With college football bowl season in full swing, we're starting to get a better feel for which prospects will not only highlight the 2013 NFL Draft Class, but will also surface on the Miami Dolphins' radar.
Because the Dolphins have holes to fill at wide receiver, tight end, guard, defensive end, cornerback, and safety, Jeff Ireland can literally go in any direction with his first-round pick.
Although it's still extremely early in the process, at the very least these prospects will almost surely draw Miami's interest. Things are bound to change as these players go through postseason all-star games and workouts and as the Dolphins shore up some of their needs in free agency.
But, for now, these six players are worth monitoring as we head into "draft season."
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Dolphins should draft a defensive end in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Yes, the Dolphins' 41 team sacks are sixth-most in the NFL, but don't be blinded by statistics. No player besides Cameron Wake has more than five sacks, and no player besides Wake can generate a consistent pass rush. Olivier Vernon might evolve into a solid pass-rusher one day, but he was a non-factor this season. And, Jared Odrick is playing out of position at defensive end—he should be shifted inside to defensive tackle where he can better utilize his size and run-stuffing strength.
This year's draft class is also loaded with elite defensive ends. As many as eight defensive ends could go in the first round. The Dolphins can easily get their hands on a player with Pro Bowl potential such as Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Jordan is a freakish athlete with a freakish build who has emerged as one of college football's finest defensive ends despite playing the position for only two years (sounds like Ryan Tannehill, no?). Although his production isn't exactly awe-inspiring (44 tackles, five sacks), his potential is unlimited.
He's very reminiscent of Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Dolphins need some explosive playmakers, right?
So, why not draft one of the most electric prospects we've seen in years?
West Virginia's Tavon Austin is undersized at 5'9", 174 pounds, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in, well, just about everything else. Austin once ran a 4.28 40 and he looks like Flash Gordon with the ball in his hands. He also offers unparalleled versatility, having played extensively at both running back and wide receiver.
Austin was also one of the nation's most productive players in 2012. He finished the season ranked second in receptions (110) and second in all-purpose yards per game (230). His combination of versatility, explosiveness, and production reminds me of Percy Harvin—minus the chronic durability issues.
Adding a player such as Austin would immediately add another dimension to Miami's offense. Although he currently projects as a late first-round pick, that's bound to change, assuming he blows everybody away at workouts and the Combine.
If the Dolphins lose Sean Smith to free agency, then their cornerback corps will immediately suffer a huge downgrade. Even with Smith, this stable of corners is one of the NFL's worst.
So, do the math: Miami needs a cornerback. Badly.
Depending on where the Dolphins pick in the first-round, they could have a shot at Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who's currently the consensus top rated defensive back in this year's class. Milliner is an extraordinarily well-rounded player who provides excellent run support and pass coverage.
He has the makings of a shutdown, No. 1 cornerback who would single-handedly elevate Miami's secondary to another level.
The NFL is rapidly evolving into a pass-happy league, and one vital ingredient to any successful aerial attack is an athletic, versatile tight end. We've seen how teams like the Saints, Patriots, Chargers, Cowboys, and Falcons have benefited from investing in such players, and it's now time for the Dolphins to get on board and to do the same.
Charles Clay was a huge disappointment this season, and Michael Egnew was an even bigger one. If the Dolphins want to upgrade their offense, then they won't continue waiting around for Clay to breakout and for Egnew to catch on.
Instead, they should consider drafting Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round.
Eifert has the combination of size (6'6", 250 pounds) and athleticism (4.7 40) that makes him a nightmarish match-up for opposing defenses. He's too fast for linebackers to cover, and he can outmuscle defensive backs with his size. This makes him a perfect red zone target, something the Dolphins desperately need.
If Miami ends up picking somewhere around the late-teens, then Eifert is a very realistic option.
Why would the Dolphins draft a linebacker with more pressing needs at so many other positions?
Because players like Manti Te'o don't come around very often.
Te'o has everything you can possibly want in a prospect. He's a bona fide, vocal leader. He plays sideline-to-sideline and exerts great instincts and playmaking ability—something a Dolphins defense that has forced only 16 turnovers needs. He's one of the most decorated college football players ever, and he can be the face of whichever franchise drafts him.
What about Karlos Dansby, you ask?
Well, the Dolphins won't move Karlos Dansby or Kevin Burnett around given how successful they were this season (Though, for the record, Dansby did play strong side linebacker with the Arizona Cardinals. Just saying.) If Miami were to draft Te'o, then he would supplant Koa Misi and then shift inside to middle linebacker once Dansby's contract expires in 2014.
And there's always a possibility the Dolphins cut Dansby, but that would take a decent chunk out of their cap space.
This is a long shot, but it's a definite possibility.
This is a sleeper pick.
Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson hasn't decided whether or not he'll enter the draft yet. If he does, then he could emerge as the most heralded wide receiver in this year's class.
Patterson is 6'3", 205 pounds and boasts sub-4.5 speed. That combination alone makes him a perfect target for the Dolphins, whose wide receiver corps lacks both height and vertical speed. NFLDraftScout.com describes him as an unpolished route runner who "has explosive ability with the ball in his hands with excellent acceleration and vision to weave through defenses."
There are a few red flags surrounding Patterson. He's a junior college transfer who played only one year against high-end competition. And his production wasn't exactly sensational: 46 receptions, 778 yards, and five touchdowns.
Patterson is raw and inexperienced, but didn't scouts say the same exact thing about Ryan Tannehill?
Call it a hunch, but I think Patterson is bound to rise into the first-round and bound to become a quality NFL wideout.