Miami Dolphins 2015 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

Aside from the Baltimore Ravens, no team had a bigger offensive improvement from 2013 to 2014 in terms of rate of moving the chains than the Miami Dolphins, who went from 26th in rate of moving the chains in 2014 to 8th last season. As a result, they went from 24th in rate of moving the chains differential in 2013 to 10th last year, 2nd best among non-playoff teams. They certainly played well enough to qualify for the playoffs, which should give their fans hope until 2015. The biggest reason for this improvement and for this hope is quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the 2012 8th overall pick, who is coming off a strong season in his 3rd year in the league in 2014.

Tannehill has gotten better statistically in every year of his career, going from a quarterback rating of 76.1 as a rookie to 81.7 in 2013 and then 92.8 last season. He finished 2014 having completed 66.4% of his passes for an average of 6.86 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.  On the season, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked quarterback. He finished 5th in completion percentage, had a strong TD:INT ratio, with his only subpar area being his YPA average. In his career, he’s been below 7 YPA in every season, including last year.

However, I’m not worried about that for two reasons. One, he wasn’t necessarily inaccurate downfield. The offense just called for him to throw a lot of shorter passes, likely because the Dolphins surprisingly ranked 2nd the NFL in yards per carry (4.69 YPC). Tannehill completed 58.6% of his passes between 10-19 yards downfield, which is better than league average, and, while he only completed 30.2% of his passes 20+ yards downfield, he ranked 22nd out of 38 eligible in accuracy (completions + drops/attempts) 20+ yards downfield, so he wasn’t necessarily bad in that aspect of the game.

Second, I find completion percentage to be a more important stat than anything, as high completion percentage often correlates with your offense regularly being on schedule. I realize that Tannehill’s completion percentage is inflated by the types of passes he was attempting and that he owes a lot of that high number to his running game making things easier for him, but the Dolphins finished 8th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains last season, moving them at a 75.33% rate.

Tannehill doesn’t deserve all the credit for that, but he deserves some, especially as he was dealing with poor offensive line play and an average at best receiving corps. Tannehill also contributed to that strong running game, rushing for 311 yards and 1 touchdown on 56 attempts (5.55 YPC). Besides, while the Dolphins ran well on a per play average, they didn’t run that often overall. Including pass attempts, sacks, and quarterback carries, Tannehill was involved on 66.5% of the Dolphins offensive plays last season, one of the highest usage rates in the NFL.

He hasn’t really had much help on offense, but the 2012 8th overall pick has graded out above average in all 3 seasons he’s been in the NFL, completing 61.9% of his passes for an average of 6.77 YPA, 63 touchdowns, and 42 interceptions, while rushing for 760 yards and another 4 touchdowns on 145 carries (5.24 YPC). The Dolphins gave him a 4-year, 74 million dollar extension this off-season and I think he was well worth it. Right now, there are 19 quarterbacks in the NFL, including Tannehill, whose contracts have an average salary of 13+ million dollars. Excluding guys on rookie deals, only one other player makes more than 5.25 million annually on his contract. There isn’t a middle ground with quarterbacks in today’s NFL. Right now, I’d say Tannehill is one of the top 10-15 quarterbacks in the NFL with the potential to get even better, going into his 4th year in the league, his age 27 season, so the deal makes sense.

Grade: B+

Running Backs

As I mentioned, the Dolphins had a great running game last season, ranking 2nd in YPC with 4.69 YPC. That was another why reason why they were so improved over 2013 offensively, as they averaged just 4.13 YPC in 2013, 17th in the NFL. Tannehill’s emergence was a big part of why the running game improved, but the running game helped Tannehill out a lot too, making life easier for him. The Dolphins probably want to become more of a run centric offense, because of how effective it was last season and because of how infrequently they did it last season, but it’s unclear if they have the volume in their backfield to do so. They didn’t think they did last year and their only off-season addition was 5th round rookie Jay Ajayi.

Lamar Miller was a great runner last season, grading out 5th among running backs on Pro Football Focus in pure running grade and averaging 5.09 YPC on 216 carries, 2nd in the NFL among eligible running backs. However, there’s a reason why he only had 216 carries in 16 games, just 13.5 per game. The first is that he’s useless in passing situations, grading out below average in that aspect in all 3 seasons he’s been in the league, since going in the 4th round in 2012, including 55th out of 57 eligible running backs in pass catching grade in 2014.

