After a busy free agency period for the Miami Dolphins, their draft picture has cleared up a lot. They filled almost all of their holes, and reinforced depth at others, leaving them with options in this draft. Even since my last mock draft, Miami has made a few significant moves that leaves them with even more flexibility.
The big day is almost two weeks away, when Miami will find themselves faced with the tough decision about trading up in the first round. At this stage, they would likely only move up to draft a tackle, and there are a few reasons I am against that, which I will outline on the first slide.
For now, it's worth noting that Miami would likely have to swap first rounders with Cleveland, giving up at least a second and probably either their fourth or fifth rounders as well to get to the sixth spot. Jumping Arizona would be a must to get a tackle, and they would likely overpay to do that.
Miami still has a big need at cornerback, and could add pieces to every part of their defense. The offense is in decent shape right now, but could use upgrades as well. The Dolphins have been trying to get faster on offense, but they need to make sure they are well-rounded as well.
Currently, Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo are still available on the market. Either right tackle would solidify the Dolphins' line while taking away a lot of pressure for taking one in the draft. I still think there's a chance that one of them is signed, but I had to assume otherwise for this mock.
Lastly, I'll use this opportunity here to say that the Dolphins will absolutely not take Tavon Austin in the first round. The Dolphins have Mike Wallace and Lamar Miller, and they have too many other holes to take an undersized combination of the two 12th overall.
Trading up is always dangerous, especially since this is considered a draft without any real top-end talent. Add in the fact that a lot of teams ahead of Miami could draft a tackle, and that means they'll likely overpay to move up.
Kansas City (picking first), Philadelphia (fourth), Detroit (fifth), Arizona (seventh), and San Diego (eleventh) are all very much in the market for a tackle, while there are only two premier tackles available. Lane Johnson is in the discussion more based off team need and "upside" than anything else.
So I expect Miami to possibly trade down, or stay where they are and add a huge element to their offense by selecting Tyler Eifert. Currently, Miami has no starting receiver or tight end over 6'2", and Eifert's 6'6" frame is enticing.
Miami got a lot faster with the addition of Mike Wallace, and added an athletic tight end in Dustin Keller. But they still don't have that tall target for Tannehill to look at over the middle, or a guy who will be a real threat in the end zone which Miami has lacked for years.
Eifert's height, long arms, jumping ability, and great hands make him a perfect fit here. He's also a high-character kid who plays hard and is actually a decent blocker who gives his full effort, which is right up Joe Philbin's alley. Eifert could be instrumental to Tannehill's development, and vice versa.
I had Miami taking Darius Slay with their 52nd pick after grabbing Jordan Poyer here, however, the free-agent signing of Brent Grimes changes things a bit.
Miami no longer needs two cornerbacks here in the second round, and I have done a lot of research on D.J. Hayden and his medical issues, and decided that he would be a great pick at 42.
He has been cleared by doctors to play, and he could be a major steal if Miami gets him here. It's hard to even say Hayden is a "high-ceiling player", because that's usually reserved for guys without much experience who have a lot of athletic talent.
There's a lot of tape on Hayden, as he is an experienced player who was one of the better cornerbacks in the country before his freak accident last November. He is quick with fluid hips and great footwork, but is also aggressive and instinctual and would be a great fit in zone coverage.
He is more than good enough to step right in as the No. 2 corner, letting Richard Marshall play in the slot, where is best suited. Hayden has the potential to take over for Brent Grimes as the top cornerback in 2014 if Miami doesn't extend Grimes' one-year deal.
Here is where Miami sees value meet need, and takes a guy who can start immediately in Justin Pugh. Some people may point out that former Saddleback Junior College teammates Menelik Watson and Kyle Long are rated higher by many pundits, and therefore should be targeted by Miami.
But both Long and Watson only have one single year of major college football experience each. Long may have the football pedigree, but went to Florida State to play baseball. However, Long got a DUI after just one semester at FSU and transferred.
Watson is even less experienced than Long, considering he grew up in England playing soccer and basketball, and didn't even play football at any level until just a couple years ago. And did I mention he turns 25 in December?
So basically, no thank you to either of those two cliche "high-upside projects who are just scratching the surface of their potential". Miami needs a guy who can come in and start right away, unless you're fine with Tannehill getting three concussions while those two are scratching away at their invisible potential surfaces.
Pugh would be the optimal pick for Miami. He has 34 collegiate starts for Syracuse, all at left tackle. He isn't a great run blocker and can get overpowered occasionally, but he has extremely quick feet and would be great for the Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme.
Pugh's experience and intelligence could lead him to shift easily over to right tackle, where his lateral agility and exceptional footwork and hand usage could make him a solid starter for Miami.
At this point, I think guys like Alex Okafor and Corey Lemonier will be gone. But Brandon Jenkins could be a great value for the Dolphins if he's here with the 77th pick.
Jenkins had a phenomenal 2010 season, although he took a little step back in 2011. But then he suffered a Lisfranc injury during the first game of the 2012 season, dropping his stock considerably.
But where there's an injury, there's potential for value. And while Miami could use a good speed rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake, it wouldn't be considered a huge need because of Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon already being on the roster.
But Odrick is better suited on the inside, and Vernon isn't at the level to be an effective starter right now. Jenkins is a lightning-quick, aggressive defensive end who can create a ton of havoc and put pressure on the quarterback.
The biggest knock on Jenkins is that he is weak against the run, but his pass-rushing potential would make Miami's front seven lethal if he recovers fully.
