Draft Primer: Ideal Picks for the Miami Dolphins in Each Round
It’s that time of year again: the very, very beginning of the NFL draft process. It is during this timeframe that teams are seemingly linked to almost every player that has the potential to be drafted. Sports fans conjure up their dream scenarios for their favorite team’s future selections and sports writers reveal their predictions of a team’s targets.
Naturally, I’d now like to give you my early two cents about the Miami Dolphins’ 2016 draft. I hesitate to call the following information my “predictions” simply because I, like everyone else, have no idea exactly what is going to occur in the coming months. The Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and pre-draft workouts/interviews will all be crucial in determining players’ draft stocks and teams’ draft day targets. With that being said, I do see obvious benefits in examining a team’s draft needs, and potential targets that fit these needs. This isn’t to say that the team will only target these positions. In fact, it is quite possible that the team will simply choose to draft the players they have highest on their boards, as many franchises are said to do. But the purpose of this article is to identify the positions that the Dolphins are sure to have an eye on improving, and some prospects that could fit these goals. So without further ado, here is some very, very early information regarding the possibilities of the Dolphins’ first draft under new head coach Adam Gase.
The Dolphins obviously suffered through a disappointing 2015-2016 season. Prior to Week One, they were marked as a team to watch considering the talent they had on both sides of the ball. Instead, their season will be remembered for their consistently underwhelming performance and the mid-season firings of head coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Now, with a totally new staff on hand, the franchise must re-evaluate its current state.
With Gase leading the troops, the offense maintains the promise that once had fans extremely excited. The Dolphins will most likely pursue re-signing running back Lamar Miller and tight end Jordan Cameron, as both have shown great promise at times early in their careers and should fit nicely into Gase’s offensive philosophies. If Miller and Cameron are successful in doing so, they are seemingly set at both positions as well as at wide receiver, where they have Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry, potential star DeVante Parker, and speedster Kenny Stills. The one offensive position that would absolutely need to be addressed in this scenario is the offensive line, which struggled with depth for much of this past season.
Expect the Dolphins to focus multiple rounds of the draft on giving new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph young talent he can utilize in the rebuilding of this defense. The Dolphins’ front office faces multiple questions regarding their personnel and salary cap. Many expect the team to move on from one of their star defensive ends: Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Wake is a 34-yeard old coming off of a serious Achilles injury, and cutting him would save the Dolphins more than $8 million. Whereas Vernon, an unrestricted free agent, is expected to receive a large contract this offseason from a team looking for a pass rusher. The probability that one, if not both, of these players move on to new teams makes defensive end a definite need heading into the draft.
Cornerback is another question mark. Brent Grimes received his fourth Pro Bowl bid this season after countless players backed out of the game but, for the most part, he failed to meet the standards that have become expected of him. Grimes could be yet another salary cap casualty, and this would make cornerback the team’s top priority heading into the draft. Even if the Dolphins find a way to keep Grimes, it shouldn’t change much. Grimes is still past his prime, and can’t be counted on to consistently shutdown an opponent’s top wide receiver for much longer. After all, this is a Dolphins’ defense that allowed franchise worsts in opposing quarterback pass completion percentage (64.58%) and opposing quarterback rating (97.4) this past season. Fortifying the secondary will be a huge offseason goal.
The last obvious weakness of Miami’s defense is at linebacker. Many consider this the biggest position of need. Stopping the run is an essential aspect of the 4-3 defense, and their linebackers have struggled in this aspect, which resulted in the leagues’ 28th ranked run-defense. While DC Joseph should be able to coax better pass-coverage out of the Dolphins’ trio of linebackers, (Kelvin Sheppard, Koa Misi, and Jelani Jenkins) adding a playmaking linebacker that can help improve both aspects would be extremely beneficial in Joseph’s first year calling the shots.
Potential Targets, Round 1:
DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson University
As explained above, defensive end becomes a huge position of need in the likelihood that either Wake and/or Vernon do not return to Miami next season. Having two players of this caliber come off the edge to wreack havoc in the backfield is an absolute blessing, so it is most definitely a possibility that the Dolphins look to use the 8th pick to replace one of their star edge-rushers. Enter, Shaq Lawson. Some might consider this a little high for the defensive end out of Clemson. These skeptics will point out the fact that Lawson isn’t your typical speed rusher, and rule-out the possibility that his unbelievable college production will translate to the NFL. While it’s true that this may hold him back slightly, Lawson led college football in tackles for a loss this season with 22.5 and ranked 3rd in sacks. His combination of size, strength and quickness is what makes him a safe bet to succeed in the league and would make him a welcome addition to Miami.
CB Vernon Hargreaves, University of Florida
Regardless of how the Dolphins choose to handle Grimes’ situation, Vernon Hargreaves would be a great addition to Miami’s defensive backfield. Ideally, the team would be able to fix their salary cap woes elsewhere, allowing Grimes to remain their top cornerback for the time being. Hargreaves has the skill-set to succeed right away in the NFL, a difficult task for any rookie, let alone at the cornerback position. However, keeping Grimes would take a lot of pressure off the University of Florida cornerback. Interestingly enough, Hargreaves has previously gone on record stating that Grimes is his favorite corner due to his tenacity, the speed at which he plays, and his ability to press and/or play off depending on the situation. It would potentially be extremely beneficial for Hargreaves to play across from his favorite cornerback. Also, lets not forget that his new defensive coordinator, Joseph, is a former defensive backs coach who worked wonders with Bengals’ cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones. Imagine what work he could do with Hargreaves, the first team All-American and finalist for the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award (given to the nation’s top defensive back).
