2017 NFL Draft Primer: Previewing 10 Prospects That Fit for the Miami Dolphins
With another season in the books, it’s time to officially begin the 2017 NFL offseason. The Dolphins’ front office has a lot on their plate and plenty of free agent contracts to consider but, for the college scouts, it’s officially crunch time for the 2017 NFL Draft. After trading some picks in last year’s draft, the Dolphins are left shorthanded and need to be sure to get the most out of their selections this year. Here are ten players that the Dolphins could look at to improve their roster next season in the first round:
1. Reuben Foster – MLB – Alabama – 6’1 245 lbs
The consensus pick; the most compelling but unfortunately the least likely pick on this list for the Miami Dolphins in this draft is Alabama’s star MLB Reuben Foster. Foster fits every need the Dolphins have in the middle of their defense. At 6’1 and 245 lbs, Foster is a true 4-3 style three-down middle linebacker that can fill running lanes with authority, apply pressure to the quarterback, and cover down the field.
Foster excels at getting to the backfield whether by speed…
The 2016 Butkus award winner, Foster, has the potential to be one of the few great middle linebackers in the NFL, but likely won’t be in play for the Dolphins next year without a move into the top 15.
2. OJ Howard – TE – Alabama – 6’6 250 lbs
Looked at by some as the best TE prospect in the last decade, OJ Howard is the complete package. He comes from Alabama’s pro style offense and excelled as a run blocker, pass blocker and receiving threat. Howard looks the part physically. At 6’6 and 250 lbs, Howard was the clear cut best player at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. He dominated practices all week and had a great Senior Bowl game a week after playing in his second straight National Championship game. If you only judge a player by his stats, you would miss the greatness of OJ Howard completely. Howard finished his 2016 campaign with a pedestrian 45 receptions for 595 yards and 3 TD’s, but his contributions to his team on the field were far more voluminous. He is a mismatch nightmare with his speed, a cheat code asset in the run game, and a leader in the locker room. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the only way I see OJ Howard in orange and teal is with a trade up into the top 10-15 picks in this year’s draft.
3. Takkarist McKinley – DE – UCLA – 6’2 265 lbs
Takkarist McKinley would provide the Dolphins with a blue collar, hard nosed athlete on the defensive side of the ball. The big question for Takk, and for teams looking at drafting Tak, is what position will he play? Takk isn’t necessarily the most fundamentally sound at DE, but he wins with his relentless effort- a trait that NFL coaches and scouts can appreciate. He is definitely raw with his hand in the dirt. His speed and nose for the ball may even push him back to an outside linebacker role at the next level. Mckinley recorded 50 tackles last year for UCLA along with an impressive 18 of those for loss, including 10 sacks. McKinley is projected in range for the Dolphins to select him at 22, but it depends on what position the Dolphins’ coaching staff sees him fitting in. He is one of my favorite overall prospects in this entire class and I believe he transcends traditional scheme fits, much like Melvin Ingram. I’ll take a combination of this heart and motor any day:
4. Zach Cunningham – LB – Vanderbilt – 6’4 230
The Dolphins are in desperate need of some LB help this offseason and Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham fits their mold. Cunningham is a long, athletic guy who can play all three downs at linebacker and has the capability of making plays from the middle of the field, as well as sideline to sideline. What puts him in consideration for the Dolphins’ first pick is his play recognition and feel for the game. In the play below, you’ll see Cunningham show off his terrific instincts. He reads the play and beats both the pulling guard and the running back to the hole and stops the play before it even starts.
In this second clip, Cunningham immediately reads the fake, diagnoses the play without hesitation, engages with the pulling H-back, sheds the block, and makes the big hit at the line of scrimmage. He has the ability to both play a more physical style of LB in the middle of the field and slide out and defend speedy backs and TE’s as WLB in the Dolphins 4-3 Defense.
5. Derek Barnett – DE – Tennessee – 6’3 – 265
It’s about that time to start seriously considering finding an heir to Cameron Wake’s throne. Wake, your prototypical 4-3 DE, has been everything and more for the Dolphins defense but is nearing his twilight. Barnett, though not as explosive as Wake, can bring a well rounded similar skill set to the EDGE position. He is a hands fighter with tremendous balance and a knack for winning with technique. It’s fun to watch.
In his three years at Tennessee, Barnett recorded 32 sacks, and 52 tackles for loss. A jack of all trades, Barnett can set the edge in the run game, provide relentless pressure to the quarterback and even drop into coverage as seen below. If the Dolphins are serious about adding consistent production at the EDGE position, Barnett is the guy.
