Miami Dolphins: Lamar Miller

The Miami Dolphins have made a lot of moves in free agency, including a pair of trades.

That’s led to plenty of questions from Miami fans. So let’s open the mailbag to answer questions.

James Walker: That is a tricky question to ask in March. The true answer is the offseason is just one week old and there are plenty of moves still to be made in free agency and the draft. In fact, at this moment we don't even know if starting tight end Charles Clay will play in Buffalo or Miami. Clay, who received a transition tag from the Dolphins, got an offer sheet from the Bills on Tuesday. I like what both teams have done thus far this offseason. Being aggressive is the only way to close the gap with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who are still tops in the division despite losing key players Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork. If I had to decide today, I would give Miami the slight edge over Buffalo because the Dolphins have more stability at quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. I don't have any confidence that Bills quarterbacks EJ Manuel or Matt Cassel will have a big season. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind next week, next month or in training camp. As I do every year, I will make my final prediction for the Dolphins before the start of the regular season. By the way, I've nailed Miami's 8-8 record two years in a row.

Walker: The Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh to a record $114 million contract for a defensive player to make others around him better. Suh is an unselfish player who will improve the play of his teammates based on his track record with the Detroit Lions. I expect opponents to double Suh more than Cameron Wake for several reasons. First, Suh is closest to the quarterback, and quarterbacks hate to have the pocket pushed and collapsed in front of them. That's the easiest way to disrupt an offense in the passing and running game. Second, Suh is one of the top-five defensive players in the entire NFL. Wake is a Pro Bowler and is very good. But Suh is the type of player opponents must game plan for because he can dominate a game single-handedly. Wake should have an opportunity to have a big year.

Walker: It's not happening, Nick, at least not at this stage in free agency. The Dolphins took a chance with Moreno last year, knowing his injury history, and it didn't work. They are not going to try their luck two years in a row, and Lamar Miller developed into a solid starter in 2014. Now, on the slim chance that Miami needs a running back later this summer in training camp, due to injuries, maybe Moreno will be a consideration because he knows Miami's offense. Otherwise, the Dolphins took their shot with Moreno last year and moved on. There are some good running backs this year's draft who can back up Miller and are younger and cheaper than Moreno.

Walker: The truth is the Dolphins currently do not have a No. 1 receiver on their roster. But it is Kenny Stills with the current depth chart. Jarvis Landry's role is mostly in the slot in Miami's offense. The Dolphins run a ton of three-receiver sets. So it's just as important as an outside receiver, which is why Landry led Miami in receptions last year. But just because he caught more passes than Mike Wallace doesn't mean Landry wasthe No. 1 receiver. Landry's role will stay the same next season, and someone must take over Wallace's role. Right now, that person is Stills.

Thanks for the good questions, Dolphins fans. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to reach me via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.

The Buffalo Bills continued their aggressive offseason by working out a trade for three-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy. Buffalo will send linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in a move that cannot be made official until next week.

Spiller
The fallout from this trade means running back and former Bills first-round pick C.J. Spiller will not return to Buffalo. The pending free agent is set to hit the open market on March 10.

According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, the Miami Dolphins are among several teams interested in Spiller. Miami is searching for another tailback to pair with starter Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Is Spiller a good fit for Miami? My reaction is mixed.

Spiller's skills and running style works well with the quick-hitting offense Miami wants under second-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Spiller is a home run hitter who has averaged 5.0 yards per carry over his five-year career in Buffalo. The Dolphins like to spread the field with three- and four-receiver sets to create running lanes for quicker running backs. Spiller makes sense for those reasons.

But on the other hand, Spiller and Miller are similar players and Spiller is less durable. He's missed eight games the past two seasons due to injuries, and although the market for running backs isn't great, Spiller wants to be well compensated in free agency. The Dolphins have too many larger needs (linebacker, defensive tackle, safety, guard, cornerback) to overspend for a backup running back.

The Dolphins are better off finding a running back with power that is much cheaper in the NFL draft. This is a deep position this year with good talent in the second, third and maybe fourth rounds.

