MIAMI DOLPHINS (Consensus division finish: 4th)

Updated: August 28, 2008, 5:05 PM ET

Ronnie Brown

David Drapkin/Getty Images

Before an ACL tear in Week 7, Ronnie Brown rushed for 602 yards and caught 39 passes for 389 yards.

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The Dolphins finished last in the AFC East last season with a 1-15 record. For AFC East coverage, visit Tim Graham's AFC East blog. | Discuss Dolphins | MAG Preview

ANALYST PREDICTION
Jeffri
Chadiha

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4   The recent addition of quarterback Chad Pennington makes them better. They might actually win three games this year.
John
Clayton

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Bill Parcells has turned around the roster and brought toughness to both sides of the football. Chad Pennington can get the team to six wins and eventually set up a transition to Chad Henne at QB.
Tim
Graham

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Acquiring Chad Pennington will steady the offense and give the Dolphins a better chance to win each week. But they have a long way to go just to be considered mediocre.
Jeremy
Green

Scouts Inc.
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Miami will be better than last season, but the team is still a long way from making noise in the AFC East. The Dolphins still have serious concerns at QB and RB. Defensively, they are a lot younger, which should lead to more playmaking ability but also more mistakes.
Paul
Kuharsky

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Being slightly more competitive will have to suffice as progress. The powers and the plan are in place, but need time.
Matt
Mosley

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Quick, name a Dolphins player. There's Jake Long, Vonnie Holliday ... fresh out!
Mike
Sando

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Chad Pennington brings credibility and knowledge of the division. The offense needs receivers and the Dolphins must learn how to win.
Kevin
Seifert

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  Talk about starting from scratch. At least the Dolphins got themselves a respectable quarterback in Chad Pennington -- even if it wasn't until midway through training camp.
James
Walker

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  They'll win more than one game this year, but not many more. Expect another long year in Miami.
Seth
Wickersham

ESPN The Magazine
DIVISION FINISH: 3  Lost six games last year by three points or less. With Tony Sparano and a much-improved coaching staff providing more discipline and fundamentals -- and with a revived Ricky Williams -- Miami will win more of the close ones.
Bill
Williamson

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4   Bill Parcells makes the Dolphins relevant, but they should still be a train wreck on the field. This team will be lucky to win five games.
Matt
Williamson

Scouts Inc.
DIVISION FINISH: 4  A handful of wins would be a great accomplishment in Year 1 of this massive rebuilding project. Just don't judge the progress of this franchise solely on wins and losses this year. Steps will be made in the right direction.
Pat
Yasinskas

ESPN.com
DIVISION FINISH: 4  The arrival of quarterback Chad Pennington will make the Dolphins a bit more respectable. But the rebuilding job here will take so long that Bill Parcells, who has a history of impatience, might not see this one through.
 
             CONSENSUS DIVISION FINISH: 4 | NFL standings

BEST OF THE DOLPHINS

Best offensive player: RB Ricky Williams. The explosiveness is there. If Williams maintains a heightened desire -- as he has through the offseason and training camp -- he will be the odds-on favorite for comeback honors. He's only 31 and hasn't endured much contact in recent years, combining for a mere 283 carries in the CFL and NFL since 2003.

Best defensive player: LB Joey Porter. Now that mainstays Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas are off the roster, it's time for Porter to prove he's worth the suitcase of cash the Dolphins gave him. His 2007 was disjointed, and he played like a classic example of a player who can turn it on whenever he wants. His final stats were impressive, but he went long stretches without making a big play.

Best playmaker: WR/KR Ted Ginn. The former Ohio State star had a rough rookie season for the 1-15 Dolphins, but his speed and field vision make him a dangerous player. If not for penalties, he would've brought back four kicks for touchdowns. He'll also be the primary receiver this year.

Best rookie surprise: G Donald Thomas. Viewed as a project when the Dolphins selected him late in the sixth round, Thomas became the starting right guard early in training camp. He's a physical specimen who was discovered while playing pickup basketball on the Connecticut campus and didn't become a starter until his senior year. But he still outplayed fourth-round pick Shawn Murphy and some journeyman vets.

