Sunday, August 1, 2021

Upgrading the Dolphins offensive line

2020 saw a massive overhaul of the Miami Dolphins Offensive Line involving both free agency and numerous additions through the draft. Whilst there was a marked improvement over the 2019 line, questions were still being asked and in order to really move forward and be competing in the playoffs, there is still an opportunity to upgrade.

Arguably, the strongest line-up of current players would include Austin Jackson (LT), Ereck Flowers (LG), Ted Karras (C), Solomon Kindley (RT) and Robert Hunt (RT). It’s common knowledge that there was limited preparation time available for all teams and all players, so considering that every single one of these players was new to the team and three of them were rookies, ok it probably isn’t quite at the level they would have liked to have been but it could have been a lot worse. Kindley and Hunt, both rookies playing in positions next to each other stood particularly stood out.  

The thing is, I actually prefer Kindley at Left Guard and Robert Hunt at Right Guard. Despite some criticism, I also think Austin Jackson has the potential to be a great Tackle too. A large swath of the (closet Patriot) Dolphins fans have been particularly critical of all three of the 2020 first round picks, which include Austin Jackson, but this is the season to evaluate them, last season was just the taster.

HOW MANY HOLES ON THE DOLPHINS OFFENSIVE LINE?

So, assuming that the coaching staff decided to stick with the three rookies, what about the remaining starting places on the Dolphins offensive line? Ted Karras, although he played well, probably isn’t quite the fit we’re looking for as a starting Centre. He’s also an unrestricted free agent so there’s every chance he won’t be around next season anyway. If the price is right however, it would be worth resigning him because he offers an excellent backup option at any position in the interior.

Ereck Flowers was a bit of a risky (and expensive) signing, and when rookie Kindley stepped in when he was injured, he actually played better than the starter. It might be difficult to move Flowers on in a trade due to the value of his contract and he has only really had one (and a half at a push) solid season in his six in the league but might prove to be a useful, if not somewhat expensive backup.

There will be a couple of options available to the Dolphins in the next couple of months to hopefully upgrade and move forward.

Firstly, I’m going to go a little bit left field and suggest a potential trade, and that would be with the New Orleans Saints for Right Tackle Ryan Ramczyk. As we’ll discuss later, moving from Left Tackle to the opposite side of the line isn’t easy, but Ramczyk has proved that it is possible, earning himself 2019 All-Pro honours, ranking the highest Offensive Tackle by Pro Football Focus and not allowing a single sack throughout that season. It’s no wonder that the Saints exercised their 5th year option on him.

Now, obviously the Saints aren’t going to be in any rush to trade him if they can help it. However, they currently sit a whopping $69.5 Million over the proposed 2021 cap limit, so like it or not, something will have to give. There has already been rumours about Ramczyk being packaged into a monster trade deal with the Seattle Seahawks, with Russell Wilson going one way and a crazy number of players and picks going the other. Personally, I can’t see this happening but Miami should note that the Saints might be open for business, and the closer we get the deadline, the more the pressure will be on.

The best free agent option is Corey Linsley of the Green Bay Packers who would be an excellent fit and instant upgrade at Centre. Spotrac have his market value at $9.7 Million, which coming off the back of a First Team All Pro season is low. He’s more likely to be looking for money in the region of Rodney Hudson at $11.25 Million.

At 29, he comes with a wealth of experience and with strength, intelligence and athleticism, he’s the whole package and is undeniably one of the top three Centres in the league. He would also appear to be the type of personality Coach Flo would go for, being a leader on the field and also contributing in spades to his community.

The Packers are predicted to be roughly $11.5 Million over the cap, and with star Running Back Aaron Jones also in a contract year, Left Tackle David Bakhtiari signed to a huge extension and the likes of Tight End Robert Tonyan and Wideout Allen Lazard both expected to return, Green Bay may have no choice but to move on from Linsley.

This would be an expensive option, but one that could potentially have a massive impact on the team and the run game. With Van Noy recently cut and numerous rumours of other players close to being cut, the Dolphins clearly have another free agent splash in mind, but do they want to spend that much again on a Lineman, or would they rather go all in with Watson?

OPTIONS FOR UPGRADING THROUGH THE DRAFT

Moving onto options that could come out of the draft. 