Spiller is a dynamic talent when healthy and should help a team next season. But the Dolphins shouldn't press and overspend to sign another Lamar Miller clone.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Wednesday from around the Web: Morning take: Wallace had a falling out in the regular-season finale. But it doesn’t appear things can’t be repaired. The biggest obstacle is working out the financials with Wallace’s $9.9 million salary.
Morning take: There are several articles linking Suh and the Dolphins, but I don’t see it. Miami has too many holes to fill.
Morning take: Miami’s defense is certainly one loser in this trade. Bills head coach Rex Ryan is going to run the football a lot next season and McCoy is a home-run hitter. The Dolphins were 24th against the run last season.
Morning take: Miami starter Lamar Miller rushed for 1,000 yards. Finding a backup isn’t a huge priority, but the Dolphins can find cost-effective options via the draft and free agency.
The Miami Dolphins have 16 total free agents this offseason, which includes 12 unrestricted free agents.

Here is a profile of Miami's reserve running back:

Player: Daniel Thomas

Position: Running back

2014 stats: 44 carries, 168 yards, three touchdowns

Analysis: After four seasons, it's clear Thomas is a draft bust. The former 2011 second-round pick never lived up to the billing of becoming Miami's feature running back. In fact, Thomas initially didn't make the Dolphins' 53-man roster out of training camp. He was cut in the summer and re-signed in late September following an elbow injury to Knowshon Moreno. Thomas was simply a fill-in last season. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry spelling starter Lamar Miller. The Dolphins need to find a grinding, power tailback to complement Miller next season, and Thomas isn't the answer.

Chances of returning: 20 percent
The Miami Dolphins' first order of business is to clear cap room. There are several high-priced veterans who could be on the chopping block in the next several weeks in order for Miami to make the necessary moves to improve its roster.

But the Dolphins may also pay players currently on their roster. Who are the candidates potentially in line for contract extensions in 2015?

Let’s examine.

Tannehill
Player No. 1: QB Ryan Tannehill

2014 stats: 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns, 92.8 passer rating

2015 salary: $2.117 million

Analysis: Tannehill took care of business in Year 3 by having a career season. He set a franchise record with 392 completions in a season and also set career highs for yards, touchdowns and passer rating. Tannehill is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Dolphins have to decide whether to exercise their fifth-year option or give Tannehill a sizable extension. According to the Sun Sentinel, the Dolphins have reportedly began contract talks with the framework of a seven-year, $105 million contract. I still think the fifth-year option worth $15 million for 2016 is much easier for Miami and doesn't require negotiating. But you can’t rule out either option.

Chances for an extension: 50 percent

Vernon
Vernon
Player No. 2: DE Olivier Vernon

2014 stats: 46 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles

2015 salary: $1.574 million

Analysis: Vernon was a pleasant surprise for Miami. The 2012 third-round pick is entering his third season as a starter and he recorded 18 quarterback sacks the past two seasons. Vernon is a Miami native who wants to stay local for the long term. He’s held off former 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan and has proven to be a better overall defensive end. Vernon has outperformed his 2015 salary. But it remains to be seen if the Dolphins will one more year due to their cap situation.

Chances for an extension: 35 percent

Miller
Player No. 3: RB Lamar Miller

2014 stats: 1,099 rushing yards, 38 receptions, nine total touchdowns

2015 salary: $1.574 million

Analysis: Miller exceeded expectations last season. In fact, veteran running back Knowshon Moreno was signed to be last year's starter. But injuries made Miller the primary rusher and he recorded his first 1,000-yard season. Miller could have put up better numbers if the Dolphins gave him the ball more. Miller averaged 5.1 yards per carry but never had a single game with 20 carries. It’s more likely that Miami will invest in another running back to pair with Miller than to give him a multi-year extension. According to ESPN Stats and Info, running backs only accounting for 5.2 percent of the salary cap last year, which is the lowest percentage in 15 seasons.

Chances for an extension: 10 percent
NFL free agency is set to begin in about one month. This week, ESPN.com will examine several available players who could fill the Miami Dolphins' needs.

Next on Monday we have a free-agent running back who could help Miami:

Tate
Tate
Player: Ben Tate

Age: 26

2014 stats: 119 carries, 371 yards, four touchdowns

Why he could fit: The Dolphins need another running back to complement Lamar Miller next season. Knowshon Moreno tried to fill that role by signing a one-year contract, but a torn ACL derailed Moreno’s season. Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams also are not the answer. The Dolphins need a running back who is both durable and dependable. Tate was a player many thought Miami would have interest in last year in free agency. He rushed for 1,992 yards and 10 touchdowns in three seasons as Arian Foster's backup with the Houston Texans from 2011-13. Now Tate is back on the market and could be a good fit for Bill Lazor’s system. The most carries he’s received in a season is 175 as a rookie in 2011, so there is still good tread on the tires. Tate also played in a spread offense and ran out of the shotgun in college at Auburn. Miami’s offense gets most of its run plays from the shotgun and three-receiver sets.
The Miami Dolphins have a lot of big decisions to make in the coming weeks and months in order to improve on last season's 8-8 record.

