The team that a lot of people thought had what it takes to knock off the Patriots had a roller coaster of a season before coming to a crashing halt at an ugly 6-10. The Dolphins schedule did feature three wins over teams who made the playoffs (yes, the Texans and Washington), but at the same time this team had two separate three game losing streaks against teams that did not make it, and two of those six teams are picking ahead of them in this draft. The fins were able to knock off the Pats in their season ender which is a good way to roll into the offseason with momentum, and strong efforts from younger players. However this team team hit their low point very early, in their first three game losing streak. It featured back to back division losses by a combined score of 68-28 and led to the firing of their coach. A lot went wrong, and at the end of the day a lot of cleaning up has to be done.
Joe Philbin, as mentioned in their 2015 season preview had little to no chance of being here right now. His team clearly questioned him in 2014, and to retain him in 2015, albeit for three games seems like keeping the car in neutral. Dan Campbell took over, and for having little experience in the role, he did fine at 5-8. There still needed to be change and it comes with Adam Gase. Gase is known as the quarterback coach during Tebowmania, and then got the perfect promotion at the perfect time when Peyton Manning took over in Denver. In Gase’s first season as the coordinator in Chicago he did improve the offense in efficiency, but it actually lacked on the field in terms of yards. Jay Cutler threw seven less interceptions in 2015, but also threw seven less touchdowns, and has his lowest TD % since 2011. He will be calling the plays in 2015, and brought Vance Joseph from the Bengals to run the defense. Joseph was the defensive backs coach and certainly deserved the promotion, so we will see how the duo can mix together.
Things get really interesting when you throw Ryan Tannehill into the mix. Tannehill signed a deal that gave him the majority of his money this year and next year and will make him cuttable or tradeable after 2016 if something were to happen. Tannehill has always had questions, and after getting his deal he really didn’t improve in many categories. His deep accuracy and really overall accuracy has to be questioned heading into the off season. Still, he had a lame duck head coach and a young offense around him, so it makes his 2016 year the most important of his career. What will also be interesting is the backup quarterback situation. Matt Moore has been the backup, but Gase signed Zac Dysert, who had with him in Denver, and also has Logan Thomas on the roster. Moore is a free agent, and it will be interesting to see which direction he goes behind Tannehill.
Running back play
Lamar Miller, coming off a year with 216 carries at a 5.1 yard per carry rate ended this year with 194 carries and a 4.5 yard per carry rate. The biggest problem seemed to be that they refused to give him the ball. In some situations, mainly because they are trailing early, it is tough to go to the run game, but at the same time, Miller never had 20 carries in 2015. It is no surprise they are 5-1 in games in which had 13 carries or more, and 0-9 when he had less than 13 carries. Miller is now an unrestricted free agent, and the Dolphins happened to draft Jay Ajayi last season, and bring him along off an injury to play late in the season. Ajayi had a 3.8 yard per carry rate in limited touches behind Miller, and reports are that the Dolphins do want to retain Miller, but it would seem to be in Miller’s best interest to move on. If he is back, it brings a huge advantage to Gase, who learned to run the ball first behind Jon Fox.
Wide Receivers at Tight Ends
To say Jarvis Landry was Ryan Tannehill’s go to is an understatement. The Dolphins essentially fed him the ball. His 166 are only 28 off of Lamar Miller rushes. Tannehill’s second and third most targeted players combine for 133 targets. Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron combined for 62 catches, 826 yards and Jarvis Landry had 110 catches for 1157 yards. Essentially the play calling was simplistic in the idea that feeding Landry with quick passes was the easiest way to ignite Tannehill and the offense. Tannehill struggling to find the others is a big problem of his, but Stills and Cameron do not deserve awards either. At times Rishard Matthews was outshining both, and the hope is that former first round pick Devante Parker is ready to take a step forward in 2016. He played in eight games this year, including the last six and recorded three touchdowns in those last six games. He had a strong end end to the season and could be the key to making Tannehill’s life a lot easier. At the end of the day it is possible they can move on from Jordan Cameron and will certainly move on from Greg Jennings, but it would be in an attempt to save space to add to the defense. Still, tight end may be a mid round pick.
Offensive Line Play
The Dolphins had issues, mainly in health that really shook things up, but the line but when looking to the future, Dolphins fans should feel somewhat comfortable. To start, Mike Pouncey is tied down and in that you have yourself a long term top tier center. Pouncey was out for the last two games, but should be healthy for a strong 2015. They also have the next most important position left tackle locked up with Branden Albert. Albert also missed two games early in the year, and it gave time for rookie Ja’wuan James to play, and the hope would be that in 2015 he can step up and start at right tackle. Fellow rookie Billy Turner also was able to start due to injuries, and if he can slot in at right guard, Dallas Turner, who shifted around the line in 2015 can slot in at left guard. Thomas only has one year on his deal, but they had rookie Jamil Douglas slot in at times this year who can give the line depth this and may eventually compete for a starting spot next year.
The defensive line will have some shaping up to do. To start, Vance Joseph needs to get Ndamukong Suh under control. Suh posted six sacks, but he started slow, and it seemed as though he struggled figuring out the scheme. Joseph brings a new scheme, and the hope would be that it is tailored around Suh wreaking havoc. Speaking of wreaking havoc, Olivier Vernon did so in replace of Cameron Wake, who went went down early in the year with an Achilles tear. Vernon posted 5.5 of his 7.5 sacks in the second half of the season, and in 2016 he is looking to be the most trusted pass rusher. That is because in the cruel business of the NFL, it would seem very likely the Dolphins, who are pressed against the cap would part ways with Cameron Wake an in attempt to save 8 million dollars. Vernon is a free agent and would most likely command the money in which a pass rusher like Wake had a few seasons ago. Signing Vernon and losing Wake gives them rushers of Vernon, Quinton Coples, and Damontre Moore which can get by, but it is a need for Miami, preferably via the draft. Next to Suh, the rotation of himself, Earl Mitchell, and now second year Jordan Phillips should be fine moving forward, and won’t need to externally be addressed this offseason.
Linebacker would be another need the Dolphins may want to address in the draft. Jelani Jenkins has proven his worth over two seasons now and fills the “Will” spot. As for the other two, the Dolphins have free agent Kelvin Shepperd, and Koa Misi, who may be slightly above replacement level. It will be interesting to see if they can upgrade via free agency, but to lack a middle linebacker heading into the draft would be big hole in the defense.
Miami had the 29th ranked pass defense in 2015, and while the pass rush wasn’t amazing without Wake, the secondary was the major problem. Reshed Jones is an exceptional performer at strong safety, but he is better in the box, than in the pass game. They have Louis Delmas, who did a decent job but really doesn’t need to be retained next year. At corner, Brice McCain, Jamar Taylor, and Brent Grimes are all resigned, but are all easy to move on from, and points to the most glaring hole on the Dolphins.
Where do they go?
The answer in defense. Gase is an offensive guy, and he really has the pieces in place. The reason Joe Philbin was fired was because he couldn’t find a strong balance and that should be what Gase was brought in to do. On defense, the front needed patch work, and when they weren’t playing above their head, the back end was being exposed. I would have to go early and often on defense, and if the offense isn’t ready to take the next step, you have to wonder where Tannehill stands.