The second is that the Dolphins feel he tires out too much as the game goes on, something that is supported by the 3.81 yards per carry that he’s averaged in his career on carry 15+ of the game, something he’s only done in 11 of 45 career games. No one else could do anything at running back behind Miller either last season, so you had a starting running back with below average endurance and no depth, the reason why they ran so infrequently. Tannehill finished 2nd on the team with 311 yards on 56 carries. Meanwhile, Daniel Thomas finished with 3.82 YPC on 44 carries and Knowshon Moreno finished with 4.77 YPC on 31 carries.

Both are gone and 5th round rookie Jay Ajayi will be the backup running back. Don’t let the fact that he went in the 5th round fool you; Ajayi was seen as a 2nd or even a 1st round pick pre-draft, before teams found out about his bad knee. If he can stay healthy, which he apparently is now, he could develop into a really good #2 back and passing down back (72 catches in his final 2 seasons at Boise State). Ajayi will be a great complement for Miller, but the Dolphins should still give Miller a chance to be a 20 carry per game type back, something he’s done just once in a game in his career. He’s only going into his age 24 season though and has an impressive career 4.64 YPC average on 444 carries, so he deserves a shot to be a feature back, especially on a team without another proven running back. If he can, it’ll really help this offense and and help Miller financially, as he’ll be a free agent next off-season. Even if he can’t, it’ll still allow Ajayi to ease into the NFL before getting more carries by mid-season. It’s a solid and promising backfield.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

While their running game was strong last season, the Dolphins were weak both in the receiving corps and especially on the offensive line, as I also mentioned earlier. They ranked 31st among teams in pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus last season and 27th among teams in run blocking grade, making their strong quarterback and running back productive even more impressive. The Dolphins were weak upfront in 2013 as well, grading out 15th among teams in pass blocking grade and 30th among teams in run blocking grade. In order to fix this, the Dolphins made significant changes upfront last off-season, leading to an all new starting 5 in 2014, with 4 new starters and no one playing at the same spot as they played in 2013. That complete overhaul obviously didn’t work.

That being said, they could be noticeably improved upfront this season, for a few reasons. For one, Branden Albert, the only offensive lineman to play more than 20 snaps for the Dolphins last season and grade out above average, will be back from a torn ACL that cut his season short during the Dolphins’ 9th game of the season in 2014. He’ll be 10 months removed from the injury by week 1, so his status for week 1 is not in doubt, but what is in doubt is whether or not he can return to form, going into his age 31 season, following a serious injury like that.

When on the field, Albert is a solid offensive tackle, grading out above average in each of his last 5 seasons, including 18th among offensive tackles in 2011, 24th in 2012, 28th in 2013, and 8th in 2014. He was on his way to easily the best season of his career last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked offensive tackle through week 9, and still finished the season with no one playing fewer snaps than him and grading out better at the position. However, he’s getting up there in age and has missed 14 games with injury over the past 3 seasons combined.

Given that they gave him a 5-year, 47 million dollar deal last off-season to help turn this offensive line around, the Dolphins are obviously hoping he can continue playing well for a few more seasons, but it’s unclear if he can do that. What is clear is that, barring another major injury, the Dolphins should have better left tackle play overall this season thanks to the fact that Albert should play more games. Right tackle Ja’Waun James was horrendous on the blindside last season in Albert’s absence, while right tackle replacement Dallas Thomas was even worse on that side.

Speaking of James, he should have a better season in 2015 than 2014, the 2nd reason why this offensive line should be better this season. He won’t just be better because he’ll be able to stay at right tackle this season, but also because he’s not a rookie anymore. The 2014 1st round pick was clearly overwhelmed as a 22-year-old rookie last season, grading out 80th among 84 eligible offensive tackles. It’s unclear whether or not he can ever develop into a solid starter, but he has upside and he can’t be worse in 2015.

The third reason the Dolphins defense should be better this season is that Mike Pouncey will be moving back to his natural position of center, after struggling mightily in 12 games at right guard last season, following an early season hip injury. He graded out 69th among 78 eligible guards last season, but the 2011 15th overall pick made 46 starts at center from 2011-2013 and graded out 22nd, 12th, and 14th in those 3 seasons respectively. Only going into his age 26 season, Pouncey is a major bounce back candidate back at his normal position. The Dolphins clearly agree, giving him a 5-year, 45 million dollar extension this off-season, ahead of the contract year of his rookie deal. At the very least, he should be a drastic upgrade over Samson Satele, who was signed off the streets in August and inexplicably remained the starter at center even once Pouncey returned from injury. He finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked center out of 41 eligible.

