The Dolphins have a plethora of needs that will have to be filled, and luckily for them, this draft contains some of the answers to their 2012 problems.
After a thrilling last second 24-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks pushed the Dolphins to 5-6 and back into the ever competitive AFC playoff race on Sunday, there are sure to be fans wondering: Why continue to look at what the Miami Dolphins should do in the 2013 offseason.
The best answer I can give for that is because this year has exceeded any realistic (keyword) expectations that were placed upon the Miami Dolphins, but their shortcomings have proven that there is a lot of work still left to be done.
Let's take a look at some of the players who will likely become Miami's number one pick in 2013, as well as why that will be the case.
Before we dive into the potential players Miami could pick up, there are still a lot of factors in the air.
The first big factor is free agency: What will Miami do with impending free agents Brian Hartline, Reggie Bush, Sean Smith, and most importantly Jake Long.
Hartline will likely be re-signed, and even if Bush leaves, Miami won't likely go after a running back in Round 1 (the Dolphins have Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller wrapped up for 2013).
Even if Hartline is re-signed, wide receiver is likely to be a priority on Miami's draft list, meaning at least one or more of its five picks in the first three rounds will go to that position.
With Sean Smith, it's the same story as Brian Hartline. He will likely be re-signed due to Miami's need at the position, but whether he comes back or not, Miami is going to use a high pick on a cornerback.
The biggest issue though is that of Jake Long. It's no secret to anyone who follows the NFL that Long's play has declined, yet will still be a hot commodity in free agency due to the wide need for good offensive linemen in the NFL. In fact, Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller said that left tackle was a need for Miami, stating in his weekly power rankings:
Fans may be shocked to see left tackle listed here, but anyone watching the Miami Dolphins this season has seen that Jake Long is a far cry from the elite pass protector he used to be. A change could be coming.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Long will be a free agent after the season. If you're the Miami Dolphins, with so many needs across the board, do you invest top money in a left tackle who was a perennial All-Pro but has struggled the last two seasons? I wouldn't.
Long can be replaced, and early in the first round, depending on where Miami finishes this season. The 2013 class has three tackles ranked in the top 12—Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews from Texas A&M and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Miami could replace Long with a younger, cheaper option and start building their offense around Ryan Tannehill, Jon Martin and the new left tackle.
It felt like I had written that, since I agree with every single point Miller made. That will factor into the players on this list as well.
The other factor is where Miami will draft. If the season ended today, the Dolphins would draft 14th based upon their projected record (7-9), as well as their projected strength of schedule. This information comes courtesy of PlayoffStatus.com.
However, if Miami didn't win another game this season (which would be an epic disaster considering that despite two games against New England and a trip to San Francisco, they also will be visited by the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars) and finished 5-11, they would likely draft somewhere between fifth and eighth.
However, if the Dolphins manage to win their final five games, thus finishing 10-6 and grabbing an AFC playoff berth, their draft position hinges on how well they do in the postseason. One-and-done could have Miami drafting at 20th, while an improbable "someone make a sports movie right now" Super Bowl victory for the Dolphins would have them picking 32nd.
Because I see Miami finishing the season at 8-8 (wins over Buffalo, Jacksonville and New England in the final game of the season), my ballpark estimation will be for Miami to draft somewhere between 14th-19th. With these picks I will likely go a bit higher and lower in the draft, depending on the players and the need.
Part of the reason why I have them both on the same slide is because the two are teammates. The other reason is due to the fact that the same video on YouTube features the work both of them did against Florida in keeping potential Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel upright against one of the toughest defenses in college football.
(I really wish I had a video like this for their best game, which was the already classic Aggies upset of Alabama.)
Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are two of the three best tackles available in the NFL draft, and both should be early-to-mid first-round picks.
Both players will have some familiarity with the Dolphins offense, considering that both of them had to protect Ryan Tannehill while playing for Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. Both of them did a tremendous job of that, and have improved in 2012 in a different offensive position, setting up "Johnny Football's" tremendous season.
The familiarity to the coaching staff has helped Tannehill develop faster than anyone expected, and will certainly help either of these two players if one of them were to come to Miami.
Joeckel will likely be gone before Miami is on the clock, but Matthews himself would be a tremendous consolation prize. He's currently a right tackle in the Aggies' offense, but because Miami's current right tackle Jonathan Martin played left tackle throughout high school and college, it would be easier to move Martin back to the left side while sliding Matthews into the right tackle position.
Either way, Miami would be in good shape choosing one of Texas A&M's prized linemen. If either of the two are likely to be available to Miami in the draft, then letting go of Jake Long would be the right decision to make considering his decline in play as well as his salary demands.
