The Miami Dolphins will head into free agency in less than two months and they will have a lot of work to do. While it’s not ideal to build a team through free agency, the Dolphins have no choice but to fill a lot of their holes through this method. This is because there simply isn’t a lot of impact players at various positions in this year’s draft class.
In an earlier column, I analyzed and described why there aren’t a ton of options for the Dolphins at the inside linebacker position in free agency. Make no mistake that every position on the team affects one another and the lack of inside linebacker options in both free agency and the draft will help chart the path for the Dolphins this offseason, just as every other position will do the same.
While there might not be many options at inside linebacker, this doesn’t ring true for defensive tackles in the draft. There are going to be great defensive tackles for the Dolphins when they pick with the 14th selection and there are also going to be great defensive tackles when they pick in the second round. However, will they want to spend one of their first two picks on a defensive tackle when they have so many holes? To get a better idea, we need to look at all of the defensive tackles who are set to become unrestricted free agents on March 10. This can be found on our player tracker page.
Next, we then need to figure out what players are worth pursuing. Based on the signature stats from Pro Football Focus, I put together a weighted formula that took run defense and pass rush productivity into account.
To determine how good a player was in run defense, I looked at several categories. Among them was the run stop percentage, which is the percentage of plays where the player was the primary man responsible for making a tackle. From there, I looked at the number of missed tackles compared to the number of snaps that player participated in. I then created a formula that gave me a ratio to show the production of the defensive player when they were the primary man responsible for making a stop when the opponent ran the ball.
When it came to pass defense, the only grade I looked at from Pro Football Focus was the 'Pass Rush Productivity' category. This is the percentage of pressure a defensive tackle gets a sack, hit or hurry relative to how many times they rush the passer. As you can see, it takes everything into account so there wasn't a whole lot of work I had to do.
After evaluating players in both run defense and pass defense and taking their age into account, I narrowed the list to seven players, including Jared Odrick. I used him as the Mendoza line since he will be in play to come back. Anyone who graded out lower than him was thrown out of the picture and anyone who was higher or equal to him are listed as possible targets in free agency.
You may also say that the Dolphins are likely to part ways with Randy Starks. This is true and I would expect that he becomes a cap casualty. However, I believe that his replacement will either come via the draft or via one of the young guys already on the roster such as Anthony Johnson and AJ Francis. Keep in mind that the Dolphins still have Earl Mitchell, who they just signed to a hefty contract last offseason when free agency opened. In addition to all that, it’s unrealistic to think that the Dolphins can afford to pay both Odrick and another high priced free agent. Therefore, since Odrick is the one who won’t be under contract, it’s important to look at those who compare to him on the market.
Let's take a look at run defense first, since it's the most complex.
Thus, if you're talking about run defense only, the best to worst are Peters, Suh, Odrick, Fairley, Mosley, Edwards and Paea. However, I'm sure the Dolphins want to get a player who is well-rounded and who can do play both phases of the game at a high level. To get a better idea of who that can be, let's look at the pass defense grades and statistics.
With those numbers out there, if you’re talking strictly about pass defense, the best to worst is Fairley, Paea, Suh, Edwards, Peters, Odrick and Mosley. However, as I mentioned it’s important that the Dolphins get a well-rounded player. When putting those two categories together, I came up with another weighted formula that allowed me to get an overall grade. That led me to the following list of top defensive tackles the Dolphins should target in free agency.
Overall, in order of best to worst, these players are Suh, Fairley, Odrick, Peters, Paea, Mosley and Edwards Let’s dig a little deeper into each player now and find out what risks there may be and why I ranked them in this order.
With all this in mind, we can now see that there aren’t many options besides Odrick in free agency. While the Dolphins can go all in on Suh or Fairley, it would seem best that they reward Odrick for his hard work over the years and show the guys in the locker room that if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, you will be rewarded for it with a second contract with the team that drafted you.
I would then look to draft a run-stopping defensive tackle in either the first or second round of the draft. That would give you a rookie starter, Odrick, Mitchell, Johnson and Francis. That would solve the defensive tackle position by taking care of your own guy and by also drafting a young player who can hopefully develop into a star over the next several years.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs