansby went down.


Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll, Quinten Lawrence
Released: Jonathan Wade, Vince Agnew, Marcus Brown, Trenton Hughes, Kevyn Scott

It's a passing league, so keeping five corners is a must. I have Smith listed as a starter with Davis, but the reality is that the top three corners are really starters and Marshall should play extensively and even push Smith. A free agent after the season, Smith need to get a lot more consistent and prove he deserves the new contract he surely wants.

Carroll returns as a backup due to lack of other options, and I'm keeping Lawrence over Wade and the rest because of special teams value. From what I was told by a former teammate of Lawrence's in Kansas City, his transition from wide receiver to cornerback was very impressive for one season, so there could be some upside there.


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

Five corners and five safeties give the Dolphins 10 defensive backs, but that's the league we're in. It seems like Clemons and Jones are penciled in as starters, while Culver returns as a veteran backup and special-teamer.

Wilson is a fan favorite that had a rough rookie season, but he some potential and is worth keeping around. I'm keeping the undrafted McCray over Russell and Johnson because those two have not impressed and McCray has some upside to him.


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

Another season, another season these three are set in stone. Fields is a free agent after the season and should be a priority for the Dolphins, as this is a truly well-oiled machine.


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:
  • RB Jonas Gray — An undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, Gray is a solid running back prospect and could be brought along slowly once he recovers from November's torn ACL.
  • WR Rishard Matthews — The Dolphins' other drafted receiver, Matthews loses out to Cunningham for a spot on the 53-man roster but he certainly worth a continued look here.
  • WR Jeff Fuller — A big-bodied receiver with drops issues, Fuller is worth this spot because of upside and his connections to Tannehill and Sherman.
  • TE Les Brown — The accountant turned tight end isn't ready for the big stage, but with two tight ends kept on the active roster, he has use in practice and could end up developing.
  • OT Dustin Waldron — A quality undrafted rookie, I'm intrigued by Waldron's upside and would like to see him on the practice squad for an extended look.
  • OG Josh Samuda — Primarily a guard, Samuda makes the squad to serve as a backup center in practice while Steinbach plays guard.
  • DE Jacquies Smith — Smith loses out to Shelby for an active roster spot, but is worth keeping around due to the Dolphins' third pass rush depth.
  • LB Cameron Collins — Collins could easily make the team over Spitler as a special-teamer, but he's the one eligible for the practice squad so he's the unlikely guy that takes the pay cut.
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.


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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dolphins sign veteran guard Eric Steinbach

With right guard perhaps the most unsettled position on the roster, the Miami Dolphins have opted to bring another body into the competition with the signing of free agent offensive lineman Eric Steinbach to a one-year deal.

A nine-year NFL veteran with 124 starts under his belt, Steinbach spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and the past five with the Cleveland Browns, missing all of the 2011 season with back issues.

The Dolphins would have been able to sign Steinbach withing making a corresponding roster move, but they opted to waive undrafted rookie guard Derek Dennis. That keeps the Dolphins at 89 players on their 90-man training camp roster, leaving an open spot for unsigned first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill.


Background

A Lockport, Ill. native, Steinbach initially committed to the University of Iowa as a tight end but was moved to offensive guard following his redshirt freshman season. He went on to earn All-Big Ten honors each of his final two seasons and was named the conference's offensive lineman of the year as a senior in 2002.

Selected early in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft (33rd overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals, Steinbach stepped in as the starting left guard immediately as a rookie and went on to open 59 games at the position over four seasons. He also opened two contests at left tackle and one at center due to injuries at those positions.

Regarded as one of the top free agent offensive linemen of the 2007 class, Steinbach inked a monster seven-year, $49.5 million contract with the Cleveland Browns that included $17 million guaranteed. On the surface, Steinbach came as advertised, starting 62 games during his first four seasons in Cleveland and earning alternate Pro Bowl honors in 2008.

However, his actual production with the Browns might not have been so great, as Pro Football Focus graded him out as one of the worst guards in the league every season from 2007 to 2010, including the overall worst in the NFL in 2009.

Additionally, after missing just three games during his first eight seasons and playing every offensive snap for the Browns in 2009 and 2010, Steinbach missed all of last season with a lingering back injury and is now 32 years old.

Released by the Browns in March, Steinbach's market was slow was practically nonexistent before signing with the Dolphins. The Browns failed to show interest in bringing him back at a lower rate, while Steinbach's agent said three teams were interested in June. He worked out for the Ravens on July 23 but was not signed.


