The offensive line has been the focal point of the offseason for the Miami Dolphins and with good reason. With free agency winding down, the discussion has fully shifted toward the 2014 draft.
Miami went ahead and signed Branden Albert to start at left tackle and Shelley Smith to start at guard. Mike Pouncey is slated as the team's center. That leaves two spots essentially wide open.
New GM Dennis Hickey is going to have some difficult decisions to make with his first couple of picks in the draft, which are 19th and 50th overall in the first and second rounds.
There are essentially three options that Miami has with those first two picks. They cannot afford to pass on an offensive linemen altogether, unless they choose to re-sign Tyson Clabo or Bryant McKinnie as a right tackle.
The Dolphins can select an offensive lineman in the first round, the second round, or both. What's the best option and how would each of them play out? Let's look at all three.
Option A would be to target one with their first overall pick and then look elsewhere with their next pick. It is obviously an enticing option.
Getting an offensive lineman with a first-round draft pick means you are confident in their ability to start right away and be effective in that role.
But sitting at No. 19 overall, Miami is not necessarily choosing from the very top of the talent pool. Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews will both assuredly be gone.
The next two best options would be Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin. If one or both of them fall to No. 19, then this option would be the best one for Miami.
Lewan would be the left tackle of the future and could assuredly hold down the right side in the meantime. Martin would be able to compete for the right tackle spot but also has the ability to shift inside and start at guard.
Both of these prospects are very good players who would bring a fire, competitiveness and leadership that Miami sorely needs right now.
But the problem is that there is a distinct possibility that neither of them will be available.
If that is the case, what are the next options? Xavier Su'a-Filo is a prospect that I like a lot, and he would bring versatility and athleticism to Miami. But there are questions about whether he's a tackle or guard in the NFL, and it wouldn't be an overly exciting pick.
Morgan Moses is one name that has been discussed for the right tackle position, but I see him as being a little too top-heavy and tentative to excel in Miami's zone-blocking scheme, and he'd be a reach at 19.
The former Alabama star had an abysmal combine and there are major concerns about his knees. It would be a huge mistake for Miami to reach on him in the first round. Seems like smokescreens, but you can never be too sure.
Option B would be to pass on an offensive lineman in the first round and then target one in the second. I did this in my most recent Dolphins-only mock draft, and I think it's a solid outcome for Miami.
There is obviously some risk here, as it is impossible to predict who will be available after 49 picks in the draft. Crazy stuff happens every single year, and 2014 will be no exception.
But this is a pretty deep draft, and there are some solid options at both the tackle and guard positions. There's a slight chance Moses falls to 50 but don't count on it.
There are three realistic tackles that stand out here.
Joel Bitonio is a name that has been thrown around a bit recently, and there's a lot to like about his gritty, physical style of play. He excelled on the blindside at Nevada and could be either a tackle or guard at the next level.
Jack Mewhort of Ohio State would be a solid albeit unexciting pick. He was a stalwart left tackle for the Buckeyes but has some questionable movement skills and might be overmatched even as a right tackle in the NFL.
Ja'Wuan James is the final tackle who could be a legitimate candidate in the second round. He's an athletic player and former four-year starter on the right side at Tennessee, so he could come in and start right away with minimal adjustments.
Players like Antonio Richardson, Billy Turner and Cameron Fleming would also be considerations here, depending on who is available.
If Miami is going with Option B, there is almost no chance that they would select a guard because tackle is a more pressing need than guard at this point. But Gabe Jackson and David Yankey would be the two most likely candidates if Miami decided to go down that path.
What's Miami's Best Option?
Option C would ultimately give Miami the biggest offensive line upgrades, but I'm not entirely convinced it is necessary at this point.
The Dolphins seriously need a starting right tackle, but the guard spot is less pressing. Dallas Thomas, Nate Garner and Sam Brenner could certainly compete for that remaining spot if need be.
It wouldn't be exciting, but Miami can't fix the entire line in one offseason.
However, there are some enticing options and combinations if the Dolphins go for Option C. Thinking about a combination of Martin/Jackson, Su'a-Filo/Bitonio, or any other mix of the names above is pretty interesting.
So there it is. Miami will be taking an offensive lineman early in the draft, surely we can all agree on that. But options abound. I'm going with Option A if Martin and/or Lewan is available, and Option B if they are not.
Which would you prefer? Option A, B, C or none of them?