One of the projected draws to the Miami Dolphins‘ previously vacant GM position was a roster that was said to be already primed for a run at the playoffs. After all, Miami was only one win away from the postseason in 2013 as all it needed was a victory over the mediocre Buffalo Bills or New York Jets during the final two weeks to snag the conference’s sixth seed.
When the Dolphins lost both games in a rather embarrassing manner, surrendering as many sacks as the seven combined points they accumulated, many Jeff Ireland apologists pointed the blame squarely on head coach Joe Philbin‘s shoulders. Blaming Philbin and the coaching staff for the collapse was certainly warranted. The Dolphins appeared flat and uninspired despite the ramifications, turning in their two worst performances of 2013.
But claiming that a coaching deficiency was the only thing which separated Miami from the playoffs is not accurate. The roster that new GM Dennis Hickey has inherited is not void of flaws. In fact, it has plenty. Plenty enough to question if the Dolphins are really as talented as some say.
The biggest indictment on the roster is obviously the league’s worst offensive line. The Dolphins conceded 58 sacks in 2013 — the most in the NFL and franchise history. As inept as the group was at protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, it was nearly as porous when it came to paving the way for the run.
The Dolphins averaged a mere 90.0 rushing yards per game which ranked 26th in the league. The two rushing yards they mustered in Week 10 was the lowest total in team history. Hickey may need to replace four of the line’s five starters this offseason — a difficult first major project to say the least.
Is a roster that possess the NFL’s worst offensive line really that talented?
Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins’ leaky linebacker corps is another indictment on the roster’s quality. Pro Football Focus was able to put into perspective just how bad Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler — two linebackers Ireland invested a combined $27 million of guaranteed money in — were during their first season in Miami. The site ranks players at every position by an overall-efficiency rating that takes into consideration abilities like pass rushing, coverage and run defense at linebacker.
Of those inside linebackers who played at least 25 percent of their defense’s snaps — 55 in total — Ellerbe finished 50th in overall efficiency and 53rd against the run. Wheeler, meanwhile, finished 35th among 35 (dead last!) qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers in overall efficiency, 34th against the run and 32nd in coverage. It’s no secret why the Dolphins’ run defense plummeted to 24th in 2013 despite a solid defensive line.
Is a roster that owns one of the NFL’s worst linebacker corps really that talented?
Major allegations of talent inadequacy aside, there are several other pressing issues with the team. The aforementioned running game struggles were certainly a product of an easily penetrable offensive line, but running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas rarely did the unit any favors. Unlike most teams, the Dolphins enter the offseason without a proven tailback.
While Miami has a few talented pass catchers, the offense is void of a true red zone threat. A lack of depth throughout the roster also held the Dolphins back in 2013.
Sure, there are reasons to be optimistic about the Dolphins’ playoff prospects in 2014. Tannehill has flashed enough potential to realistically hope he emerges as a legitimate franchise quarterback in year three. Receivers like Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Clay have enough ability to assist him in doing so.
The defense is led by well above average to elite talents like Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes, Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick. Although, Grimes, Starks and Soliai are all scheduled for free agency, the Dolphins will likely attempt to re-sign at least two of them.
Still, the issues with the roster are prevalent and concerning enough to suggest the Dolphins aren’t as close as many say.
Yes, the Dolphins were one win away from claiming their first playoff berth since 2008. But considering the Pittsburgh Steelers came within a missed field goal from qualifying at 8-8, perhaps a mediocre AFC was the biggest reason why.
This is not all to absolve Philbin and the coaches of blame, but it is to say Hickey has his work cut out for him this offseason.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.