Here are some questions on the minds of Miami fans:


James Walker: I've watched University of Miami running back Duke Johnson grow into a solid NFL prospect over the past two seasons. I like Johnson as a player. But I don't see him as a fit for the Dolphins, who already have a similar starting tailback in Lamar Miller. Miami needs a power running back to complement Miller, someone who can grind out those tough yards and thrive in short-yardage situations. Johnson is more of a speedy, home run hitter. Look for Johnson to get drafted elsewhere.


James Walker: Knowshon Moreno was expected to fill that power-tailback role that I mentioned in the previous question. But Moreno is too injury prone, which is the reason the Dolphins signed him to a one-year contract in 2014. Moreno suffered two knee injuries and an elbow injury during his short tenure in Miami last season. He will be 28 in July and has a lot of tread on the tires. Moreno is a solid player when healthy. But I expect the Dolphins to go younger at the position and find a power back who is more durable.


James Walker: There were plenty of debates in the comment section on Facebook and via Twitter over "Walker's Fab 40," which is expected. Ranking 40 players on any team will bring a variety of response. I expected some to agree and disagree, especially when it came to the top of the list. My criteria was simple: It is based on who are the best players for the Dolphins right now. Production last season is definitely a factor but it's not everything. For example, Miami left tackle Branden Albert started just nine games and came in at No. 1. Some thought starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (No. 5) should have been No. 1 because he had a career season. But Tannehill is not the best player on the team.

Walker's Fab. 40: Nos. 9-12

January, 29, 2015
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ESPN.com’s Miami Dolphins page continues its series ranking the top-40 players on the team.

Next up is Nos. 9-12.

No. 12: Lamar Miller

[+] EnlargeLamar Miller, Preston Brown
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesLamar Miller posted his first 1,000-yard season in 2014.
Position: Running back

2014 Stats: 1,099 rushing yards, 38 receptions, nine total touchdowns

Analysis: Miller had a career year and it really took off following the season-ending knee injury to Knowshon Moreno. Miller posted his first 1,000-yard season and averaged a strong 5.1 yards per carry. There are still questions if he can be an every-down back. I thought Miami could have used him more last season, but the coaching staff wasn’t comfortable giving Miller 20 carries per game. Miller still needs to work on his pass protection and catching out of the backfield. He doesn’t have natural hands and suffered several drops. But Miller can be dangerous once he makes the reception in the open field.

No. 11: Olivier Vernon

Position: Defensive end

2014 Stats: 46 tackles, 6.5 sacks

Analysis: Vernon took a small step back in 2014, but he was still one of Miami’s top defensive players.
Vernon’s sack numbers dropped from 11.5 in 2013 to 6.5 last season. The constant rotation at defensive end impacted Vernon’s production, and it was hard for most Dolphins defensive linemen to find a steady rhythm. Vernon will be in a contract year in 2015 and out to prove he deserves an extension.

No. 10: Jelani Jenkins

Position: Linebacker

2014 Stats: 110 tackles, 3.5 sacks

Analysis: Jenkins was Miami’s biggest breakout player in 2014. He went from a relative unknown to replace the injured Dannell Ellerbe and lead the Dolphins in tackles. Jenkins is very active and able to chase ball carriers sideline to sideline. He’s also a sure tackler, which was lacking at times in Miami. The future looks bright for Jenkins. His next step is to improve against the pass. Jenkins had only one pass defensed and zero interceptions all season.

