Barry Jackson

Examining position where the Dolphins need the most new players. And what they can do

This is the sixth in an eight-part series on the Dolphins, position by position, examining metrics and where each position stands moving forward:

Among the questions the Dolphins must figure out in the next year:

Is there a single defensive lineman on this roster that is worth keeping when Miami reaches the advanced stages of a rebuilding program?

A strong case could be made for defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, who was productive before a foot injury in the Houston game sidelined him for the balance of the season. Taylor is now healthy.

A case also could be made for defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who — like Taylor — was a smart third-day selection in the 2017 draft.

But Charles Harris displayed no tangible improvement in his second season and whether he becomes more than a No. 4 defensive end remains highly questionable. There would be nothing to lose by experimenting with him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and that’s certainly a possibility.

Here’s what’s clear: The Dolphins assuredly will move on from Robert Quinn (saving $12.9 million in cap space) and likely Andre Branch (saving $7 million, with a $2 million cap hit). A rebuilding team seems less than the ideal place for Cam Wake, though his return cannot completely be ruled out.

Pro Football Focus rated Wake 16th among 108 qualifying defensive ends, Quinn 42nd and Branch 106th. Harris was 78th, and we’ll have more about him in a minute.

As for defensive tackle, the Dolphins could try to get by one more year with Akeem Spence, but that seems pointless considering the Dolphins would save $2.5 million and have no dead money by cutting him. Among defensive tackles, Spence was rated 111th of 118 qualifiers and 110th against the run, per Pro Football Focus.

So the sensible approach — using the philosophy of a short-term pain rebuild — is to go into next season with Godchaux, Taylor, Harris, perhaps Jonathan Woodard, newcomer Tank Carradine (who is nothing more than a one-year placeholder unless he suddenly shows the type of ability he has never sustained in a five-year career) as well as five additional defensive linemen – a combination of young veterans acquired in free agency and draft picks.

Wake would be an asset, and he loves South Florida, but why would a player who has never won a playoff game choose to play for a team that is braced to take a step back from 6-10?

A few points on the young defensive players:

Harris had 172 chances to rush the quarterback this past season. He had just one sack and 16 hurries in those 172 chances.

So it’s no surprise that PFF rated him 75th among defensive ends from a pass rush productivity standpoint. (Wake was rated fourth.)

Harris was even worse against the run, ranking 93rd around 108 defensive ends in that category.

The problem with Harris, defensive coordinator Matt Burke revealed before he took a job on the Eagles’ defensive staff, is he thinks too much – instead of just playing fast – and “he’s had some opportunities where he just doesn’t have that last kind of finishing touch.”

Woodard, who played 128 snaps, had a better grade against the run than Harris (59.8 to 56.3) and has pass rush skills. He’s worth developing further.

The good news on Godchaux: PFF rated him 40th of 118 qualifying defensive tackles and 12th against the run.

But among all defensive tackles, he rated just 132nd in pass rush productivity with one sack, three hits and 13 hurries in 328 pass rushing opportunities. Godchaux said he must get better in that area.

Taylor, if he had enough snaps to qualify, would have ranked 34th among 118 qualifying defensive tackles overall and 55th against the run. But he was 38th in pass rush productivity.

Asked about his young defensive linemen, new Dolphins defensive line coach Marion Hobby said: “Those guys are aggressive. I think they have some right body types that you like.”

Though Carradine, a former second-round pick out of FSU, has had a disappointing career, at least he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear: He’s played less than 22 percent of the possible snaps when active throughout his career, and has never played more than 229 snaps in a single season.

Last season, he played fewer than 30 snaps before Oakland cut him at his request. Carradine had a 6.1 run-stop percentage, 36th among 4-3 defensive ends in 2017, when he started seven games for the 49ers but missed eight with an injury.

Final 2018 Dolphins defensive end snap numbers: Quinn 635, Wake 517, Branch 483, Harris 347, Woodard 128, William Hayes 64.

Final 2018 Dolphins defensive tackle snap numbers: Godchaux 675, Spence 665, Taylor 204, Ziggy Hood 216, Jamiyus Pittman 45.

Contract status: Wake and Hayes are unrestricted free agents. Quinn and Branch are likely cuts, and Spence might be as well. Harris, Godchaux and Taylor have two seasons left on their rookie deals. Harris will make $1.4 million next season. Godchaux and Taylor will each make $645,000. Woodard is an exclusive rights free agent.

The good news is this draft is deep in defensive ends and tackles. In fact, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has six of them going between 10 and 32 of the draft: Houston tackle Ed Oliver at 14, Clemson end Clelin Ferrell at 16, Clemson tackle Dexter Lawrence at 17, Clemson tackle Christian Wilkins at 19, Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery at 28 and Louisiana Tech end Jaylon Ferguson at 31.

All would be options for Miami, either Oliver or the Clemson kids at No. 13 or perhaps Tillery, Ferguson or one of the Clemson kids in a first-round trade down.

And here’s one thing that should give Miami a slight edge in analyzing the three Clemson prospects: New Dolphins defensive line coach Hobby was Clemson’s defensive ends coach before leaving for a job with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. So Hobby is intimately familiar with Ferrell, Lawrence and Wilkins, having been on the Clemson staff during the early stages of all three of their college careers.

Kiper, incidentally, has four defensive linemen going in the top 10, and it would be surprising if any of them slip to No. 13: Ohio State end Nick Bosa going first overall, Alabama tackle Quinnen Williams third, Michigan end Rashan Gary fourth and Mississippi State end Montez Sweat fifth.

Here’s my piece examining first- and second-round options at defensive tackle.

During a recent media session, Hobby made clear that pass rushing will not be prioritized over run-stopping at defensive end:

“Everybody thinks it’s just about agility and speed but those guys have to have some toughness,” he said. “They have to be willing to play stout at the line of scrimmage and play the run as well as the pass, and being very versatility in their approach too, being just as important stopping the run as they are in the pass world as well.”

Former defensive line coach Kris Kocurek believed in rotating his defensive linemen to keep them fresh. Does Hobby?

“You always want to be in a situation where you have your best players on the field in certain situations,” he said. “Hopefully you can get one and two deep where you can get guys where you can stay fresh the whole game. A good defensive lineman, we want to wear down the opposing team over time.”

Here was part 1 of my series on the Dolphins’ running back situation, including eye-opening numbers on Kenyan Drake.

Here was part 2 of my series on the Dolphins’ receiver situation.

Here was part 3 of my series examining percolating issues in the defensive backfield.

Here was part 4 of my series on the state of the offensive line and potential changes.

Here was part 5 of my series on the situation at linebacker.

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