Draft Journal: Scouting Defensive Ends Who Could Help Miami’s Aging Pass Rush in 2017
In our first draft journal, we discussed a couple of the best defensive ends in all of college football. Jonathan Allen, for example, is looking more and more like a top-5 pick. Carl Lawson, on the other hand, should end up firmly in the Dolphins’ draft range. We didn’t even mention defensive end Myles Garrett, who could very likely be the number one pick in the 2017 NFL Draft if the team chooses to go the non-quarterback route.
Allen and Garrett find themselves firmly in the rather exclusive top tier of their position. Beyond them, though, is a large group of talented athletes battling to be the third defensive end off the board. Lawson is among those players, but there are several other options for Miami if/when they miss out on Allen and Garrett as well.
Derek Barnett, Charles Harris and Dawuane Smoot (DE)
Allen and Garrett are potentially generational type of talents, in the molds of Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller, for example Barnett, Harris and Smoot undeniably lack that upside. They simply aren’t as athletic, as explosive, or as versatile. However, they still check all of the boxes that scouts desire out of first-round prospects: production, physical traits, durability and intangibles.
While Tennessee has struggled to the tune of three straight losses, and endured their star running back announcing his intention to transfer, Barnett has been a consistent force for his team’s beat up defense. He has been on an absolute tear over the past five games, notching nine sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Those nine sacks are tied for the most by any player in the country for the entire season. In Tennessee’s most recent loss to South Carolina, Barnett tallied three sacks, including this beauty:
Very few college defenders can boast the type of production that Barnett has provided the Volunteers over the past two and a half seasons. To that end, he entered 2016 already having 33 tackles for a loss and 20 sacks. He is above average in so many areas, that there are very few better all-around defenders in college football. While he wouldn’t be the flashiest pick, Barnett seems likely to be a long time and productive starter at the next level.
Harris isn’t as well rounded as Barnett, but he still offers plenty of disruptiveness off the edge. He led the SEC in tackles for a loss last season with 18.5 and is well on his way to another statistically impressive year with 5.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks up to this point in 2016.
He has to add strength in order to truly reach his potential, but that should be no problem once he enters an NFL training program. With the way Vance Joseph values pressuring the quarterback, Harris could undoubtedly intrigue Miami (depending on their draft spot). It is important to mention that three of his sacks this season came in one game, and teams are going to want to see more consistent production on a game-to-game basis in order to select him with a high draft pick.
Compared to Barnett and Harris, Smoot may be relatively unknown to even religious college football fans. The Illinois standout, now a senior, is a three-year starter with plenty of production to his name. He’s considered a leader on defense and has made significant strides under former NFL head coach Lovie Smith. Smoot had a slow start to 2016, but has noticeably picked it up of late with his two sacks and his second forced fumble of the season coming in the past three games.
Much like Harris, Smoot is a better pass rusher than run defender; but he has the physical tools to continue to improve both aspects of his game. If his recent performance is any indicator, Smoot will be rising up draft boards come April.
All three players could plausibly transition from being 4-3 defensive ends to 3-4 outside linebackers, which is a huge plus for the Dolphins, as Joseph could still eventually make the scheme change. Mario Williams and Cameron Wake aren’t getting any younger, and Jason Jones is nothing more than a stopgap at the position. While the defensive line has been one of Miami’s more reliable position groups half way through the season, high-end play can’t be expected out of the current personnel. In other words, they are going to have to address the position in the draft sooner rather than later, and these are three of the players they will likely consider.
Even if Williams and Wake weren’t on the wrong side of thirty, Miami could use depth at the position. Their ages simply intensify the need, as bringing in any one of the aforementioned college defensive ends would take a ton of pressure off of their veterans. The fact that they could learn from two of the best defensive ends of the past decade only makes their potential selection more attractive.
Others to Keep an Eye On
Cam Robinson (OL)
Miami’s offensive line looks revitalized over the past two games, playing a vital role in Jay Ajayi’s consecutive 200+ rushing yard performances. However, Adam Gase still has a lot of work to do to get this position to where he wants it to be.
Jermon Bushrod has performed admirably as the starting right guard, after initially being brought in as a depth piece and a veteran presence at the position. With that being said, he is still 32 years old and has battled injuries over the past few seasons. While he is a reliable option, I’m sure the coaching staff would prefer to have some more upside from one of their starting linemen.
Ja’Wuan James, meanwhile, has been the team’s worst starter along the line of scrimmage by far. He has been plagued by holding penalties, including two in Miami’s win over Pittsburgh, and simply seems incapable of successfully protecting Ryan Tannehill. James has reportedly pinpointed the intricacy of the Dolphins’ pass-blocking scheme as the reason for his struggles, but Gase will only give him so much time before pursuing other options at the position.
Cam Robinson is assuredly one of those potential options. Widely considered the best offensive linemen in the country, Robinson is lauded for his run blocking abilities. His performance against Garrett a couple of weeks ago once again grabbed the attention of NFL evaluators, as he prevented the top prospect from tallying even a single sack.
Although he plays left tackle for Alabama, he is widely considered a better fit at guard or at right tackle due to his impressive size (6’6”, 310 pounds). Scouts knock him slightly for his questionable character and intangibles, but there may not be a better prospect to fit Miami’s needs on the right side of the line.
Jarrad Davis (LB)
Linebacker remains one of the most important positions in Miami’s current defensive scheme and philosophy. The Dolphins love to spread out their defensive line in order to create better pass rushing angles for their linemen, but that opens up a ton of holes for offensive coordinators and running backs to exploit. It is therefore the linebackers’ responsibility to react to the play developing in front of them and fill those gaps. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a long-term answer at the position currently on the roster.
To be clear, Miami has been noticeably better after an abysmal start to the season against the run. However, while Kiko Alonso continues to rack up tackles for this defense, he is still somewhat limited athletically and in his ability to diagnose the plans of offenses. Top tight ends continue to give Joseph fits, and not a single Miami linebacker is able to make plays from sideline to sideline like Alonso used to be able to prior to his knee injury.
Florida Gator linebacker Jarrad Davis would immediately improve the defense for these reasons. He’s listed as an outside linebacker due to his capabilities in the pass rush, but he’s a unique prospect due to his ability to make plays all over the field and impact the game in a myriad of ways. He handles play-calling duties for one of college football’s best defenses, and he’s fast, physical and a full-fledge competitor.
This past week against the Georgia Bulldogs, Davis was a game-time decision with a badly sprained ankle. Ultimately, he ended up playing, but it was initially unsure how many snaps he would log and how effective he would be with those reps. Despite a slow start as he attempted to shake off some undeniable rust, Davis led his team with 7 total tackles and either team with 2.5 tackles for a loss. One of those tackles for a loss: a game sealing tackle on 4th and 2 late in the fourth quarter:
Davis is exactly the type of player Joseph would love to add to his squad, specifically due to his versatility and aggressiveness. If Miami ends up with a pick outside of the top ten (as they currently seemed destined to considering their recent level of play and second half schedule), don’t be surprised if they finally invest an early pick on the linebacker position.