The Dolphins still have to face the New England Patriots twice (including this Sunday), travel to San Francisco, play a Bills team they lost to two weeks ago, and match up with the Chad Henne-led Jacksonville Jaguars that can suddenly light up the scoreboard.
In order to finish with a record above .500, the Dolphins have to win four of these five remaining games. This means they'd have to beat the Patriots twice or beat the 49ers in San Francisco, both of which are long shots.
So, while Miami is still alive in the playoff hunt, it doesn't hurt to start taking a peak at what the 2013 NFL draft has to offer—especially with conference championships and bowl season on the horizon.
The following positional big boards are subject to change drastically throughout the next five months. But, for now, here are the players I foresee the Dolphins targeting at each position—even those they most likely will not address in the draft.
With Ryan Tannehill onboard, quarterback is not a priority for the Dolphins. However, it's still a position they may have to address toward the latter rounds of the draft. Matt Moore's contract expires after this season and he'll most likely get a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere.
That leaves Pat Devlin as the only other QB on Miami's roster. The Dolphins have been grooming Devlin for two years now, and though he has fared well in preseason appearances, he's still entirely unproven. If the team's brass believes he's a viable backup, then the Phins can sign another veteran to fill out the roster and call it a day.
If, however, the Dolphins do not believe Devlin is making ample progress, then they can use a late-round pick on another developmental quarterback.
Unless Miami becomes infatuated with a prospect, the earliest it'll select a quarterback is the fourth round. That sounds too early, but you never know when a team will fall in love with a mid-level QB for his intangibles and locker room presence (see: Redskins drafting Kirk Cousins in the third-round of the 2012 draft). It's more plausible for the Dolphins to wait until the fifth or sixth rounds, however.
|Zac Dysert||6'3"||220||Miami (OH)|
|Brad Sorenson||6'3"||237||Southern Utah|
|Alex Carder||6'1"||224||Western Michigan|
|Jeff Tuel||6'2"||220||Washington State|
Do the Dolphins want him back?
History suggests running backs peak at age 25 and then begin a steady decline. Bush turns 28 in March. He has also averaged 4.2 or fewer yards per carry in six of 11 games this season.
You need more consistency out of your lead back. Also, don't forget Bush was brought in under Tony Sparano's watch—not Joe Philbin's—so loyalty won't factor into this.
The Dolphins also have two young backs in Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. Rolling into next season with those two as feature backs would be a gamble. But, Thomas is finally stepping up, and while Miller has only played 28 snaps since Week 3, he flashed some of his talent in Week 2 and Week 3.
If Thomas finishes the season strong and the team feels good about Miller's prospectus, then it'll be much easier to either let Bush walk or let him test the market and bring him back on a modestly-priced, short-term deal.
Another option is letting Bush walk and drafting another running back. The Dolphins have some much more pressing needs, so they'd probably wait until the third or fourth round to pick one up.
|Christine Michael||5'11"||210||Texas A&M|
|Cierre Wood||6'0"||215||Notre Dame|
|Chris Thompson||5'8"||185||Florida State|
|Robbie Rouse||5'8"||180||Fresno State|
|Orwin Smith||5'11"||202||Georgia Tech|
|D.j. Harper||5'9"||201||Boise State|
No position is more starving for an upgrade than wide receiver.
Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have both elevated their games in the absence of an alpha wide receiver who can attract double-teams and stretch the field. Even though both are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons, the Dolphins' passing game ranks 22nd in the NFL ,and those two can't carry it alone.
Unfortunately, there's no Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green-type freak in this year's draft class, but there is a stable of very talented wideouts that currently project as second and third-round picks.
Among my personal favorites are Terrance Williams, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Cobi Hamilton and Stedman Bailey.
Anyway, I know Dolphins fans will clamor for the team to sign a big-name free agent such as Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace.
There are two problems with this. First, Joe Philbin has made it fairly evident that he plans on building through the draft. It's not a coincidence that the Dolphins have five picks in the first 75 of the 2013 draft. Also, those three all come with caveats: Jenning's recent injury history, Bowe's diva attitude and Wallace's subpar season.
Ideally, Miami will draft two wide receivers early in this draft who can grow with Ryan Tannehill and give him a legitimate core of weapons.
|Tavon Austin||5'8"||173||West Virginia|
|Marquess Wilson||6'4"||183||Washington State|
|Stedman Bailey||5'11"||193||West Virginia|
|Ryan Swope||6'0"||205||Texas A&M|
|Corey Fuller||6'2"||187||Virginia Tech|
|Rodney Smith||6'5"||218||Florida State|
|Marcus Davis||6'3"||229||Virginia Tech|
|Chad Bumphis||5'10"||200||Mississippi State|
|Theo Riddick||5'10"||197||Notre Dame|
Charles Clay's performance in the remainder of this season may dictate whether or not the Dolphins pursue a tight end early in the draft.
After catching just seven passes in the first 10 games of the season, Clay reeled in six receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown in last week's win. He showed us what he's capable of, but he has yet to prove he can do this on a regular basis.