Analysis

In the positives department, Steinbach brings a wealth of experience to the Dolphins' offensive line with 124 starts over nine pro seasons. He's smart and in the past has been a quality interior lineman. He also spent four seasons working under Dolphins' head coach Joe Philbin, who was his offensive line coach at Iowa.

On the downside, Steinbach is 32 years of age and hasn't played football in over a year thanks to back issues. Even before the 2011 seasons, he graded out as an extremely sub-par guard and it seems unlikely he'll suddenly turn things back around given the circumstances of age and durability.

With Steinbach added to the mix at guard, it's looking more and more likely that disappointing 2010 third-rounder John Jerry will not make this team. His size and conditioning has been an issue of late and it's clear the new staff and it's different blocking scheme doesn't see much them like in him.

That being said, Jerry remains on the roster and should compete with Steinbach and fellow free agent acquisition Artis Hicks for the starting right guard job. Although Hicks is more of the journeyman type and didn't have the peak Steinbach had, I'd say he has as good or equal a chance to earn the starting job with Jerry on the outs.

If Steinbach doesn't win a starting job, it's possible he doesn't make the team at all. One thing that could help his chances is showing that he could fill in at center, which would save the Dolphins money by allowing them to cut backup Ryan Cook and his $1 million salary.

Although Steinbach's signing seems likely to shake up the right guard competition if anything, it's important to note that he's primarily been a left guard during his career, with 121 of his 124 starts coming at the position. One would imagine, however, that it wouldn't be hard for an established veteran to switch sides and Steinbach will certainly be motivated as he clings to his pro career at age 32.


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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Training Camp Battles #8: Defensive End

Truthfully, there isn't really a battle among the Dolphins' starting defensive end spots. Pro Bowler Cameron Wake is locked in at the right defensive end spot, and 2010 first-rounder Jared Odrick seems to have the other spot by default.

Although Odrick played end in the Dolphins 3-4 scheme over the last two seasons, he profiles primarily as a 4-3 defensive tackle. That being said, he has some pass-rushing ability and his bulk should be useful on early rushing downs.

It's the Dolphins depth at defensive end that isn't quite set. There is almost no veteran depth at the position and the team has a handful of young players vying for a couple roster spots.


The Lock and Near-Lock

  • Olivier Vernon — A third-round pick out of the U, Vernon had an underwhelming collegiate career but has the physical tools to be a quality pass rusher in the pros. His draft spot practically assures him a roster spot, although he's unlikely to be anything more than a situational rusher and special-teamer is first year.
  • Jamaal Westerman — Westerman was undrafted out of Rutgers in 2009 and has spent the past three seasons with the Jets, setting career highs this past season in starts (three), tackles (32) and sacks (3.5). Although he signed a minimum deal and isn't much more than a backup and special-teamer, it'd be a slight surprise if he didn't make the team considering he's the only guy behind Wake and Odrick with NFL experience.

The Other Contenders
  • Jarrell Root — Of the Dolphins' three undrafted rookie ends, Root had the least impressive collegiate career and appears to have the least upside of the three. The Boise State product is a run-stuffer and doesn't have much pass-rush ability, so I suspect he'll have a very difficult time making the team.
  • Derrick Shelby — An undrafted out of Utah in 2012, Shelby has the measurables (6-3, 266) of an NFL defensive end and had a pretty solid collegiate career. Considering the Dolphins' relatively thin depth at the position, he could stick as a fourth or fifth defensive end or on the practice squad.
  • Jacquies Smith — Like Shelby, the undrafted Smith was solid in college, racking up 13 sacks at Missouri and starting the past two-and-a-half years. He is Shelby's biggest competition for that final roster spot or a practice squad gig.

The Verdict

With Vernon a lock to make the team and Westerman a near lock, the Dolphins will likely only have one spot to keep a developmental prospect and it's possible they don't even do that. The Dolphins could opt to keep just four on the roster, although with Odrick's potential double-duty at defensive tackle I could see them sticking with five.

In that event, my guess is that Shelby would make the team of the Dolphins' three undrafted rookies. He has the best combination of college production and physical tools and could be a nice project as a backup. You can't sleep on Smith either, although I like Shelby slightly better.

The Dolphins certainly need another pass rusher to help out Wake and I'm not sure that guy is on the roster yet, meaning they'll have to make do with the inexperienced depth they have now and hope they find a diamond in the rough.


