The State of the Dolphins Backfield

It’s not too difficult to project what the starting lineup is going to be at MOST positions for the Miami Dolphins. Once the draft ended, the dust settled and gave us an idea as to who is going to start and where they’ll line up. However, one position specifically has become increasingly difficult to gauge – running back. Let’s take a look at some of the options the Dolphins have in their backfield.

Lamar Miller

For now, Miller is the clear cut favorite to run away with the starting job. A 2012 fourth-round pick, he’s 5-foot-11, 212 pounds, and ran a 4.4 at the 2012 Combine, which led all running backs. He’s a home-run threat with explosive change-of-direction ability. He didn’t touch the ball often last year, but flashed tremendous talent when carrying the rock. He has elite straight-line speed, and his dense frame gives him three-down ability. General Manager Jeff Ireland has been gushing about this kid all Spring.  "Lamar really showed some great signs of really some explosive-play opportunity," Ireland said. "He kind of shoots out of the cannon when he hits the hole. He’s got very good hands. I thought he did a very good job in his pass protection, which keeps him on the field all three downs."

Daniel Thomas

Daniel Thomas has become this backfield’s scapegoat, which is understandably merited. However, let’s not forget that he totaled over 600 yards two years ago in his rookie season. It’s too soon to throw away the towel on him, but he needs to make massive improvements to make contributions in this backfield. First the bad: In his first two NFL seasons, he’s averaged less than four yards a carry, has had ball security issues, and hasn’t proven to be particularly durable. Now the good: His 230-pound frame makes him the biggest back in this backfield, which should help the Dolphins in goal-line situations. He’s made significant improvements in pass protection, and he has underrated receiving skills. He’s also the most experienced back the Dolphins have. His situation will be worth monitoring in camp.

Mike Gillislee

Gillislee, a 2013 fifth-round pick made some headlines by putting on a show at Dolphins Rookie Camp. The Dolphins love his natural fluid ability to carry the rock. He showcased his talents at Florida by finishing runs and flashing lateral agility with exceptional burst. His biggest asset comes in pass protection however, with some scouts calling him a “violent blocker.” Here’s a fun fact: In 2012, Gillislee totaled 1,311 total yards with 11 TDs for the Gators. Miller and Thomas totaled 776 yards and 5 TDs COMBINED in 2012 for the Dolphins. Gillislee is the new kid on the block, but don’t sleep on him – he will have every chance to land the starting job. 

Marcus Thigpen

Thigpen is a great player who finished fourth in the NFL in kickoff returns, and fifth in punt returns last season (with a touchdown on each). He should definitely hold on to those duties again in 2013, but could be given a look as a scatback on third-down situations. There have also been whispers that the Dolphins could give him a look as a slot receiver. He has some shake to his game, so it may actually work. He’s not a realistic candidate for the starting running back job, though.

Jonas Gray

Gray is a one-cut power back who should be seen as a short-yardage/goal-line back. With his size and power, he could become a nice thunder to Miller’s lightning in this backfield. The Notre Dame product will have to prove he can get healthy before providing any contribution, however. We’ll have to see how this plays out in camp.

Cameron Marshall

This undrafted rookie out of Arizona State has the vision to cut outside when he sees and feels space outside, which means he has the ability to excel in the Dolphins’ zone-blocking scheme. He’s also incredibly tough – showing he can play through injury when he rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2011 despite having a bad ankle. His pass protection is adequate, which will help keep him on the field longer. He’s a long shot for the starting job, but if he shows well, he can be a nice practice squad stash for the Dolphins.