Draft Journal: Dolphins Could Bolster OL With One of 2017 Draft’s Hidden Gems
If we learned anything from Miami’s most recent victory, it’s that offensive line depth remains their most pressing issue. Considering the position group’s proneness to injury, their undeniable lack of reliable backups has ruined them over the past few seasons. While they were able to overcome their protection troubles against the lowly Los Angeles Rams, I have a feeling Adam Gase remains less than satisfied with his current depth chart. Although the selection of Laremy Tunsil may make it slightly less likely that they address the position again in the first-round, there should still be several options available in the early rounds. Despite there being multiple left tackle prospects that could plausibly make the switch to the other side in order to better fit the needs of the Dolphins, let’s take a look at perhaps the best natural right tackle prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft…
Taylor Moton, OL (Western Michigan)
Western Michigan has been a revelation in the college football world. Led by the nation’s 13th ranked rushing attack and ProFootballFocus’ fifth best offensive line, the undefeated Broncos are ranked 21st in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings. Thus, senior right tackle Taylor Moton has played a vital part in his team’s success.
Moton ultimately hoped that his hometown Michigan State Spartans would give him an offer, but has instead found that Western Michigan is a more than capable stepping-stone to his NFL dream.
With experience at both right tackle and right guard, Moton has the versatility that will surely attract a Dolphins squad that has needs at both positions. At an impressive 6’5” and 328 pounds, Moton is a physical specimen. He’s athletic, physical and unbelievably powerful. In fact, the thing that stands out about him is his sheer size. His stature allows him to overpower defenders in the run game.
In the play above, Moton instantly gains leverage on his opponent. While the defender is attempting to set the edge, Moton quickly gets off the line and forces him to the inside. By the time Moton is finished with his block, the defensive lineman is on the ground.
Although some may assume that his size makes him better suited for the inside, Moton has very good footwork at well. His lateral movement skills permit him to stick with speed rushers. The play below displays his athleticism and persistence in pass protection:
Even though the quarterback is eventually sacked on the play, it is of no fault of Moton. The big offensive tackle keeps the right side of the pocket clean for several seconds and has the pass rusher completely off balance. When his quarterback scrambles into trouble, Moton tracks down the defender to force him to the ground one more time for good measure.
While some may question his level of competition at Western Michigan, the Minnesota Vikings selected his former teammate Willie Beavers in the fourth round in 2016. Moton is firmly expected to be off the board a couple of rounds earlier. Plus, the Broncos’ lineman seemingly held his own when he faced off against Ohio State prior to this season.
Staring linemen Jermon Bushrod and Ja’Wuan James appear to be stopgaps at their respective positions, and Moton could undoubtedly be considered either man’s future replacement. Offensive line offers one of the steepest learning curves for NFL rookies. Very few acclimate to the speed and strength of NFL defenders as quickly as Tunsil has for Miami. Therefore, it may take Moton some time to execute like a starter. However, he passes the eye test and, more importantly, offers the versatility and run blocking potential that could have Gase drooling throughout the evaluation process. If Moton falls into Miami’s range in the second or third round and they pull the trigger, the Dolphins may have found themselves a gem.
Others to Keep an Eye On
Marlon Humphrey, CB (Alabama)
The cornerback position offers a ton of top-end talent and upside, but it’s still anyone’s guess as to who comes off the board first. We already highlighted Florida Gator defensive backs Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson as potential options for Miami, but there are truthfully several prospects that should entice them if they choose to address their secondary in round one. Among those prospects: Alabama’s lockdown corner, Marlon Humphrey.
The many other stars of the Crimson Tide defense can overshadow Humphrey at times. However, he remains Alabama’s lockdown cornerback. At 6’1”, 196 pounds, Humphrey has the size that Vance Joseph seeks out of his corners. The redshirt sophomore earned a starting spot on the national championship roster last season and hasn’t looked back.
He has elite athleticism and he’s extremely opportunistic. He notched three interceptions last season and has added two thus far in 2016. He wasted no time making an impact this year, scoring on a pick-six in Alabama’s opening game against USC:
He may not put up eye-popping takeaway numbers like other defensive backs have before him, but unlike many of those before him, he isn’t a finesse player. He combines his superb ball skills with a high football IQ and desirable physicality. ProFootballFocus handed him the 22nd highest run defense grade out of eligible collegiate cornerbacks in 2015, and he forced a fumble earlier this season (further evidence of his nose for the football).
Humphrey runs like a receiver and seemingly has the versatility to play in several different defensive schemes. He has the shadowing ability to thrive in press-man, the fluid hips and speed to succeed in off-man and the diagnosing skills to plausibly excel in Vance Joseph’s zone-heavy defense.
Miami’s defense has improved significantly, but it is still a work in progress. The aforementioned zone-scheme has been shredded by opposing offenses at times in 2016, but Byron Maxwell and Tony Lippett have failed to consistently cover wide receivers one-on-one. The Dolphins still have high hopes for second-round pick Xavien Howard, but he has battled injuries throughout his rookie seasons and is still a question mark for the future.
The Alabama standout offers flexibility. He could immediately step-in and improve upon Miami’s current game plan and, as a redshirt sophomore, he still offers a ton of upside and room for growth. The fact that he was so good as a redshirt freshman in the SEC speaks volumes about his talent level. Truthfully, he could be off the board by the time Miami is set to make their pick. However, if other teams decide that one of the other top corners better suits their defense, the Dolphins could potentially find themselves their next defensive building block.
Takkarist McKinley, DE (UCLA)
Cameron Wake honestly looks like he could play until he’s 50. He has been an absolute monster for Miami’s defense and hasn’t shown any real signs of slowing down. With that being said, he is a 34-year-old with an extensive list of lower body injuries. For a player that relies so much on his explosiveness, those factors simply can’t be ignored despite his unprecedented comeback. Wake’s defensive end counterpart Mario Williams is also on the wrong side of 30 and is already having an underwhelming premier season in Miami.
Thus, it could make sense to target a potential replacement in Takkarist McKinley. The UCLA Bruin has undeniably been a beast in his senior season. His performance in 2016 had one scout reportedly comparing McKinley to Demarcus Ware.
With a couple of games still to go in his college career, McKinley is all the way up to 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles on the season. Seven of those sacks and every one of the forced fumbles came in his past five games.
He even has seven passes defended in his final collegiate season, showing great awareness in nearly every aspect of his game.
His power has allowed him to find great success in UCLA’s 4-3 defense, but it is his speed and explosiveness that drew comparisons to Ware. It also makes him a fantastic fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker for if/when Joseph eventually makes the switch.
Joseph’s defense revolves around an aggressive defensive line and pressuring the quarterback. McKinley’s pass rush is his calling card, and should make him extremely attractive to the coaching staff and front office. While defensive end is far from the franchise’s biggest need (offensive line, cornerback and linebacker come to mind) McKinley would provide immediate depth to the position group, and be rewarded with the opportunity to learn from Wake and Williams. While he won’t be a starter early on in his NFL career if he ends up in South Beach, he should be able to contribute off the bench instantly, and eventually take over for the Dolphins’ aging defensive ends.