Really, though, a good gauge is comparing the Dolphins' lineup to that of the Super Bowl champion Saints.
Quarterback: The Saints have Drew Brees, the Dolphins have Chad Henne. As it stands right now, it's a major advantage for the Saints, but there's reason for hope that Henne could reach Brees status with more experience. How long it takes could dictate the length of Miami's wait to return to the Super Bowl because no position is more important.
Running back: The Saints have Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and fullback Kyle Eckel; the Dolphins have Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, Patrick Cobbs and fullback Lousaka Polite. A lot of talent on both teams, and it's not unrealistic to give the Dolphins the edge here.
Wide receiver: The Saints have Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Courtney Roby; the Dolphins have Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner. Yikes! A huge advantage for the Saints, whose top four all would start for Miami. This is an area where the Dolphins have to get a lot better.
Offensive line: The Saints have Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks, Jonathan Goodwin, Jahri Evans and Jon Stinchcomb; the Dolphins have Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, Donald Thomas and Vernon Carey. This actually is pretty close because the Saints group also includes former first-round pick Jammal Brown, the left tackle who ended the season on IR. If you include him, the Saints and Dolphins are about even here, which says the Dolphins have a Super Bowl-caliber offensive line.
Defensive line: The Saints have Bobby McCray, Sedrick Ellis, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Charles Grant, who ended the season on IR; the Dolphins have Randy Starks, Jason Ferguson and Kendall Langford. This is a tough comparison because the teams play different defenses, but it's pretty close to even if you factor in Ferguson. But if he finished the season on IR, and the Dolphins weren't nearly as good without him in the lineup.
Linebacker: The Saints ave Scott Fujita, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle; the Dolphins have Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder. Neither group would be considered elite, but it's definitely an area where the Dolphins have to get better.
Defensive back: The Saints have Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, Darren Sharper and Tracy Porter; the Dolphins have Sean Smith, Vontae Davis, Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson. The big difference here, of course, is at free safety, where Sharper was a Pro Bowl selection and Wilson struggled badly for the Dolphins. Despite Porter's Super Bowl heroics, it's actually a close call at cornerback.
Conclusion: The big differences between the Saints and Dolphins are at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and safety. The good news for the Dolphins is they appear to have a quarterback who is going to be a good one; the bad news is they have to go shopping for players at the other positions.