An interesting report surfaced on Monday evening, highlighting the Miami Dolphins as a possible suitor for free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Miami Herald‘s Armando Salguero quickly refuted the New York Daily News report, which also claimed that the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers were in the hunt to sign the three-time All-Pro. “Dolphins have not talked to Maurice Jones-Drew about a visit or his desire to play in Miami, much less a contract,” Salguero tweeted.
It’s quite possible that Jones-Drew’s agent leaked false information to create more of a market for his client. Perhaps the Dolphins have only briefly spoken with Jones-Drew’s camp on a surface-level basis.
Regardless, the Dolphins striking up a deal with Jones-Drew doesn’t appear likely at this juncture. But as long as it remains a possibility, Dolphins fans will only naturally inquire if Jones-Drew or Knowshon Moreno would be the better complement to incumbent starter Lamar Miller.
Moreno, of course, visited the Dolphins on Friday. Although he left team headquarters without a deal, the Dolphins and Moreno’s agent remain in discussions. The Dolphins’ interest in Moreno is clearly legitimate while any interest in Jones-Drew has yet to be confirmed or denied.
However, the longer the Dolphins go without coming to terms with Moreno the less likely an agreement is to be reached, and the possibility of Hickey turning his attention elsewhere will increase.
The next back in line would surely be Jones-Drew, who is more accomplished than any runner left on the market. But would leaving the table in discussions with Moreno to court Jones-Drew be the right play for the Dolphins?
Like similar questions this time of year, the correct answer is far from obvious and requires digging beyond the box score. Moreno is the younger back, and acquiring fresh legs is oftentimes half the battle at a position with such a fleeting shelf life. By comparison, Jones-Drew is over two years older, has played three more seasons and has accrued 959 more carries than Moreno.
Moreno was also the more productive player in 2013, racking up over 1,500 yards of total offense while Jones-Drew tallied a mere 803 rushing yards on a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.
To say that Moreno’s supporting cast was superior to Jones-Drew’s would be an understatement to put in mildly, though. On the Denver Broncos, Moreno benefited from running against soft fronts geared towards containing the NFL‘s most prolific passing attack and behind an offensive line that ranked eight in run blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones-Drew, on the other hand, was forced to make do versus stacked boxes and behind a Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line that finished dead last in run blocking efficiency with the lowest collective grade since Pro Football Focus’ induction in 2007.
Jones-Drew is also the more dependable back in passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus, he boasted a 100 percent pass blocking efficiency rating in 2013 — first in the NFL and only the second perfect grade in Pro Football Focus history. Moreno would be an upgrade over Daniel Thomas in pass protection but might be a bit overrated in the area, ranking 28th in blocking efficiency among qualifying backs last season.
As far as catching passes, Moreno saw a huge spike in receiving production thanks to Peyton Manning, but he isn’t the proven commodity Jones-Drew is as a receiver. Jones-Drew has recorded over 300 yards receiving in every season but one as a pro.
When equipped with more competent blocking and quarterback play, Jones-Drew has proven himself as a productive runner, receiver and a dependable blocker — essentially, the complete package. Contrarily, Moreno was likely the product of the Broncos’ incredible offense as opposed to an emerging star in 2013.
Maybe Jones-Drew has begun an irreversible decline, like many backs his age have fell victim to, but there’s good reason to believe his disappointing campaign in 2013 had more to do with the Jaguars’ ineptitude than his individual regression. With a revamped offensive line, the Dolphins could provide Jones-Drew with an opportunity to rebound in 2014.
As the older runner, Jones-Drew would be nothing more than a stopgap fix in Miami’s backfield, but he’s a better back than Moreno today and could realistically remain so for one or two more years. If the Dolphins are going to add a veteran running back this offseason, Jones-Drew should be the target.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.