With free agency pretty much in the rear-view mirror, we are now looking towards the NFL Draft. Dating back to last season, everyone knew that the offensive line would be a huge priority this offseason with Mike Pouncey the only starter to return. Indeed, within minutes of free agency opening on Mar. 11, the Miami Dolphins signed Branden Albert to anchor their line at the left tackle position. They then spent some time trying to fill one of their offensive guard spots and ended up signing Shelley Smith. If you do the math, that’s three starters out of five spots, which leaves two open.
Many have assumed that the Dolphins will target an offensive guard and right tackle in the draft. In my opinion, the other offensive guard, most likely the right guard position, will be filled by a player already on the roster. I firmly believe the competition will be between Sam Brenner, Nate Garner, Dallas Thomas and a rookie that is drafted in the middle rounds.
To get a better idea of who each of these players are, let’s take a look at their stats and grades, courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Of course, these stats and grades don’t tell the whole story. You need to look at film and really know what’s going on with schemes and such to understand how well a player has played.
Brenner was an undrafted free agent last year and played in 292 snaps beginning in Week 11 when injuries forced him into action. He played the majority of snaps from Week 11 through Week 15, but then saw a significant drop in playing time in Week 16 and Week 17, where he played in 41 snaps out of 121. He had an overall grade of -9.5 with a pass block grade of -6.6 and a run block grade of -4.2. He played the majority of games at left guard, but did play two at right guard.
When looking at this and seeing how his play got worse as the season went on, it’s tough to think that he will be in the starting spot when the 2014 season begins. The coaching staff obviously lost faith in him, and as teams got more film on him, they were able to expose his weaknesses. Unfortunately, Brenner wasn’t able to adjust to the opponent.
Garner was drafted in round seven in 2008. Last season, he played in 422 snaps with the majority of them coming at the left guard position. He played two snaps total at the right guard position. He had an overall grade of -7.7 with a pass block grade of 0.3 and a run block grade of -9.8.
The unfortunate thing for Garner is that his biggest strength might end up being his biggest obstacle in securing a starting spot. This is because Garner can play every position on the line, and of course, any coaching staff would love this. If they were to lock him in at a certain position, they would lose this versatility. However, it’s hard to make a case for him with his stats and grades.
Thomas played in two total snaps last season at right guard, so obviously you can’t get any type of read on him. However, there have been reports that he has been having a very strong offseason and has been really picking up the different nuances of the NFL and how to really play the various positions on the offensive line. While he was drafted as a tackle, many in the organization believe he is best suited at guard.
Thomas is the most interesting, and I think it’s his job to lose. He was drafted in the third round last year, and the Dolphins really want him to succeed and feel he is on the right track. If Thomas comes into camp and offseason workouts in shape and ready to go, he will have a very good chance at locking down the starting job.
With all that in mind, I don’t envision the Dolphins drafting an offensive guard in the first two or three rounds. When they do end up drafting one, they will let him compete with the current guards on the roster to see who the best one is.