Kelly: Here’s where Dolphins’ 2021 depth chart stands after first wave of free agency | Analysis

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The Miami Dolphins fielded the second-youngest roster in the NFL last season, trailing only the Raiders by a couple of months in average age of the team.

Based on Miami’s moves early in free agency, and the eight selections the Dolphins own in the 2021 NFL draft, it looks like general manager Chris Grier is pushing to have the youngest roster in the league in 2021 with the Dolphins moving on from the two players in their 30s — Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kyle Van Noy — that were on their roster, and making sure all their newcomers were in their mid to early 20s.

Here is a look at a projection of the Dolphins’ depth chart, which examines each unit’s strengths and weaknesses and needs as free agency continues, and April’s draft approaches:

QB (4): Tua Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett, Jake Rudock and Ryan Sinnett

Coach Brian Flores has publicly stated Tua Tagovailoa is Miami’s starting quarterback, and that the organization is excited to see the growth he makes in his second NFL season. The hope is that Tagovailoa, who had a 92.5 passer rating, which ranked him 23rd in the NFL last season, improves on his decision making and will operate the offense faster.

Brissett joins Miami after signing a one-year deal that could pay him $7.5 million. His playing experience (49 career games) provides the Dolphins a decent replacement for Fitzpatrick, who signed with Washington’s football team. Brissett owns a 12-20 record in 32 starts. He has thrown for 6,459 yards with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and has a 59.6 career completion percentage. Rudock and Sinnett should be viewed as camp arms, with each battling it out for the role as Miami’s third quarterback.

RB (5): Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown, Patrick Laird and Jordan Scarlett

Gaskin and Ahmed propped up last year’s inconsistent rushing attack, collectively contributed 903 rushing yards and eight touchdown on 217 carries. But more is needed for Miami’s Run-pass-option-based offense to find the next gear.

Brown, who is entering his seventh NFL season, is a decent complimentary back. Last season the 27-year-old gained 419 yards on 101 carries and caught a career-high 23 receptions, turning those catches into 162 yards. Laird and Scarlett will compete with whichever rookie tailback Miami adds in the draft, or veteran Miami signs or trades for to determine which four or five tailbacks remain on the 53-man regular-season roster, and who serves as the featured back.

WR (10): DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Preston Williams (injured), Lynn Bowden Jr., Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Jakeem Grant, Robert Foster, Malcolm Perry and Kirk Merritt

This is one position that seems fairly stacked if all the veterans who have battled injures the past few seasons returns, and makes it onto the 53-man roster and remains healthy. But history is not on Miami’s side in the health equation of this discussion, especially when it comes to Parker and Williams.

Fuller, who was signed to one-year deal worth $10 million, is the deep threat and playmaker Miami has lacked since Kenny Stills was traded away. Wilson and Hurns’ return from being COVID-19 opt outs should enhance the unit’s depth, especially if Wilson has fully recovered from the hip injury he suffered in 2018.

Grant remains Miami’s return specialist, but has done little to prove he’s a reliable NFL receiver. So his future with the team isn’t on solid footing, especially if Bowden and Perry take a step forward in their second NFL season.

TE (5): Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Cethan Carter (H-back) and Chris Myarick

Gesicki built on his promising 2019 season, catching 53 passes for 703 yards and scoring six touchdowns last season on his 85 targets. But the majority of that production came with Fitzpatrick. Gesicki, who is playing on the final year of his rookie deal, needs to develop better chemistry with Tagovailoa to continue his ascension.

Gesicki, Smythe and Shaheen set a franchise record for productivity from the tight end position, and with their former position coach (George Godsey) being named Miami’s co-offensive coordinator, don’t expect that position’s involvement to lessen. Carter, a free agent Miami signed, should provide decent blocking from the H-back position and solid special teams contribution.

OL (12): Tackles: Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Jonathan Hubbard and Adam Pankey; Guards: Ereck Flowers, Solomon Kindley, Jesse Davis and Durval Queiroz Neto; Centers: Matt Skura, Michael Deiter, Cameron Tom and Tyler Gauthier

Despite the massive makeover in 2020, the Dolphins offensive line struggled for much of last season and primarily on the interior of the unit. That explains why Miami let Ted Karras depart as a free agent, returning to New England, and Miami signed Skura, who started 51 games for the Ravens before suffering a serious left knee injury.

