Looking Ahead: “Way-Too-Early” Breakdown of Miami’s Potential 2017 Draft Options
Sure we all call it way-too-early draft coverage, but if we really thought it was “too early” would we even bother to write it? Really it just acts as a disclaimer that this analysis is subject to change considering the time at which it is written. Sports fans LOVE to find ways to make the slow times of the offseason pass by as quickly as possible; it is simply in our nature. Due to the difficulty of the Dolphins’ schedule in Adam Gase’s first season as head coach, and the team’s somewhat barren roster, optimism is certainly lacking in Miami. So, what better way to pass the time than to dive into the potential 2017 NFL Draft pool in search of the team’s next savior, should the team need it?
Here are 11 prospects that are sure to make enough noise next college football season to draw the attention of NFL teams next April.
Cam Robinson, OT Alabama
I wanted to get this one out of the way quickly: you can never have enough talented offensive linemen. Miami obviously made waves in Chicago by ending the fall of perhaps the class’ top prospect, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who will work wonders for the offensive line. However, the addition of one player isn’t going to end the team’s issues at the position. Cam Robinson looks like the top offensive lineman in college football heading into next season. He is as close to the full-package as it gets, with the necessary athleticism, strength, quickness and technique to make an immediate impact along the line of scrimmage. Teams always look for marquee matchups when scouting these players, and Robinson shut down perhaps the nation’s top pass rusher in Myles Garrett when Alabama and Texas A&M met last season. Speaking of…
Myles Garrett, DE Texas A&M
Losing the battle against the top five talent doesn’t make Garrett any less of a prospect. By next April, Cameron Wake and Mario Williams will be another year closer to retirement and the need at defensive end (that failed to be addressed during this year’s draft) will seem even more significant. Garrett could have been the best speed rusher in the 2016 draft class had he been eligible. The scary thing is he still has so much room to grow. He totaled 12.5 sacks in 2015-2016 and he hasn’t even developed a full arsenal of pass rush moves yet. There are elements of his game that he should work towards improving, sure, but in terms of pure upside, there may not be a more exciting prospect in the upcoming class.
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU/Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State
Gase seemed to display his confidence in projected starting running back Jay Ajayi by selecting Kenyan Drake in the third round, who doesn’t fill the role of lead back in an NFL offense and shouldn’t threaten Ajayi atop the depth chart. He’s a wonderful weapon to have, but he won’t be a workhorse in the NFL. In other words, if Ajayi doesn’t work out as they hope, they could very well be in the running (pun intended) to find his replacement in the first round of next year’s draft. That is where Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook could step in.
These are the two most talented three-down runners in college football, and both would be capable of taking on a full workload as day one starters. Barring an injury, Fournette is practically guaranteed to be the first back off the board in 2017. He is a downhill style runner, but doesn’t lack the necessary elusiveness or burst to be an offensive force when making defenders miss. Unfortunately, the Dolphins may not have the opportunity to select the LSU star. If that turns out to be the case, Cook would be a nice consolation prize. At 6’0, 203 pounds, Cook looks the part and has the college production to back it up. However, Cook’s actions off of the field have cast doubts upon his character as he is just under a year removed from the incredibly taxing NFL draft process.
Jarrad Davis, LB Florida
Jarrad Davis flying around the field, making plays behind Ndamukong Suh would be too perfect. Davis is a leader, a tackling machine and a stabilizing force in coverage. In other words, he is exactly what the Dolphins desire for the Gators’ linebacker corps. While Davis would have been a high draft pick had he declared for the 2016 NFL Draft, he chose to return for his senior season instead. He has the athleticism/speed to track the ball from sideline to sideline, and the rest of his skillset also suggests that he would be an immediate contributor. Miami chose not to address the linebacker position in this draft, but if the addition of Kiko Alonso isn’t enough to improve the position group they will almost assuredly take a different approach next year.
Jabrill Peppers, DB Michigan
It would be a mistake to list Jabrill Peppers as anything other than a defensive back. In fact, it may be more fitting if we just called him a playmaker. Peppers has the versatility to play at either safety or cornerback, much like new Jacksonville Jaguar Jalen Ramsey. He is a physical tackler, which makes him capable in run support, has the necessary hip fluidity to shut down receivers, and possesses the range to succeed as a safety. Second round pick Xavien Howard is a good scheme fit for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but I don’t think he will solve all of the secondary’s woes. If this turns out to be the case, I think Peppers could end up being the team’s savior.