OT Ronnie Stanley, University of Notre Dame
Drafting an offensive lineman in the first round may upset some Dolphins’ fans. At first glance, it doesn’t truly seem like it should be the franchise’s top priority. But if Gase wants to guarantee offensive improvement in his first year, then the team may give serious consideration to offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. Injuries to starters Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert forced the Dolphins to turn to rookie Jamil Douglas, a fourth round pick out of Arizona State, and Ulrick John, a second year, seventh round draft pick out of Georgia State. That kind of talent won’t cut it against NFL defensive fronts, especially not against the New England Patriots’ or New York Jets’ front sevens. Stanley fits the bill of a prototypical NFL offensive tackle and can play on either side. He has the athleticism and lateral movement skills necessary to succeed and excels in pass protection, which Gase would definitely welcome as he tries to keep Ryan Tannehill upright and continue his development.
ILB Myles Jack, University of California (Los Angeles)
I don’t see how any football fan could be disappointed if their team drafted Myles Jack. The torn ACL he suffered in September is unfortunate don’t get me wrong, but look past that and you see a potentially rare talent. Jack, who saw time at running back during his years as a Bruin, is best known for his ability to cover. His speed and change of direction skills allow him to consistently blanket tight ends and slot receivers; even the Dolphins’ linebackers suffered in this area in 2015. Outside of his exceptional coverage ability, Jack has shown the ability to make plays in the backfield and is a sound tackler in space. Miami would be able to be patient with his recovery, and upon his return he would pay immediate dividends in improving multiple facets of this defense. Drafting Jack in the Top 10 despite his injury is risky, but he is the type of talent that warrants taking the chance.
Potential Targets, Rounds 2-3:
DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State University
Shilique Calhoun considered jumping to the NFL last year after his redshirt junior season, and reportedly received a “first day” projection from the NFL Advisory Committee. Instead, he chose to return to Michigan State and master his craft. He combines his intriguing size (6’5, 252) with impressive burst off the line. This makes him one of the more natural edge rushers in the draft, which the Dolphins will surely be targeting. Calhoun has shown the potential to be a force against the run as well, but he will ultimately have to gain strength if he wants to continue his development in this area. Ultimately, Calhoun will begin to garner interest toward the end of round one, but the Dolphins may be the beneficiary if he falls to round two, as many expect him to.
CB William Jackson, University of Houston
At 6’1 and 185 pounds, William Jackson has the size and length that teams are now demanding out of young cornerbacks. Mix that with a physical style of play and solid instincts in coverage, and you have a talented cornerback who is likely to come off the board in round two. Critics will point out minor weaknesses in his technique and ability to fluidly turn his hips, but these are aspects that should be improved with help from Joseph and defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. Jackson would be a solid pick-up for the Dolphins on day two.
OT Kyle Murphy, Stanford University
A right tackle out of Stanford, Kyle Murphy would provide immediate depth to the Miami offensive line. Stanford is known for consistently producing quality offensive line talent, and Murphy and teammate guard Joshua Garnett are next in line. Murphy has four years playing experience in a pro-style offense, and displays prototypical size and anticipation, making him formidable in both pass and run protection. As a potential third rounder, Murphy wouldn’t be a flashy pick, but he would be a smart pick if the Dolphins choose not to address the position in one of their first two rounds.
ILB Scooby Wright III, University of Arizona
The 2014 National Defensive Player of the Year, Scooby Wright, is the perfect example of a prospect that is described as “a better football player than an athlete”. He uses his instincts and ability to quickly assess plays to be in the right place on the field time and time again, and it shows in his stats. He will most likely fall to round three because of an injury that limited him to only three games this past season and the widespread belief that Arizona’s defense is known to inflate production. If the Dolphins draft him, however, they’ll gain an extremely reliable, smart football player.
Potential Targets, Late Rounds:
ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia University
It seems as if every time Nick Kwiatkoski transitions to a new level in football, people doubt him. And every time, he proves his doubters wrong. He isn’t the most athletic inside linebacker by any means, but he plays with an unrelenting motor that allowed him to lead the Mountaineers in tackling and earn first team All-Big 12 honors. In the late rounds of the NFL draft, teams either draft the safe player or take a chance on someone who could turn into something more. Many expect Kwiatkoski to have a long career in the NFL and I agree, but at the very least he is sure to bring great special teams play and a high quality character to the locker room.
CB Cre’von Leblanc, Florida Atlantic University
A senior out of Florida Atlantic, Cre’von Leblanc, figures to fly mostly under the radar during the draft process. At 5’10, he lacks the size that evaluators look for in young cornerbacks, but largely makes up for it with his competitiveness and coverage ability. Add in his impact in run support, and Leblanc has multiple tools that will entice NFL teams that are looking for help in the defensive backfield, much like Miami. Although his measurables will always hold him back and make him only a late-round option, he seems like one of the more likely day three prospects to earn a spot on an NFL squad straight out of training camp.
OT Brandon Shell, University of South Carolina
At 6’6 and 325 pounds, Brandon Shell has great size paired with impressive quickness. He definitely looks the part of a NFL offensive lineman. His troubles coincide with his apparent inability to hold blocks and his lack of presence in run blocking, especially considering the physical tools he is gifted with. With that being said, at the very end of the draft no prospect is going to be without their problems, and Shell has the tools and potential to become a force with guidance from NFL coaching.
DE Romeo Okwara, University of Notre Dame
A raw football player whose coaches insist he is still learning the game, Romeo Okwara, moved to the United States from Nigeria when he was in 6th grade. He used his power and “reckless abandon” to tie for 7th in college football with 8 sacks this past season. He now pairs the potential that has always been there with the experience gained from playing four years of college football. No one is arguing that Okwara is a sure thing, but the Dolphins should be looking for talent first and foremost, and he offers a lot of that at a seemingly very low price.