At 15: Running Backs
By Brian Miller
The Miami Dolphins will have to play a little Las Vegas style wagering this year when it comes to filling one of its most glaring holes on the offensive side of the ball. The running back position. In fact, the hole is so glaring that there is not one but two vacancies in the backfield. What’s funny is if you ask the local media or draftniks about the teams needs, including myself, running back, despite the two openings is not considered their biggest need.
So when I say that the team will do a little gambling when it comes to the position, you only need to look at how they intend to fill the roster spots to realize that their plans may not serve up the best opportunities. In other words, they could be on the short end of a long stick.
Today I will take a look at the position as we near the draft. Specifically will address how the team may fill those holes and while not directly speculating on who may be the opening game featured back but instead weigh the possibilities of those available landing in Miami when it comes to the use of the 15th overall selection.
For starters the logical place to find a runner is the draft, and as we look at the 15th selection the Dolphins may be the first team in this years draft to use a high pick on a runner. Up until a couple of months ago, one name and one name only graded out as a first rounder. Alabama tailback Mark Ingram. Now as the draft nears, Ingram’s stock appears to be falling while Mikel LeShoure of Illinois is rising. Will it be enough to rise to 15?
In order to determine whether or not either of the top two runners would be a fit at 15 the Dolphins must decide what they will do outside of that pick. Both in free agency when it rears its head and the rest of the draft. The likelihood of the Dolphins spending more than one pick on runner in this years draft is remote unless they toss a late 6th or 7th rounder at another prospect. So given the fact that the team has two vacancies, as it stands now, they will need to look elsewhere for that “dynamic duo” they are seeking.
FA hasn’t begun and until the lockout is lifted there will be no player movements. This is why the Dolphins have two vacant positions on their team as both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are not under contract and can not be signed until the lockout is lifted. The longer the lockout lasts, the more likely that one of those will be resigned. So let’s take a quick look at one of those two.
Ricky Williams – In my opinion if the lockout lasts until July or August, Williams would be the more likely of the two to return. The main reason is his contract. It will be short, possibly one or two years max. He is, at this stage of his career, a change of pace back that is capable of feature duties but on a limited scale. Meaning he could carry the rock as a featured back for one or two games but is not reliable at this point to do so over a 16 week period.
Ronnie Brown – While Brown is younger than Williams, he is looking for a final long term contract and the Dolphins won’t likely invest in a multi-year deal that would leave him on the roster for another 4 to 5 seasons. Unless that money is simply not guaranteed or guaranteed up front as many contracts are done these days. The truth is given Brown’s injury history and inconsistency on the field, he is expendable. He would be a fall back option if Ricky Williams refused to cut a deal and the season was about to start.
DeAngelo Williams – Williams is still on the short side of 30 and still has breakaway speed but Williams is also under a tender in Carolina and the only way he becomes unrestricted is if the NFL lifts the lockout with a new CBA in place that strips the tender for veterans with his status making them unrestricted. So while the Dolphins internally may be talking of adding the solid runner and Williams himself is saying any interest is mutual, nothing can happen here until a new CBA is done. Otherwise, the Dolphins will have to compensate the Panthers and it’s unlikely that they do so.
Other free agents – There are a lot of names on the potential free agent list of running backs but it needs to be noted that no one has garnered much in the way of rumors regarding Miami. Most of that is of course due to the labor issues but the reality is that teams simply do not know how players will be classified until a new labor deal is reached. Thus any potential free agents that could join Miami are either street guys like Ronnie and Ricky or tendered like Williams.
This will come into play, and hence the gamble, when the labor issue is resolved. If the Dolphins choose to select a runner later in the draft and not spend a pick at 15, then they obviously feel that they can gain another tailback through free agency when the lockout is lifted. The gamble to this is if the lockout is lifted with no CBA, many of those backs will be tendered already and thus the team will have to compensate the current team OR they may have to bring in a player late to learn a new system if that lockout is lifted closer to the start of the season or after the scheduled start of training camps.
With pick 15 – So will the Dolphins use a 15th overall pick on a tailback? I would like to say not likely but given the issues with the CBA, if the Dolphins are unable to trade down and gain a 2nd round pick as they have said they would like to do, then they may have to select the top guy on their board and that may very well be a runner like Ingram or LeShoure.
Of the two, it’s simply too hard to say who would fit the Dolphins scheme better simply because no one outside of the Dolphins really have an idea of what that scheme may be under Brian Daboll. Where and how the running back fits into that scheme will go a long way in determining which one of these backs would be taken if the team is left with the 15th and nothing else until round 3.
At the center of this debate is whether or not the team can actually drop down and gain a 2nd round pick. If they can not, they will have to wait until round 3 to address the running back position at the earliest and names like Kendall Hunter and DeMarco Murray may not be available by the time they roll back onto the clock. This regime has a history of finding featured tailbacks in the mid-rounds of the draft and that may be where they are hoping to land one this year.
But it’s a gamble given the two vacancies and labor uncertainty.
I don’t think the team will use the 15th pick on a running back. I don’t see a whole lot of separation between these two top guys and the next 5 or 6 that could be had in rounds 2 through 5. Better yes, but not by a great margin. I think the Dolphins will roll the dice here and if they must pick at 15, use that selection on a different position and address the tailback slot later. Both later in the draft and later in the off-season.