While the Dolphins’ should be better at left tackle because of Albert’s return, at right tackle because of Ja’Wuan James’ development, and at center because Pouncey is moving back there, the Dolphins still have a major issue at guard. As much as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will help this defense (more on that later), the Dolphins might have been better off bringing back defensive tackle Jared Odrick (who got 5 years and 42.5 million from Jacksonville) and using the remainder of the money on guard Mike Iupati, who signed for 40 million over 5 years in Arizona, rather than giving Suh 114 million over 6 years.

Mike Pouncey (792 snaps), Daryn Colledge (763 snaps), Shelley Smith (367 snaps), and Dallas Thomas (362 snaps) led the Dolphins in snaps played at guard last season and graded out 69th, 74th, 54th, and 58th respectively among 78 eligible guards. Colledge and Smith are gone, while Pouncey moved back inside to center, leaving Dallas Thomas to compete with 2014 3rd round pick Billy Turner, who played just 17 snaps as a rookie, 4th round rookie Jamil Douglas, and veteran free agent addition Jeff Linkenbach. Two of those four will be the starters at guard week 1 and none of them provide much hope.

Turner might be their best guard, even though he’s inexperienced, because he’s not a proven failure and he’s young, going into his age 24 season and his 2nd season in the league. However, it is concerning that he couldn’t get playing time as a rookie on this horrible offensive line and he was only a 3rd round pick so there’s certainly no guarantee he ever emerges as a starter. He should be given a shot though. Jamil Douglas is also young, but he was just a 4th round pick this past May and isn’t ready for serious action. If he starts, it’ll be out of complete desperation at guard.

Thomas is also young, but has had a miserable career since going in the 3rd round in 2013. After playing just 2 snaps as a rookie, Thomas played 695 in 2014, 362 at guard and 333 at tackle, struggling mightily at both spots. In addition to grading out 58th among 78 eligible guards on 362 snaps, he graded out 75th among 84 eligible tackles on 333 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out worse among tackles. He’ll likely be given another shot at guard in 2015, but only by default. His best case scenario long-term seems to be as a versatile reserve/6th offensive lineman, but he’ll likely be counted on to start in 2015.

Linkenbach is the veteran option, but he might be even worse than Thomas. Jeff Linkenbach has graded out below average in all 5 seasons he’s been in the league since going undrafted in 2010. He’s made 36 starts in 5 seasons in the league and struggled mightily in his only season as a full-time starter, grading out 70th out of 76 eligible offensive tackles in 2011. He’s versatile, but, like Thomas, he’s a 6th offensive lineman at best and a pretty poor one at that. The offensive line should be better this season, but remain a problem.

Grade: C

Receiving Corps

The Dolphins receiving corps wasn’t as bad last season as their offensive line, but they put a lot of energy into remaking it this off-season and have made it better as a result. The Dolphins got rid of Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson this off-season and they played 842, 836, and 516 snaps respectively in 2014, but all three of them graded out below average last season and they saved a combined 17.97 million in cash by letting them go, which they re-allocated well. Hartline and Gibson were the worst of the trio, grading out 103rd and 100th respectively among 110 eligible wide receivers in 2014. Wallace was better, but certainly not good enough to justify a 9.9 million dollar salary for 2015, so the Dolphins traded him with a 7th round pick to the Vikings for a 5th round pick.

The Dolphins did a good job replacing that trio and will also have Jarvis Landry, a 2014 2nd round pick and easily their best receiver as a rookie last season, playing a larger role, after playing 702 snaps last season. He graded out 16th among wide receivers as a rookie, even though rookie receivers tend to struggle. Even in the golden era of passing offenses in the past 10 years, the average first round rookie wideout has averaged just 48 catches for 703 yards and 4 touchdowns. Landry wasn’t even drafted until the 2nd round and he caught 84 passes on 105 targets (80.0%) for 755 yards and 5 touchdowns on 434 routes run, an average of 1.74 yards per route run. He could top 1000 yards on 550 or so routes run this season and could definitely lead this team in receiving yardage.

