Monday, February 10, 2014

Season in Review: Running Backs

Over the next month, I'll be reviewing each position's performance for the Dolphins during the 2013 season, noting the good and the bad play and looking ahead at where the position stands for the 2014 season and beyond. Check out the archives for past entries in the series.

Relevant 2013 Ranks:
Points/game: 19.8 (26th)
RB rushing yards/game: 72.1 (29th)
RB rush yards/carry: 3.9 (24th)
RB rush touchdowns: 6 (t-27th)
RB receiving yards/game: 21.1 (32nd)
RB fumbles lost: 1 (t-2nd)

Many Dolphins fans have bemoaned the departure of Reggie Bush in free agency, and the reality is that neither of the Dolphins' two primary backs from 2013 can touch Bush in the talent department. That being said, I have little issue with letting Bush walk and even less of an issue with Lamar Miller.

Granted, the guy could be a little more physical. (Reggie Bush, often regarded as fail and injury-prone, proved just how physical a guy his size can be in Miami.) But Miller has plenty of talent to play in this league and would, in my opinion, be quite productive on a good team.

Starting all but one game for the Dolphins this past season, Miller rushed for 709 yards on a 4.0 average that I'd consider quite reasonable given how bad the line was. The blocking, as noted over and over again, was atrocious and the departure of Richie Incognito due to midseason controversy certainly hurt no one more than Miller.

Meanwhile, Daniel Thomas led the team with four rushing scores (doubling Miller's two) and while he didn't fumble once (a career first) he simply doesn't seem to have good instincts for the position. On the plus side, his yards per carry mark has improved by a tenth of a yard each of his three seasons (up to 3.7 in 2013) so he should be an elite back in maybe a decade or so...

Marcus Thigpen maintained the third back job, thanks in large part to his role as the team's return specialist. He's a decent receiver out of the backfield but has very little upside and I would have liked to have seen a little more of rookie fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee (6 carries in 3 games). Of course, not playing his rookies has been par for the course under Joe Philbin.

The Dolphins went into 2013 without a plan at fullback and ended up using Michael Egnew in that role for much of the season. Although that isn't what you want out a third-round tight end, Egnew displayed slightly above-average blocking skills.

2014 Outlook

The Dolphins' entire backfield is under contract for 2014 (Thomas is entering the final year of his contract), but that doesn't mean changes aren't coming. Thomas is no lock to even make the team after three disappointing seasons and bringing in competition or a complement for Miller is certainly within reason.

I would hope the Dolphins don't overspend on a free-agent back like Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno or Darren McFadden. Not that I particularly dislike all those players, but running back is an easy position to fill because a good line and a good quarterback make it easy to have a running game and that means it's best to have draft pick money at the position.

That being the case, I'd be fully on board with taking a back in the middle rounds of the draft to pair with Miller in 2014. Someone like Terrance West (Towson) or Devonta Freeman (Florida State)

In general, I'm not overly concerned with who the Dolphins trot out at running back in 2014, because I know that the bigger issues are the line and quarterback. Lamar Miller might not look like LeSean McCoy, but he's more than capable of being a productive starter with good talent around him.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Season in Review: Receivers & Tight Ends

Over the next month, I'll be reviewing each position's performance for the Dolphins during the 2013 season, noting the good and the bad play and looking ahead at where the position stands for the 2014 season and beyond. Check out the archives for past entries in the series.

Relevant 2013 Ranks:
Passer rating: 80.1 (21st)
WR receiving yards: 2,783 (15th)
WR receiving TDs: 14 (t-16th)
TE receiving yards: 846 (15th)
TE receiving TDs: 6 (t-18th)

Looking at the above ranks, that's certainly not what you want to see from your receiving corps coming out of an offseason in which you spent just over $100 million total on your top three options at the position.

Granted, the receiver numbers are not all the fault of those players. The team's pass protection issues were well-documented in 2013 and obviously hindered the entire offense, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill still have a lot of work to do as well and didn't help matters with his inability to complete the deep ball.

Still, it's fair to be disappointed with the group considering the money Mike Wallace got in free agency this offseason. He was clearly overpaid due to the Dolphins' need at the position and is too one-dimensional to be a true No. 1 receiver, but his production (73 catches, 930 yards, 5 TDs) would have been much greater if Mike Sherman had utilized his strengths properly and if Tannehill had connected on half of his overthrown deep passes, you're certainly looking at Pro Bowl numbers for Wallace.

While he'll never be confused with a superstar, Brian Hartline continued his chemistry and reliability with Tannehill in 2013, posting nearly-identical numbers to the previous season and improving his touchdown total from 1 to 4. He's far from the fastest guy on the field and his inability to stay on his feet long after the catch is almost laughable, but he's a great safety blanket for the quarterback and he could easily put up great numbers with a better offense around him.

Moving on from Davone Bess as their slot receiver in 2013 (wisely if not shadily, considering his mental state), and seemed to have even upgraded the position despite slightly overpaying for Brandon Gibson. His torn patellar tendon is a bit concerning heading into 2014, but if he's able to return he should pick up where he left off.

Finally, it seems Dolphins fans are extremely optimistic about the future of 2012 seventh-rounder Rishard Matthews (sparked in large part by his 120-yards, 2-score catch against the Bucs), but the reality is he's a fairly low-ceiling slot option. In all honesty though, it would have been nice to have made him the slot receiver and saved the money spent on Gibson, because the production is about equal.

At tight end, Charles Clay filled in better than anyone could have expected after veteran Dustin Keller went down with a terrible knee injury in the preseason. Clay posted borderline Pro Bowl numbers (69 catches, 759 yards, 6 touchdowns) and came through with some absolutely huge grabs throughout the season.

2014 Outlook

The Dolphins head into the offseason with plenty of holes on offense, but I don't expect the receiver position to change much. The talent at receiver is far from the team's biggest issue on that side of the ball and the money committed to the position is another reason why any changes are unlikely.

The Dolphins may bring in a few receivers between the latter rounds of the draft and undrafted free agency, but they would at most be competing for the No. 4 and 5 spots at the position and special-teams gigs. Wallace and Hartline aren't No. 1 receivers, but together with a quality quarterback they are more than capable of helping a team to the playoffs.

At tight end, Clay will return for another season as the Dolphins' primary tight end, while Keller will have to look for a one-year, prove-it deal elsewhere. Clay is entering a contract year and will certainly be looking for a raise over the $645,000 he's making in the final year of his rookie deal.

I imagine the Dolphins might express interest in an extension with Clay, but I also suspect he might be too eager to test the market in 2015. In that case, the Dolphins should consider drafting a tight end somewhere in the first two days of the draft this April, considering Michael Egnew and Dion Sims are unlikely to be able to fill Clay's shoes if he walks after the season.