In an effort to try and create reading material and discussion in dull times, I thought I would highlight which Dolphins I feel are a bit underappreciated by the fan base.
To make myself clear, these aren’t the top five Dolphins that are underrated on the national scale. For example, Davone Bess and Cameron Wake may be a couple of the most underrated players in the entire league, but here in South Florida, knowledgeable fans are well aware of how valuable both are to this franchise.
These are the five players that many Dolphin fans and some Miami media alike underestimate and undervalue, in my opinion.
As with any top five list, there is plenty of room for debate. Feel free to tell us which Dolphins you feel get the shaft in the comments.
5. Kendall Langford, DE: 3-4 defensive ends are some of the most underappreciated players in the game. They don’t have the appeal 4-3 DE’s do because they typically don’t get to the quarterback often as predominant run stuffers. And they don’t get the credit nose tackles do, which serve as the anchor of the 3-4 defensive line.
Regardless of appropriate recognition or not, the Dolphins are blessed to have arguably one of the best 3-4 DE tandems in the league and without a doubt one of the deepest rotations at the position. Langford may never be a household name nationwide, and probably won’t even grab many headlines locally here in Miami, but he’s becoming one of the best in the business. 2010 was his best season yet, racking up 47 tackles and 3 sacks.
4. Randy Starks, DE: Randy Starks wasn’t quite the same player he was in 2009 production wise last season, but you can hardly blame him for that. He still was a Pro Bowl replacement in 2010, though, after being asked to move to nose tackle early on in the year after a dominate 56 tackle, 7 sack campaign at DE in 2009.
It was probably a blessing in disguise when first-round pick Jared Odrick went down early in the year. Not only because Paul Soliai stepped up and become a stout nose tackle overnight, but because Starks was forced to move back to his natural position. Starks shuts down running plays in his direction consistently and is able to collapse the pocket from time to time as a pass rusher.
3. Anthony Fasano, TE: Some uneducated fans have pinned the Dolphins’ need for a pass catching tight end this offseason as an accusation against what Anthony Fasano brings to the table. That actually couldn’t be further from the truth. The Dolphins drafted Charles Clay in the sixth round of the draft because there was no depth behind Fasano and the offense has missed the production David Martin brought to the table as the number two tight in 2008 over the past couple years.
Fasano is arguably one of the most balanced tight ends in the entire league. He’s hands down one of the finer blocking tight ends in the game and is actually fresh off of a career year as a pass catcher. His 528 receiving yards was only good enough for 19th in the league among tight ends but his 13.5 yards per catch qualified as the 8th most at the position.
2. Brian Hartline, WR: Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited about what Edmond Gates can do for this offense as the next guy, but I’ve been downplaying the need for a receiver all offseason. The biggest reason for that is because inconstant quarterback play was what doomed the Dolphins’ offense in 2010, not slow receivers.
No, the Dolphins didn’t have a legitimate deep threat, but Brian Hartline was in the midst of a breakout season before he broke his finger in Week 13. If you project his numbers over 16 games, Hartline was on pace to put up nearly 900 yards. I’d say he has the makings of a solid number two in this league despite perception among some fans that he isn’t starting material.
1. Sean Smith, CB: I came across some jaw dropping statistics the other day that truth be told, were the motivating factor behind this post. I knew Sean was a much better corner than most fans realize, but even I was underestimating how valuable he is if the following statistics are accurate measures of his coverage ability. Sure, he had hands of stone in 2010 at times, and he surely needs to capitalize when those opportunities present themselves in 2011, but believe it or not, he may be developing into one of the elite cover corners in football.
According to Pro Football Focus, Sean Smith was asked to cover on 448 snaps last season and quarterbacks only tested him 44 times. That was good enough for the second best ratio in the entire league behind only Nnamdi Asomugha. Sean slips down a couple spots in the receptions allowed per coverage snaps chart, but only Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Darrelle Revis allowed fewer receptions per times asked to cover. That’s elite company for Sean.
I felt like he was underrated before I saw these numbers, simply because it was obvious Sean made the entire Dolphins’ defense better when he took over for Jason Allen in the first quarter of Week 8 in Cincinnati. I’ve heard many fans say the Dolphins need to upgrade the corner position opposite Vontae Davis. That is almost laughable when you see these numbers.
I’m definitely not saying Sean has arrived yet. The kid has plenty of room to improve. Like I said, he needs to become more of a game changer and pick off passes when the opportunity presents itself. He also needs to be a little bit more physical and consistent in run support. I’ve seen him lay a few good hits, but I’ve also seen him shy away from coming up and making a sound tackle too.
But regardless, fans need to realize that the Dolphins are set at corner and the future is bright for this secondary. Sean Smith is every bit apart of that bright future as Vontae Davis, and together, the Dolphins have a cornerback tandem capable of doing what Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain did for this defense several years ago.
Honorable mention: Phillip Merling-yes, another DE. Merling isn’t necessarily the bust many fans label him. He’s had a difficult time getting on the field simply because the starters ahead of him, Starks and Langford, have been so productive. If Tony McDaniel signs elsewhere as expected, Merling should get the chance to be a key contributor for one of the league’s deepest 3-4 DE rotations. Chris Clemons– was thought to be the weakest link in Mike Nolan’s defense a year ago. Clemons certainly didn’t make many game changing plays and squandered a few golden opportunities to do so, but he was actually a reliable last line of defense for the Dolphins’ defense thanks to his elite speed.