Are Miami Dolphins' New Linebackers Really An Upgrade?

By Danny Williams
Charles LeClaire-USA Today

Last offseason the Miami Dolphins were big players in free agency, replacing seven departing members of the 2012 squad with seven new players. Some newcomers are having troubles in their first seasons with the squad, and while that may be an overstatement for new linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler they have both had their share of problems.

The Dolphins sold these linebackers as younger, quicker play-makers who were going to thrive in Kevin Coyle’s defense which features frequent double A gap blitzes. Going into Week 16 we have learned that this may have been a bit of false advertising. The two have combined for one and a half sacks on the season, and Ellerbe has two interceptions. That’s not very impressive, but it gets worse when you see what the men they replaced are doing this season.

We’ll start with Kevin Burnett, who is playing on a bad Oakland Raiders team. He has 93 tackles, one interception, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 2.5 sacks. His replacement, Philip Wheeler, who has been struggling in pass coverage, has 95 tackles, zero interceptions, one forced fumble, zero fumble recoveries and half a sack.

Karlos Dansby is the player that makes you slap your forehead if you are the Dolphins. He is having an amazing year for the Arizona Cardinals, the team he made his name with. Dansby has 111 tackles (104 solo), three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and 17 pass deflections which the Dolphins could really use. Dansby’s pass defense is really missed as the new linebackers’ lack of ability to cover handcuffs the defense. He also has 6.5 sacks! That’s pretty good for a guy who got dunked for someone who was supposedly better at getting to the quarterback.

His replacement, Dannell Ellerbe, is the better of the two linebacker acquisitions, but he’s still not that good. He has 84 tackles (only 58 solo), two interceptions, zero forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one sack which was credited to him for being the closest Dolphin to Cam Newton as he stepped out of bounds a yard behind the line of scrimmage.

Dansby and Burnett have double the interceptions and quadruple the sacks of Ellerbe and Wheeler. That’s a lot of big plays for a couple of guys who were cut loose to make room for two “play-making” linebackers. Was the decision to overhaul the linebacker spot a bad one? Well, numbers never lie.

Danny Williams is a Miami Dolphins writer for, follow him on Twitter @danwilli45

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