And then, there's Michael Egnew. The third-round pick hasn't even cracked the active roster for a regular season game and played very poorly in the preseason.
Egnew was a very one-dimensional player entering the draft and all indications suggest he still is. The Dolphins can't feel comfortable playing a tight end who can't block. Maybe they shouldn't have drafted one in the first place.
Unless Egnew shows some signs of life before the draft, the Dolphins should cut their losses and go after another athletic tight end who can give Ryan Tannehill a seam threat and a red-zone target.
|Tyler Eifert||6'6"||250||Notre Dame|
|Gavin Escobar||6'5"||255||San Diego State|
|Dion Sims||6'5"||276||Michigan State|
To re-sign Jake Long or not to re-sign Jake Long: That is the question that will sculpt the entire landscape of this draft class.
If Long flees for greener pastures or the Dolphins let him walk, then offensive tackle becomes Miami's foremost priority. Because the Phins can't afford to jeopardize Ryan Tannehill's security, they'd have to use their first-round selection on Long's successor.
Luckily, there are quite a few topflight offensive tackles available in this draft including Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, who was recruited by Mike Sherman and protected Ryan Tannehill's blindside in 2010 and 2011.
Joeckel won the starting offensive tackle job as a true freshman and hasn't missed a start since. His experience and durability alone makes him an enticing prospect, and it might boost him into the top five.
|Luke Joeckel||6'5"||306||Texas A&M|
|Eric Fisher||6'7"||297||Central Michigan|
|Jake Matthews||6'5"||305||Texas A&M|
|John Wetzel||6'7"||307||Boston College|
|Luke Marquardt||6'6"||308||Azusa Pacific|
|R.J. Mattes||6'6"||305||North Carolina State|
Richie Incognito and John Jerry have both played serviceably this season, but neither has been overwhelmingly good.
Incognito is dominant at times but his hot-head personality on the field has gotten the Dolphins into trouble this season. Although that's a rectifiable issue, Joe Philbin may prefer to pursue a more agile, athletic guard better fit for his zone-blocking scheme.
The same goes for John Jerry.
Jerry has held his own but hasn't done enough to secure a starting job for next season. If he can continue slimming down and improve his overall athleticism, then he'll have a shot at retaining his starting role. But, like Incognito, Philbin may ultimately look for a player that better and more naturally suits his system.
The Dolphins could select a guard as high as the second-round. And, if one of these players emerges as a David DeCastro-caliber prospect, then there's a chance Miami will spend a first-round pick on one. But, with so many other, more pressing needs, that's highly unlikely.
|Jonathan Cooper||6'3"||320||North Carolina|
|Brian Winters||6'3"||302||Kent State|
|Braden Hansen||6'4"||310||Brigham Young|
|Omoregie Uzzi||6'2"||315||Georgia Tech|
|Chris Mcdonald||6'5"||300||Michigan State|
The Dolphins will only draft a center if they decide to convert Josh Samuda into an offensive guard. Samuda, who signed as an undrafted free agent this season, played well enough in the preseason to earn a permanent spot on the 53-man roster.
If he continues to progress, then the Dolphins should consider utilizing his talent at guard since Mike Pouncey isn't going anywhere.
Otherwise, don't expect Miami to use a pick on a center.
|Braxston Cave||6'3"||301||Notre Dame|
|Joseph Madsen||6'3"||305||West Virginia|
Right now, I'd put my money on the Dolphins drafting a defensive end in the first round.
This could change as free agency plays out, but the Dolphins will have to consider dedicating their first pick on one regardless of what happens. There is an uncanny number of top-flight defensive ends in this year's class. As many as five or six DEs could be selected in the first round.
Although defensive end might not stick out as a need, Miami needs to add another pass-rusher to complement Cameron Wake. Nobody else on the roster has more than four sacks and one of the players that does—Randy Starks—is a defensive tackle.
Jared Odrick came through with a clutch sack on Russell Wilson last week but he now has only four sacks in 675 defensive snaps. You can't get by with only one player that can consistently pressure quarterbacks. Just look at how much teams such as the 49ers, Giants and Broncos, have benefited from investing in multiple pass-rushers.
However, because there's such depth at defensive end this year, the Dolphins may be able to wait until the second round and still grab a player with Pro Bowl potential.
|Damontre Moore||6'4"||248||Texas A&M|
|Bjoern Werner||6'4"||255||Florida State|
|Cornellius (Tank) Carradine||6'4"||255||Florida State|
|Ezekiel Ansah||6'6"||273||Brigham Young|
|William Gholston||6'6"||278||Michigan State|
|Kapron Lewis-Moore||6'3"||304||Notre Dame|
|John Simon||6'1"||260||Ohio State|
|James Gayle||6'3"||256||Virginia Tech|
|Izaan Cross||6'4"||292||Georgia Tech|
LSU's Bennie Logan
There's no guarantee the Dolphins will even try to re-sign Jake Long, Reggie Bush and/or Sean Smith.
One player that is guaranteed a long-term extension offer is Randy Starks.
