The Miami Dolphins haven't left many glaring needs heading into the start of Thursday's NFL Draft, but there are some units which could use an infusion of talent, whether it be for now, or the future.
Here is a breakdown of the Dolphins' top five position needs heading into the 2014 season, and a list of player who might address those needs as early picks, and some late round options.
Offensive tackle: The Dolphins need to find a starting right tackle to put on the opposite side of Branden Albert. Former UM standout Jason Fox, Nate Garner, who has made 19 career starts for the Dolphins, and Dallas Thomas, last year’s third-round pick, are the best in-house candidates. There are also a few viable free agent options that remain (Bryant McKinnie, Eric Winston, Todd Wade), but the Dolphins would prefer to get younger and cheaper at the position.
Realistic Possibilities: Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Virginia’s Morgan Moses (pictured), Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, and Nevada’s Joel Bitonio are realistic possibilities in the first two rounds. However, the Dolphins would likely need to trade up for Martin, who might be better suited to play offensive guard. Miami’s options in the later rounds includes Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort, Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James, who are both second day targets, and Stanford’s Cameron Fleming, Kansas State's Luke Lucus, Michigan's Michael Schofield, North Dakota State's and Billy Turner, who should all be available in day three.
Offensive guard: The Dolphins have unsuccessfully tried to run a zone-blocking scheme for three seasons without the necessary athletes who can get to the second level. Adding Shelley Smith during free agency is a good start, but there's no guarantee this career backup is capable of being an NFL starter. The Dolphins need two starting guards after dumping Richie Incognito and John Jerry.
Realistic Possibilities: UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo (pictured), LSU’s Trai Turner, Stanford’s David Yankey, and USC center Marcus Martin are realistic possibilities in the first three rounds. The Dolphins can address the position with Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson, Florida’s Jon Halapio, North Carolina’s Russell Bodine, Nebraska’s Spencer Long and UM’s Brandon Linder and Jared Wheeler in the later rounds.
Linebacker: The Dolphins linebackers rated amongst the worst in the NFL last season when it came to production metrics, and the unit held the entire defense back in 2013. Adding an inside linebacker who can diagnose plays, and put everyone in the right spot would be ideal. That would allow Dannell Ellerbe to move to the weakside spot, where Philip Wheeler struggled. There's also a possibility Jelani Jenkins, a 2012 fourth-round pick, could be ready to handle a larger role in the unit.
Realistic Possibilities: There's only one player - Alabama's C.J. Mosley (pictured) - who could unseat Ellerbe as the starting inside linebacker, and it would take a first-round pick to land him. It is more realistic that Miami upgrades the weakside linebacker spot by adding a top shelf athlete like Ryan Shazier (first round talent), FSU’s Telvin Smith (drops into the third day after failing the combine drug test), and UCLA’s Jordan Zumwalt, Iowa's Christian Kirksey, Arizona State's Carl Bradford, Montana's Jordan Tripp, USC's Devon Kennard, or Boston College's Kevin Pierre-Louis and have them compete with Wheeler, Misi and Jenkins for the outside spot.
Defensive back: Cornerbacks Brent Grimes is the only member of the secondary who doesn’t have question marks entering the 2014 season. Cortland Finnegan is coming off his worst NFL season, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis barely sniffed the field as rookies, and Jimmy Wilson hasn’t settled into a position (safety or cornerback) in three years. Starting free safety Louis Delmas can’t stay healthy, and starting strong safety Reshad Jones was a major disappointment last season.
Realistic Possibilities: Picking up top tier safety like Alabama’s Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix (pictured), Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, Washington State’s Deone Bucannon or Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward would be a luxury item, requiring a first or second-round pick. There will be plenty of leftover talents like North Carolina State’s Donte Johnson, Western Kentucky’s Jonathan Dowling, LSU’s Craig Loston, USC’s Dion Bailey, or Florida’s Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins available in the three day of the draft.
Receiver: The Dolphins have a lot of capable weapons in the passing game considering six receivers - Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns and Damian Williams should be playing in the NFL next season, but none of the receivers or tight ends regularly produce run after the catch yards, or posse a red zone threat on jump ball plays. The Dolphins need to diversify Ryan Tannehill’s weaponry by adding someone unique to the mix. A tight end who is a better in-line blocker than Dion Sims or Michael Egnew would also help.
Realistic Possibilities: A dynamic receiver like USC’s Marqise Lee (pictured), LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandin Cooks might be the logical pick for GM Dennis Hickey if he sticks with his select the best player available approach in the first round. A run on receivers is expected in the late-first and early second rounds. But the Dolphins could make out like a bandit at receiver by waiting till the later rounds considering this draft has about 30 receivers deep. Why rush to take one? Tight end is not a deep position in this draft, but targeting playmakers like Texas Tech's Jace Amaro Washington's Austin Sferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame's Tory Niklas in the second day of the draft could help the unit. But third day talents like Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz, Georgia's Arthur Lynch, or Stanford's Ryan Hewitt could be good pickups in the later rounds.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun