One of the areas the Dolphins could improve on heading into training camp is undeniably at the guard position. As much hope as I have that Liam Eichenberg will develop into a viable starting option at guard, I must acknowledge that an improvement may be necessary. Dalton Risner’s name has already been linked to the Dolphins this off-season, but is he really the best guard for this offense?

Risner spent his first four seasons with the Denver Broncos after being drafted by the team in the second round of the 2019 draft. He decided to test free agency in 2023 and signed with the Minnesota Vikings, where he started 11 games and allowed zero sacks, which some would argue is all that matters, but there is more than meets the eye when evaluating Risner.

Risner didn’t sign with the Vikings until week 2 of the 2023 season and became the starter in week 6 when the Vikings traded starting Left Guard Ezra Cleveland to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. After becoming the starter, Risner played with a high motor, often winning over the Vikings fan base with his blue-collar work ethic and his very entertaining post-game press conferences.

When looking at on-field performance, however, Risner scored a very pedestrian PFF player grade of 57.1 in 2023, the lowest grade of his career, and ranked 44th out of 65 Guards who played at least 500 snaps. As mentioned above, his pass blocking wasn’t awful; he graded 21st out of 65 in the area, and it was his run blocking that really weighed down his grade.

Risner was never a great run blocker during his four years in Denver, but ranking 54th out of 65 guards in 2023 was the lowest run-blocking grade of his career. This is a bit concerning, considering Coach McDaniel’s desire to have a more robust running game in 2024.

Some other notable options on the Free Agent market include names like Greg Van Roten and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

Greg Van Roten, 34, the twelve-year vet, started his career as a UDFA with the Green Bay Packers in 2012 and has been the definition of a “Journeyman.” During his 12-year career, Van Roten has played on seven different NFL teams and spent two seasons with the CFL Toronto Argonauts. But don’t let that fool you. Van Roten has aged like fine wine and played at a very high level in 2023.

Starting all 17 games for the Las Vegas Raiders last season, Van Roten played 98% of the team’s snaps, a career high. He also graded out as the Raiders’ best offensive lineman in 2023 with a PFF grade of 75.3, which was good for 5th best out of the 65 Guards who played at least 500 snaps. Van Roten also has some limited experience playing Center and can be used at the position in an emergency situation.

Van Roten has great lateral quickness, excels in zone-blocking schemes, and has historically been an excellent blocker in space and on screen plays. He also does a great job making blocks at the second level. If he can replicate his form again in 2024, Van Roten would be a great fit for our offense.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai, 30, the seven-year pro, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016 and spent his first four seasons in Philly before signing with the Detroit Lions prior to the 2020 season. When healthy, Vaitai is a force at the Guard positon. At 6’6” and 322 lbs. Vaitai has great strength when run blocking and can anchor the line in pass protection like few in the league. PFF grade in 2023, 68.3. Vaitai has the tools to be one of the best guards in football, but there is just one catch. Injuries.

Vaitai has a rather concerning history of back injuries over the past two seasons. One injury caused him to miss the entire 2022 NFL Season, and the same back injury flared up again during last season, causing him to be put on IR after only playing in six games.

Team doctors will need to do their due diligence when evaluating Vaitai, but if he clears medically and can stay healthy, he will be a great addition to any team that signs him.