Friday, May 02, 2014

Miami Dolphins Confidential Issue 3 "Wide Receivers"

The offseason goal of every team in the NFL is to improve their team.  The primary wave of free agency has passed. Next up will be the NFL draft followed by the bargain shopping in the free agency after the draft. GM’s and fans alike tend to focus on the new additions to the team when trying to get a feel for how much improvement the team will show.  However, a very important aspect of the success of all teams will hinge on how the players remaining on their rosters from the prior season improve or decline.  We at Bitchin Dave’s thought it would add some intrigue to the offseason lull to have a discussion on where we feel the team is at and where they are headed.
The prognosticators will be Carl “The Ref” Leone and Chad “ The Baumhower” Ronnebaum. We will be having a position by position debate on where the Dolphins ranked in 2013 as well as where we see them ranking at the end of 2014.  We are going to start with our pre-draft rankings and then will update this post draft and probably once or twice prior to the start of season as the final free agent signings and injuries shape the team during training camp and the preseason.
Scale: We are using a 10 point scale to rank where we felt the positions ranked against the rest of league in 2013 as well as where we predict they will rank in 2014.  5 out of 10 for example would mean we rank the unit as about the 15-16th best unit in the league.  10 out of 10 would basically feature pro bowl players at the top of the league and 0 out of 10 would be dead last or the worst unit in the league. Issue Two We will review the wide receiver position in Issue 3.

                                                                    Wide Receiver

                                                                                               Chad’s Take                Carl’s Take

2013 Position Rank
7 out of 10              6.5 out of 10
2014 Prediction
8 out of 10              8 out of 10


Predicted Depth Chart
2014 Improvement/Decline Prediction
Mike Wallace
+4                            +1.5
Brian Hartline
0                                0
Brandon Gibson
-2                               0
-1                  (Cuts)  0 to +1 



Chad: Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, and Brandon Gibson presented a formidable challenge for defenses when Miami ran their commonly used 3 WR set. This group was the primary contributor to the team’s 3-0 start on the offensive side of the ball.  Brian Hartline is an exceptional route runner and one of the best in the game at using the side line to allow Tannehill to throw passes that are only catchable by the WR. I find the talk of the team cutting him laughable. 

Carl: That would be like this recurring nightmare I have been having about Ireland returning. No way Hickey cuts him loose.

Chad: There would be a long line for his services with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at the front of it to get him. I know he injured his knee at the end of the year but it was not an ACL tear and he should make a full recovery without loss of ability.

Carl: I think your right.

Chad: I do not expect Hartline to improve drastically from his current high level of play so I will give him 0 for change to 2014. 

Carl: There is some room for improvement with Hartline but that is all on Tannehill. Hartline has two of the best hands in the league and finds a way to make some tough catches. That toe drag for a TD at Pittsburgh was the play of the game. I know Clay got all the attention for his incredible run for a TD after the catch but that was more Pitts’ D-Backs missing tackles. Hartline’s catch was a thing of beauty and brought back fond memories of Fryar and McDuffie.

Chad: Mike Wallace was very high profile coming to the team. I was very disappointed to see how unpolished of a WR he was.  Early on in the year he was not using crisp routes and not coming back to the ball. That hurt the team because our line was so bad Tannehill had to often release the ball faster than the route tree would allow.  By the end of the season Wallace was starting to look much better in his routes and made some big time plays for the team against the Colts and Patriots.

Carl: That’s probably why Pitt let him go.

Chad: Wallace is extremely talented and a matchup nightmare for teams. Despite him not having big stats he consistently cleared out the field for players like Charles Clay to make plays.  Wallace and Tannehill now have a full season under their belts and will be working all offseason together. I expect them to hit on a lot more deep balls this year and look for Lazor to use Wallace very creatively.  I give the potential for his improvement a +4 because you have a ton of talent that was trending toward improvement as the season progressed. 

Carl: I think Wallace will have a big year too, Chad and graded him accordingly. The deep ball is the key though. I just cannot imagine us having as many blown opportunitiesas last season. I think Tannehill and Wallace are going to hook up quite a bit this year.

Chad: Brandon Gibson looked very good to me before he was hurt. He had good chemistry with Tannehill and made some big plays primarily out of the slot.  It was extremely disappointing when he was hurt. I think the team would have made the playoffs if he would have been around the whole season. 

Carl: You are so right. I loved the way Gibson was contributing, especially in the red zone.

Chad: Unfortunately, he had a much more severe injury and it really is unknown if he will return as his former self.  Because of the injury I think his chances of improving take a hit. I am going to give him a -2 because he is recovering from a serious knee injury at a position that requires extreme speed and quickness.

Carl: My jury is still out on Gibson until I see him play some in camp. Call me the Doubting Thomas but until I see for myself I don’t want to downgrade him just yet.

 Chad: Rishard Matthews had some highlights and lowlights in 2013. He dropped a critical wide open pass against the Jets in the final which still stings. That one play could have changed the whole outcome of the game.  However, he did step in do a decent job when Gibson went down. Keep in mind he was battling to be the #4 in camp and then was pushed into the #3. He also has decent size which is something the team needs however he also seems a touch slow to me as well. He kind of reminds me of Oronde Gadsden. 

Carl: Wow. Gadsden! He made Fiedler look good. Did you know he is in the Hall of Fame? They have two pictures of him making one handed catches against the Jets and in the playoffs against the Raiders. I have pictures of me in the Hall too. I actually took pictures of myself when I was in the Hall. Ok, wasn’t funny.

Chad: No, it wasn’t keep your day job Carl. I just don’t think Matthews has the upside to take over the #3 slot He will be competing against Damian Williams and Armon Binns in 2014. I personally think Binns would have beaten him for the #4 spot last season before the injury.   Binns is also recovering from a very serious injury so I see his chances of improving slim as well.  One other thing to note is Miami is bringing in a lot of wide receiver draft prospects. This is not because they are planning to get rid of Wallace of Hartline rather this tells me they are uneasy about Brandon Gibson’s recovery and the other WR’s competing for the 4 and 5th WR slots. 

Carl: I think we may draft a WR as early as the first round if no O-Tackles fall to us. So I can see heads rolling in this unit.

Chad: I am going to give the current group behind Gibson a -1. This could change a lot if they decide to draft a high ranking prospect in the draft. 

Carl: Other than Hartline and Wallace, who disappeared at times last season, who do we really have that we can rely on if Gibson doesn’t come back. Hartline and Wallace ranked 21st and 23rd in the league for receiving yards and only Chicago and Denver had two starters ranked higher than our two. So from a starting pair aspect we are pretty strong compared with the rest of the league’s starting pairs. However, I think our total WR unit is at the top of the middle of the pack in the NFL. We just aren’t that deep. We are drafting a WR and if it’s a first round stud then I grade us up to a 9. But if we get one later, like a Brandon Coleman from Rutgers, then I’d grade us at an 8. This unit will get upgraded at some point in the draft.

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