The Miami Dolphins went the safe route with their first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, selecting Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey with the 15th overall selection.
Pouncey is the twin brother of former Florida lineman and teammate Maurkice Pouncey, who was a Pro Bowl selection for the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie after starting all 16 games at center.
After playing defensive line during his freshman year at Florida in 2007 due to injuries, Mike Pouncey started 14 games for the Gators at right guard in 2008 and earned second-team All-SEC honors.
Pouncey again started all 14 games his junior year, earning first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American honors at guard and helping the Gators to a Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati.
With brother Maurkice gone to the NFL in 2010, Pouncey moved to center and started every game as a senior. Despite some early snapping troubles, he was an All-SEC selection for the third consecutive year.
Though widely regarded as as subpar prospect compared to his brother, Pouncey (6'5", 303) was generally considered a mid-to-late first-round selection, and mocked to the Dolphins at No. 15 by many (though not by me).
Pouncey has all the strength and athleticism you look for in a starting NFL guard. He's a solid pass protector and a good run-blocker that gets a great initial push off the snap and gets to the second level well. He's an excellent downfield blocker with plenty of experience and good bloodlines.
Some might consider his numerous botched snaps early in his senior year as an issue, but I don't really see it as one. Anyone can learn to snap with enough practice, and he projects as a starter at guard as well if the Dolphins decide he's a best fit there.
That's primarily my issue with this pick. I like Pouncey's ability because he is a versatile guy that projects as a starter at a need position for the Dolphins. I am not, however, sure he was worth the 15th overall pick, as it would have been nice to trade down and acquire more picks and I'm not sure Pouncey was someone we had to have them.
I'll like this pick more if the Dolphins commit to starting Pouncey at left guard, because otherwise he doesn't really solve a problem for us. The Dolphins re-signed Richie Incognito with the intention of starting him at center, so adding Pouncey at center would still leave two guard spots with holes and/or questions.
Assuming Pouncey starts at guard, the Dolphins will likely let Nate Garner and 2010 third-rounder John Jerry compete for the other spot. However, I assume the Dolphins would prefer Garner to be available off the bench, and they could look to free agency (*cough* Logan Mankins *cough*) for a starter inside.
As much as I wanted Ryan Mallett here, because I believe he will be an elite quarterback in this league, I can't really hate this pick the more I think about it because as a guard, he does solidify the Dolphins' offensive line that was so detrimental to the team's running game in 2010.
Another line of thinking that also makes sense with Pouncey is immediate contributions, which he will likely be able to do in 2011 where a rookie quarterback probably would not.
What will be interesting to see is if/when the Dolphins do address the quarterback position with no second-round pick currently in hand. I personally like Chad Henne, but it doesn't seem like the team entirely believes in him and I would have to imagine they'll look for someone to groom in 2011.
Stay tuned throughout the weekend for constant coverage and analysis of the rest of the Dolphins' draft, and be sure to follow me on twitter!
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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here