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Friday, July 13, 2012

Training Camp Battles #9: Backup Running Back

The Miami Dolphins enter 2012 with an interesting but potentially productive mix at running back.

You have former No. 2 overall pick Reggie Bush coming off his first 1,000-yard rushing season, having shown all of us he can hold up as a feature back through a full season. You have 2011 second-rounder Daniel Thomas, who flashed at times but was overall disappointing in an injury-plagued rookie campaign. And you have rookie fourth-rounder Lamar Miller, whose speed and receiving ability make him a potentially versatile threat from the backfield.

But while I would say the Dolphins' top three running backs are locked in on the depth chart, a potential fourth spot remains up for grabs if indeed the team decides to go four-deep at the position.


The Contenders

  • Steve Slaton — As a rookie with the Texans in 2008, Slaton rushed for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 50 receptions and 377 yards through the air. Since then, he's rushed for just 614 yards on a 3.5-yard average in three seasons with the Texans and Dolphins. One has to imagine there is still talent in there somewhere, but his drastic fall in Houston and his inability to get on the field in Miami in 2011 is concerning. Although coach Joe Philbin talked him up after his resigning, he's going to need a stellar camp to crack the roster.
  • Jerome Messam — A 245-pound mauler from the Canadian Football League, the 27-year-old Messam looks to have some potential but has been slowed by a knee injury suffered last season in the CFL and a follow-up surgery in May. It still remains to be seen whether he works at fullback or tailback and there is really no way to predict how he'll do until we know he can stay on the field.
  • Marcus Thigpen — Another CFL import, Thigpen is more of a receiver out of the backfield and return man than a true running back. One has to imagine he'll be on the outside looking in unless he wins a return specialist gig.
  • Jonas Gray — One of the top running backs in the nation coming out of high school, Gray had a fairly quiet career at Notre Dame, failing to rush for more at least 120 yards in his first three seasons before totaling 791 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. A torn ACL in November prematurely ended his college career and still has him limited in offseason workouts, so an active roster spot is pretty much off the table.

The Verdict

Based on the four names I see competing for this potential fourth running back spot, I'm inclined to think the Dolphins won't keep a fourth one at all. Slaton is obviously the most proven and "high-upside" of the bunch, but he hasn't produced in three years and doesn't contribute elsewhere, so there is little reason to keep him at a veteran price as your fourth running back.

Beyond that, Messam appears to be the only one with the immediate talent to even have a chance at making this roster, and his knee is questionable. If he can stay healthy and show enough potential, he might force the Dolphins to use a roster spot on him.

Otherwise, I'd expect the Dolphins to keep three backs total. Thigpen isn't good enough to crack this roster and Gray need more time to rehab and develop. In September, I imagine Thigpen will be heading back to Canada and Gray will simply be hoping to land a practice squad spot, as the Dolphins would almost certainly keep a fourth back there if they only kept three active.

It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins use their three-headed monster at tailback. Some people are down on Thomas, but I for one was impressed when he was on the field last year and I see him as a potential feature back.

My initial guess is that Bush will start if he stays healthy, but Thomas will see an increased role between the tackles and Miller will be brought along slowly. If Bush has another good year, I'd expect him to price himself out of the Dolphins' plans for 2013 and beyond, at which time we could see a true dual-back system of Thomas (the between-the-tackles pounder) and Miller (the speedy receiving threat).


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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Training Camp Battles #10: Backup Wide Receivers

The highly-anticipated and HBO-documented Miami Dolphins training camp is just over two weeks away, so it's time to come off the slowest time of the NFL calendar and take a look at some of the training camp battles facing the team in 2012.

The Dolphins' wide receiver corps has been widely called one of the worst, if not the worst, in the league. It certainly is a cause for concern as we head into Joe Philbin's rookie season as the team's new head coach, but the starting spots are not what concern me today. Rather, my No. 10 training camp battle to watch involves the bottom of the receiver depth chart.

Realistically, the Dolphins have a few locks at receiver (Davone Bess and Brian Hartline) and if Chad Ochocinco can show he's still got it, he should make the team in a featured capacity as well. If you assume the top three are set, then you have nine players competing for two or three spots on the roster.


