10 NFL Combine Participants the Miami Dolphins Must Closely Watch
February is almost over, which means the NFL Scouting Combine is upon us, and for the Miami Dolphins there are plenty of intriguing names to keep an eye on.
From Feb. 23-26, some of the top college football prospects will converge on Indianapolis and will perform physical and mental tests in front of the NFL's coaches, general managers and scouts.
The combine can determine where a player is drafted as well as their perception, and quite possibly even their career.
For NFL franchises like the Dolphins, it will be their first chance to meet most of the prospects one-on-one, giving them the opportunity to see if the player could fit into the team in terms of chemistry as well as talent.
With five picks in the first three rounds of this year's draft, the Dolphins will have plenty of names circled, but which 10 should the Dolphins keep their eye out for the most?
Keenan Allen — Wide Receiver, California
It's fairly well known that the Miami Dolphins are in need of a wide receiver, so pardon me in advance for the fact that this will be receiver-heavy.
Keenan Allen is one name that will pop up as a potential first-round target for the Dolphins. He's a 6'3" 210 lb receiver who in his last season at Cal racked up 61 catches for 737 yards and six touchdowns.
However Allen wouldn't finish up the season, as he would suffer a knee injury on Oct. 27 against Utah that affected the posterior cruciate ligament (per San Francisco Chronicle). The injury wouldn't require surgery but it will be interesting to see how he recovered from it.
Allen doesn't have great straight-ahead speed, but he does have great hands and great acceleration. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller stated about Allen: "With a healthy knee, Allen is the most dynamic wide receiver in this year's class."
Cordarelle Patterson — Wide Receiver, Tennessee
Patterson is a lot more intriguing than Allen do to the fact that he is much faster and seems to have a lot more upside than his Cal counterpart.
The 6'3" 205lb Patterson actually caught less passes than Allen (46) in more games (12), as well as only accounting for only 41 more yards than Allen (778).
Patterson's main issue seems to be with drops, as he tends to have some concentration lapses where he drops some easy ones. He also primarily catches with his body as opposed to his hands, which one can get away with in college but in the NFL you likely won't get the time to fully bring the ball in. This trait also doesn't help much when it comes to yards after the catch.
Patterson is also fairly raw when it comes to route-running, so his combine workouts will largely hinge on that particular skill.
Despite the issues, Patterson does have a ton of upside and has the prototypical body for a wide receiver. He could be a fit for the Dolphins, but he will take some time to develop. How much development he's had since his final college game will be on display in Indianapolis, and Miami should keep an eye on him, for he might just wind up being their best option at the wide receiver position at the No. 12 spot.
Quinton Patton — Wide Receiver, Louisiana Tech
Here's one of my favorite receivers available in this year's draft and the one the Dolphins should take, as he will likely be available in the second (or even third) round.
Patton has the ability to catch any pass you throw up to him, and for the last two seasons at Louisiana Tech was a First Team All-WAC selection.
In those two seasons, Patton accumulated 2,554 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 2012 being his finest season, catching 79 passes for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns while leading Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, the WAC title, and a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Patton also seems to have great character, as he and linebacker Adrien Cole gave away their $300 Best Buy gift cards given to them by the Poinsettia Bowl Committee to two kids involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation prior to the game at a fund-raising event. (Per CBSSports.com).
Patton is definitely a receiver the Dolphins should look at as he does seem a little bit more polished than Allen or Patterson, and would be a good fit in the West Coast Offense with his size, route running and speed. He impressed me during the Senior Bowl (as well as the coverage leading up to the game), and the more I read about him, the more impressed I am.
Ezekiel Ansah — Defensive End, BYU
One word to describe Ezekiel Ansah is raw. Very raw.
We're talking sushi-raw here, not medium rare-raw (culinary note: only my mother considers a medium rare steak to be "raw", medium rare means cooked to perfection).
Ansah's numbers aren't very impressive. Last season he only registered 62 tackles and 4.5 sacks. But he's only been playing football since 2010 and had a great game at the Senior Bowl, which is when many more casual football fans started to notice him.
One knock against him however is his inexperience, which showed often during Senior Bowl practice. One can't help but think that Ansah will likely have issues at the combine when asked about certain plays and terminology. Despite that, his upside and raw talent will likely get him drafted high.
Could Ansah be the next Jason-Pierre Paul? That's still up in the air as of now, but with the combine we will figure out more.
Barkevious Mingo — Defensive End, LSU
Watching Barkevious Mingo during the season always left me feeling underwhelmed, as it didn't seem like he really took over games at his position. His numbers in 2012 (38 tackles, 4.5 sacks) had fallen off from a great 2011 (46 tackles, seven sacks), but usually in the case of looking at defensive ends, numbers aren't the be-all, end-all; it's what you see on the field.
