According to multiple reports, the Miami Dolphins will host free agent running back Knowshon Moreno at team headquarters on Friday. GM Dennis Hickey and company have offered a contract to every free agent they’ve visited with thus far, so chances are meeting with Moreno is more than merely curiosity.
It’s no secret that the Dolphins could use an upgrade at the running back position in 2014. Inconsistency from Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas was a major reason why the offense ranked 26th in total rushing yards last season — although a porous offensive line arguably deserved more blame. But would signing Moreno fix the Dolphins’ shortcomings on the ground?
Statistically, Moreno would be a substantial upgrade over Thomas, the back who is first in line to be replaced. Moreno posted 1,038 rushing yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry and rushed for 10 touchdowns in 2013. Thomas only managed 407 yards on 3.7 yards per rush with four touchdowns.
Not only does Moreno project as an upgrade in the running game, but in the passing game as well, catching 18 more passes for 257 more yards in 2013 than Thomas has managed in his entire three-year career. Moreno is also more adept in pass protection and has conceded four sacks in 306 pass blocking snaps since 2009 while Thomas has been victimized for six sacks in 236 pass blocking snaps since 2011.
Neither Thomas nor Miller contributed much from a receiving or blocking standpoint in 2013, so potentially adding Moreno would arguably improve Miami’s passing game even more so than the running game.
Having said that, there is good reason to believe that Moreno’s production was inflated on the Denver Broncos this past season considering Peyton Manning led the most prolific offense in NFL history. With such a lethal passing game to account for, defenses could ill-afford to stack the box to stop the run. Moreno, with more room to operate than most backs, should have averaged over four yards per carry and crossed the 1,000-yard plateau. It would’ve been an indictment on his running abilities if he hadn’t.
Consider the following statistics from Pro Football Focus that clearly portray a back who likely wouldn’t have been able to mirror his success in Denver elsewhere: Moreno was tied for 39th in the NFL with none other than Daniel Thomas in average rushing yards after contact with 2.0. Moreno was also tied with Thomas in broken/avoided tackles with 21 (29th among qualifying backs) despite 132 more carries.
While Moreno was still the superior runner, he had the luxury of playing behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. According to Pro Football Focus, the Broncos’ ranked eighth in overall run blocking efficiency last season. The Dolphins, on the other hand, ranked 29th.
That’s not to say that Moreno isn’t a quality back. He had an all-around solid season in 2013. It’s not to say Thomas would have fared as well in Denver as Moreno did either. In all likelihood, he wouldn’t have. But it’s important to note that while Moreno would unquestionably be an upgrade, the box score may exaggerate how much so.
Thus, if the Dolphins are going to sign Moreno, they should attempt to remain frugal in their spending when doing so considering there will be cheaper potential upgrades available during May’s draft. The Dolphins still have plenty of cap space but project to have much less in 2015. Rolling over as much unused cap as possible should be the goal now that the open market is mostly dry.
Ideally, Moreno would command under $3 million per season — a little less than what the younger Ben Tate recently signed for with the Cleveland Browns — but his impressive production in 2013 and his still relatively young age (27 in July) could escalate his price tag over that figure. If his asking price exceeds $3 million annually by much, the Dolphins would be wise to bow out of his sweepstakes.
There’s just nothing that indicates he’ll be able to duplicate the production he managed last season running behind what figures to be a less experienced offensive line and facing fewer soft fronts. Moreno would give quarterback Ryan Tannehill more reliable protection from the backfield and a more capable receiver out of it. He just likely wouldn’t provide him with a considerably improved running game to lean on.
An upgrade? Yes. A substantial one? Most likely, no.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.