Since Miami signed Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, linebacker has been seldom discussed as a potential option in the earlier rounds of the draft.
But linebacker depth was a big issue for the Dolphins last season, and their releases of Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby means that Ellerbe and Wheeler will be replacements, not additions.
Jason Trusnik just doesn't cut it as the fourth linebacker in their system, which makes Sio Moore an ideal selection here with the 82nd pick. Moore is a versatile linebacker who would be able to play either on the strong or weak side of a 4-3 defense like Miami's.
He isn't an elite athlete, but is quick in small spaces, tackles well, and can drop into coverage against tight ends and slot receivers when needed. He'd be a great primary backup as a rookie and could possibly overtake Koa Misi as a starter in a few years.
I am not at all sold on Daniel Thomas, which is why I think the Dolphins have to target a running back in either the third, fourth, or fifth round. I'm against taking Marcus Lattimore, because his injuries just make him too much of a risk, and Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy will be gone.
But Franklin would supplant Thomas as Miami's second back and form a solid tandem with Lamar Miller. Franklin would complement Miller's quickness well, although Franklin is far from just a power runner.
He's an agile, one-cut back who runs hard behind his pads and fights for extra yardage. In 2012, as a senior, Franklin averaged 6.1 yards per carry on 282 attempts for a total of 1,734 yards. He also caught 33 passes and 15 total touchdowns, 13 on the ground and two through the air.
Many mock drafts I have seen on Bleacher Report for the Dolphins have them selecting a kicker, which I fully agree with. However, they all have Miami selecting either Dustin Hopkins, or Florida's Caleb Sturgis, in the seventh round.
How in the world does anyone think that either of them will be available in the sixth, let alone the seventh round? They are two of the better prospects in the past few years, and I don't know if everyone just tuned out but last year, the first kicker was taken in the fifth round, 161st overall.
The next kicker was taken with the first selection of the sixth round, 171st overall, and then just a few picks later Blair Walsh, who would make the Pro Bowl as a rookie, was taken.
Hopkins is the all-time NCAA scoring leader for kickers. He is 6'2" and ran a 4.70 40-yard dash at the NFL combine (seriously). He is an exceptional athlete with a huge leg who could become an immediate starter for Miami, which can't be said for practically any other fifth-round selections (anyone remember John Nalbone?)
The Dolphins are currently paying Dan Carpenter roughly $2.5 million to be a very average kicker. Hopkins is younger, better, and cheaper than Carpenter, so this actually seems to be the easiest pick in the draft.
Nickell Robey is not discussed as much as some of the other cornerbacks, but he could be a great value for the Dolphins here in the fifth round, where he will most likely be available.
Miami signed Grimes, and picked up Hayden in the second round of this mock, but they need to take advantage of an extremely deep cornerback class and stock up a little bit. Adding Robey would allow them to release Dimitri Patterson and get his contract off the books.
Robey is an extremely athletic corner who started right away as a freshman for Southern Cal. The main reason he'll still be around at this stage in the draft is that he stands at only 5'8".
But Robey is aggressive and deceptively strong for his size. He also is very fluid in the hips and has great movement ability which will make him a perfect fit in zone coverage. Although he'll struggle against taller receivers, his 37.5 inch vertical jump should help him out some.
If you can find players in the seventh round who have even a little bit of upside, then you put yourself in position to get a steal. Finding athletes with some type of "problem" which push them down the board is the key to the end of the draft.
Whether it's playing at a small school, having a history of injuries, or dealing with off-the-field issues, a lot of factors can contribute to a player's stock drafting. Ray-Ray Armstrong has a very unique case though.
Armstrong spent time at a hotel with his girlfriend, who picked up charges on her credit card, and the NCAA scandal people jumped all over it. The story itself is complicated and can be found here and here, but the main point is that Armstrong was dismissed from the team and has not played football for a year.
But he was a top recruit out of high school, and productive as a starter for the Hurricanes. The athletic safety is 6'3", 216 lbs., and is a playmaker who can cover the whole field. He's more than worth sticking on the practice squad for a year and seeing if he can get back to top form.
Rex Burkhead is not very well known outside of Nebraska, but any Cornhuskers fan will sing his praises for as long as you can stand to listen.
At only 5'10", with a 4.73 40-yard dash time and injury concerns, Burkhead obviously isn't the next Reggie Bush, but he could have some value this late in the draft.
He isn't quite strong enough to be a power back, but isn't elusive or fast enough to be a speed guy either. But he is deceptively quick, and runs harder than virtually any other back I have ever seen. He can also catch the ball decently out of the backfield and is a willing blocker as well.
The former Academic All-American will give his all on the field, and could be used as a fourth running back if Miami gets rid of Daniel Thomas (which they should), and be a productive special teams player.
Cooper Taylor is an intriguing prospect because of his size and versatility. A former safety and tight end in high school, Taylor measures in at 6'4", 228 lbs. and is a big-time sleeper in the draft.
He lacks great top-end speed and isn't overly quick, which could hurt him in coverage, but he's very strong and instinctive, and has good enough footwork to make up for his speed. His strength could make him a real physical power safety, or possibly move up and play linebacker.
Taylor originally played at Georgia Tech, where he started as a freshman and was a Second-Team All-ACC selection. But he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart condition, and played only sparingly in 2010, when he decided to transfer to Richmond.
He had two solid seasons at Richmond, and then excelled at the East-West Shrine Game a few months back, which garnered him some real attention, but likely not enough to make him go any higher in the draft. Miami would do well to get a versatile player like Taylor this late.