They also traded for Kenny Stills, who graded out 23rd among wide receivers last season, a steal at the price of a 3rd round pick, especially since he’s only going into his age 23 season and signed very cheaply for the next 2 seasons. He caught 63 passes on 80 targets (78.8%) for 931 yards and 3 touchdowns on 458 routes run, an average of 2.03 yards per route run, in 2014 with the Saints. He doesn’t have Drew Brees anymore, but should continue putting up strong numbers this season. He’ll be option 1b to Landry’s 1a, or vice versa.

Greg Jennings was signed to a 2-year, 8 million dollar deal by the Dolphins this off-season and is expected to be the 3rd receiver. He spent the last 2 seasons with the Vikings, who signed him to a 5-year, 45 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, expecting to get the guy who had 3 seasons of 1000 yards or more in Green Bay. However, Jennings wasn’t able to come close to those numbers without Aaron Rodgers, averaging 64 catches for 773 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2 seasons in Minnesota, prior to being cut ahead of a non-guaranteed 9 million dollar salary this off-season. He’s now going into his age 32 season and hasn’t had a 1000+ yard season since 2010, but he wasn’t horrible in 2013 and 2014, grading out above average in both seasons. He’ll be a solid 3rd receiver.

The Dolphins also used a 1st round pick (14th overall) on Devante Parker, but, without a pressing need in the top-3 at wide receiver, he’s expected to start the season as the 4th receiver, especially after missing most of the off-season with a foot injury. He’s just too behind the 8-ball, after missing all of that practice. He’ll probably steal snaps from Jennings down the stretch, but won’t have a big rookie impact. As I mentioned earlier, rookie receivers, even talented ones, tend to struggle. He should still be a big contributor in 2016 and beyond though. The one concern is that his foot problems date back to his collegiate days at the University of Louisville, so they’re definitely something for the Dolphins to be concerned about. That’s part of why they should ease him into action.

The Dolphins also lost Charles Clay this off-season and he was pretty solid, grading out 14th among tight ends in 2014 and signing a 5-year, 38 million dollar deal with the Bills this off-season. However, Jordan Cameron, who the Dolphins signed to a 2-year, 15 million dollar deal this off-season, is no slouch. He’s a downgrade from Clay though. Jordan Cameron had a breakout year in 2013, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns, after playing just 398 snaps and catching 26 passes in his first 2 seasons in the league in 2011 and 2012. The 2011 4th round pick didn’t match that production in 2014 though, as he missed 6 games with concussions and caught just 24 passes for 424 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron is a one year wonder with a concerning concussion history and no full 16 game seasons played, but upside.

Even his 2013 season wasn’t as good as his numbers looked as he was fortunate enough to be on one of the pass heaviest teams in the NFL. His 1.47 yards per route run was just 19th among eligible tight ends. Sure poor quarterback play hurt him, but I’d argue that the amount the Browns passed that season helped him more than his quarterback play hurt. After all, the Browns finished 11th in the NFL in total passing yards that season. He’s also graded out below average as a run blocker in each of the last 3 seasons, including 60th out of 67 eligible in that facet in 2014. He’ll be a move tight end who, if healthy, should have an impact in the passing game. Blocking tight end Dion Sims will remain the #2 tight end, after the 2013 4th round pick graded out below average on 280 snaps as a rookie and then 522 snaps in 2014. It’s a remade and stronger receiving corps overall.

Grade: B+

Defensive Line

As I mentioned, the Dolphins added Ndamukong Suh this off-season and he’ll really upgrade this defense, after they ranked 19th in opponents’ rate of moving the chains last season and 14th in 2013. They could approach the top-10 this season. Suh is a fantastic football player, one of the best defensive tackles in the game, and arguably one of the best players in the NFL regardless of position. He’s been a top-4 defensive tackle on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons, joining only Gerald McCoy as the only two players who can say that.

That being said, he was definitely overpaid on a 6-year, 114 million dollar deal, with 60 million guaranteed. That is too much for any non-quarterback, except for maybe JJ Watt, but he’s on his own level. Even Watt got “only” 100 million over 6 years. The Dolphins, with pressing needs at guard and cornerback, would probably have been better off re-signing Jared Odrick, who signed for 42.5 million over 5 years in Jacksonville, and adding help at both guard and cornerback. However, there’s no doubt that the Dolphins will be better off with him on board and that he’ll be an upgrade on Odrick, who graded out 19th among defensive tackles last season.

