The Great Debate: Who Will Be the Dolphins’ First Round Pick in 2016?

The NFL Draft is just around the corner. On April 28th, teams will gather in Chicago to make picks that will determine the future of their franchises. For the Miami Dolphins, those picks will be particularly important. The team has found themselves in a difficult situation regarding talent and needs. They have too many holes on the roster and not enough picks with which to fill them. Fortunately, the Dolphins have found themselves requiring talent in one of the deeper draft classes at positions of need for the team. However, the ultimate question remains: What position will they target with the 13th overall selection?

The Miami Dolphins are making the job of analysts much more difficult this offseason. When they moved back from the 8th overall pick to the 13th in a trade that brought in Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso from Philadelphia, their draft plans became that much murkier. Many expected Miami to select a defensive back with the 8th overall pick, as Vernon Hargreaves was projected to be available. Now, 5 spots back, the Dolphins might not have a chance to select the talented Gators prospect.

The move from 8 to 13 also opened up discussion of many other positions for Miami. Could running back be an option? What about linebacker? In reality, everything is an option. However, the debate rages on about where the team should direct their resources in the first round of the draft. So, we’ve decided to break it down for you and attempt to make an argument for each position the Dolphins could take with the 13th overall pick on April 28th.

Cornerback:

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(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Primary Options: Vernon Hargreaves (UF), Eli Apple (OSU), Mackensie Alexander (CLEM), William Jackson III (HOU)

Pros: 

The Miami Dolphins do not have a true number one cornerback for the 2016 season. They have Byron Maxwell, who could play well in Vance Joseph’s scheme as the number two option. However, they lack a number one.

In all likelihood, this will be the direction that the Miami Dolphins take in the draft. In the first round, they will be picking between a litany of viable options. If Vernon Hargreaves falls, he would be a steal for the Dolphins and could thrive in the team’s zone coverage.

Eli Apple is an interesting player, and he fits the mold of cornerbacks that Vance Joseph likes. He is 6’1” and has 31’ arms. Apple also ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine. He is considered to be a raw player who needs to improve as a tackler, but could be the best fit behind Hargreaves for the team’s system. I do believe that Apple would be over-drafted badly at 13th overall, and could actually be available early in the 2nd round.

Mackensie Alexander is considered by many to be a superior prospect of Hargreaves. However, questions remain as to whether or not he will be able to succeed in zone coverage. He would be a risk in that regard, but in terms of talent is considered to have a higher floor than most defensive back prospects (meaning he is a safer pick). Unfortunately, people do not discuss scheme fit for defensive backs enough. For Alexander, that is the main question when weighing him as an option for the Dolphins.

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William Jackson III is one of the more intriguing options in the draft. Many have concerns regarding the level of competition he faced in the AAC at Houston. However, there are also those who consider him to be the top coverage cornerback in the draft (not named Jalen Ramsey). The main concern about Jackson III is his physical strength. He is far above average athletically, but might be bullied by larger receivers, especially those in the AFC East like Brandon Marshall. Despite his size/weight, he was able to make highlight reels for big hits, which he was able to land thanks to his instincts. Unfortunately being able to lay big hits and being able to tackle consistently are two entirely different subjects. However, the upside with Jackson III is as great as any defensive back’s in the draft.

Overall, cornerback could make the most sense for the Dolphins. It fills what might be their biggest need and is one of the deeper positions in the draft.

Cons:

What I just said about cornerback being one of the deeper positions in the draft? That could be why the team might be wise to wait until later to select one.

The position’s depth in this year’s class really stands to be the only argument against a first round cornerback. The position does have a high bust rate, as scouting how DBs will transition to the NFL is fairly difficult. However, that should not dissuade Miami from taking someone who can help sure up their secondary, especially if Vernon Hargreaves falls to them at 13.

Running Back:

Primary Option: Ezekiel Elliott (OSU)

Pros: 

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There is only one running back that the Dolphins should consider with the 13th overall pick. Unfortunately, he could be selected before the team is on the clock, but Ezekiel Elliott would be a strong replacement for Lamar Miller in Miami.

Elliott is one of the top players in this year’s draft. He excels both with and without the ball in his hands, and can make an impact in the pass game through blocking and catching out of the backfield. Elliott also features enough speed and power to be a dual threat running back. He is tough to bring down, and he demonstrated good field vision during his time with the Buckeyes.

There are very few knocks on Elliott as a prospect. He is considered to be one of the safest bets in the draft to be a success at the next level, and could instantly help boost the Dolphins’ chances of success in Adam Gase’s new system.

Cons:

Unfortunately, running back is a pick best made when a team is already close to success. They do not last very long in the NFL, and you really can succeed without them. So, if the Dolphins are still a few seasons away from competing, it might make sense to select a position that has a longer prime and less chance of burning out quickly.

The team also does not need a running back as badly as they do a cornerback. Quite simply, they would be selecting the best player available if they took Elliott with the 13th overall pick. That is not a bad thing, but the Dolphins should weigh need as a strong factor considering the number of holes on their roster.