6. Jordan Willis – DE – Kansas St. – 6’5 255 lbs
Kansas St. DE Jordan Willis is a guy that perfectly fits the Miami Dolphins’ wide-9 style defense. Strong, long, and fast. At 6’5 and 255 lbs, and with a huge wingspan, Willis also has the strength to control his side of the line both in the run game and rushing the passer. He has some stiffness to his pass rushing and doesn’t possess the ‘bend’ that scouts look for in smaller DE’s, but it’s only because he doesn’t play the same as the smaller guys. Willis has great size and looks to engage with his opposition and physically displace him in order to get to the quarterback. Most other defensive ends don’t have such a luxury. Willis showed out at the Senior Bowl, recording two sacks and was clocked in practice moving faster than any of the running backs at the Senior Bowl (19.2mph). Willis is a high motor guy, a glove fit for their scheme with a combination of speed and size worthy of the Dolphins’ first round pick. I expect Willis to continue to build his stock and case for first round consideration with an impressive combine.
7. John Ross – WR – Washington – 5’11 190 lbs
First off, the Dolphins landing Ross in the draft is a long shot. He won’t even be in consideration if the Dolphins retain speedy wideout Kenny Stills. Stills is a UFA, but the Dolphins have made it clear that resigning Stills is priority number one this offseason. If a deal falls through, the Dolphins are suddenly left with a very fast hole in their offense and John Ross could be the guy to fill it. Touted as a DeSean Jackson mold, Ross can blow the top off any defense like Stills can, but possesses superior agility.
Ross had 114 catches for 1,729 yards and 28 total touchdowns in his three years and scored a touchdown on almost 18% of his touches while at Washington. Giving him the ball in space is an automatic advantage on offense and a headache for defenses. Ross also provides another reliable kick returner at the next level.
8. Forrest Lamp – OG – Western Kentucky – 6’4 305 lbs
I understand that Dolphins fans are sick of offensive lineman in the first round, but there are holes to plug and we now know what this Dolphins offense and Jay Ajayi can do with a healthy offensive line. Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp, a Florida native, could very well be the highest ranking guard in the Draft and has versatility to play multiple positions. He doesn’t possess ideal arm length to stay at Tackle in the NFL, but he packs a huge punch and might be the strongest guy in the draft this year. He has the ability to both anchor and control his man with his strength and slide and move his large frame with fluidity in tight spaces.
A lot of people might knock him for being from a smaller school, but when Alabama DL Jonathan Allen was asked who his toughest opponent was this season, Lamp’s name came up. Lamp also had a great week of Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, AL and will likely have teams with their eyes glued to Western Kentucky’s pro day.
9. Taco Charlton – DE – Michigan – 6’6 270 lbs
Charlton is another guy that the Dolphins will take a good hard look at based on measurements alone. At 6’6 and 270 lbs, Charlton is a 4-3 DE through and through. As an explosive DE with a fluid body, Charlton recorded 10 sacks in 11 games this season for the Wolverines. It is still to be determined if Charlton can become a 3 down edge guy, or if he is strictly a situational pass rusher at the next level. I have concerns about his ability to diagnose and react when teams run the football. Too often, Charlton is caught out of position and fails to set the edge, creating running lanes and making things difficult for his linebackers and secondary behind him.
As a pure pass rusher, however, Charlton is one of the best in this class. He has a great spin move and uses his long, strong upper body to gain leverage on blockers and explodes to the quarterback. Oh, and don’t leave him unblocked.
10. David Njoku – TE – Miami – 6’4 245 lbs
The Miami Dolphins’ offense is young and talented, run by an offensive minded coach in Adam Gase, but it is missing a key ingredient: an athlete at the TE position. David Njoku is exactly that. With the Jordan Cameron experiment all but over in Miami, the Dolphins will be looking to add a pass catching TE in the draft or free agency. Njoku would provide the Dolphins with yet another matchup nightmare. Njoku has the straight line speed and big fluid strides to cruise past linebackers, and he has a huge frame and catch radius, which allow him to body smaller defensive backs and safeties.
The concern with Njoku comes from his run blocking and his usage in college. Njoku has the willingness to block, but struggles to execute with proper technique as seen below. Njoku has tremendous upside and could be worth the risk for the Dolphins at #22 overall, but he will need to prove he can do it all in the weeks leading up to the draft through the combine and Miami’s pro-day.
The draft is only a few days long, but it is the culmination of an entire year that scouts spent traveling, writing, watching practice, watching film, and talking with players and coaches. The future of the team’s franchise begins with the draft and with increasing player salaries and the rookie wage scale; teams need to make sure they hit the bullseye in April. These ten players each fill a role for the Dolphins and could make a significant impact on where the team is headed in the future.