When you talk about potential Offensive Line Rookies the first name that strikes you is Pennei Sewell. Coming out of Oregon, he’s been widely regarded as the best Tackle prospect in the draft.

In theory, he should fit into our system and on paper  he would be an upgrade to Austin Jackson. This then begs the question, what do you do with Jackson? Move him to right tackle? Play Sewell at right Tackle? The issue with this is moving from one side of the line to the other isn’t as straightforward as it might appear. Both have the attributes to be a success at Right Tackle, it’s just how quickly can they adapt to the fundamental change in footwork, mechanics and technique.

When you look at Sewell’s prospect report, a lot is said about his potential to kick inside to Guard. Sewell would create a formidable force on the left or the right of the line with slotting in next to Jackson or Hunt respectively. 

Looking back to the 2020 Draft when Andrew Thomas was the standout Tackle going 4th overall to the Giants. His start, like many rookies was somewhat of a disaster allowing a league high 39 pressures during his first 8 games. Although he got better through the second half of the season, he was still inconsistent and didn’t live up to the projected hype. Sewell won’t necessarily have the same issues, but he hasn’t played football for an entire season which rings alarm bells picking him so highly at 3.

Should no deal materialise with Linsley (or possibly even with New England’s free agent David Andrews), Creed Humphrey could be an viable prospect. Humphrey is likely to be a day two pick, and with two picks in the second round (and that’s before any potential trading) the Dolphins could be placed in a prime position to scoop him up.

One of Humphrey’s many strengths is his experience. At Oklahoma, he was a three-year starter, not allowing a sack in either of the last two. Although his athleticism is limited, he makes up for this with elite level intelligence and his ability to utilise his other attributes such as his wide body and strength.

Coming from a wrestling background, he has a natural and powerful anchor strength and excellent technique when using his hands. He is an excellent pass and run blocker, although he is much better moving vertically up the field rather than laterally. He’s at his best when asked to cover a short area, and with the Dolphins current trend of operating with big bodied Linemen this shouldn’t be a problem.

Although a rookie, Humphreys have enough experience and footballing smarts to plug straight into the current scheme. He also just happens to be a left-handed snapper, could this perhaps be an advantage for Tua? Maybe.

If the powers that be decide that Robert Hunt is the man they want at Right Tackle, an exciting prospect to join him on the right side of the Line is Wyatt Davis. Davis is by no means the finished article and some aspects of his game are a little raw, but he boasts all the physical attributes that are becoming somewhat of a hallmark for the Dolphins Linemen.

At 6’ 4” and 315 lbs, with excellent footwork and athleticism, he’s a mauling bulldozer with deceptive quickness, explosiveness and is another potential recruit with a high footballing IQ.

He’s currently probably stronger as a run blocker rather than a pass blocker. In the passing game he needs to learn a bit more patience, although his quickness and athleticism can be seen when getting into space on screen plays.

Rashawn Slater is an interesting prospect that might have the potential to be the best Right Tackle in the draft. Similar in build to Davis at 6’4” and weighing 315 lbs, he fits the powerful profile and could even kick inside. Slater and Hunt could compete for the RT position with the loser kicking inside.

The impressive thing about Slater is his experience and versatility. He had 26 starts at Northwestern at Right Tackle before switching to the left side for 11 games and in his entire college career only missed one game. Another important and useful aspect to his play is the fact he’s capable of playing in every position across the Offensive Line.

He’s strong, has fantastic lateral mobility and speed and is especially strong in the run game, something that perhaps Miami have lacked in recent years and he performed more than admirably when going up against Chase Young, no mean feat. 

There could be potential to trade down in order to pick Slater up along with a haul of other picks. This is a draft loaded with talent at Wide Receiver and as history has shown, drafting a receiver early in round one doesn’t always produce results. Much like any position, it’s a gamble, so when the pool is so deep, sometimes it’s more prudent to be more conservative. 

With three rookies currently occupying three of the 5 spots along the line, it’s highly unlikely there will be a similar amount of roster movement moving into 2021. Arguably, with Flowers salary, there may only be one addition at Centre. There are definitely opportunities to upgrade in both free agency and the draft, and ideally one of each might be the obvious choice, adding experience and longevity.

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