With Senior Bowl practices getting underway in Mobile, Ala. this week, NFL Draft season is officially upon us. Two teams remain in contention for the Lombardi Trophy, but the other 30 clubs have set their sights on how to improve their respective rosters this offseason.
The Miami Dolphins are no different. Owner Stephen Ross has yet to decide on a new GM, but the team’s scouting department has begun the laborious process of evaluating every draft hopeful. Whomever the new GM may be, he’ll be taking over a team that needs a considerable amount of tweaking this offseason. The Dolphins have holes on both sides of the ball and several impending free agents whose fate needs a verdict.
After conceding a league-high 58 sacks, the offensive line could use a complete overhaul save center Mike Pouncey. A productive running back also needs to be signed or drafted, and something should be done to improve the play of what was one of the league’s worst linebacker corps in 2013. But the Dolphins are also void of a true red zone threat for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and that cannot remain the case next season.
The Dolphins had their struggles offensively this year, but they weren’t a statistically poor red zone team, scoring a touchdown on 56.52 percent of their trips — 11th best in NFL. But some of that success stemmed from good fortune, and there’s a strong chance it won’t continue in the future without the addition of a receiver or tight end who possesses a large-catch radius.
Take a look back at every Tannehill-touchdown pass from 2013:
Of the 24 touchdown passes Tannehill threw, two were the result of a deep ball, nine were the product of a significant catch and run in which the defense either missed a tackle(s) or was out of position, one came after a busted coverage, four were the outcome of a perfectly-placed pass and two were the culmination of scrambling until a receiver came open. There’s nothing indicting about any of those designations, but there was still something missing.
Never did a Miami receiver or tight end win a jump-ball battle or box out a defender to catch a ball in close quarters. The Dolphins don’t possess a target who is capable of doing either on a regular basis.
Bill Lazor‘s offense can’t rely on the run-after-the-catch opportunities Mike Sherman‘s unit benefited from in 2013. Many of those plays were the product of poor defense. The Dolphins need weapons who can make plays on the football regardless of how well positioned the coverage is.
Mike Wallace is an underutilized speedster, but he doesn’t have the size to fill the void. Brian Hartline is a solid possession receiver and has excellent chemistry with Tannehill, but he lacks the size and athleticism to be a true red zone threat. Charles Clay led the Dolphins with six receiving touchdowns in 2013, but he doesn’t have the height or leaping ability to be the guy. Slot receivers Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews lack the necessary credentials as well.
Some would argue that Armon Binns, who showed promise in training camp but spent the year on injured reserve after an ACL tear, could develop into the pass catcher Miami is missing. While his 6-foot-3 frame suggests he could be a nice addition to the receiver corps next season, I’m not sure he has the physicality needed for that role.
So, where should the Dolphins turn? Free agency is out of the question. Miami already has a significant amount of coin invested in Wallace, Hartline and Gibson and can ill-afford to spend more at the position when so many other needs persist.
The draft is where the Dolphins’ new GM should look to find an answer. More specifically, in the middle-to-late rounds. There’s no assurance a selection in the third through fifth or sixth round would yield what the offense needs, but it’s a deep draft at receiver and the Dolphins will likely look to address more pressing issues early on.
Receivers like Vanderbilt‘s Jordan Matthews and Ole Miss‘ Donte Moncrief might be available in the third or fourth round and tight ends like Iowa‘s C.J. Fiedorowicz and Fresno State‘s Marcel Jensen are intriguing possibilities as well.
In an offseason that promises to be another busy one in Miami, the need for a legitimate red zone target shouldn’t be overlooked.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodJStrahm.