4. RB RONNIE BROWN — Of course, the bread and butter of the offense will remain the running game, and that's where Brown comes in. He didn't have dazzling numbers last year (particularly if you take out his fabulous New England game), but don't forget he was coming off that torn ACL the previous season. Now almost two years removed from his injury, Brown figures to be even better than last year. The Dolphins have great talent at running back with Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs as backups, but it's Brown who figures to get the most carries and therefore the one who'll be most important in the success of the running game.
3. OLB JOEY PORTER — Back at his familiar position at right outside linebacker, Porter erupted for 17.5 sacks last season and he ended up sharing team MVP honors with Chad Pennington. His pass rushing will be equally important this season, and there's no reason to think he won't have another big year. In fact, the only reason we didn't place him higher on this list is the fact the Dolphins added two stud pass rushers in the offseason in Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor, and therefore some of the pressure has been taken off Porter.
2. NT JASON FERGUSON — Yep, this may seem high for a defensive player who doesn't play every down and won't record many tackles, but understand that you can't have a successful 3-4 defense if you can't stop the run, and you can't stop the run in a 3-4 if you don't have a stud nose tackle. Ferguson is just that. When you see guys like Channing Crowder or Akin Ayodele or anybody else on the defense making the tackle on a running play, just know that it's highly likely that happened because Ferguson was occupying a couple of offensive linemen and freeing them up to make the play. What also makes Ferguson so valuable is the fact there's nobody else on the roster at this point who appears anywhere near as good at that job. Paul Soliai has shown signs at times that he could be that guy, but he's not there yet. The bottom line is the Dolphins need Ferguson to be good -- and they need that badly.
1. CHAD PENNINGTON — There really couldn't be any other guy at this spot, could there? Let's face it, the quarterback gets the big bucks in the NFL because he's the most important player on the field. As promising as Chad Henne is, let's face it, the Dolphins don't come close to winning the AFC East in 2008 if not for Pennington. Yes, the Wildcat created a lot of buzz and made a big difference, but it was Pennington who was the difference-maker. He had the second-highest passer rating in team history, which gives you an idea of how effective he was. He shared team MVP honors with Porter, but really should have won it on his own (no direspect to what Porter did). The thing about Pennington is that nobody should have been surprised by what he did; whenever he's managed to stay healthy, he's been effective. That again should be the case this year. So, like it or not, the success of the Dolphins in 2009 very well may rest on whether Pennington can avoid getting hurt. He's such a smart and accurate quarterback that he'll give the Dolphins a chance to win pretty much every week. It's amazing, even to this day, to think the Dolphins were able to get him because the Jets got so enamored last year with the idea of having Brett Favre. Thanks, Jets.