Indispensable Dolphins: Which 5 Players Could Miami Least Afford to Lose in the 2015 Season?
The Miami Dolphins have big plans for the 2015 season. What do big plans require? Big pieces. For the Dolphins, some pieces of the master plan are larger than others, and their absence would create a huge issue for the team as they attempt to make a playoff run for the first time under Joe Philbin. Here is our list of the players that Miami could least afford to lose this season, heading into what is truly a turning point for the organization.
5) Lamar Miller:
Heading into the 2015 season, Lamar Miller is poised to improve upon an already impressive 2014. He was one of the top backs in the league in terms of yards per carry, and led the team with almost 1,100 yards rushing. Now, with added bulk and an expanded role in the offense, Miller could be ready for an even bigger campaign.
Jay Ajayi’s injury makes Miller even more valuable, given the team’s sudden lack of depth at running back. If Miller were to be injured, Damien Williams would become the team’s primary ball carrier. This would not be a huge issue for a single game or two, but for an entire season Damien Williams could not carry the load that Miller will in the offense this season. The team is designed to run the ball, and to have the offense flow through Lamar Miller both on the ground and out of the backfield. He is the team’s best running back in pass protection, and is the offense’s biggest home-run play threat. The Dolphins’ offense would be in trouble if they were forced to rely on Damien Williams and LaMike James for a large portion of the season.
4) Ndamukong Suh:
Ndamukong Suh will be the Miami Dolphins’ most dominant player in 2015. Yes, losing him would be a huge blow to any team, but the Dolphins are still highly equipped on the defensive line to have success without Suh. The unit faded out at the end of last season, dropping from a top ten defensive ranking to one of the league’s worst teams. The run defense completely collapsed, hence the addition of Suh to take a promising unit and turn them into one of the league’s most intimidating groups.
Losing Suh wouldn’t just provide a blow on the field; it would be a huge mental obstacle for the team. So much of the hype surrounding this year’s Dolphins’ team is because of Suh’s presence; so losing him might feel like the team has gone back to square one. I feel that the team could fight through an injury to Suh, but it would certainly be deflating for a team with so much excitement upon his arrival. Ndamukong Suh is one of the league’s most dominant players, and the Dolphins’ would obviously be left in a tough spot without him down there on the defensive line.
3) Brent Grimes:
Grimes’ placement on this list is once again more a product of the rest of the unit than his own impact. While Grimes has been incredibly consistent for Miami since he was signed in 2013, last season there was a slight drop in productivity. Grimes has suffered a serious injury in the past (his ruptured Achilles in 2012), and that will play a role in his aging process.
Miami has to hope that Grimes stays healthy (and he has been available for every game since joining the Dolphins) so that they will not have to rely on Jamar Taylor to start as the number one corner. Taylor will get the job done opposite Grimes, but alone it seems unlikely that he could hold his own against a gauntlet of number one receivers. An injury to Grimes would also force Brice McCain outside, away from his natural position at the nickel. Then, a rookie or unproven player would be required to step up into the nickel spot, which would mean that someone like Tony Lippett, Zack Bowman, Bobby McCain, or Will Davis would be starting for Miami. While these players could all develop into solid defensive backs, they are clearly not ready for a starting role in Kevin Coyle’s defense.
2) Mike Pouncey, Branden Albert, and Ja’Wuan James:
The Miami Dolphins’ offensive line is a huge concern heading into 2015. My opinion is that some of the concern is overblown given the presence of three strong players in the group (Albert, James, and Pouncey). However, concern should be double what it is now if any of these players were to get injured. The reasoning behind this is not only based on skill, but also has to do with the shifting of players into new positions.
Last season the Dolphins’ line collapsed because players were switching into new spots left and right. Dallas Thomas struggled mightily at right tackle, and if he was forced to move there again due to a Ja’Wuan James injury it would undo all of the progress he has made this offseason at left guard. It would be highly detrimental to take him out of a position he was succeeding in and put him back where he struggled. Not to mention the team would be forced to rely on a new player at left guard.
If Branden Albert were injured, the team would likely be forced to move Ja’Wuan James over to left tackle, then Dallas Thomas at right tackle. This would be bad for James’ development, as he started off the season strong on the right side before struggling when asked to protect the quarterback’s blindside. It is possible that the team would try Dallas Thomas at left tackle, or go with Jason Fox (if he has recovered from his concussion), but those would also be huge drop-offs from Albert.
Losing Mike Pouncey would hurt more than an injury to any other linemen for this team. Pouncey has developed outstanding chemistry with Tannehill, and it is very difficult to find a quality NFL center. If he were injured, the team would have to call up an interior lineman, a category of player they are already thin at. This could result in more positional shifting, and would hurt the passing offense due to Pouncey’s role in helping call protections and organize the line for Ryan Tannehill. Heading into 2015, there is only one person whose health is more important than that of our offensive line: the man that they protect.
1) Ryan Tannehill:
While the biggest splash of the offseason was Miami bringing in Ndamukong Suh, no player has more importance heading into 2015 than Ryan Tannehill. He is the face of the franchise. He is one of the league’s top breakout candidates. And most importantly he is the general of Bill Lazor’s army of weapons. Without this team’s general, they would be lost in battle.
Ryan Tannehill is ready to breakthrough, and he has shown every sign of increased comfort and familiarly with Lazor’s offense. That being said, an injury now would set the entire team back to square one, and would probably cost head coach Joe Philbin his job. If Tannehill is out, the team could not reach the playoffs. And if they don’t reach the playoffs, Philbin and Lazor will be on their way out. Unfortunately, having to switch to a new system would be a massive setback for the Dolphins, and it would likely take a season or two for Tannehill to regain comfort on the field.
Right now, Miami looks ready. The team appears geared up to improve on both sides of the ball, and Tannehill is the engine that will drive this offense in 2015. Without him, the team would likely stall. Yes, there is less pressure on the offense with a defense that shouldn’t allow more than 14-21 points a game. However the effects of losing your emotional leader extends far beyond the field. I believe Ryan Tannehill is the most important player for Miami heading into the season, and losing him would be a blow we could not recover from. His injury history shows nothing but health and determination to be out there through anything, so there is no true reason for concern. But it is the NFL, and freak injuries happen. We’ll just have to hope that Ryan Tannehill steers clear of them this year.
In reality there are plenty of players Miami would be hard-pressed to go without for an extended period of time. Reshad Jones would be a massive loss. Cameron Wake’s absence would be felt across the entire unit. Jarvis Landry is Tannehill’s only familiar target, and is an integral piece of the offense. But some players have a higher importance to the system than others. These five players are the keys to Miami’s success this season, and it would be very impressive on the part of Joe Philbin’s staff if they could win in spite of an injury to one of these men.
I really don’t like to be a pessimist, but this article is an important exercise in assessing the value placed on each player within the team. I speak for all Dolphins fans when I say that we hope to never have to worry about any of this, but it is football, and injuries do happen. Heading into a pivotal year for the franchise, let’s just hope that the injuries Miami will suffer are minor, and will not stop a team with as much will and determination as ours. While some injuries would hurt the team more than others, I wouldn’t put it past the spirit of this team to rise up, and carry on into 2015 full steam regardless of who is in the lineup. Once again, let’s just hope that we don’t have to worry about any of this for a very long time