Suh isn’t their only dominant defensive lineman as Cameron Wake is one of the best edge rushers in the game. He graded out 3rd among 4-3 defensive ends in 2009, 4th among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2010, 1st among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2011, 1st among 4-3 defensive ends in 2012, 3rd among 4-3 defensive ends in 2013, and 1st among 4-3 defensive ends. The only issue is he’s going into his age 33 season. However, I’d call him the best defensive end in the game if not for his age and he’s yet to show any sort of signs of decline so I think we can count on another dominant year from him. Him and Suh on the same defensive line is going to be a nightmare for opponents’ offenses.

The Dolphins have a good supporting cast around Suh and Wake too. Olivier Vernon will be an every down defensive end opposite Wake once again, after grading out 17th among 4-3 defensive ends last season. The 2012 3rd round pick is still a one-year wonder, after grading out below average in 2012 and 2013, including 39th among 52 eligible 4-3 defensive ends on 929 snaps in 2013. However, only going into his age 25 season, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he continued strong play. Derrick Shelby, meanwhile, remains the 3rd defensive end, a role the 2012 undrafted free agent has played in each of the last 2 seasons. He’s graded out slightly below average in 2013 and 2014 on 446 and 420 snaps respectively, but he’s a decent 3rd defensive end and only plays as a reserve role behind Wake and Vernon.

At defensive tackle, Earl Mitchell should remain the other starter, going into the 2nd year of a 4-year, 16 million dollar deal the Dolphins signed him to last off-season. He’s a marginal starting caliber player who graded out right about average on 543 snaps last season. He had never graded out above average prior to last season, since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2010, but he spent 2011-2013 out of position as the starting nose tackle in Houston 3-4. The 6-2 296 pounder is a much better fit in Miami’s 4-3 and could be solid again in 2015.

He’ll rotate heavily with CJ Mosley, who was signed from Detroit as a free agent and who will replace Randy Starks, who graded out slightly below average on 544 snaps last season. CJ Mosley has been the 3rd defensive tackle for the Lions over the past 2 seasons, but he’s made 9 starts, played 836 snaps, and graded out above average in each of the last 4 seasons. He’s one of the best reserve defensive tackles in the game. The only issue is he’s going into his age 32 season, but he should remain a solid rotational player. Also in the mix is 2nd round rookie Jordan Phillips. It’s one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the NFL.

Grade: A

Linebackers

The Dolphins, in an attempt to overhaul their linebacking corps, signed Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to a 5-year, 34.75 million dollar deal and a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal respectively two off-seasons ago, but that quickly backfired. Ellerbe was Pro Football Focus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013, while Wheeler graded out dead last among 4-3 outside linebackers. Ellerbe missed almost all of 2014 with injury and it was a blessing in disguise.

With Ellerbe out and Wheeler moving to the two-down outside linebacker role, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi had solid seasons in every down roles. Jenkins graded out above average in a breakout year, after grading out below average on 127 snaps as a 4th round rookie in 2013. He’s pretty unproven, but can continue being solid in his age 23 season in 2015. Misi, meanwhile, once again had another solid season. The perennially underrated linebacker graded out 12th among middle linebackers. A 2010 2nd round pick, Misi has done that in 4 of the last 5 seasons, including each of the last 3 seasons. They should remain a solid duo in 2015.

With Ellerbe and Wheeler gone this off-season, it’ll be the youngster Chris McCain and veteran free agent acquisition Spencer Paysinger competing for the less important two-down outside linebacker. Wheeler played decently there last season, grading out slightly above average, so they do have semi-decent sized shoes to fill. McCain is seen as the favorite right now and I think he’d be a downgrade. The 6-5 250 pounder 2014 undrafted free agent played 46 nondescript snaps at defensive end last season and now moves to outside linebacker. I don’t expect much out of him, but Paysinger isn’t very good either. He did grade out slightly above average on 707 snaps in 2013, but has never played more than 137 snaps in another season in the league, since going undrafted in 2011, and graded out below average on 81 snaps last season. I’d probably go with Paysinger, but the organization seems to like McCain. It’s a weakness regardless, but an overall solid linebacking corps.

Grade: B

Secondary

In addition to guard, cornerback and safety are weak spots for the Dolphins that they really didn’t address this off-season. Cortland Finnegan and Jimmy Wilson played 712 and 458 snaps for them last season, 2nd and 3rd on the team in snaps played among cornerbacks, and graded out 74th and 94th respectively among 108 eligible at their position. They’re both gone, but the Dolphins didn’t do anything to replace them with upgrades. Instead, they’re going to be relying on the quartet of Jamar Taylor, Will Davis, Walt Aikens, and Brice McCain to fill those two spots.

