Every team that isn't nicknamed Seahawks or Broncos is currently looking forward to the start of free agency and the NFL draft. In previous articles I have discussed free agents the Miami Dolphins must re-sign, free agents the Dolphins must pursue and the biggest needs for Miami on draft day.
One of the questions being pondered by 28 of the 32 teams (sorry Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins fans) is who to use that critical first-round pick on. For Miami the answer is very simple, an offensive lineman.
To say the Dolphins need help on the offensive line would be an understatement. This year's line has been well-documented as one of the worst in franchise history. Top priority for whoever is named GM is going to be rebuilding the offensive line through free agency and on draft day.
According to Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com), when the draft starts on May 8 a record-98 underclassmen will be eligible. In other words, there will be no shortage of talent in this year's draft class. I have yet to find a single draft "expert" who does not have Miami drafting an offensive lineman first.
With that being said, I give you four potential offensive lineman who could be heading to South Florida on May 8.
1. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
At 6'5" and 305 pounds, Matthews is considered by many to be the top offensive lineman in this year's class. His father is former NFL lineman Bruce Matthews, and he was a two-time All-SEC selection. Matthews played right tackle for three seasons before switching to left tackle as a senior. His versatility on the line makes him especially desirable for any team needing to improve in the trenches.
Matthews is projected as a top-10 pick by many and has been projected as high as second overall by ESPN's Todd McShay. With such high projections, the likelihood of Matthews falling to Miami is slim. However, Miami has shown a willingness to trade up in the past, and the NFL draft has proven to be unpredictable.
One thing is for certain, if Matthews is on the board when Miami picks, the Dolphins have to take him.
2. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan is considered the third-best offensive lineman in this class. He stands 6'7" and weighs 315 pounds. Lewan made 28 consecutive starts at left tackle for Michigan and was the 2012 Rimington-Pace Award winner (Top OL in the Big Ten). He is a former AP and Walter Camp first-team All-American and has drawn comparisons to former Dolphin Jake Long, Dane Bruglar, NFLDraftScout.com via CBSSports.com.
Long had several solid seasons for Miami, and if Lewan is indeed the second coming of Long, Miami would have to consider him.
3. Zach Martin, OG, Notre Dame
Martin earned the nickname "iron man" during his college career because of his school-record 52 consecutive starts. Martin started 37 games at left tackle and 15 games at left guard for the Irish. He is a projected first-round pick by both ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr.
Martin is 6'4" and 308 pounds. Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com) has Martin projected as the Dolphins' first pick. Rang cites Martin's quickness off the snap, core strength and lateral agility as his greatest strengths. He cited his length as the reason he is better suited as an NFL guard rather than a tackle.
4. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the draft. He is 6'5" and 310 pounds (and reportedly just 16 percent body fat). He is currently projected as the 17th-best overall prospect and fourth-best offensive lineman (NFLDraftScout.com via CBSSports.com).
Kouandjio played two of his three seasons at Alabama at the left tackle position.
Prior to the Sugar Bowl, Dane Bruglar of NFLDraftScout.com described Kouandjio:
It doesn't always look pretty, but more often than not, he gets the job done with balanced, quick feet and long arms to latch and eliminate defenders from the play. Kouandjio still has room to clean up the mental mistakes and become more technically sound, but the natural skill-set will earn him some first-round grades, maybe among the top 15 draft picks.
You can see some of Kouandjio's skills on display in the following video.
I realize seeing your favorite team draft an offensive lineman with their first pick is not the most exciting thing to witness. Who wouldn't love to see a Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans alongside Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline? But let's try to keep things in perspective.
The Dolphins' offensive line was atrocious this season, and Ryan Tannehill will never become a franchise quarterback being sacked 50-plus times a season. Miami will make moves during free agency to improve the line and should use their first pick to solidify that line heading into next season.
There's nothing flashy about an offensive lineman, but there is no shame in going blue collar.