Linebacker:

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(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Primary Options: Reggie Ragland (ALA), Derron Lee (OSU)

Pros:

I have advocated for the Miami Dolphins to select a linebacker in the first round. I believe that the best thing for the Dolphins’ defense to do is to look at positions in the best possible circumstances for success early on. Playing with Ndamukong Suh is every linebacker’s dream, as he allows for easy lanes to penetrate into the backfield.

The Miami Dolphins do not currently have a true middle linebacker. Last season they were forced to play Kelvin Sheppard at the position, which was not good to say the least. Now, they are considering forcing Kiko Alonso into the position, which he does not truly fit. Alonso is really a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defensive scheme. In that system, you want a truly dominating physical presence at ILB. That is because, obviously, there is only one of them. You have one player doing a job that is allocated to two in the 3-4. Kiko Alonso is an example of a 3-4 ILB, who should be paired with a stronger run stopper. The Dolphins could implement that 3-4 system in 2017, but for now they need a true presence in the middle.

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Reggie Ragland could be one of the best fits for the Dolphins in the 2016 draft. Ragland is considered by all measures to be one of the safest players, and he has a very high floor. This is common with prospects from Alabama, as they face SEC players each week and are coached by the best staff in the country (I know, Dolphins fans hate Saban, but really it’s just a fact). Ragland would be a day-one starter, and could fill the void in the middle of the Dolphins’ defense. He has more athleticism than people give him credit for, but he surely isn’t going to be the type of player to chase down ball carriers in the second level.

Darron Lee projects as a weak side linebacker in the NFL. He currently struggles with tackling larger running backs due to his size, which is a concern for NFL scouts. However, he possesses elite athleticism. Lee’s motor is exceptional and would allow him to make plays in the east/west directions, which is crucial in today’s age of spread offenses. At the next level, if Lee can add size to his frame, he could be a force to be reckoned with. The problem? He overlaps with Kiko Alonso in terms of where he would play in the Dolphins’ defense. If they drafted Lee, they would have to play Alonso out of position. If Vance Joseph switches the team to a 3-4, they could start Darron Lee at WLB and move Alonso over to play on the inside. While this is possible, I feel that the Dolphins would be better served by selecting an inside presence like Reggie Ragland.

The Dolphins need to maximize talent at positions that can feed off of their scheme and use the defense’s other personnel to their advantage. With Ndamukong Suh up front, and a hybrid player like Reshad Jones in the secondary, the Dolphins’ defense could see the highest level of instant improvement if the team selects a linebacker at the 13th overall pick.

Cons:

There are two main issues with the Miami Dolphins selecting a linebacker at 13th overall. The first is that they are in a better position to make due with what they have at that position than they are at cornerback. While they could maximize the potential of their defense by selecting a linebacker who can prey on the blocks eaten up by Ndamukong Suh, the much safer bet is to select a cornerback.

The second reason is that they are in an awkward position to draft either Ragland or Lee. Darron Lee would overlap in skill set with existing players, and Reggie Ragland is not projected as a player with enough value to be selected 13th overall. I am higher on Ragland than most, and I believe it is never too soon to sure up the core of your defense (especially if you run a 4-3 scheme).

If the Miami Dolphins were able to orchestrate a trade that allowed them to move back and select Reggie Ragland, then it could make sense for them to move in that direction. With the 13th overall pick, it seems like a nonstarter. However, being able to stockpile picks and select Ragland later in the first round would be a dream scenario for the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive Ends:

Primary Options: Shaq Lawson (CLEM), Kevin Dodd (CLEM), Emmanuel Ogbah (OKST), Noah Spence (EKU)

Pros: 

With Cameron Wake projected to take on a rotational role in 2016, the Dolphins could use a defensive lineman who serves the role of an every down player. Luckily for them, this draft is filled with defensive ends who have the skill set needed to succeed at the next level.

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Shaq Lawson is the first name that comes to mind out of this DE class. Lawson was a star at Clemson where he compiled 12.5 sacks during the 2015 season. He is a powerful rusher, and he really plays the end position with the strength of an interior player. However, there is always give and take at the defensive end position. Lawson is powerful, but lacks the fluidity required to be a smooth edge rusher. He is a very effective pass rusher thanks to his ability to dominate and power through blockers, but he isn’t going to be seen bending like Wake in an attempt to reach the quarterback. Lawson originally was projected to be selected before the 13th overall pick, but the Giants’ signing of Olivier Vernon could mean a slip straight into the Dolphins’ lap for Lawson.

Kevin Dodd is actually not a dissimilar player to Lawson, but appears to have greater instincts and less refined technique. Dodd is not necessarily a “project” player, but is definitely further from a finished product than his Clemson teammate described above. The Dolphins would most likely be reaching by selecting Dodd with the 13th overall pick, and would in all likelihood not do so if Lawson were to be available.

