- The Dolphins will never truly know what they have in Ryan Tannehill until they put at least an average line in front of him.
This does not mean a great line or even a good line, but merely an average line. If one accepts that the standard for average in the NFL is ranking in the middle, somewhere near number 15, then from a sack standpoint the Dolphins have never been close to average since their fifth-year quarterback was drafted to South Beach. Tannehill has played behind three of the worst lines in franchise history. Here is a breakdown of where Miami’s O-lines have ranked during Tannehill’s time in Miami:
2012 – sacked 35 times, tied for 8th most
2013 – sacked 58 times, most in NFL
2014 – sacked 46 times, 3rd most
2015 – sacked 45 times, tied for 3rd most
One can point to poor pocket presence with all the fervor in the world, but football experts can and will agree that 40-plus and 50-plus season sack totals point to a lot more than that. Tannehill’s most protected year came when he was a green rookie with few starts in college, and even that year’s protection was questionable.
- Pass rush and stopping pass rush wins championships in the modern NFL.
Some of the most potent and threatening offenses in NFL history have found their way to the last five Super Bowls, including a record-setting Bronco offense led by Payton Manning, a redzone-deadly Panther offense led by Cam Newton, a Gronkowski-Brady charged Patriots attack, and the 49ers offense that brought read-option fever to the NFL. What do all these offenses have in common? They were thwarted by excellent pass rush. The record setting Broncos offense was shut down by relentless pass rush from the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom. The Panthers’ redzone fever was cooled by pressure from Von Miller and Demarcus Ware. One of the more potent Patriots offenses was stifled (as they often are) by fearless Tom Coughlin orchestrated pressure, and few credit an under-rated Ravens’ pass rush in dismantling the 49ers read-option threat.
- There are no sure-fire impact free agency signings on the line.
After delivering a bottom-five offensive line in just about every category in 2015, the Dolphins have made only two significant free agency signings on the line. Jermon Bushrod joins the Dolphins after playing under new head coach Adam Gase in Chicago last year. Craig Urbik, a 30-year-old, seven year veteran signed as well. Urbik has not been a total failure in his career, but has also done little of note. Bushrod does have some nice accolades, such as a Super Bowl title with the Saints and two Pro Bowl selections, however he accomplished those feats at tackle in his younger days. Bushrod is now 31, and early reports have him competing for a starting spot at guard.
- Brandon Albert is too frequently injured.
Brandon Albert is a former Pro Bowl player at one of the most important positions in the NFL (left tackle), and the Dolphins offense performs notably better when he plays. However, the key phrase “when he plays” presents a serious issue. Albert has played 23 of 32 games in two seasons, and he has missed significant portions of those 23 games. In the meantime, he has made top-10 money.
- Investment in Mike Pouncey.
During the 2015 offseason, the Dolphins signed Mike Pouncey to a five-year contract worth nearly $50 million. Center is a position that relies heavily on good performance from the rest of the line, especially the guards. If the Dolphins are to see any return on their significant long-term investment in Pouncey, it only makes sense to invest in the rest of the line as well.
- Dallas Thomas has been a known liability for years.
For roughly two and a half years, article upon article, report upon report, column upon column, and analyst upon analyst have repeated one story about the Dolphins’ top concerns, to the point of exhaustion: Dallas Thomas is a liability. It would be impossible to provide links to the mountainous piles of reports on the issue, but here are a few:
- Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner have not proven to be significant improvements over Dallas Thomas.
Dallas Thomas has been a travesty on the Dolphins offensive line, the true definition of a liability. Dolphins management has placed hope in later round picks Billy Turner (3rd round) and Jamil Douglas (4th round) to at least serve as a Band-Aid to this issue. That has not worked, and the evidence is mounting for the Dolphins to seek decent guard play in higher draft rounds.
- There will be plenty of top tier guard options even with a trade-down from pick 13 in the first round.
While top tier guards do go in the first round, they often go late in the first round. The Dolphins could actually add some value to their draft as a whole while still landing a top guard by trading down. That sort of move would be sure to disappoint fans on Draft day, but the Dolphins are supposedly in the business of winning in January. Also, does one dare name the hooded Belichick and the massive success that has been established in New England? Yes, if it is to make the point that such success has been secured in large part through absurd numbers of draft picks accumulated in trade-downs.
- Improved guard play will help the run game overcome the loss of Lamar Miller.
Much pre-Draft buzz has the Dolphins trading up to pick Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. This conjecture is fueled by the loss of top back Lamar Miller to the Texans in free agency. Jay Ajayi has promising upside, and GM Chris Grier has expressed “comfort” with the current stable of backs, but it is clear the Dolphins need a boost in the run game. Why not save whatever value would be lost in a trade-up, and build the run game at the same time by selecting a solid run-blocking lineman?
- The cost-return is better from younger players.
The Dolphins have signed a few supplementary offensive lineman in free agency including Urbik and Bushrod. However, the combination of age and pay makes the ratio of risk-to-reward for these type of players less favorable than that of high draft picks. College sports are churning out pro-ready athletes better than ever before, and top-rated rookie prospects frequently make immediate impact, especially at positions on the offensive and defensive line (see Zack Martin and La’el Collins in Dallas). High potential for major impact from small rookie contracts make for better risk/reward outlook.