It's understandable if you're a little behind on the draft research. The 2012 season ended just over two weeks ago, and we're already just days away from the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
My, how quickly the offseason moves along.
How about a quick way to get up to speed on the most important prospects to watch?
Glad you asked.
Positions of Need
The Dolphins finished 2012 with 42 pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied for the eighth fewest in the NFL. Their 14 pass plays of 30 or more yards were the sixth fewest in the NFL. They have plenty of money with which to address their wide-receiving corps, but regardless of free agency or the draft, adding explosive playmakers has to be priority No. 1 this offseason.
Thanks to a recent interview, we know what Jeff Ireland is looking for in his wide receivers. Aside from Cordarrelle Patterson, whom we'll talk about later, this wide-receiver class is not loaded with great top-end talent but does have solid depth. The Dolphins could still nab a speedy receiver like USC's Robert Woods or possibly Baylor's Terrance Williams in the early second round.
Both have great long speed, so although the three-cone drill will be something to see with those two, their times in the 40-yard dash should boost their stocks a bit. That could nudge them into the end of the first round.
Who could be there in the second round? More on that later.
Cameron Wake is one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, but the Dolphins are trying to put a round peg in a square hole (backwards on purpose) in plugging Jared Odrick at left defensive end.
If Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan falls to No. 12, Jeff Ireland should personally do back flips all the way up to the podium with the selection card. He has been projected to play 3-4 outside linebacker by some but could easily line up with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end.
If it's not Jordan, BYU's Ezekiel Ansah could be the answer. He has great measurables, with speed, strength and size, but will need to learn more pass-rush moves and learn to shed blocks. That being said, comparisons to Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will have Dolphins fans—and NFL fans as a whole—salivating at his athleticism.
Plain and simple, the Dolphins got beat deep far too often last year. They gave up 61 pass plays of 20 yards or more, fourth most in the NFL.
The pending free agency of Sean Smith may or may not be met with the franchise tag—reports are conflicting as of right now—but either way, the Dolphins could use some depth. Richard Marshall struggled in his first year in a Dolphins uniform, and the Dolphins should have someone compete with Nolan Carroll for the other spot on the outside.
There will be plenty of talk on potential cornerbacks to come later.
Charles Clay and Michael Egnew do not inspire a ton of confidence, and Anthony Fasano is set to become a free agent. Despite their using some draft capital on the position of late, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Dolphins go high on one of this year's athletic tight-end prospects.
Travis Kelce is a name that has drawn some attention, but he won't be working out at the combine (according to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports).
The Dolphins could instead look into Rice tight end Vance McDonald in the late second or early third round. He's a physical specimen with arms 34.375" long and 10" hands. There are questions about his abilities as a blocker, which will be tough to answer at the combine, but teams can at least get an idea for his strength with the bench press.
John Jerry may not be a bad guard, but his 6'5", 349-pound frame makes him a bad fit for the zone-blocking scheme. The Dolphins need a better pulling guard to fill that spot on the right side. Either way, they may need to address the left-guard spot sometime in the near future, with Richie Incognito's contract running up soon and the possibility he could be a cap casualty this offseason.
Alabama's Chance Warmack will most likely be gone by the time the Dolphins pick, so if they wanted to go with a top guard, they could look to North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper. He is one of the best athletes on the offensive line in this year's class and has the speed to consistently get second-level blocks.
Recent Mock-Draft Selections
If you want to familiarize yourself with the top dogs drawing connections to the Dolphins, a good place to start is with recent mock drafts.
Here are the predictions of five draft experts who think they've found the perfect fits for the Dolphins:
- Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
- Mel Kiper, ESPN (Insider content): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
- Todd McShay, ESPN: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
- Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
- Russ Lande, NationalFootballPost.com: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Well, looks like there's a consensus here!
Floridians should be familiar with his talents; he had one of the best games of his senior season against Florida in Knoxville.
There is little question about his top-end speed—the question is with his route-running. He is still a raw prospect in that regard, and according to Bleacher Report featured columnist Ryan Lownes' scouting report, he doesn't run his routes as crisp as he could.
If the Dolphins want to find a dynamic receiver but would rather not pay top dollar for a free agent, Patterson would be a great choice. It may take him some time to develop completely, but the potential is there, along with the athleticism, and if all that doesn't make him a top-10 pick, the Dolphins would be getting great value for him at No. 12.
B/R's Matt Miller went with Sharrif Floyd and compared him to Chargers defensive tackle Kendall Reyes. In doing so, however, Miller revealed a flaw in the logic of mocking him to the Dolphins: The 3-4 is not the scheme they run anymore, and Floyd is projected to make the move to 3-4 defensive end.