The hope is that Jackson, Hunt, Kindley, Deiter and Pankey — the youngest players on the unit — will take another step forward in their development after participating in an NFL offseason program this spring and summer. If each of those youngsters improves there is a chance this unit can be more forceful and reliable.

But it would benefit the Dolphins to draft a center for the future since Skura only signed a one-year deal, and this draft is filled with a handful of potential NFL starters. Miami has three more training camp spots for offensive linemen.

Edge players (7): Emmanuel Ogbah, Vince Biegel, Andrew Van Ginkel, Sam Eguavoen, Jason Strowbridge, Jonathan Ledbetter and Tyshun Render

The Dolphins generated 41 sacks in 2020, but the bulk of those came from blitzing linebackers in Miami’s hybrid 3-4 scheme, with Ogbah being the lone exception. Ogbah had a breakout season last year, producing 42 tackles and nine sacks. Miami needs to find a reliable edge setter and pass rusher to put on the other side because of the release of Van Noy and the trade that sent Shaq Lawson to the Texans for inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

The continued development of Van Ginkel, who contributed 42 tackles and 5.5 sacks, should help ease some of this unit’s burden. And so will re-signing Biegel, who had a breakout season in 2019 before suffering an Achilles tendon injury during the 2020 training camp.

DT (6): Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, Zach Sieler, Adam Butler, Benito Jones and Nick Coe

Miami’s struggles against the run last season improved once Davis become a full-time starter. But the Dolphins still need to improve their overall run defense, which allowed 4.5 yards per carry last season.

The addition of Butler, who produced 17 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 26 quarterback hits in four seasons with the Patriots before signing with Miami this offseason, should help the unit tighten the screws in 2021 if everyone can remain healthy. Davis, a double-team eating defensive tackle, should improve in his second season, and it is possible that Miami will see continued growth from Wilkins and Sieler.

ILB (6): Jerome Baker, Benardrick McKinney, Brennan Scarlett, Duke Riley, Calvin Munson and Kylan Johnson

Baker, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, has led the Dolphins in tackles the past two seasons, and excels as a blitzer (seven sacks) and in coverage of tailbacks. McKinney, a 2018 Pro Bowl selection the Dolphins traded for, has averaged 88 tackles (6.6 a game) in his six seasons, where he started 77 games for the Texans.

His addition will ease the departure of Elandon Roberts, a free agent who suffered a knee injury late last season. Scarlett, Riley and Johnson will compete for backup spots, and special teams roles. Adding a young linebacker in the 2021 draft would benefit this unit because the future of both Baker and McKinney are uncertain due to their contracts.

CB (9): Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Nik Needham, Noah Igbinoghene, Justin Coleman, Jamal Perry, Javaris Davis, Tino Ellis and Terrell Bonds.

The Dolphins secondary features two upper-echelon boundary cornerbacks in Howard, who had a season worth of Defensive Player of the Year recognition last year, and Jones, who the Dolphins signed to a five-year, $82.5 million contract last offseason. If Howard remains healthy and dominant, and Jones takes another step forward in this scheme, the secondary should again be the strength of Miami’s defense.

Needham had a solid season as Miami’s starting nickel cornerback last year, but he’ll have competition in 2021 due to the signing on Coleman. Miami is hopeful that Igbinoghene, who was taken in the first round of the 2020 draft, will speed up his development in his second season and become a more consistent contributor.

Safety (6): Bobby McCain, Eric Rowe, Clayton Fejedelem, Brandon Jones, Nate Holley and Brian Cole

McCain and Rowe, two former cornerbacks, excelled in their roles in their second full season as safeties in Miami’s scheme. McCain serves as the scheme’s signal caller and last line of defense for the entire defense, and Rowe locked down most of the tight ends Miami faced with a few exceptions.

Jones, a 2020 third-round pick who contributed 59 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble, should continue to blossom in his second season in Miami’s scheme. Miami needs one of the backups to fill the void left by Kavon Frazier not being re-signed.

Special teams (3): Kicker Jason Sanders, long snapper Blake Ferguson (R) and Punter Michael Palardy

Sanders had an All-Pro season in 2020, and it landed him a lucrative five-year, $22 million contract extension. The Dolphins replaced Matt Haack, a free agent who signed with the Bills, with Palardy, a former St. Thomas Aquinas High standout who missed the 2020 season because of a knee injury sustained that offseason. Palardy has played in 55 games in his NFL career and has 243 punts for 11,011 yards and a 40.3 net punting average.