In an ironic twist, Miami could choose to replace its left tackle out of Michigan, with a left tackle out of Michigan.
Tyler Lewan reminded me of Jake Long's first couple of years in Miami in that video, and with Lewan measuring in at about 10 pounds less than Long, while also standing at the same height of 6'7", this could also improve his chances of his prime lasting longer than Long (who seems to be on the downside during his fifth year).
Lewan did struggle early this season against Alabama's formidable pass rush, but as you can see in the video, he did a very good job against Notre Dame's aggressive rush. Take a look at his footwork and technique too, as it's almost textbook in its flawlessness.
Lewan is more likely to be available when Miami is on the clock than Joeckel, but if he's on the board, then there's a good chance that Matthews is too. Between Matthews and Lewan I'd choose Matthews.
However, if Long is out of Miami and Lewan is on the board, he'd be a great pickup for Miami come April.
Let's assume Miami either keeps Jake Long or the offensive tackles available when they're on the clock aren't first round values (which is every offensive tackle not mentioned in this slideshow).
This is when Miami should focus on adding a second pass-rusher to line up alongside Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai and Randy Starks (another impending free agent Miami likely holds on to) on the line.
Bjoern Werner is the best defensive end available, and in this video of him from Florida State's game against Virginia Tech on November 8th, it's easy to see why.
Werner's ability to shed blocks to get to the pass-rusher is uncanny, and in the NFL he will actually have more freedom to roam if he's drafted by Miami due to the overall strength of the rest of the line (notice how often Jared Odrick is double-teamed, now compare it to how often Werner is double-teamed in college). Werner is first in the ACC with 13 sacks, which is also tied with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney for first in the nation in that category.
Werner also has active hands that he uses along with his 6'4" frame to deflect passes, thus causing the potential for more turnovers. Werner has seven tipped passes this season, which doesn't even account for all of the passes he's able to affect just based off of his presence in the pocket. He's also athletic enough to be a force when dropping back into coverage and could even be moved to outside linebacker if necessary.
Drafting Werner would give Miami's defense a much-needed boost and actually propel the defensive line into being the best in the NFL. It even helps their linebacking unit as they could shift Olivier Vernon to outside linebacker where he's much better suited.
Werner would be a tremendous pick for Miami, and a true draft day steal, assuming he's able to slip to Miami's position in the draft.
Another big time pass-rusher Miami could go after would be Oregon's Dion Jordan, who Matt Miller has ranked as the top defensive end in the 2013 draft.
Jordan is tall for a defensive end at 6'7", which caused Oregon to use him in a way that teams would use a 3-4 pass-rusher, alternating him at linebacker and as a defensive end. Since the Dolphins run a 4-3, it may not seem like Jordan would be a fit, however, his skill set translates to any defensive scheme.
Aggressive and physical, as well as being one of the fastest players available, Jordan might even be too fast for Miami's defense, which isn't a bad thing. Much like Werner, Jordan would have plenty of opportunities to shine while being single-covered due to the strength of the other three linemen.
My only concern with Jordan is the fact that Oregon just moves him around on every play; I'm not exactly sure how that would translate to a 4-3 defense and if it would work with him lining up in a three-point stance (notice how you see him standing on each play, while with Werner he's in the stance most of the time).
It might seem like a small nitpick to most of you but there is a difference between the two, as some players tend to lose burst when coming out of the stance, especially taller players like Jordan.
Another troubling stat is despite being considered one of the best linemen in the country, Jordan only has 5.5 sacks on the season. Even though his expressed purpose is rushing the quarterback, I would expect him to have a lot more sacks, especially since both Damontre Moore and Bjoern Werner both have more than twice that number in sacks and they are usually rushing the quarterback out of the three-point stance.
It would still be a good pickup for the Dolphins, provided there isn't much of a problem in the transition, as Jordan would be one of the most explosive defensive ends in the game.
Here's another Texas A&M product recruited by Mike Sherman that Miami could set its sites on: Defensive end Damontre Moore.
Moore is probably the player most likely left on the board of my first six players, but his ability to rush the quarterback make him a good pickup when Miami is on the board.
Moore is second in the SEC with 12.5 sacks, no small feat in a conference that (aside from his Texas A&M teammates) boasts some of the best offensive lines in college football.
Once again, you will notice that Moore is double-teamed often, a position that any pass-rusher that is drafted to the Miami Dolphins is unlikely to be in.
