There's been an awful lot of talk already this offseason about the Miami Dolphins and how they need to get more explosive on offense.
A lot of conversation has centered on the quarterback position with a lot of debate about the Deshaun Watson trade speculation and the need to be patient with Tua Tagovailoa and just giving him more playmakers.
Then there's the talk about the playmakers, and how nice it would be to reunite Tua with his former Alabama wide receiver, DeVonta Smith, or that maybe JaMarr Chase from LSU would be the better option.
And then there's the running back position, where another former Alabama star (Najee Harris) looms as a draft possibility and Aaron Jones looks appealing as a free agent prospect.
But you know what's not getting discussed nearly enough, something that in the final analysis could be just as important?
The offensive line.
The Dolphins could add playmakers all over the place on offense and Tagovailoa could be ready to make a big jump in 2021, but the offense still won't function properly if the offensive line doesn't perform.
As in, better than it did in 2020.
Without question, the Dolphins O-line was better last season than it was in 2019, but that 2019 group was historically bad, so it wasn't a very high bar to clear.
The reality is there's still work to be done up front and still many questions to be answered.
The Dolphins basically employed six starters in 2020, a group that included rookie first-round pick Austin Jackson, rookie second-round pick Robert Hunt and rookie fourth-round pick Solomon Kindley. The others were veteran guard Ereck Flowers, veteran center Ted Karras and veteran guard/tackle Jesse Davis.
Logically, all of them will be back in 2021 with the possible exception of Karras, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
Karras earned a 65.3 grade from Pro Football Focus for his 2020 performance, ranking him 17th among 36 centers.
Karras' grade was the third-highest among those six offensive linemen behind Flowers at 65.9 (31st of 80 guards) and Hunt at 65.8 (52nd out of 79 tackles). Davis had a grade of 62.6 at tackle (57th), with Jackson at 52.4 (74th) and Kindley at 51.3 (70th).
While you can take issue with PFF's numbers, it was very evident that the Dolphins offensive line did not have a great 2020 season.
The Dolphins' average of 2.2 seconds between a quarterback dropback and either pressure or the ball being thrown was the second-lowest in the entire NFL behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2.1, according to pro-football-reference.com. Based on Miami's metrics in terms of pressure percentage per dropback, this was more an indication of the team getting rid of the ball quickly — either by choice or by necessity.
In terms of rushing offense, the Dolphins' average of 3.94 per attempt ranked 29th in the NFL and the line certainly contributed to that disappointing showing.
As we look ahead to 2021, the line most definitely appears unsettled from the outside, which is why more than one mock has suggested the Dolphins will take Oregon tackle Penei Sewell with the third overall pick — even after he sat out last season because of COVID-19.
From this vantage point, because of value, we're a lot more inclined to believe the Dolphins will take Sewell at number 3 than either Chase or Smith.
But what does that say about Jackson and Hunt, who finished last season as the starting tackles? And what happens with them?
Well, first off, it says the jury is still out on them and the Dolphins absolutely should be looking to upgrade — as they should at EVERY POSITION.
Sewell was a dominant left tackle at Oregon in 2019, so would he stay there if the Dolphins drafted him or move to the right side to protect Tua's blind side? Would either Jackson or Hunt then move inside to guard or would they compete for the other starting tackle spot?
History says the Dolphins won't draft Sewell because they've never selected an offensive lineman in the first round in consecutive years, although there's always a first for everything.
And what about the guard position?
If Sewell or another high draft pick comes aboard, what happens with Flowers, Davis and/or Kindley?
Really, are there any sure things among any of the Dolphins offensive linemen when it comes to 2021?
The closest we've got, really, should be Flowers based on the contract the Dolphins gave him last offseason. Flowers is going to count $10 million against the cap in 2021, according to overthecap.com, and he'll have a base salary of just shy of $9 million. That's just not backup money.
So we can pretty much pencil Flowers at left guard.
But beyond that, Jackson likely will be in the starting lineup because the Dolphins invested a first-round pick in him, but there's no telling yet whether it'll be at left or right tackle or even right guard.
After that, it's question marks galore.
The possibilities are endless. But the goal is singular: get better.