Miami Dolphins Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer
Welcome, Dolphins fans, to the 2014 NFL draft!
We’re in for an exciting three-day draft, an event that could prove crucial in determining whether the Miami Dolphins make the playoffs in 2014.
In this slide show, we will recap the Dolphins offseason thus far and examine the latest, hottest rumors.
With head coach Joe Philbin working with new general manager Dennis Hickey, the Dolphins look to land some impact draft picks. They certainly have looming needs entering the first round: with the right side of the offensive line still a mess and the linebacker crew needing an infusion of talent.
Let’s jump in and get you ready for the 2014 NFL draft.
Departures and Additions
The Dolphins lost a considerable amount of starters to the 2014 free agency period, creating vacancies that have to be replaced and upgraded.
After a turbulent season at offensive line, the Dolphins allowed the four free agent offensive lineman to hit free agency, where they each saw very little interest.
Former starting tackles Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie are no longer with the team and have seen little to no free agent action after horrendous 2013 seasons.
Embattled free agent guard Richie Incognito has also struggled to find work after Miami let him walk away without an offer, which was predictable after the allegations former Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin (now a San Francisco 49er) brought upon him during the season.
Ultimately, none of those starters were more than an average starter, and that’s putting it nicely. After allowing 58 sacks to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins had to upgrade their offensive line, locker room drama or not.
Tight end Dustin Keller, who was injured for the season in a 2013 preseason game, is also still a free agent. He hasn’t been offered a contract to this date, likely due to injury concerns.
The Dolphins made another splash this offseason by signing former Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to a five-year, $47 million deal. This signing locked up the left tackle position indefinitely.
#Dolphins team source told me the team has parameters set on a Brandon Albert deal, and are now moving on to other targets— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) March 9, 2014
The offensive line rebuild continued, adding former St. Louis Rams guard Shelley Smith, who spent most of his time as a spot starter for the Rams, but played well in his time on the field. He could start at left guard, taking the place of Richie Incognitio. At right tackle, former Detroit Lion Jason Fox was brought in to compete for the starting job, as he looked promising as he returned from injury late in 2013.
Former Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno was signed to a one-year contract, and he will battle incumbent Lamar Miller for the starting job. He brings toughness, experience, balance and pass blocking to a team that desperately needed a reliable back.
On defense the Dolphins retained ProFootballFocus.com’s (subscription required) 7th rated defensive tackle, Randy Starks, and signed former Texans tackle Earl Mitchell, who figures to be a rotational pass rusher.
In the secondary, Cortland Finnegan and Louis Delmas were signed to bring attitude and leadership to a young locker room. Although each has struggled in recent years, the Dolphins had major success with a player that came to Miami with similar concerns, Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes.
Unless the coaches are somehow confident that Jason Fox and 2013 third-round pick Dallas Thomas can play well at right tackle and right guard, respectively, the offensive line will need to be addressed early and possibly multiple times in this draft.
Fox missed almost the entire 2013 season, then returned for the last game of the season, and played well. Thomas struggled when he finally saw the field and couldn't crack the starting lineup, even after the team lost three starting linemen. Protecting Tannehill has to be the top priority, and in turn, a quality right tackle and guard will help the running game as well.
Expect Dennis Hickey to take at least one offensive linemen by the end of Day 2.
Despite having a lot of money tied up in the position, linebacker is a sore spot for the team. 2013 acquisitions Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler struggled to make plays around the line of scrimmage, and if both repeat their performances in 2014, each could be released without the Dolphins cap taking a hit.
Despite linebacker being a weak spot in this draft class, the Dolphins might be able to have their pick of the top two prospects at pick No. 19 overall. At the very least, depth will need to be build at some point.
There isn't a major need after offensive line and linebacker, but tight end sticks out as a position that could use an upgrade. Former third-round pick Michael Egnew has struggled to see the field. 2013 fourth-round pick Dion Sims is a limited-upside player who needs development. Charles Clay had a breakout season, but he's not a true tight end.
There are a few impact tight ends to be had in the first two rounds, and some high-ceiling players later on in Day 3. Don't be surprised to see one taken.
With the Delmas signing, we can assume defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is going with a mirror-scheme for his safety tandem, meaning both Delmas and Jones will have similar responsibilities due to their skill sets. Jimmy Wilson is a capable backup, but since this is a deep draft class for safeties, there will be value on Day 3.