The Dolphins are probably hoping that Taylor can nail down the other starting cornerback job. The 2013 2nd round pick has played just 344 snaps in 2 seasons in the league though, and has graded out below average in both seasons, so it’s unclear if he can take that next step in his 3rd year in the league. Davis also comes from that draft class (3rd round) and also has barely played, playing a combined 200 snaps in 2013 and 2014 and grading out below average in both seasons. Aikens, meanwhile, was a 4th round pick in last year’s draft and played 64 nondescript snaps as a rookie.

McCain is the veteran option, one who the Dolphins are probably hoping will only have to be depth. Brice McCain was Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked cornerback in 2011 and looked like a potential future star, but that’s the only season of his 6 year career in which he’s graded out above average. He was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked cornerback out of 113 eligible in 2012 and dead last ranked in 2013. He played 615 snaps for the Steelers in 2014 out of necessity, despite not playing a snap in weeks 1-3, but he wasn’t that good. Cornerback depth is a problem.

The good news is that Brent Grimes remains as the #1 cornerback. What’s concerning is he’s coming off of a down year, grading out below average for the first time since 2009, in the first year of a 4-year, 32 million dollar deal. He graded out 9th among cornerbacks in 2010, 3rd in 2011, and 2nd in 2013, prior to re-signing last off-season. He missed 15 games with a torn Achilles in 2012, but has played all 32 games over the past 2 seasons and injuries weren’t the cause his relative struggles last season. The issue was likely age, something that’ll likely continue being an issue, as he goes into his age 32 season in 2015. There’s definitely bounce back potential here, but his age is becoming a concern.

At safety, Louis Delmas is not as bad as guys like Taylor, Davis, and McCain at cornerback, but he is someone I thought the Dolphins would find an upgrade on this off-season, with Delmas going into free agency. That was because he was coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in week 14 of 2014 and has a history of knee problems. The Dolphins, rather than upgrading him, brought him back on a 1-year, 2.25 million dollar deal and he will remain the every down starter.

Delmas looked like a promising young safety in 2009 and 2010, starting 30 games in his first 2 years in the league after the Lions drafted him in the 2nd round in 2009, grading out above average in both seasons. However, knee problems limited him to 19 games in 2011 and 2012 combined and he graded out below average in both of those seasons. He seemed to turn his career around in Miami, making 29 straight starts and playing decently as a starting safety, but then came the ACL tear. He’s expected back for week 1, but he’ll be just 9 months removed from the injury, a concern for a guy with as much of an injury history as him, so he might not be good, especially early in the season.

Reshad Jones is locked in as the other starting safety, after grading out 3rd among safeties last season. He also graded out 3rd among safeties in 2012, but it’s hard to consider him one of the top safeties in the NFL because of his inconsistency. In 2013, between those two dominant seasons, he graded out 66th among 86 eligible safeties and he has graded out above average in just 3 of 5 seasons in the league since being drafted in the 5th round in 2010, including just 2 of 4 seasons as a starter. He overall averages out to a significantly above average starter and is the Dolphins’ best defensive back, but it’s hard to know what you’re getting from him. It’s a below average secondary overall and one that probably should have been given more attention this off-season, but it’s supported by a great front 7 on what should be a solid and improved defense.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

The Dolphins were arguably the best non-playoff team last season, finishing 10th in rate of moving the chains differential, and they should be even better this season. They do have some weaknesses, particularly on the offensive line and in the secondary, but they might be one of the top-5 teams in the league talent wise. I think they certainly have a good chance to make it into the playoffs this year and I think are the best positioned of any 2014 non-playoff team to make a real leap. Almost every season there’s a team that goes from out of the playoffs to a first round bye and, especially with Tom Brady suspended for the first 4 games of the season, the Dolphins have a shot to win the AFC East and do just that this season. As with all teams, I’ll have official win/loss records for the Dolphins after I’ve done all teams’ previews.

Final note (9/9/15): Even with Tom Brady’s suspension getting thrown out, I still like this team to win the AFC East, though it certainly won’t be easy. I think they’re a little bit better than New England on paper.

Prediction: 11-5 1st in AFC East

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