Countdown: The Most Valuable Dolphins, 1-5

With the start of training camp 2010 fast approaching, we set the stage by ranking the 80 players on the Dolphins roster. The countdown is based as much on value to the team as it is on ability. In this final installment, we reveal our top five.

5. LB KARLOS DANSBY — The success of the 3-4 defense depends largely on the performance of the linebackers, which is why the Steelers and Ravens are so good year in and year out. The Dolphins have failed to reach that level in recent years, and a large reason has been the lack of plays from the inside linebackers. Enter Dansby. After Julius Peppers, he may have been the best defensive player available in free agency and it was a nice coup for the Dolphins to be able to get him. Dansby has never made the Pro Bowl, but he's been a very good player nonetheless since he entered the NFL in 2004. More importantly, Dansby has really come up big in big games, with two major examples being an interception in the Super Bowl two seasons ago and his game-winning fumble return for a touchdown in overtime against Green Bay in last year's playoffs. He has the potential to be a difference-maker on defense.

4. DT RANDY STARKS — While the expectation and hope is that Dansby will be the biggest difference-maker on defense, it is Randy Starks who figures to be the most important player. The biggest reason is the position he plays, which is now nose tackle after the Dolphins switched him from defensive end. Starks doesn't have the prototypical nose tackle body, but he's a powerful player nonetheless and that's why the Dolphins think he will be successful at his new position. Starks also is coming off a terrific 2009 season, one where he probably was more deserving of a Pro Bowl invitation than either of the two Dolphins who played in the game, Dan Carpenter and Yeremiah Bell.

3. WR BRANDON MARSHALL — In terms of pure talent, Marshall probably would rank No. 1 on this list. The guy simply is a big-timer. Three consecutive 100-catch seasons. Big-play ability. Consistency. The Dolphins have been looking for a bona fide No. 1 receiver and they finally found him thanks to the Denver Broncos. His arrival instantly makes the Dolphins offense that much better. The only reason he's not ranked higher on our list is that he won't be involved in every play.

2. QB CHAD HENNE — The quarterback always is the most important player on the roster, which is partly why Henne is ranked so high on our list. In terms of ability, at this point it remains more about potential than proven ability because Henne has yet to go through a full season as a starter. But nothing we saw in 2009 would stop us from believing that Henne will become a star. All the physical tools are there, starting with tremendous arm strength. What Henne has to improve on to reach the next level is to gain more touch on short passes and develop more consistency, and both of those things should come with time. The bottom line is that Henne should reach No. 1 on this list before long.

1. T JAKE LONG — The strength of this Dolphins team very well could be the offensive line, and there's no question that Long is the main block on that line. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons in the league and is quickly moving near the top of the list of offensive tackles in the NFL. He also happens to play the most important position on the offensive line. The Dolphins are striving for balance on offense, and Long's powerful run blocking and superb pass protection will go a long way toward helping accomplish that.


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