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Noah Spence is a very interesting player due to his off-field issues. He was kicked off of the Ohio State football team for drug use, and found himself at Eastern Kentucky. His ability definitely lies in his edge rushing, as he is able to shed blockers en route to opposing quarterbacks. Spence is not a dominant speed rusher, but he did demonstrate good instincts and a vast arsenal of moves when attempting to get off of blocks. He isn’t a speed demon like Von Miller, or a bull-rush specialist like larger ends. Many are concerned that he is a “tweener,” being on the shorter side of pass rushers. He does not necessarily possess the speed needed to be an outside linebacker, and might not have the size to play in a 3-4 if Miami converts later. Spence is an interesting prospect, but probably not for the Dolphins.

Emmanuel Ogbah is another option if the Dolphins decide to trade down in this year’s draft once again. He is likely to be available in the late teens or early twenties. Ogbah had a very strong combine, and showed good straight-line speed (4.63 40-yard dash) for someone who weighed 273 lbs. in Indy. Ogbah could theoretically play defensive end in a 3-4 and would provide a solid presence in terms of run stopper and pass rushing balance.

We all sit here and ask ourselves how Mike Tannenbaum could possibly invest a first round pick on the defensive line when the team already has Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell, and Andre Branch. However, if you even bother asking yourself that question, you haven’t seen the Jets’ roster.

Mike Tannenbaum is going to keep drafting defensive linemen until he builds his entire 53-man roster out of them. 2016 could be a year to add players at a position that Tannenbaum loves to stockpile talent in.

Cons:

The Dolphins don’t really need a defensive lineman. Not only do they not need one, but they also don’t know what defensive scheme they will run in 2017. If they draft a player who fits exclusively into a 4-3, they could be out of luck next season if they convert their scheme to a 3-4.

The Dolphins also will most likely realize that this year’s class of defensive ends and edge rushers is very, very deep. They would be able to find a reliable contributor in the 2nd or 3rd round if they are dead set on bolstering that group. Regardless, it seems unwise to invest in a position whose utilization could change entirely for your system the next season.

However, never doubt Mike Tannenbaum’s unwavering love of the defensive line. Never, ever doubt it.

Quick Hits: Other Positional Options 

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(Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Defensive Tackle: The Miami Dolphins have invested far too much on the defensive line to select another interior player 13th overall. After spending a 2nd round pick last season on Jordan Phillips, look for the team to get him more reps during 2016.

Offensive Line: Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker are the main targets here, and neither player seems like they would be a huge upgrade at left tackle immediately. Yes, they are long-term answers, but neither is going to be a very good day one starter at left tackle (while I think both will be solid eventually). There are no guards who are worthy of a pick as high as the Dolphins’ in the first round.

Quarterback: Scared you for a second there didn’t I?

Potential Trade Scenarios:

The Miami Dolphins are lucky to find themselves needing help at several of the deepest positions in this year’s draft. A trade back in the first round could open the door for players like William Jackson III, Artie Burns (MIA), or Eli Apple. They also are in a position to wait until Rounds 2-4 to select DL and RB help. With that being said, I fully advocate the Dolphins trading down in the draft, barring a few prospects falling to the 13th pick.

The Skinny: 

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(Photo/USA Today)

One of the best scenarios for the Miami Dolphins in the upcoming draft is that Vernon Hargreaves falls to the 13th overall pick. There is no other way to slice it. It is not out of the question that the Florida CB could slide out of the top-10, but it would be a surprise. However, the Dolphins are clearly not so sold on Hargreaves if they were willing to trade out of the 8th overall pick where they would have almost surely been able to select him. Another good option for the Dolphins would be trading back in the first round to select William Jackson III, another CB.

If you haven’t noticed, the Dolphins really need help at cornerback. The team is very likely to go in that direction during Day One of April’s NFL Draft. It would not surprise anyone involved if they took a defensive back, given their desperate need at the position and Vance Joseph’s background as a coach.

This draft class’ depth will provide the team with a good opportunity to select a running back and multiple linemen (defensive and offensive) in later rounds. Do not sleep on a 2nd round guard, as the position’s best players will likely still be available then (as most do not come with true first round talent).

The Miami Dolphins have many, many needs. There is no way that they will fix the team in this year’s draft alone, but it is imperative that they find players with whom they can build around. If the team stalls again, and continues to lose talent on the defense, they will set themselves even further back than they currently have.

I have two, very reasonable, goals for the Dolphins in the first round of the draft. First, just pick a low risk player. The team has been attempting to capitalize on high-risk prospects like Dion Jordan, but have failed. They need a reliable presence and would be hard pressed to find safer options in later rounds. Second, the team needs to select a player who will not be obsolete if Vance Joseph converts the Dolphins into a 3-4 team in 2017 (which is another positive of selecting a CB).

If the Miami Dolphins can fulfill those two requirements, they will be on their way to rebuilding a roster that desperately needs an infusion of talent. Luckily for the Dolphins, the draft is just the time to do it.

We will be bringing you in depth scouting reports for several Miami Dolphins draft options over the coming weeks, so make sure you stick with us as you gear up for the NFL Draft on April 28th.

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