Slowly but surely, the 2012 NFL Draft is creeping closer.
The Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine games are in the books, and the NFL Combine is only a few weeks away. It's still far too early to obtain a firm grasp on which prospects the Miami Dolphins will target come draft day, but these All-Star games have definitely helped.
Here's a look at how Miami's 2012 Draft might unfold.
Sure, offensive tackle might be Miami's biggest need, but they can't afford to use another first-round draft pick on one. The Dolphins can find a starting-caliber tackle in the later rounds of the draft. They need to acquire a dynamic difference-maker with their eighth (or ninth) overall pick.
The 'Fins desperately need to add a pass rusher, and I think that is what they will do. Dominant pass rushes anchored playoff teams like the Texans, 49ers and Giants, and Jeff Ireland should try to replicate their blueprints.
Last week, I had the Dolphins selecting South Carolina's Melvin Ingram here, but after watching Quinton Coples shine at the Senior Bowl, I think he will be the pick (assuming he is still on the board). Concerns about Coples' maturity and consistency are abundant, but he has superstar potential and Todd McShay called him the "best player on the field" last week.
If Coples is taken before Miami picks, then expect the Dolphins to target either Melvin Ingram or Alabama safety Mark Barron.
Both Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo are slated for free agency, and the Dolphins probably won't bring either of them back. Colombo was a disaster, and Carey's age might deter the team from offering him the lucrative contract he'll demand.
Replacing Carey and Colombo will be one of Miami's top priorities, and Jeff Ireland will target an offensive line prospect who can start right away in the early rounds of the 2012 draft.
An ideal selection for the 'Fins is Florida State offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders. His 6'6" 307-pound frame makes him a perfect fit for the Dolphins' mammoth offense line. Moreover, Sanders was a four-year starter on a top-flight collegiate team.
Following an amazing performance in the Outback Bowl, University of Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin burst onto the national radar. The 5'10", 183-pound senior returned a punt for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and racked up seven tackles.
Regardless, the Dolphins' cornerback corps needs help, and Boykin can provide it. If Miami wants to compete with pass-heavy teams like the Patriots, Packers, Saints and Giants, they need to bolster their 25th-ranked pass defense, and adding an electric prospect like Boykin would be a great start in that process.
The Dolphins will look long and hard at the free safeties on the board here, but they can't neglect the tight end position again.
Louisiana-Lafayette's Ladarius Green is a raw but immensely talented tight end who could become a lethal weapon in the NFL. Green needs to add bulk to his 6'6", 227-pound frame and improve his blocking skills. If he can make those improvements, he could become Miami's version of Jermichael Finley.
With Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess already on the roster, wide receiver doesn't stick out as a position in need of an upgrade. But, if Joe Philbin plans to install the aerial assault he ran in Green Bay, then the Dolphins must acquire another quality wideout.
Brian Hartline may excel in the West Coast offense, but Miami will need more than three quality wideouts in order for the passing game to thrive.
The Packers offense is loaded with speedy—but more importantly physical—wide receivers who are reliable and can create separation. Illinois' A.J. Jenkins fits the bill. He was a symbol of consistency on an erratic Illinois offense, reeling in 90 receptions for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.
Jenkins must pack onto his 183-pound build if he wishes to succeed in the NFL, but he definitely has the potential to develop into a weapon.
Since the Trifecta arrived in 2008, the Dolphins have made a habit of drafting massive offensive linemen. However, the West Coast offense emphasizes athleticism and versatility over sheer size.
This makes California (PA) prospect Rishaw Johnson an ideal draft pick for Miami. Johnson was a blue-chip high school recruit who played for Ole Miss, but was dismissed at the start of the 2010 season for violating team rules. He transferred to California (PA) for the 2011 season.
Johnson has the size and raw ability to become a serviceable lineman, but questions about his work ethic and attitude must be answered. Taking a sixth-round flier on a player with high potential seems like a worthwhile gamble, though.
Unless Daniel Thomas progresses from his disappointing rookie season, then the Dolphins need to add another running back.
The University of Texas has a history of spewing out quality running backs, and Foswhitt Whittaker (great name) could be the next Longhorn to succeed in the NFL. Although he wasn't a feature back at Texas, Whittaker did produce with the carries he was allotted. Last season, for example, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry on 66 attempts.