The Main Contenders

  • Legedu Naanee — A former college quarterback with size (6-2, 220), Naanee was signed to a one-year, minimum deal in April after largely disappointing in five seasons with the Chargers and Panthers. If beat writer Omar Kelly is to be believed (and that's rarely a good idea), Naanee has been extremely impressive in offseason workouts. If that's true he certainly has a shot to crack the top four. However, with a weak track record, he's unlikely to be kept as a bottom-of-the-roster time over younger prospects.
  • Clyde Gates — Unlike Naanee, all reports about Gates' offseason have been extremely negative, with many covering the team saying he's in serious danger to not make the roster. Personally, I find it hard to believe the second-year fourth-rounder won't be able to crack the Dolphins' receiving corps, and his rare speed makes him a worthwhile project.

On the Fringe

  • Roberto Wallace — An undrafted free agent in 2010, Wallace caught six passes his rookie season and played in just two games in 2011 before landing on injured reserve with a quad injury. He has Brandon Marshall's frame (6-4, 225) but not his talent, although special teams is where he really shines. Wallace is easily the best special teams player of this bunch, which will always give him a chance to make the roster as a fifth or sixth receiver.
  • Marlon Moore — Like Wallace, Moore arrived in Miami as an undrafted rookie in 2010. Also like Wallace, he caught six passes as a rookie (albeit for a more productive 128 yards and a touchdown) before failing to catch a pass and landing on IR in 2011. Some fans like Moore's upside, but he's not all that great on special teams and I just don't see the talent there. With a handful of fresh blood at the position, I think it will be hard for Moore to stick around for a third season.
  • B. J. Cunningham — A prolific receiver at Michigan State, Cunningham was drafted by the Dolphins in the sixth round of April's draft. He reportedly had an impressive offseason showing, so a solid performance on special teams could land him the final spot on the roster as a developmental prospect.
  • Rishard Matthews — Taken a round after Cunningham out of the University of Nevada, Matthews isn't quite as seasoned as his fellow rookie draft pick but does offer some intrigue as a prospect. He too will need to shine on special teams to beat out the competition for a final roster spot.
  • Jeff Fuller — Fuller makes my "fringe" list over a few more experienced incumbents below for one reason—familiarity. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound undrafted rookie had an impressive career at Texas A&M marred by a drop problem as a senior, but he has extensive experience with Dolphins' offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Combine that with talent and upside equal to if not better than both of the Dolphins' drafted receivers, and Fuller is certainly in the mix for a practice squad spot, if not an active roster gig.

Long Shots

  • Chris Hogan — A college lacrosse player with little football experience at FCS Monmouth, Hogan made the Dolphins' practice squad late in 2011 due to an impressive showing in workout auditions. That being said, this organization has no ties to him and he should be considered the longest of long shots, with the practice squad being his only semi-realistic hope.
  • Julius Pruitt — A speedy undrafted receiver from Ouachita Baptist in 2009, Pruitt has spent two-plus seasons on the practice squad and played in nine games as a special-teamer in 2011 after injuries to Wallace and Moore. It'd be a nice story, but it seems unlikely Pruitt is finally going to break out and he may have a hard time sticking around under a new coaching staff looking for fresh prospects to round out the depth chart.

The Verdict

As I said before, this article assumes that Ochocinco, Hartline and Bess make the team as the top three, even if Ochocinco isn't a lock to make the team at all. But Ochocinco is locked in as a starter if he makes the team, because there is no way the Dolphins would keep a veteran at his price to sit on the bench.

The same can be said for Naanee, which is why I consider him one of the keys to this whole discussion. If Naanee impresses and earns a role on the offense, he'll take up one of the top three or top four spots. However, if he fails to earn a significant role on offense, you can be certain he doesn't make the team over younger players.

If I had to guess, I would say that Naanee and Gates do make the team and a sixth receiver is kept for special teams/developmental purposes. Wallace is my favorite among the holdovers because of his special teams ability, and I like Cunningham's chances as well given his track record and reliability.

That would give the Dolphins six active roster receivers, which is possible but certainly not a guarantee. In that event they would likely keep one extra receiver on the practice squad. That spot would likely go to either Matthews or Fuller. I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb and say that the undrafted Fuller makes it over seventh-rounder Matthews due to upside and familiarity.

Regardless of how things shake out, it's important to temper expectations for the late-round draft picks and undrafted players. For every Marques Colston and Victor Cruz, there are a hundred guys that never amount to anything. While it's possible the Dolphins could find a diamond in the rough among the names discussed here, you certainly cannot bank on it.


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