Cornerback is another position that could be addressed in the middle rounds. Cortland Finnegan hasn't been good in two seasons, Jamar Taylor wasn't healthy last season, and Will Davis is a slot cornerback who is erratic, so a rookie could make an impact opposite Brent Grimes. I was high on Taylor last season, with a late first-round grade on him, but cornerback is always a position of need in today's NFL.
Three Miami receivers ended the 2013 season injured, so adding a potential number one receiver needs to be on the to-do list. Miami doesn't have a guy who can consistently go up and get the ball at its highest point, so it needs to take advantage of a deep receiver class on Day 2. A bigger receiver with good hands and a great leaping ability would take pressure off Mike Wallace and give Tannehill another weapon with which to attack downfield.
- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews will only be attainable to the Dolphins via a trade up, if he falls to the lower part of the top 10 picks. Matthews projects as a potentially elite tackle, and would provide bookend tackles for the Dolphins for the foreseeable future. A move up would likely cost the Dolphins at least their second-round pick, but the chance to get an elite prospect could be too tempting to pass.
- Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Martin doesn't have ideal arm length to be an offensive tackle, but he proved at the 2014 Senior Bowl that he can compete with elite athletes with his combination of technical skill, quickness and footwork. He's a team leader that can play either tackle or guard and be a high-level starter for a long time.
- Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
The former Buckeye had an extraordinarily productive career at The Ohio State University, logging 317 total tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. He projects as a weak-side linebacker for the Dolphins, allowing them to use the mostly inefficient Philip Wheeler as a third down rusher. Shazier reminded some of Tampa Bay's star linebacker Lavonte David, a player Hickey drafted in 2012.
- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ebron would bring a dynamic weapon to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense. 2013 breakout player Charles Clay could go back to being a hybrid, matchup nightmare, and Ebron could stretch the seam for Tannehill and become a security blanket. Since 2002, only four tight ends have been taken in the top 20 picks. Ebron could still be on the board when the Dolphins are on the clock.
- Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
James is the prototypical right tackle for new offensive line coach and zone-blocking expert John Benton, having quick feet and a long standing reach. After facing high levels of competition weekly in the SEC, James is a plug-and-play tackle with upside as he gets stronger.
The Dolphins were able to bolster key areas of the roster through free agency, but the draft is where successful teams build a sustained winner. As the Seattle Seahawks showed in 2013, it takes a deep roster, solid coaching staff, chemistry and great athletes to win in the NFL playoffs, so the Dolphins need to add more quality athletes that will flourish in their roles. Below are the top five players the Dolphins should be targeting in round one.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Mel Kiper’s pick: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
There wasn't a steadier right tackle in college football last season than James, and with Branden Albert installed on the left side, the Dolphins can draft James projecting that he can play right away. We've seen tackles come in and struggle some when you add not only the leap to the NFL but also the shift from one side to the other, but James has a chance to succeed early as he stays home on the right side. There are some flashier options on the board, but maybe none that simply make Miami better like this pick would.
This pick makes a lot of sense. Not only does James fit the prototype that Philbin and new offensive line coach John Benton look for in a right tackle, but he has upside to get better. The team might not be able to wait until their second-round pick to select a tackle.
Todd McShay’s pick: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
The Dolphins should look for an opportunity to move up to get Zack Martin (the Steelers would be a good potential trade partner at No. 15), but if they stay here, I think Moses would make sense. I don't know that everyone is as high on Moses as I am, but it's hard to have a more glaring need at a position group than the Dolphins have at offensive line. They added some pieces in free agency, including Branden Albert, but they still have improving to do after 2013's franchise-high 58-sack campaign. Moses performed better at left tackle at Virginia than he did at right tackle, so that could make for an interesting situation with Albert slotted for the left side.
Moses has ties to new Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, but I would be surprised at this selection. Moses is a very good tackle, but he isn’t the athlete Miami usually looks for in a lineman.
Dane Brugler’s pick: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Miami has some solid options at tight end, including Charles Clay who emerged last year as a reliable receiving threat. But no tight end on the Dolphins' roster can match the ability of Ebron and what he brings to the offense.
Brugler is right in that Ebron would be a tremendous addition. He adds a dynamic to the offense that Miami hasn’t seen in a long, long time.
Rob Rang’s pick: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Martin lacks the body type scouts prefer at tackle (where he started 50 of his 52 career games for the Irish), but slides well laterally and controls opponents with fierce hand usage. Whether inside at guard or at right tackle, he'd be an excellent value at this point in the draft.
Martin is a high-quality player who fills a need for Miami, but the Dolphins might have to move up to get him. Why give up a pick if you don’t need to?