It's for that reason that I never considered Mingo for any of my Dolphins mock drafts, and would still be weary on taking him despite Miami's need for a second pass-rusher.
With that said, Mingo has the look of a natural athlete born to play defensive end. He's a very physical player that also possesses elite speed. Because of this Mingo will likely be drafted high.
But how high he goes is a completely different story. His 2012 doesn't say he should be a top-5 draft pick, but his overall body of work at LSU, size and speed say he should. Jeff Ireland at the very least has to do some homework on Mingo and keep a keen eye on him as he works out.
Xavier Rhodes — Cornerback, Florida State
Florida State's Xavier Rhodes started in all three seasons as a Seminole, and is a big, physical corner who does a very good job of pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage and messing up their timing.
He's one of the best corners available in the draft, but there is one question that must be asked: can he play zone?
It's the problem that has somewhat restricted Sean Smith, and will likely be the reason why he won't be coming back to the Miami Dolphins in 2013. With Rhodes being a hot draft commodity playing a position of great need for Miami, it's likely that they will have eyes on him.
Figuring out if Rhodes can play zone coverage is the key. He will likely be out to show that he's not as scheme-dependent as he is perceived, and does feature a lot of upside at the position.
Jordan Poyer — Cornerback, Oregon State
Oregon State's Jordan Poyer is a cornerback who's better suited to zone coverage.
He's shorter than Rhodes at 6'0" 190lbs, but possesses great speed and athleticism for the position. Poyer has proven to be great at playing well at the line of scrimmage while possessing great pass-catching skills.
Poyer can also cover just about any kind of route, and has been excellent against underneath routes for the Beavers (considering the Dolphins play the Patriots twice a year, this is fairly important).
Poyer was another player from the Senior Bowl that I was impressed with and definitely made my "I want him" list. He should be on the Dolphins' as well, as he brings the tools needed to play in Kevin Coyle's defense.
John Cyprien — Safety, Florida International University
Safeties like Ed Reed who hit hard and can make plays make a defense at least 30 percent better.
John (or Jonathan, the NFL has him listed as John) Cyprien is an Ed Reed-type safety.
Great as a zone-defender with great tackling abilities, Cyprien seems like he was made to play alongside Reshad Jones in Miami's defensive backfield. He has shown great ability in blitzing on both run and pass plays, but when it comes to zone coverage, that's where he excels.
Cyprien also has great range and is aggressive towards the ball-carrier, but he also plays very smart and has shown great ability in reading the offense. For a secondary that at times last season seemed lost, Cyprien would be a massive upgrade.
Miami is attempting to re-sign Chris Clemons, however after watching Cyprien at the combine, they might want to consider adding him to the draft board as a possible insurance policy in case Clemons leaves, or even allow Clemons to leave and pounce on the former Golden Panther.
Jonathan Cooper — Guard, North Carolina
North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper is the best guard available in the draft for the Dolphins, and has proven to be tough in pass-protection while at the same time athletic enough to be a great zone-blocker.
Cooper works great when protecting a moving pocket, which will be necessary if the Dolphins are serious about utilizing quarterback Ryan Tannehill in an occasional West Coast-variation of the Read-Option offense.
Cooper is also great at sealing off rushing lanes which at times could be a problem for Miami in 2012. The goal of this offseason is to get Ryan Tannehill as much help as possible, and Cooper can do just that.
If I ran this team, I'd trade down in the first round and grab Cooper then, and if that didn't seem possible, I actually wouldn't mind seeing him taken with the first pick (despite the protests from the fans who would look at it as "oh great, a guard? Only the Heat should draft guards from North Carolina in the first round!"). Cooper is as close to perfect for this offense as you will find, and I actually see him making quite the impression on Ireland, Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman at this year's combine.
Marcus Lattimore — Running Back, South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore is a risk in every sense of the word.
I haven't seen a replay of his gruesome knee injury since the day it happened, yet it's still etched in my mind. I wonder how the guy will ever play football again, but apparently he will be able to, as he had told NFL.com that he is ready to "shock the world." (Per NFL.com).
Lattimore is ahead of schedule in his rehab, but won't be working out at the combine. Despite that, he will be in attendance speaking with the NFL general managers and coaches who will be present, and has indicated that he will be ready to start the 2013 season.
Mike Mayock of NFL.com predicted that Lattimore will be chosen in round three, but I see him slipping to the fourth or fifth round due to his injury. If he's available it would do the Dolphins good to take a chance on him considering the lack of overall experience in the backfield assuming Reggie Bush winds up leaving, along with the dissappointing start to Daniel Thomas' career.
At the very least, the Dolphins should at least have a meeting with Lattimore, see what this kid is all about and how he could fit into Miami's offense while splitting carries with Lamar Miller. He would be a great compliment to Miller, assuming he's correct about "shocking the world."