Quarterback | C+
Ryan Tannehill is starting his third season, and that should mean he’s ready to take the final step toward stardom. But, alas, that script is being rewritten because the quarterback is learning a new offense and is still working toward correcting things like deep ball accuracy and decision-making. Tannehill is likely going to make more plays with his feet this year out of the read-option because coaches have asked him to use his athleticism. The question is can he do the more important things for the passing game? Matt Moore is a solid backup. He can win in short spurts. That’s all a good backup has to do.
Receivers/tight ends | A
The Dolphins receiver corps could be the envy of the AFC East because they can be dynamic, they are deep and they all work hard. It says something about this group that rookie Jarvis Landry has been impressive in camp but might not see the field much on Sundays early in the season. It says a lot about this group that Rishard Matthews, who was solid a year ago and had a good training camp, is probably the fifth wide receiver on the roster. Charles Clay has emerged as a great threat at tight end but there is no big seam threat from that position. Every other tight end is either a solid blocker or improved pass-catcher but not both.
Running backs | C-
Well, if it is third-and-one and the Dolphins pass, that will not only say something about the offensive line but the confidence or lack of confidence coaches have in running backs. Simply stated, the Dolphins have potential at the position but none of the Miami ballcarriers has proven to be anything other than functional in the NFL. The Dolphins need a special back – one who can either run away from tacklers or run over them. No one on the roster has really ever done that in the NFL.
Offensive line | C-
The Dolphins seem improved at the tackle spots ostensibly because they signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and invested a first-round pick on right tackle Ja’Wuan James. But the interior of the line seems to be merely treading water compared to a year ago. The center position is a problem early in the season with the absence of Mike Pouncey, who is recovering from hip surgery. Samson Satele is functional but not great. And replacing Richie Incognito and John Jerry with Daryn Colledge and somebody else is a push at best and likely a step backward. By the way, at the end of the preseason the Dolphins still were unsettled at right guard, thus the somebody else. The Dolphins may not give up the sacks they did a year ago because most of those were allowed by tackles. But improve the running game with this interior group? That will be difficult.
Defensive line | B
Did this group get better by losing Paul Soliai to free agency and Dion Jordan to a four-game suspension at the start of the season? Hard to fathom. Cameron Wake is still outstanding. Randy Starks had a great training camp and Jared Odrick is in a contract year so he is highly motivated to play exceedingly well. That suggests the group will be solid and even very good. But improved from a year ago? Jordan would have to be a beast when he gets back.
Linebackers | C
The Dolphins believe they are better here but not because their personnel is better. The team merely moved people around – shifting Koa Misi to the middle because he graded out the best of all the linebackers a year ago. Misi is a tough guy and will stick his nose in holes at the line of scrimmage. But is he a playmaker? Philip Wheeler, who struggled in coverage last season, is said to be better this year because he understands the defense better. We’ll see if that is true given the new rules for contact beyond five yards. Dannell Ellerbe did not live up to his $34.75 million contract a year ago is at a more familiar outside spot now. Jelani Jenkins and Jordan Tripp seem to be promising young players but is either ready for playing time?
Secondary | B-
The Dolphins have changed the attitude as well as the personnel in their secondary. Safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan both are brash, physical competitors that play with an attitude. That’s quite a change from soft-spoken Chris Clemons and Nolan Carroll. Will Delmas and Finnegan make more plays? Will they stay healthy? Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes, meanwhile, are the holdovers and both are good to very good players. But Jones is suspended the first four games and that will thrust Jimmy Wilson, Will Davis and Jamar Taylor into more playing time than any has ever seen. We’ll see how that works out.
Special teams | B-
Punter Brandon Fields is outstanding and long snapper John Denney remains among the league’s best at his position. Second year kicker Caleb Sturgis, who was shakey as a rookie, may or may not be on the team based on a preseason in which he couldn’t seem to stay healthy. That’s bad, folks. Marcus Thigpen must improve on both his punt and kickoff returns to regain the form he showed in 2012.