Carl Lawson, OLB Auburn
If Carl Lawson performs to the best of his ability, he will undoubtedly be a top 10 pick in the draft. Much like Garrett, Lawson’s calling card is his explosiveness off the edge. While Garrett may hold more future potential, Lawson is probably more pro-ready at the moment. He has an ideal power/speed combination, and knows how to utilize his hands to counteract the jabs of offensive linemen. For Miami, the biggest benefit when considering the potential selection of Lawson is his scheme versatility. He is listed as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but could easily be a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. It seems likely that Joseph transitions to a 3-4 at some point, but selecting a player that could fit in either would be the best-case scenario. Lawson has had injury issues in his young career, but if he stays healthy he is sure to be productive at Auburn.
Jamal Adams, S LSU
If Peppers is considered a cornerback, then LSU standout Jamal Adams should easily be the top ranked safety of the 2017 draft class. In 2014, Adams was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, and has remained one of the conference’s best players at his position. He reminds me of Karl Joseph, a hard-hitting, rangy safety capable of contributing in pass defense as well as run support. By 2017, Miami Pro Bowler Reshad Jones will be approaching the end of his four-year contract. For this reason, Adams would be a welcomed addition to the Dolphins’ secondary. Regardless, for a team that had so much trouble against both the pass and run game, adding a prospect of Adams’ caliber would be a fantastic next step in their rebuild.
Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford
Christian McCaffrey is one of the most electrifying players in college football. He does everything for the Stanford offense, and is a fantastic weapon on special teams as well. Last season, he was named a Heisman finalist, and in my opinion should have won the award. The Cardinal star broke the legendary Barry Sanders’ 27-year old record by totaling 3,496 all-purpose yards. McCaffrey was unstoppable for the duration of the season. If he was being bottled up in the run game, he would break out a huge catch-and-run or a long kick return to shift the momentum in Stanford’s favor. McCaffrey would be a near perfect fit in Gase’s offense. He has fantastic vision, obvious receiving abilities, and is a constant home-run threat. If the Dolphins miss out on Fournette, they could very well favor McCaffrey over Cook.
Jonathan Allen, DE Alabama
Allen’s production up to this point in his career would have warranted a first round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. However, he wasn’t given nearly as many opportunities as other top prospects last season . The fact that he managed to accumulate 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss is actually quite amazing. At 6’3, 283 pounds, Allen is a monster of a prospect: he is going to solidify his status as the star of the Crimson Tide defense next season. While pass rushing is his specialty, he is by no means vulnerable in run support either. The Alabama standout has to prove that he is capable of being the main cog on a defensive line that was formerly stacked with talent last season, but every aspect of his performance up to this point has suggested that he will be up to the task.
Jalen Tabor, CB Florida
My way-too-early prediction of who the Dolphins will draft in 2017? Jalen Tabor. Many thought that the Dolphins would target UF stud Vernon Hargreaves, but he was already off of the board by the time they were selecting. As I said before, Howard was taken in the second round to help ease the problem, but I don’t think he will be the team’s future number one corner. That is why Tabor could be such an intriguing fit. He actually outshined Hargreaves for most of last season. He looks the part of a top-end defensive back, with the size and length to compete against the game’s biggest, most physical receivers. He also has fantastic mirroring ability, ball skills, and speed. Tabor will surely be in the spotlight with Hargreaves off to the NFL. Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard might end up being a formidable duo, but if their performances leave something to be desired in the upcoming season, adding Jalen Tabor may be the perfect solution.
Okay, so maybe making accurate predictions seems unlikely at this point. Sometimes, prospects that seem like sure first round picks prior to the start of the season don’t live up to the expectations. They have to maintain such a high level of play over the course of the season to even be considered in Round 1, all the while avoiding the types of injuries that contributed to the falls of Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack in 2016.
With that being said, the prospects above have as good a shot as any to be called among the top 32 picks in 2017. They all would fill projected positions of need for the Dolphins, and offer the potential to be at least high-level starters in the NFL. These “needs” may change over the course of 2016, but for now, the names listed above would all provide immediate help for Miami.
What is my best piece of advice? Watch a lot of college football and pay attention to these players. We all love professional football, but what better way to prepare for each offseason than to immerse yourself in the games of the future NFL stars? While we can’t predict who the Dolphins will select in the 2017 NFL Draft (obviously), there is no fault in identifying potential options. At the very least, it will help us get through what seems like the never-ending time between the draft and the start of the next season.