Draft Journal: Could CBs Jalen Tabor or Quincy Wilson Solve Miami’s Secondary Woes?
Given Miami’s somewhat shocking recent turnaround, it may seem a little premature to already be discussing the 2017 NFL Draft. However, with college football in full force, it truly seems like the perfect time to get a head start on Miami Dolphin draft coverage.
Just a few weeks ago, it seemed as if this team was destined for a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. Now, it is truly a mystery as to where they will end up in the first round. Nonetheless, with the college football playoff race heating up and the Dolphins headed into their bye week, there is no better moment than now to start paying attention to the many potential draft targets of Miami.
Thus, we start with two players from the state of Florida that are sure to grab the Dolphins’ attention…
Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson (CB)
These two cornerbacks anchor the SEC’s number one ranked defense: that of the Florida Gators. Tabor and Wilson combine to form what is widely considered the best defensive back duo in the country. Tabor, a 2015 All-SEC selection, in many ways overshadowed former teammate Vernon Hargreaves last season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, of course, picked Hargreaves with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. It was Tabor, however, that made a name for himself, nearly breaking the school record for passes defensed with 18. Keep in mind: Hargreaves, Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden are few of the cornerbacks to come before him at the University of Florida.
That led to very high expectations for 2016-2017 and, for the most part, he hasn’t disappointed. Through five games, the junior cornerback has tallied five passes defended and four interceptions, equaling his total from last year’s All-SEC season. Despite Tabor’s playmaking ability, it is once again the second cornerback on the depth chart, Wilson, who is improving his draft stock the most.
Wilson showed flashes behind Tabor and Hargreaves as a sophomore, but is fully taking advantage of his starter’s reps this season. While Tabor has fallen victim to a few big plays, much like Hargreaves did toward the end of his final season, Wilson has been nearly perfect. Of the 22 times opposing quarterbacks have targeted Wilson, only three have been completed, for a mere 39 yards. With the help of six passes defended and three interceptions through six games, Wilson has undoubtedly performed like one of the best cornerbacks in the country.
Each defensive back thrives in competition with the other. Whether it is in practice or during a game, these two friends want to be neck-and-neck every step of the way. If one of them gets an interception, the other has to follow with one of his own. That’s exactly what happened two weeks ago against Missouri, when both of them scored a pick six against the Tigers:
There is a reason so many people are criticizing the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame for leaving not just one of them but both of them off of the semifinalist list for the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back.
The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, could really use the help. While they perhaps haven’t been as terrible as they potentially should be considering their lack of top-end talent at cornerback, they still don’t have a true number one cornerback currently on the roster. Maxwell is what he is at this point in his career, and he isn’t going to improve as much as the Dolphins would need him to. Xavien Howard has potential, but it’s too early to tell if he has the instincts to take advantage of his many physical skills. With the way modern football is played, a shutdown corner is practically a necessity; and the fact that quarterbacks have a passer rating of 93.3 against them (20th in the league) shows that opposing offenses are having plenty of success through the air.
With the uncertainty surrounding where Miami will end up on the draft board, there is no telling whether or not both Tabor and Wilson will be available for the Dolphins’ choosing. With that being said, both players would have the opportunity to step onto the field and immediately be the Miami Dolphins’ best cornerback. It’s anyone’s guess which of the two will be off the board first given the way some people have been praising Wilson (but given the fact that Tabor’s play has been over a larger sample size, he should be the first to go.) Regardless, the way each performs in their remaining games against Georgia this Saturday, Arkansas, LSU and Florida State should drastically impact the preferences of scouts.
Others to Keep an Eye On
Jonathan Allen (DL), Reuben Foster (ILB) and Tim Williams (OLB)
Nick Saban seemingly has a never-ending disposal of unfair defensive talent at Alabama. Everyone has witnessed their dominance so far this year, and how could we expect any different? This team has three potential top ten picks in the 2017 NFL draft, all at different positions. Jonathan Allen should be a household name at this point, especially after this ridiculous, mind-blowing, unbelievable hit against Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight:
Some said it was unlike any other hit they’ve seen before. Others compared it to Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on that poor Michigan running back in 2013. Then there was our very own Max Himmelrich’s fitting take on the play: “Nick Saban has literally taught them flight.”