No. 9: Jarvis Landry

Position: Wide receiver

2014 Stats: 84 receptions, 785 yards, five touchdowns

Analysis: The Dolphins hit a home run in the second round with Landry. He set a franchise rookie record with 84 receptions and became quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s most reliable target down the stretch. Landry is not overly fast or athletic. He is a technician who gets open due to solid routes, toughness and very dependable hands. Landry even surprised the coaching staff by being a solid kick returner despite not having blazing speed. Barring injuries, Landry should only improve next season.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Thursday from around the Web:
  • Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel writes about Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino's thoughts on Tom Brady.
Morning take: Marino is impressed by the Patriots quarterback's strong pocket presence. That is part of what sets Brady apart.
  • Surya Fernandez of Fox Sports Florida writes Dolphins tailback Lamar Miller has emerged.
Morning take: Miller rushed for a career-high 1,099 yards last year and averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. Will Miller get more carries next season.
  • Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post writes about Pro Football Focus’ rating of Dolphins players.
Morning take: There are some ratings I agree with and others I do not agree with. But everyone has their different takes.
Morning take: Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Reshad Jones are returning to the secondary. But the team must make a decision with free-agent safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Friday from around the Web: Morning take: Lamar Miller had a career season with 1,099 yards. But the Dolphins still need power back to take the pressure off Miller next season. Expect Miami the find one via the draft or free agency.
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald goes through Pro Football Focus' grades for the Dolphins.
Morning take: PFF highlights the fact that Cortland Finnegan and Jimmy Wilson both struggled at times in the nickel. That’s one of several areas the Dolphins must improve.
  • Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel wonders if Dolphins backup quarterback and pending free agent Matt Moore could sign with a division rival.
Morning take: The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills both have major quarterback questions. Moore is a very good backup who could compete to start on either team.
Morning take: Tannehill answered some critics with his 4,000-yard season. But he still has some growing to do.
This offseason the Miami Dolphins have 16 free agents, 12 of which are unrestricted.

ESPN.com’s Dolphins page will examine each pending free agent over the next couple weeks and determine their chances of returning.

On Tuesday, we begin with a former starting running back.

Player: RB Knowshon Moreno

Status: Unrestricted

Moreno
 2014 stats: 34 carries, 148 yards, one touchdown

Analysis: Moreno signed a one-year contract with Miami last season in hopes of adding a physical presence to the team’s backfield. Moreno exploded on the scene with 134 yards and a touchdown in a Week 1 win over the New England Patriots. Things looked very promising until Moreno’s long battle with injuries again became an issue. Moreno suffered an elbow injury in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills and later tore his ACL in Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers. Moreno played in just three games for Miami. At 27, and with his lengthy injury history, Moreno is not expected to be re-signed by the Dolphins. New starter Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,099 yards, has emerged, and Miami can find a less expensive backup in the draft or free agency.

Chances of returning: 20 percent
It was another busy week with the Miami Dolphins. They hired a new front-office boss in Mike Tannenbaum and reportedly are working on a contract extension with head coach Joe Philbin.

Plenty of Dolphins fans have questions. So let’s take a look into the Twitter mailbag.

James Walker: It's too early to say, George, considering Tannenbaum doesn't start until Feb. 1. There is some confusion of his actual job description, since the team says general manager Dennis Hickey has say over the roster and head coach Joe Philbin reports directly to owner Stephen Ross. The trio will work together this year and see how it goes. But this move, more than anything, provides long-term protection. If Miami doesn't make the playoffs next season, I expect the team to clean house and Tannenbaum likely will have a chance to bring in his own people.

Walker: "Highly underused" is a bit strong, Ken. Lamar Miller was underused and probably could've helped the team with about 35-40 more carries this season. It's clear the Dolphins' coaching staff doesn't believe Miller is a "bell cow" running back and prefers to keep a rotation. He never received 20 carries in any game last season. I don't expect that to change next season.

Walker: Covering the Dolphins is tremendous, Ralph. I absolutely love my job. I've never had any rooting interest in any teams I covered, and I think that's what some readers struggle to grasp. That's part of being a professional. It doesn't matter to me if the Dolphins go 0-16 or 16-0. My job is to produce good, objective content and explain why things are happening. If the stories are more positive one year, so be it. If the stories are more negative the next year, so be it. This is a place where Dolphins fans can get honest news and analysis on their favorite team -- good and bad.

Walker: I do not see Ingram as a fit, Jeff. The Dolphins went the veteran running back route last year with Knowshon Moreno and it didn't work. Now that starter Lamar Miller is coming off a 1,000-yard season, Miami has the luxury not to overspend for a veteran tailback in free agency. The Dolphins will look to add a bigger back. But it most likely will come via the draft. There are some good options this year in the top half of the draft who can fit the role at a cheaper cost.