Sometimes when I hear college football pundits talking about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, it feels like I'm listening to them discuss Tim Tebow.
You hear so much about his character and leadership abilities, which are great assets to have. However, Te'o's value isn't just in the intangibles that are mentioned so much, but also on the field.
I wouldn't recommend Miami draft a linebacker in Round 1, but if Te'o was to slip to Miami, I'd want them to pounce on the pick.
No disrespect to Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Koa Misi, but when was the last time Miami had a linebacker with Te'o's football IQ? If you said Zach Thomas, you are absolutely correct.
But imagine if Zach Thomas was 6'2" 255 pounds and had Brian Urlacher's skill set (and Urlacher is not exactly a slouch in the football IQ department himself). That package is a football player that not only is the best in his class, but has the potential to be mentioned with some pretty big names at his position (not mentioning the names but when you think linebacker, I know what names you will be going to).
Te'o racked up 101 tackles this season while also sacking the quarterback 1.5 times, and picking off seven passes. He also deflected four passes.
Miami does need someone that can successfully cover Rob Gronkowski (every team does), especially since just about any tight end has torched the Dolphins in the last few seasons.
Cornerback is another position of major need for the Dolphins, where I really don't see too much first round talent or value.
Dee Milliner, who's the best cornerback in the country and will be one heck of a pro, is one of the few first-round talents at the position. Alabama's secondary is the best in the country because of Milliner, who is a Bronko Nagurski Award finalist.
His size and speed allows him to match up with any wide receiver in the NFL, and his coverage is usually very tight and top-notch.
Much like many cornerbacks though, Milliner tends to have issues tackling, but it's not bad enough to warrant any red flags, since he's good enough to deter quarterbacks from throwing it his way. He has also shown the ability to deflect or even straight-up catch any pass thrown his way (imagine the Dolphins with a cornerback that can catch the ball when thrown to him).
Milliner will likely be long gone by the time Miami is on the clock, but if he's available he'd actually be a more likely selection than any of the pass-rushers listed due to the pressing need at the position as well as what Millner could bring to the table at the position compared to the rest of the draft's class at corner.
Have I mentioned that I'm not entirely crazy about the wide receivers available in Round 1?
If I haven't, let me repeat: I'm not too crazy about the wide receivers available in Round 1. Yes, wide receiver is a pressing need for the Dolphins, and yes, they should use one of their draft picks on a potential number one receiver.
It just shouldn't be in Round 1 if any of the other names I've mentioned so far are available, especially when the top receiver in the class is projected as a mid-round pick, yet has trouble running routes and already seems to have knee problems that could linger.
With that said, if Miami is dead-set on going wide receiver in Round 1, the pick will likely be Keenan Allen. He's the top-ranked receiver on every draft board, and in nine games this season he scored six touchdowns while notching 61 catches for 737 yards.
While those do look like great statistics, need I remind you again that his route-running is a problem. Why am I focusing on his routes so much? Miami's West Coast offense is dependent on wide receivers running routes well.
This makes Allen a development project, which likely means Jeff Ireland will take him in Round 1 even if any of the players I mentioned ahead of Allen are available (they will have more value than him). I see him struggling to become the number one receiver in Miami's offense in his first year, which isn't something you would want out of your first-round pick.
With that said, Allen does have the size, speed and strength to be a number one receiver in the NFL. Sure it will take time with him, but because of the time it will take compared to how long it will take the other players on this list to make a big impact, Allen's name shouldn't be the top name on Miami's draft board.
Now, if Miami is able to sign Jake Long to an affordable deal, and the defensive ends I listed are off the board, then Miami taking Keenan Allen would be understandable. But before they do that, there is a defensive backfield that needs some work, and there is better value with the corners available in Round 1.
Here's why I'm not crazy about taking any corners not named Dee Milliner in the first round: The second rated corner in the draft is Johnthan Banks out of Mississippi State.
Banks is a good corner and looks like he'll be great in the NFL as well, but I don't see what puts him ahead of NC State's David Amerson, Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, or Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.
Banks is a big corner who could match up with any team's number one receiver in that category. But the speed isn't exactly ideal. Notice how he's lining up off of the receiver instead of at the line on his man, and when a receiver is able to fake him out on the route, he doesn't have the speed to recover well.
I'm not very sure those are the makings of a first-round pick, he just seems like another acorn to me.
While Banks has been excellent this season recording 59 tackles, four interceptions and seven pass deflections, I wouldn't be too crazy picking him in Round 1 of the NFL draft, and if anything, would feel more comfortable with Keenan Allen as the first pick than with Banks.