-- Tim Graham, ESPN.com

SCOUTS INC.'S FAB FIVE

Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,400 NFL players heading into the 2008 season, giving Insiders a leg up on the competition with exclusive grades, alerts and scouting reports. Insider
Top five players
ANALYSIS
1. Samson Satele
Center
6-3 | 300
(Grade 79) He has adequate size with good strength and athleticism. He was a versatile player coming out of college, who played center, guard and tackle. He can snap and step well to gain leverage in a confined area.
1. Ronnie Brown
Running back
6-0 | 230
(79) He is an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism. When healthy, Brown has the tools to be an effective inside runner with deceptive speed to bounce off-tackle plays to the perimeter.
3. Vernon Carey
Offensive tackle
6-5 | 350
(75) He has played both offensive tackle positions and is effective at either side. Carey doesn't have great foot quickness or lateral agility, but can be light on his feet for a man of his stature.
4. Justin Smiley
Guard
6-3 | 310
(74) He is a wide body who has above-average foot quickness and agility. He is a good technician who gets a good fit and understands angles when getting out to the second level or when pulling around the corner.
5. Will Allen
Cornerback
5-10 | 196
(73) He is a seven-year veteran who is an excellent athlete with average size. Allen has been a very durable player for his position and does a nice job to keep leverage with good body position.
Player grading scale: Elite (90-100), outstanding (80-89), solid starter (75-79), good starter (70-74)

SCOUTS INC.'S ANALYSIS

Best play option
Miami will rely on the running game in '08. Here's how it opens up running lanes for RBs Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams.
More best plays

Strengths

New attitude, stability: Bill Parcells has walked into terrible situations before, turning bad teams into contenders -- even Super Bowl champions. His pedigree for rebuilding down-and-out clubs is impeccable, and everyone around the Dolphins' franchise knows it. He already has done a terrific job of bringing in coaches, scouts and players who are his type of people.

Offensive linemen: LT Jake Long might not have been the best player in the draft, but he is a very good fit with the Dolphins as they begin the rebuilding process. Drafting Long pushes Vernon Carey to right tackle, where he could thrive. C Samson Satele already has established himself as a player with Pro Bowl potential, and Miami wasted little time in free agency signing OG Justin Smiley. This group could be quite good this season.

Ronnie Brown: Though Brown may not be himself yet after coming off a serious knee injury, the Dolphins appear to have the proper running back on the roster to build around for the long term. Brown was exceptional before getting hurt last season and does everything well. He should be a star once he is fully healed.

Weaknesses

Depth: Turning a 1-15 team around doesn't happen overnight. Parcells was shrewd to find linemen who fit his system, while adding tough role players at other positions. But only so much can be expected after one successful offseason. Even if the Dolphins improve dramatically on the field, they should have a long list of needs heading into the next offseason.

Difference-makers: Finding playmakers on this roster is tough. WR Ted Ginn Jr. could develop into a deep threat who stretches the field and opens up room underneath and in the run game, but he has a long way to go. On defense, DE Jason Taylor will be greatly missed. Overall, there isn't one player opponents must build a game plan around.

Patience: This is a monumental project Parcells has undertaken, and it isn't a forgone conclusion that the Dolphins will play a lot better in 2008. While many of the right moves are being made, significant improvement in the win column might not occur until 2009. But it will come eventually.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles.


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MIAMI DOLPHINS

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MY MOST CHALLENGING OPPONENT

Clayton

Pennington

Dolphins QB Chad Pennington on Patriots safety Rodney Harrison:

He's a quarterback out there on the field, and he does a great job of getting the secondary lined up, communicating the calls and doing all those things to make sure the guys are on the same page.

He's always someone that you have to understand where is because of his run support ability, and he also understands the passing game. A lot of times he'll leave his area because he understands the route. He'll show up somewhere you don't expect him to.

You have to respect him. You have to know where he is on the field. The minute you lose him on the field, bad things happen to you and your offense. Your focus level has to increase when you play a guy like that.

Ball placement is very important against that guy because he's a headhunter, especially routes across the middle. Any time you're coming into his area, ball placement's important. If you leave your receiver in a vulnerable position, you're probably going to pay for it.

-- As told to Tim Graham, ESPN.com

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BLOGS: PRO AND FAN

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Looking for more Dolphins coverage? You've come to the right place. Tim Graham writes about all things AFC East in his division blog.


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FANTASY FOCUS

Ronnie Brown: Sleeper or overrated?

Brown

Brown

Either he's back from his torn ACL, which would probably make him one of the NFL's 10 most talented rushers, or he's not, in which case Ronnie Brown is a glorified platoon back and an injury risk to boot. For a high-risk guy like Brown, the middle ground will not do.

If Brown is full strength, his upside is prodigious: in the six-plus games he played last season before his injury, he rushed for 602 yards (and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average) and had 39 receptions for 389 more yards. He was on his way to being one of fantasy's biggest stars in '07, on a team that nearly went 0-16. But the fantasy highway is littered with happy training-camp-recovery stories that go bad quickly.

If I'm guessing, based on the history of ACL returnees at running back and because Brown hurt himself in late October, I'm going to guess that Brown struggles to start the season. As Stephania Bell mentions, there's good statistical evidence to show that in their first year back, ACL victims tend to function at a significantly lower percentage of their capacity.

-- Christopher Harris, ESPN.com

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