Mike Mayock’s pick: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
A trade down is possible, but if they sit, they've got to rebuild their offensive line. Kouandjio helps them get better and will be the fifth OT off the board.
My least favorite situation. Kouandjio has medical concerns and really struggled in 2013. His balance is poor, and he plays too heavy.
Latest Rumors, Reports & Analysis
Will the Dolphins trade up?
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, GM Dennis Hickey "wants to trade out of the Dolphins’ No. 19 overall selection in the first round".
It would make a lot of sense for Miami to move to the 25-30 range, pick up an extra third round selection and get their right tackle. If a team behind Miami wants a quarterback who is falling, 19 could be the sweet spot because the Cardinals, who are at 20, could be eyeing one.
Do the Dolphins value Shazier over CJ Mosley?
For #Packers fans wanting Shazier, it doesn't appear that he's getting past Miami at 19, a source said. We shall see, of course.— Packer Report (@PackerReport) May 8, 2014
There's been a lot of buzz recently that the Dolphins want LB Ryan Shazier. I believe these rumors are true, and they like him more than the Alabama star, CJ Mosley. Shazier has less health concerns and is a much better athlete, although less polished and is more of a weak-side linebacker than middle linebacker. Plus, we know Mark Dominik's thoughts:
Watching tape again on Shazier. He should be drafted ahead of Barr and Mosely. He's a great tackler and playmaker who has all the tools.— Mark Dominik (@MarkdominikESPN) May 5, 2014
Will the Dolphins move up, or down, and take a lineman?
Moving up would be somewhat surprising, but as I said earlier, it's possible they move up for Matthews or Martin if the price is right. Both are considered to be quite a bit better than the next group of lineman.
Former Bucs GM Mark Dominik called OT Ja'Wuan James "locked down" as a 1st rounder. Miami GM Dennis Hickey worked VERY closely w/ Mark in TB— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) April 27, 2014
As the tweet says, James is highly likely to be a first-round pick. If Miami moves down, they'll have to beat out Seattle for James, who have been linked to James recently.
7-Round Dolphins Mock Draft
Round 1: Pick 26: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Trade details: Cleveland Browns trade picks 26 and 83 for pick 19, so they can move up for their quarterback.
As I projected in a mock draft earlier this week, I think Miami will take the highest-rated tackle on its board after moving down for what is essentially a free draft pick. The Shazier rumors could be a smokescreen, and ultimately improving the offense is more important. Get your right tackle in the opening round and then load up on other areas on Day 2.
Round 2: Pick 50: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
With Robinson, you’re getting a potential number with the size, speed, hands and yards after catch ability this offense is desperate for. He can come in and contribute as a rookie and challenge the current Dolphins receivers for a starting position.
Round 3: Pick 81: Billy Turner, OG, North Dakota State
By grabbing Turner, Miami lands a nasty road-grader with great athleticism to play right guard. All of a sudden, Miami’s position of need and weakness becomes a position with some depth and upside.
Round 3: Pick 83: Dri Archer, OW, Kent State
With the pick Miami received in the earlier trade, they take a swing on the diminutive Archer, who has incredible speed and quickness. He’s a threat to score every play and will likely take the backup tailback spot as well as replace Marcus Thigpen and Miami's return man. This would be a nice upgrade as Archer can lineup anywhere on the field and make an impact.
Round 4: Pick 116: Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville
Brown is a thumper at middle linebacker. He brings nastiness and leadership to the position, thus potentially earning snaps early in his career. He is a bit stiff, which limits his coverage ability, but he’s smart and can contribute on special teams as well.
Round 5: Pick 155: Garrett Scott, OT, Marshall
Scott is the perfect developmental tackle for Miami. Now, with Albert and James, Scott can come in and provide depth and learn the nuances of the position. He’s a terrific athlete, with the upside to become a very good starting left tackle at some point. He needs to get stronger and work on his technique, but Miami can afford a high-potential pick at this stage.
Round 6: Pick 190: Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona
Kevin Coyle doesn’t have much height to work with in the secondary, so getting him a zone-specialist like Richardson helps alleviate the size deficiency on the back end of the defense. Richardson could fall a little on draft day due to his lack of scheme versatility, but Miami will benefit from that.
Round 7: Pick 234: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
The tight end class drops in quality after the top five guys, so Miami can wait until late on Day 3 and get Grimble, who has good size and athleticism. He’s nothing spectacular, but he can challenge Egnew and Sims.