For 12 NFL teams, this upcoming weekend features the pinnacle of their season. But for the remaining 20, all eyes are set on the 2012 Draft.
Unfortunately, the Miami Dolphins are one of the teams that will be prepping for the draft rather than prepping for a playoff opponent.
This is familiar territory for the 'Fins, who just finished their third consecutive season with a record below .500. Despite these recent struggles, team owner Stephen Ross has chosen to retain general manager Jeff Ireland, whose track record in the draft is less-than-impressive.
However, with Ireland returning it does give us a better feel for which players the Dolphins might target. Whichever coach Miami decides to hire will have a significant impact on the team's draft strategy as well, but here's an early look at how the Dolphins' 2012 Draft might unfold.
This definitely is not the pick that Miami Dolphins fans want to see, but at this juncture, it is the most realistic.
We all want the Dolphins to trade up for Robert Griffin III, but the ransom will likely be too high. Griffin is an electrifying--perhaps generational--talent, but Miami has so many holes to fill that parting with a bundle of draft picks would be destructive.
Much of Miami's discourse depends on who their next head coach is, but it will be very difficult for anybody to pass up on Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. Martin, who weighs in at a solid 6'6", 304 pounds, protected Andrew Luck's blindside for the last three years and never missed a start.
The Dolphins have one of the league's worst pass blocking offensive lines, and Martin would immediately bolster it. Plus, no quarterback can succeed with the 'Fins until there is a great line in place.
Don't let Miami's 10th ranked pass rush fool you. This team relied on two players—Cam Wake and Jason Taylor—for nearly half of its sacks. And now that Taylor is retiring, the 'Fins must add a rush outside linebacker early in the 2012 Draft.
Southern Cal's Nick Perry could be a solution for Miami's pass rush issues. Miami has favored bulky linebackers in the past (Misi: 6'3", 250; Wake: 6'3", 250), and Perry just happens to weigh in at 6'3", 250 pounds.
But size isn't Perry's only asset—he is a ferocious player who racked up 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks for the Trojans in 2011.
The Dolphins will look long and hard at the free safeties on the board here, but they can't pass on the tight end position again. Teams like the Saints, Patriots, Packers, Chargers and Lions have elevated their offenses to new heights by investing money and time into young tight ends, and it's time for the 'Fins to do the same.
Georgia's Orson Charles is one of the most highly touted tight ends in the 2012 Draft Class, and he should be on the board when Miami picks in the third round. Charles is a bit undersized at 6'3", 240 pounds, but he caught 45 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns for Georgia this past season.
Anthony Fasano is not a No. 1-caliber tight end, and the Dolphins are long overdue for an upgrade. With Martin fortifying the offensive line and Charles providing a seam-threat tight end, Miami's offense could be vastly improved already.
Jeff Ireland spent back-to-back fifth round draft picks on free safeties in 2009 and 2010, and neither have panned out. This might scare the Dolphins away from using another middle-round pick on a free safety, but a player like Notre Dame's Harrison Smith could persuade them otherwise.
Smith has been a versatile staple in Notre Dame's defense over the last four seasons, seeing time at both linebacker and safety. He settled in as the team's starting safety in 2010, and has since recorded a combined 184 tackles and seven interceptions.
Harrison was a team captain for the Golden Domers, and his vocal leadership could be an asset for a Dolphins secondary that might lose Yeremiah Bell this offseason. At the very least, Harrison could be an ace special teams contributor.
Outside of Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, the Dolphins have arguably the worst cornerback corps in the entire league. Rookie Jimmy Wilson has tremendous upside, but Miami must rebuild the back end of their secondary in order to be successful next season.
The Dolphins' long list of needs will force them to wait until the later rounds of the draft to address cornerback, but Furman's Ryan Steed could be a steal.
Steed is a seasoned four-year starter, who dominated at the FCS level. Despite playing against lower-tier competition, Steed's physicality (registered 173 tackles in last three seasons), hands (intercepted 14 passes in career) and leadership (served as a Furman captain) make him an intriguing NFL prospect.
Adding a corner with Steed's experience and athleticism could be huge for the Dolphins secondary, even if it takes him a few seasons to develop.
By drafting Jonathan Martin in the first round, the Dolphins have only started to overhaul their offensive line. Next on the agenda should be shoring up the right guard spot. Vernon Carey is already 30 years old and is slated for free agency this offseason, so Miami needs to inject some youth and talent into the line.
The Dolphins might not find a starter in the sixth round, but they can find depth. Oklahoma's Stephen Good is a versatile lineman with experience on a championship-caliber offense.
Good has played both right and left guard for the Sooners, and he could become a rotational backup for the 'Fins. And, if Good can pack onto his 6'6", 300 pound frame and polish his game, he could become a starter down the road.
If the 2011 NFL season taught us one thing, it's that wide receivers are wildly misevaluated. Only three of the league's top 10 wide receivers were first round picks. Meanwhile, two were undrafted and three were third round selections.
So, why not roll the dice on a wide receiver in the last round of the draft—especially if a physical specimen like Penn State's Derek Moye is on the board? Moye boasts a 6-5, 210 pound frame and caught 141 passes for 2,388 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last three seasons.
Jeff Ireland has shown a liking for Penn State prospects in the past. He signed tight end Brett Brackett as an undrafted free agent last summer, and corner back A.J. Wallace as an undrafted free agent in 2010—all the more reason to believe the Dolphins could take a flier on Moye.