Allen is going to be a monster at the next level; there is no doubt in my mind. In fact, a Cowboy’s scout reportedly compared him to Ndamukong Suh. While he has a long way to go to eventually reach that level of play, it’s hard not to agree that he has the potential. Already highly regarded as a run defender coming into the season, Allen has proved he is more than just a one-trick pony by notching six sacks already this season. With the way he is playing, though, it wouldn’t at all surprise me to see him play himself out of Miami’s range.
Either one of Allen’s teammates Reuben Foster or Tim Williams, however, would be more than just a consolation prize if they happened to fall into Miami’s lap. Foster, an inside linebacker, is one of the team leaders and an absolute missile when it comes to tackling. Many believe he could be a better, more complete version of his former teammate Reggie Ragland, who was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round. Foster led his team in tackles in their signature win this week against Texas A&M, and he’s extremely versatile.
In contrast, Williams, an outside linebacker, will be drafted for one thing above all else: his pass rushing. He had 10.5 sacks last season and is already at 6.5 in 2016. Considering Vance Joseph’s emphasis on rushing the passer and Cameron Wake’s approach to the end of his career, it would make sense for the Dolphins to be intrigued by one of college football’s most disruptive players against the pass. His averageness in other areas makes him the most likely of the three to fall, albeit probably not very much.
Miami has to get younger along the defensive line, that much can’t be denied, and their linebacker corps is one of their weakest position groups. Kiko Alonso never seemed like the answer to Dolphins’ fans prayers, and he hasn’t done anything this season to make me think otherwise. It is highly unlikely that Miami will be able to make their choice among these three Alabama standouts, barring a drastic change of direction in the Dolphins’ loss column. Yet with the way all three of them have been playing, if one of them happens to be available, it would be a mistake to pass them up.
Carl Lawson may be the more probable selection for Miami at this point in this process. He, much like Williams, can be an absolutely devastating pass rusher, but relies mostly on his physical talent. While that has resulted in plenty of production at the college level, including 6.5 sacks this season, NFL franchises know that athletic ability alone does not make a player great. Lawson has to continue to develop his repertoire of pass rushing moves to fully reach his physical potential, and most believe that he will.
The real concern is with his injury history: he tore his ACL in 2014, and played through a hip flexor injury for much of 2015. An extensive resume of injuries is worrisome for any young player, but especially one who so heavily relies on his pure explosiveness to overpower opponents.
Right now, the Auburn outside linebacker seems like a plausible selection within the first ten picks. However as we all know, teams will do their homework into his past injuries, and could cause him to fall right into Miami’s range. Lawson’s ability to be a 3-4 outside linebacker as well as a 4-3 defensive end would play perfectly into the Dolphins’ hand, as Joseph continues to eye a change in defensive scheme in the future.
O.J Howard, Bucky Hodges and Jake Butt (TE)
After Hunter Henry, described by many to be the most complete tight end prospect to enter the draft in years, fell to the San Diego Chargers in the second round of last years draft, it would be a shocker to see a tight end crack the first round this year. With that being said, there seem to be three clear leaders at the position, and Miami could use the help in round two.
O.J. Howard is at the head of the pack. Shocker: another top prospect from Alabama (I know), but he bursted onto the scene with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the National Championship and has remained a huge part of the offense. Miami is sorely lacking an option at tight end with Howard’s level of physical talent and could be looking to add another weapon to Adam Gase’s arsenal.
Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech is having the best statistical season of the tight end prospects, with 323 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns thus far. He is a physically imposing specimen at 6’6”, 250 pounds, and his size-speed combo is as good as it gets in college football. A former high school quarterback, Hodges is still perfecting the intricacies of the tight end position and, thus, has some problems with consistency. However, there aren’t many tight ends in the nation with more upside for the same reason.
Jake Butt, meanwhile, has been highly regarded by NFL scouts for the past few seasons and remains extremely enticing at the back end of round 1 to beginning of round 2. He probably has the best hands of the bunch, and Gase could value his consistency and reliability after the failed Jordan Cameron era. As a senior at Michigan, he has plenty of experience in a NFL-style offense. Gase will surely appreciate that, as Butt is likely to be the most NFL-ready tight end to enter the draft.
All three players scored touchdowns this past week and remain vital parts of their offenses despite not necessarily being the focal points. Miami hasn’t had a difference maker at the position in recent memory, and all three of these players have that sort of potential at the next level.