For many players, the NFL Scouting Combine is the first step on the road to the draft
For the Dolphins, the 2013 season could not have ended fast enough. They will look to bury the scandal and disappointment that plagued them throughout last season.
Each NFL team has a list of needs that they are looking to fill. The combine will give all 32 teams an opportunity to meet with potential draft choices and see each prospects skills up close.
Here is a look at some targets and sleepers the Dolphins are sure to keep a close eye on.
Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post has reported that the Dolphins will make a strong push for Chiefs free-agent left tackle Branden Albert. It has been widely reported that Joe Philbin wanted to trade for Albert last season but was overruled by Jeff Ireland, who opted to give Jonathan Martin time to develop at left tackle.
The Chiefs will certainly be trying to keep Albert in Kansas City. Fortunately, there are numerous free-agent offensive linemen who will be taking fielding offers from around the league. Miami may land a LT through free agency, but that shouldn't stop the Dolphins from taking a hard look at a left tackle at the combine.
My top choice would be former Alabama LT Cyrus Kouandjio. At 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).
Playing three seasons in Nick Saban's pro-style offense should have this mountain of a man prepared to step into the starting lineup at the next level right away.
Kouandjio has been chronicling his journey to the draft for NFL.com. He has reportedly been preparing for the combine at the Athletes' Performance Institute with Eric Ebron and Jadeveon Clowney. All three will have their names called on Day 1 of the draft.
Kouandjio has the size and intangibles to anchor the left side of the Dolphins' offensive line for many years to come.
Taylor Lewan is considered the third-best offensive lineman in this class (Dane Brugler, Rob Rang and Derek Stephens, NFLDraftScout.com via CBSSports.com). 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.
His physique and skill set makes him NFL ready, but there are some questions about his maturity. He was interviewed by police on November 30 for his alleged involvement in the assault of an Ohio State fan (Mark Snyder, USA Today). Lewan denied any involvement, and no charges were brought against him.
Ordinarily, I would say it is unfair to label a person over what appears to be an isolated incident. However, the Dolphins may have greater concerns over the assault allegation than most teams after the Martin-Incognito saga.
Lewan will certainly be asked about that incident during his interviews with NFL team reps. How he explains and handles himself during the interview process could be a deciding factor for Miami. After all, his on-field work speaks for itself.
Picking up a left guard is a no-brainer for the Dolphins, assuming they acquire a left tackle via free agency. My choice at left guard would be Notre Dame's Zack Martin.
Martin is 6'4" and 308 pounds. Rob Rang and Derek Stephens 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.
Martin started a Notre Dame record 52 consecutive games, which earned him the nickname "iron man." He is a versatile player who had 37 starts at left tackle before moving to left guard. Martin's quickness and strength could make an immediate impact on Miami's rushing attack.
The Dolphins could pair Martin with a free-agent left tackle to solidify the left side of the offensive line for the foreseeable future.
When everyone is healthy, the Dolphins have a respectable group of receivers. However, outside of Mike Wallace, there is no receiver on the Dolphins roster who is going to scare an opposing defense (all due respect to Brian Hartline).
A big-time receiver would keep Wallace from drawing a constant double-team and really open up the field for Ryan Tannehill. Odell Beckham Jr. is a quick and sure-handed receiver who is able to create space in the open field.
Grant it, the Dolphins have bigger concerns than receiver, but strange things happen on draft day. If the Dolphins bring in a free-agent left tackle and can grab another solid lineman in the second round, why not take a harder look at Beckham?
It remains to be seen if the Dolphins can solve their offensive line issues without using their first-round pick, but if they can, Beckham would be near the top of my list of first-round selections. He is game ready and can be a No. 1 receiver at the next level.
The Dolphins defense struggled to stop the run in 2013. They are unlikely to keep both Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, which could leave them looking for a defensive tackle who can stop the run.
DaQuan Jones is rated the 10th-best DT and 83rd best overall prospect by NFLDraftScout.com. Jones is 6'3" and 323 pounds. He struggles at times to generate a pass rush but is an anchor on the defensive line.
Jones could certainly fill the void left by either Soliai or Starks. He is projected by some as a second-round pick, but the overall feeling is that he will go in the third round. If he is available in the third round, the Dolphins would be getting a solid run-stopper at a bargain.
The Dolphins defense would be better served with Dannell Ellerbe on the outside. Of course, that would require a linebacker capable of filling the inside position. I believe Andrew Jackson could be a surprise pick late who could fill that void.
He has drawn comparisons to Brandon Spikes and is versatile enough to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive scheme. At 6'1" and 257 pounds, Jackson has good size and solid run-stopping ability.
The biggest knock on Jackson is his lack of speed; his average 40 time is reportedly just 4.82 seconds. He is rated as the 10th-best available inside linebacker by NFLDraftScout.com and is a projected seventh-round pick.
Jackson is a run-stopping specialist and could do some damage lined up behind Starks or Soliai. For a Dolphins defense that struggled to stop the run last season, Jackson could end up being the steal of the draft.