Breaking Down Jeff Ireland and the Dolphins in the First Round of the NFL Draft

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Breaking Down Jeff Ireland and the Dolphins in the First Round of the NFL Draft
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

NFL draft season has reached a fever pitch here in 2013, and we are still a couple weeks away. Dolphins fans, in particular, have been worked into a tizzy thanks in large part to Jeff Ireland's polarizing presence in the front office.

After an aggressive free-agent period, what will Ireland do? More to the point, what won't he do?

 

Wishful Thinking

Tavon Austin brings a lot to the table. The star out of West Virginia is going to make a lot of defenders miss at the next level, bringing outstanding playmaking ability despite his diminutive size.

Jeff Ireland is not going to draft Tavon Austin. 

For starters, Ireland doesn't take receivers with high draft picks. The highest Miami has taken a receiver in the NFL draft since Ireland arrived was the third round, where Patrick Turner was drafted in 2009. 

You might say that was a Bill Parcells pick, which is true. But has Ireland broken away from that line of thinking?

Just last year the Dolphins were widely viewed as needing an upgrade at the receiver position after trading Brandon Marshall away for two ham sandwiches, yet Ireland waited until the sixth round to draft B.J. Cunningham. The year before, Edmund Gates was Ireland's top receiver, taken in the fourth round.

Fast-forward to this offseason, where Ireland has signed Mike Wallace to a huge contract and nabbed Brandon Gibson while retaining Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. He finally spent major resources on the position.

Even if Ireland trades Bess, does it seem likely he will spend a high draft pick on a receiver?

This is all not to mention Austin's size. Austin is 5'8" and 174 pounds, on par with Dexter McCluster. While Austin is a far better player, that reality further alienates him from Jeff Ireland's modus operandi.

Ireland could break character and take Austin at 12 if he is available—as a luxury pick, no less—but that is a rather risky bet.

 

The Modus Operandi...or is it?

The Dolphins have a reputation for taking an offensive lineman in the first round. Indeed, when you take a left tackle with the first overall pick in a draft over a potential franchise quarterback, that reputation might linger.

In reality, Miami has taken an offensive lineman in the first round twice in the past five years—Jake Long and Mike Pouncey. Add Jonathan Martin to the mix and that makes three offensive lineman in the first two rounds over the past five years.

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Is Lane Johnson the Pick?

So what are the chances Ireland goes with an offensive lineman in the first round?

Considering the need at left tackle and Martin's horrific rookie season, chances are pretty good. Jake Long's departure leaves a 6'6" hole at left tackle. Martin might slide over to the left side, where he was no better than the right side in 2012 despite it being his natural position.

There mas been much buzz about the Dolphins moving up to take Lane Johnson, which has been on the plate for some time as far as yours truly is concerned:

The general volatility of this draft will be the biggest determining factor here. If Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher get taken in the top five, the Dolphins might have to move up past Arizona to ensure they get Lane Johnson. 

But Ireland could just as well wait to grab one in the middle rounds—perhaps the athletic Terron Armstead.

 

The Price is Wrong, B

Rumors are floating around about D.J. Fluker. Mel Kiper Jr. posited that the Dolphins could take the right tackle with the No. 12 pick.

Note that Fluker played right tackle in college. 

There are many things wrong with this thinking, not the least of which taking a pure right tackle with the 12th pick might incite a riot in Miami's fanbase.

Then there is the wishful thinking that he can be moved to the left side.

Thanks to Dane Brugler for agreeing with me in prescience.

In all seriousness, Fluker will not translate well to left tackle. This plan makes zero sense for the Dolphins for multiple reasons, not the least of which will be that Fluker will be playing out of position at left tackle and Martin will continue to be out of position at right tackle.

Then there is the tight end position.

Much like receiver, tight end has rarely been a big priority during the NFL draft for Ireland and the Dolphins in recent years. There has been some recent clamor about Miami taking Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert with the 12th pick.

Michael Egnew was taken with a third-round pick last year—the highest Miami has taken a tight end since Ireland arrived—and he couldn't even crack the active roster until the end of the year. Miami also signed Dustin Keller and still has Charles Clay on the roster.

Keller might be signed through one season—and Egnew might have been a bust as a rookie—but the depth Ireland has built in the position probably means a high-round pick at tight end is unlikely. Eifert is a great player, but this one doesn't seem to make much sense from a depth standpoint.

However you feel about the quality at the tight end position right now, taking one in the first round simply doesn't fit. It also doesn't fit Ireland's idea of drafting "expensive players" with a top pick.

 

To Trade Up or Trade Down?

Miami has been known to make draft-day moves in recent years. They traded all the way back to the 28th pick back in 2010 to take Jared Odrick. Ireland moved back up into the second round to ensure he got Daniel Thomas, which only serves to salt that wound.

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The aforementioned buzz surrounding a move up to draft Lane Johnson is quite feasible. But is it simply a smoke screen? 

We have reached the end of a crescendo regarding the move, to the point where mock drafts everywhere—including a live one I just completed—are predicting the move. It is almost too obvious.

There is also some rumbling about Miami moving up to take Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel should either fall out of the top three or four picks. That might be too rich for Ireland's blood.

If the Johnson buzz is merely bluster, the Dolphins might have a good chance to move down. Of course, everyone wants to trade down. For that to happen, Ireland will need to find a dance partner willing to give up the right value—no easy task.

The likeliest scenario involves Miami staying put at 12 and taking the best player available at a position of need. There is a glut of good pass-rushers in this year's draft. Put two and two together, and that means a defensive lineman—perhaps a Bjoern Werner or Ezekiel Ansah—might be the pick.

 

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