Defensive tackle is pretty low on Miami's priorities, but if they want to move on from Paul Soliai after this season, they could look to target another run-stuffer on the inside.
As for McShay's selection of Vaccaro, it would be interesting to say the least. The Dolphins have already expressed desire to re-sign Chris Clemons, and they'd be flat-out stupid not to re-sign Reshad Jones very soon. Would the Dolphins really spend top capital on three safeties?
Not likely, from my perspective.
One prospect who will be very closely watched at the combine is LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
He has a lot to prove from an athletic standpoint, as well, but what could have the most impact on his stock is the private interviews, and they're...erm, private.
We know that there's no question Jeff Ireland's afraid to ask, so Mathieu can expect to get badgered (pun fully intended) about his past if there's an interview between him and the Dolphins brass.
Who Are Fans Watching?
Matt Kellett has his eye on the Dolphins top need, a wide receiver, but not the top prospects.
Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton and Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter are two very different prospects.
Patton has the quickness and route-running savvy to get open. He's also great when he gets into the open field. He does not possess elite speed on film, but a solid time in the 40-yard dash could help alleviate concerns about a lack of afterburners.
B/R's Matt Miller compared him to Saints receiver Joe Morgan, and said, "If you're looking for a receiver who can make plays after the catch...Patton is your guy. Patton's not exactly a burner, but once the ball is in the air, he has the speed to get under it and make big plays."
It does not sound like Patton is exactly what Dolphins fans are looking for, but again, that 40-yard dash time could go a long way in boosting his stock.
I didn't know a lot about Hunter until Kellett mentioned him, but after a brief film review and browsing some scouting reports, there's a lot to like about him.
These two sentences from CBSSports.com say a lot about him as a potential fit for the Dolphins:
Hunter has experience lining up as an X, Y and Z receiver, lining up all over the offense for Tennessee. He had a productive 2012 season as one of only four SEC receivers to surpass 1,000 receiving yards, finishing third in receiving yards (1,083) and touchdown grabs (9).
His versatility and explosive playmaking ability should make him well worth looking into at the combine. His straight-line speed is great, but his change-of-direction skills are not. Luckily, what the Dolphins need most of all is a deep threat. The problem is that he's only had one year worth of truly top-end production, so his ability to maintain it at the NFL level is a concern. His experience in the SEC should come in handy.
Teams should be looking for his medical records, as he suffered a knee injury in 2011 that took away some of his downfield playmaking ability.
Meanwhile, Jordan thinks the Dolphins should be targeting a cornerback, citing the team's lack of speed at the position, and he has his eye on two prospects in particular.
Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks made the switch from free safety to cornerback as a sophomore, so he's still very new to the position. His long frame makes him an ideal man-to-man cornerback, and unlike a lot of cornerbacks his size, he doesn't lack in quickness because of his long build.
B/R's Matt Miller compared Banks to Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers:
Banks is physical at 6'1"; he has the height to turn around with big receivers. At 181 pounds, he might need to bulk up a little bit in run support. Like Brandon Flowers of the Kansas City Chiefs, [Banks is] great in man coverage. This is a guy you want in man trail situations, riding the hip pocket of the receiver all the way down field.
One thing that separates Banks is his ball-hawking ability. He grabbed 16 interceptions, setting a school record in the process.
Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes was recruited out of Miami Norland as a running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He settled into his role as a full-time cornerback rather quickly.
Like Banks, Rhodes has the length, but unlike Banks, he also has the necessary bulk at 217 pounds. Rhodes is projected to be taken with a first-round pick, right around the middle of the round.
However, for fans like Jordan who want to see a bit of speed at the cornerback position, the combine could be particularly important. CBSSports.com's Rob Rang shared an interesting tidbit about both Banks and Rhodes:
Scouts, however, have reservations about [Banks'] straight-line speed, too. There are similar concerns for a pair of ACC stars. Florida State's Xavier Rhodes and North Carolina State's David Amerson, the only cornerback in this draft class with more interceptions over his career (18) than Banks, have flashed first round talent and could go a long way towards earning that grade by blazing the track in Indianapolis.
A fast 40-yard-dash time could earn them a first-round grade, but a slow dash time could put them within striking range of the Dolphins in the second round. The problem, then, would be whether you actually pull the trigger on cornerbacks who showed a lack of speed at the combine.
As we all know, however, the combine is not the be-all, end-all for these prospects. Not by a long shot.
Who are you watching at the combine? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.