On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I
will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Wide Receivers and Tight
CurrentState: 2005 was an epiphany for Chris Chambers with 82
receptions for 1118 yards, 11 TDs, a Pro Bowl berth, and the team MVP award. Good
thing because, in 2004, Chambers signed a much publicized five year contract
worth a reported $30 million, including a $12 million signing bonus. Through
all of 2004 and the first half of 2005, it seemed as though the Dolphins had
overpaid as Chambers struggled to prove his status as a #1 WR. Now, with
Chambers finally asserting himself among the best in the league, the Dolphins
can feel a lot better about their investment. With the physical size and speed
to regularly dominate defenders, and with new Dolphin QB Daunte Culpepper on
board, Chambers seems poised to take his game to yet another level in 2006. If
that happens, expect to see positive results flow to his teammates as opposing
defenses divert even more attention to #84.
Miami’s other starter, Marty Booker,
turned in another solid effort with 39 catches for 686 yards and 3 touchdowns.
His gaudy 17.6 yard average was 5th best in NFL (2nd in
the AFC) among WRs playing in 75% or more of the games and with at least 10
receptions. While Booker’s production is well off his 2002 Pro Bowl season
numbers (97 catches for 1,189 yards and 6 touchdowns), it is important to keep
in mind that Booker’s role with the Dolphins is as a complimentary threat rather
than as the #1 receiver (Bears).
Wes Welker continued his cult status with inspired play that regularly surpassed
his physical stature. As a third receiver, Welker (29 receptions, 434 yards)
was solid as teams sometimes underestimated his skills. On special teams, Welker
finished the season ranked 5th in the AFC and 11th in the NFL in punt returns (9.1
yard average) and was 13th in the AFC in kickoff returns (22.6 yard average). He
is, without a doubt, one of the best competitors (and fan favorites) on the
Chris Davis, Jason Willis, Kelly Campbell, Fred Gibson, and Cliff Russell
round out the roster. David Boston, placed on Injured Reserve last November
with ongoing and persistent knee problems, may have played his last game as a
Dolphin. It is questionable as to whether the Dolphins will opt to re-sign him.
Strengths: Solid and complimentary talents in Chambers and
Booker. Both are legitimate threats that defenses are forced to respect. Welker’s
versatility is a big plus.
Weaknesses: Lack of quality depth. Inability to field dangerous multiple WR sets.
Offseason Priority: High. The Dolphins really need to add some young, healthy, quality bench
strength to the roster at this vital position. This has been a need for
sometime. An upgrade over Welker in three WR formations would be a solid move.
As things stand today, an injury to Chambers would cripple the team’s ability
to execute their wide open offensive philosophy. This is an unacceptable risk
that Nick Saban must mitigate.
CurrentState: Randy McMichael is the only proven tight end the
Dolphins currently have on the roster. Last season he collected in 60
receptions for 582 yards, which ranked him 10th in NFL amongst TEs.
However, Randy Mac’s reception numbers do not tell the whole story of his
season. Fact is, the best part of his work last season was his blocking, which was noticeably improved
over prior seasons. Credit for this goes, of course, to McMichael but also
deservedly goes to offensive line coach Hudson Houck who worked with McMichael
to improve his technique in engaging and sustaining blocks. Whether in the run
game or in pass pro, McMichael was a more dominant presence while managing to cut
down on mental mistakes which, in the past, sometimes resulted in stupid penalties.
It will be interesting to see if Culpepper’s presence will help to improve
McMichael’s reception numbers and thus put him in better position to garner Pro
Alex Holmes, Jason Rader, Teyo Johnson, and the newly acquired Justin
Peelle (free agent from San Diego)
are the other TEs currently on the roster.
Strengths: McMichael’s skills as a receiver and blocker make him
one of the best all-around and complete tight ends in the NFL. He should be
even better in 2006.
Weaknesses: Lack of pass-catching depth, though Peelle could have upside in this regard.
Offseason Priority: Medium. The somewhat surprising early release of Lorenzo Diamond leaves
the Dolphins a little thin at TE. Peelle was used extensively by the Chargers
as a blocker, which helps when the Dolphins deploy two TE formations. This
year’s talent pool is a deep one for tight ends, which should give the Dolphins
some decent choices with a mid-to-late round pick.