Miami Dolphins Improve Defense By Getting Younger With Signing of DT Earl Mitchell

By Matthew Cannata
Earl Mitchell
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The Miami Dolphins have signed defensive tackle Earl Mitchell to be one part of the puzzle to replace Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Mitchell, 26, comes from the Houston Texans where he was responsible for eating double teams to allow J.J. Watt to roam free and wreak havoc on the opposing offense. ESPN reports that the deal will be for four years and worth $16 million with $9 million guaranteed. Other terms of the contract are not yet available.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mitchell had an overall grade of -1.9 in 553 snaps. He had a run defense grade of -4.6 and a pass rush grade of 1.6. He had four QB sacks, three QB hits and nine QB hurries. In 296 run snaps, he had 25 tackles, 11 assists, two missed tackles and 21 stops. His stop percentage was 7.1 percent, which was 11th best in the league for all defensive tackles who participated in 75 percent or more snaps.

To put that into perspective, let’s take a look at Starks and Soliai. Starks had an overall grade of 28.8 in 742 snaps. He had a run defense grade of 15.3 and a pass rush grade of 13.0. He had four QB sacks, six QB hits and 30 QB hurries. In 304 run snaps, he had 36 tackles, eight assists, four missed tackles and 31 stops. His stop percentage was 10.2 percent, the second best int he league.

However, many people believe that Mitchell was playing in the wrong scheme in Houston. In fact, this was shared by teams as well as he was a coveted name over the weekend.

Soliai had an overall grade of 11.1 in 526 snaps. His run defense grade was 79 and his pass rush grade was 3.2. He had two QB sacks, three QB hits and nine QB hurries. In 281 run snaps, he had 23 tackles, four assists, two missed tackles and 18 stops. His stop percentage was 6.4 percent.

Of course, these grades don’t tell the whole story. One must look at film, offensive schemes and philosophies to get an entirely detailed breakdown on a player. We can, however, get a great glimpse of what each one can provide with an overall view.

With regards to injury history, he has battled ankle and knee injuries throughout the years but has only missed one game since 2010 which was in Week 8 of that year. Since that time, he hasn’t missed a game. There should be no injury concerns with him as there were with Soliai at times throughout the years.

Are the Dolphins getting better by signing Mitchell and letting Starks and Soliai walk? In terms of grades, not really. Starks was a monster last year and always has been, but he’s never been known to be a favorite of head coach Joe Philbin. In addition, he is going to command a lot of money on the market, and the Dolphins didn’t agree with giving him a huge payday as he heads to the last few years of his career. The same can be said for Soliai. Although he was injured throughout the year, he still ate up the run and was the Dolphins’ best defensive linemen when the opponents were running the ball. In that sense, they will be missed.

However, if you’re talking in terms of age and upside, the answer is yes. Mitchell’s best years are ahead of him while Starks and Soliai are going to be 30 and will be heading into the last years of their careers. I fully expect the Dolphins to grab a DT in the draft to rotate with Jared Odrick and Mitchell. If the Dolphins land an impact DT in the draft, expect the trio of Odrick, Mitchell and a rookie to be better than the trio of Odrick, Starks and Soliai.

Matthew Cannata covers the Miami Dolphins for Follow him on Twitter @PhinManiacs. Like him on Facebook, and add him to your Google Network.

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