Starks is having a career-season playing in Kevin Coyle's 4-3. Opposing offensive lines have to pay extra attention to Cameron Wake and Paul Soliai, and Starks is capitalizing. He currently grades as the seventh-best interior defensive lineman in the NFL by Pro Football Focus' scale.
Paul Soliai has another year left on his contract and Kheeston Randall has exceeded expectations for a seventh-round draft pick. By next year, he could be a serviceable defensive tackle who may earn a role in Miami's defensive rotation.
So, defensive tackle isn't a position of great concern unless Starks decides to test the market or the Dolphins don't feel confident about Randall's long-term outlook.
|Johnathan Hankins||6'3"||335||Ohio State|
|Sylvester Williams||6'2"||320||North Carolina|
|Everett Dawkins||6'2"||290||Florida State|
|Kaleb Ramsey||6'2"||285||Boston College|
|Jordan Hill||6'0"||295||Penn State|
|Anthony Rashad White||6'2"||315||Michigan State|
Koa Misi has played himself off of the hot seat but the Dolphins still need to address the outside linebacker in the draft or free agency.
Miami has virtually no depth behind Misi and Kevin Burnett. Gary Guyton was supposed to be a versatile, quality backup but he didn't even make it out of the preseason. If Misi or Burnett went down, then the Dolphins would have to plug Jason Trusnik (40 snaps this season) into the starting lineup.
The Phins could target an outside linebacker as early as the third round.
|Brandon Jenkins||6'3"||257||Florida State|
|Gerald Hodges||6'1"||230||Penn State|
|Jamie Collins||6'3"||238||Southern Miss|
It took him two years, but Karlos Dansby is finally reasserting himself as a premier NFL middle linebacker.
However, Dansby turns 32 next season and still has approximately $15 million remaining on the four-year deal he signed in 2010. This is just a hypothetical, but the Dolphins could cut Dansby, save the money, and draft his replacement with an early draft pick.
It's unlikely, especially considering Dansby is a veteran leader on one of the league's youngest teams. It's not completely implausible, though, especially considering he has been playing with a torn bicep muscle. Next season he'll be a 32-year-old who might be coming off of a bicep surgery.
Again, it's unlikely given his performance this season, but if the Dolphins can get their hands on, say, Manti Te'o, would you be opposed?
|Manti Te'o||6'1"||248||Notre Dame|
|Michael Mauti||6'1"||235||Penn State|
|Kevin Reddick||6'2"||240||North Carolina|
|Arthur Brown||6'0"||224||Kansas State|
|Vince Williams||6'0"||245||Florida State|
|Bruce Taylor||6'1"||247||Virginia Tech|
A few weeks ago, Sean Smith was playing well enough to prompt concerns about whether or not the Dolphins could afford to re-sign him after this season.
Now, it's a matter of whether the team will even want him back.
In the last four weeks, Smith has been thrown at 24 times. He has allowed 16 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns on those attempts (per Pro Football Focus). That's pretty ugly, especially for a player who was supposed to emerge as viable No. 1 cornerback this season.
Even if Smith returns, cornerback is a main priority for the Dolphins. Richard Marshall's return next season will help—though he was mediocre in the four games he played—but Nolan Carroll hasn't done anything to warrant a look as a starter next year. Neither has Jimmy Wilson for that matter.
The Dolphins need to add at least one cornerback within the first three rounds of the draft.
|Johnthan Banks||6'2"||185||Mississippi State|
|David Amerson||6'2"||193||North Carolina State|
|Xavier Rhodes||6''1"||215||Florida State|
|Jordan Poyer||5'11"||182||Oregon State|
|Rod Sweeting||5'11"||187||Georgia Tech|
|Will Davis||5'11"||192||Utah State|
Believe it or not, Reshad Jones is Pro Football Focus' top-rated NFL safety.
Yes, he grades out higher than everybody from Eric Weddle to Ryan Clark to Ed Reed, and Antrel Rolle.
So, the Dolphins are set at free safety, but what about strong safety?
Is Chris Clemons the answer moving forward?
Based on his play this season, the answer is yes.
Clemons ranks as PFF's 17th best safety. Opposing quarterbacks have a 57.6 rating when throwing into his coverage. Furthermore, quarterbacks have completed only 62.5 percent of passes thrown into Clemons' coverage. He hasn't been as effective in run support, but he hasn't been bad in that area by any means.
Now that Jonathon Amaya may be headed for a Florida state penitentiary, the Dolphins could scoop up a developmental safety in the draft—much like they did with both Jones and Clemons.
Miami could stand to add some depth behind Jones and Clemons, though Jimmy Wilson can fill in, and undrafted free agents Anderson Russell and Kelcie McCray (before he fractured his foot), both showed flashes last summer.
|DeVonte Holloman||6'2"||235||South Carolina|
|D.J. Swearinger||5'11"||210||South Carolina|
|Vaughn Telemaque||6'1"||207||Miami (FL)|
|Lamarcus Joyner||5'8"||205||Florida State|