The 2012 Miami Dolphins were not expected to do much damage, especially with a rookie QB, head coach and a change in defensive scheme. So while their 7-9 record was disappointing to some, there is still some promise going forward. Two of their losses did occur in overtime, and they also enjoyed a few blowout victories, including against the divisional rival New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
Ryan Tannehill didn’t make headlines like fellow rookies Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or even third-round pick Russell Wilson, but he still performed well enough (+11.5 overall) to move forward with hope in 2013. Cameron Wake continued to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL despite a moving to a 4-3 base. So the Dolphins do have some talent to build on clearly. Still, if they want to really threaten New England for the AFC East title next season, they need to add more talent. Let’s take a look at some of the areas they need to make moves in.
Simply put, Miami needs to find more weapons for Tannehill. Many thought the Dolphins had the worst receiving corps in the league heading into the season, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Miami’s top two wide outs were 2009 fourth-round pick Brian Hartline and 2008 undrafted free agent Davone Bess, after they traded away Brandon Marshall to Chicago. When the dust settled, Hartline was named a Pro Bowl alternate. He had some big games (like his 253 yard game vs. Arizona) and dropped only five catchable passes, but he also had only one TD catch. Meanwhile, Bess had an impressive 14 forced missed tackles, but also had only a single TD grab while dropping eight passes. Quality depth was a critical issue here as the other receivers the Dolphins tried to plug in include a group of cast-offs such as Armon Binns, Jabar Gaffney, and Anthony Armstrong, none of whom contributed much at all.
Hartline is an upcoming unrestricted free agent and, with the Dolphins cap situation in solid shape, it’s reasonable to think they re-sign him. Even if they do though, they need more help and fast.
The Free Agent Fix: Greg Jennings
The Pro Bowl Packer receiver seems likely to hit free agency this offseason. In the past five years, Jennings hadn’t missed a regular season game until two years ago. He missed the final three regular season games in 2011 but returned for the divisional playoff loss at home to the eventual champion Giants, then missed half of 2012’s regular season but did play in the two playoff games.
Jennings’ health the past two seasons may be a concern, but the former second-round pick consistently delivers. He can play outside or in the slot, and has 42 TD catches and 51 forced missed tackles in the past five years. He did fail to break 1,000 yards receiving for the past two years (though his 989 yards in 2011 was close), but again much of that can be attributed to his injuries. Does GM Jeff Ireland believe the past two seasons were flukes in respect to his health, or will they be cautious in the type of contract they offer him?
Everyone should know about Cameron Wake, who once again was one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. In 2012, he was by far the most productive 4-3 defensive end and graded out as such by a large margin. Not including plays nullified by penalties, Wake registered 17 sacks, 23 QB hits, and 46 hurries while also grading out well above-average against the run (+10.4) and not being responsible for a single penalty. The problem though, is that there is no one on the other edge to take pressure off Wake.
The starter opposite Wake has been Jared Odrick, a 2010 first-round pick that has never lived up to his high selection. In his rookie year, he broke his foot and ended up playing only 22 snaps. This past year he did help out against opposing running games (+4.0), but struggled generating consistent pressure despite Wake’s presence. Odrick accumulated six sacks, 10 QB hits, and 21 hurries, but those pressures were picked up among 566 pass rushing opportunities. Koa Misi, primarily an LB, saw time in place of Odrick, especially in the two games against New England (62 snaps at DRE to 16 snaps at LB). Like Odrick, he was useful against the run, but not in pass rushing. Rookie third-round pick Olivier Vernon, playing 445 snaps out of 1,146 defensive snaps, also failed to consistently get to signal-callers (-6.1 pass rushing). Help is needed here.
The Free Agent Fix: Michael Bennett
Unrestricted free agent Buccaneer Michael Bennett could tremendously help out Miami’s pass rush. An undrafted 2009 free agent, Bennett has become a thorn in QB’s sides the past two seasons and seems to be getting more dangerous. In 2011 he had 4 sacks, 6 QB hits and 28 hurries and in 2012 he earned 9 sacks, 14 hits and 49 hurries.
Brother to current New York Giant TE Martellus, Bennett is not a one-trick pony. Last year he ranked 17th among 4-3 defensive ends in our Run Stop Percentage with only a single missed tackle and 18 stops in run defense. It’s very possible Tampa Bay knows Bennett is worth keeping around, but if they don’t, Miami could make a move.
The Patriots have shown how helpful it is to have multiple talented tight ends on a roster. Everyone knows about Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but journeymen Daniel Fells (+8.6, much of that coming in run blocking) and Michael Hoomanawanui (+4.2, much of that coming in pass blocking) have also contributed to another great Patriot season. The Dolphins had four tight ends that saw playing time last year: Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Jeron Mastrud and Michael Egnew.
Fasano, a former Dallas Cowboy and 2006 second-round pick, is getting older, but was a key part of the offense with a team-high five TD catches. However, Fasano is slated to become a free agent. Clay has rotated between tight end and fullback but struggled with run blocking (-1.6), and receiving (six drops on 28 targets). Mastrud was capable blocking for runners (+1.1), but didn’t see a single target in the passing game, while rookie third-round pick Egnew saw only 25 snaps. A difference-maker at this spot would help Tannehill’s development, especially with the old saying that tight ends are a young QB’s best friend.
Free Agent Fix: Martellus Bennett
The other Bennett brother could help out the Dolphins as well. Despite dealing with some injuries, the former 2008 second-round pick did not miss any games for the Giants last year. That may also explain why he started the year off in great form with a TD catch in each of the first three games, but didn’t catch another until week 13. He would end the season with five scoring catches, along with 55 catches for 262 yards.
Bennett is also a solid run blocker though. He graded out at +2.6 in this area for 2012 — the only concern might be that the previous three years he was much more dominant (+13.8 in 2009, +13.9 in 2010, and +11.7 in 2011). Perhaps the injury can explain his drop off here too, but nonetheless a willing blocker and receiving threat is an asset that the Dolphins could use.
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