If you questions about the Dolphins, feel free to send them my way @JamesWalkerNFL.

Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Friday from around the Web:
  • Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel writes that new Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum is uncertain about receiver Mike Wallace's future.
Morning take: Wallace has a $3 million of his $9.9 million salary guaranteed in March. Therefore, Miami must make a decision in the next couple of months.
  • ABC News reports that former Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad swam an astounding nine miles to shore after falling out of his boat while fishing in Palm Beach.
Morning take: Thankfully, Konrad was able to make it back to shore without incident. This is a remarkable story from the former Dolphin.
  • Alain Poupart of the Dolphins team site writes that four Dolphins plays are in the hunt for Play of the Year on NFL.com.
Morning take: cornerback Brent Grimes' one-handed interception against the Detroit Lions was the best play for Miami this season, in my opinion. It’s also one of the top plays in the league.
  • Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post writes that running backs take center stage in the cold winter months.
Morning take: The weather doesn’t impact the Dolphins, except when they are on the road. Lamar Miller recorded his first 1,000-yard season, but Miami must continue to improve its rushing attack.

Walker's Dolphins Mock Draft 1.0

January, 8, 2015
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The Miami Dolphins own the No. 14 overall pick in April’s NFL draft.

It’s a solid draft slot. Miami (8-8) also finished .500 last season and had the No. 18 pick.

Who should Miami select in the first round to fill its needs? ESPN.com’s Dolphins page provides its first mock draft that will be updated throughout the offseason.

No. 1: LB Shaq Thompson

School: Washington

Stats: 78 tackles, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions

Analysis: The Dolphins will have a major makeover at linebacker next season, and the draft could be a big part of the equation. Veteran linebackers such as Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi may all be on thin ice as the team looks to bring in fresh talent. Thompson is one of the top linebackers in college football and is good against both the run and pass. Thompson also has strong character and worth ethic, which are important traits for Miami’s regime led by general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin. It’s hard to find reasons why the Dolphins wouldn’t be interested in Thompson.

No. 2: DT Danny Shelton

School: Washington

Stats: 88 tackles, 9.0 sacks

Analysis: If you watched Miami’s run defense crumble in the final six games last season, it should be clear why the Dolphins would have interest in Shelton. At 332 pounds, he’s a natural run stuffer in the middle who could help improve Miami’s 24th-ranked run defense. Miami also could lose starting defensive tackle Jared Odrick to free agency and may release Randy Starks. That would leave Earl Mitchell as the only experienced defensive tackle from last season.

No. 3: RB Melvin Gordon

School: Wisconsin

Stats: 206 carries, 1,609 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns

Analysis: Is running back a big need for Miami? Not necessarily. But if Gordon, the best tailback in the draft, is on the board at No. 14, the Dolphins have an interesting decision to make. Gordon is dynamic and has nearly all the skills that translates to an every-down tailback in the NFL. He could join with Lamar Miller to make one of the most dangerous backfield duos in the AFC. A quality and consistent running game would help everyone, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

No. 4: WR Kevin White

School: West Virginia

Stats: 109 receptions, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns

Analysis: Wide receiver is another position of change for Miami. The team has decisions to make with the contracts of veterans Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline. There also are questions as to whether No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace will return, although I expect Wallace to stay. White is the big-bodied receiver Miami’s offense could use on the perimeter. He's also very good after the catch, which is valued in Bill Lazor's offense. The physical talent is there. With Wallace’s speed, Jarvis Landry’s hands and toughness in the slot, White could fit in well.
ESPN.com's Miami Dolphins page continues its series on reviewing the 2014 rookie class.

Next up we have undrafted running back Damien Williams:

Position: Running back

Stats: 36 carries for 122 yards, 21 receptions, one touchdown

Positives: Williams deserves a lot of credit for being a longshot to make the team and contributing down to the final game. He his biggest impact as a third-down back, where he caught 21 passes for 187 yards. He is another first-year player who didn't hit the rookie wall for Miami. Williams played some of his best football down the stretch, and got more opportunities when starting running back Lamar Miller had minor injuries.

Negatives: Williams must work on his elusiveness to take his game to the next level. He had plenty of opportunities to make bigger plays but failed to break tackles, which is key in the NFL. Williams averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.

Walker's rookie grade: B

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