With just two weeks before the NFL Draft, the Dolphins have whittled a pool of hundreds down to three or four prospects they would take with the 12th overall pick.
That’s assuming they actually stay there.
During general manager Jeff Ireland’s artful dissemination Thursday — a 30-minute predraft news conference during which he tried to make as little news as possible — he did provide a couple of useful morsels:
• His war room has targeted a handful of players worthy of the team’s first-round selection.
A trade up is very much on the table, and with 11 picks, Miami has enough “ammunition” to go all the way to first overall (Ireland said he doubts he will jump that high, however).
• The most obvious need — offensive line — will be addressed. Ireland said he wants to upgrade the line “as a whole.”
There’s more uncertainty at the top of the draft than in recent memory, making for a fun — but potentially volatile — first hour.
“No one’s really showed their hand yet,” Ireland said, “which is fine. That’s how we want it.”
Count Ireland among those keeping his cards flush to his vest. You would need a microscope to read between the lines Thursday.
So no, Ireland did not come out and say the Dolphins will trade up into the top 10 for a tackle, which is the buzz in football circles.
Other league sources, however, believe the Dolphins will stand pat at 12, and if any of the three premier left tackles — Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson — is available, grab one. If not, they will trade back to take advantage of a deep draft.
This is all conjecture at this point. Only a handful of people know what the team plans to do on the last Thursday in April. And with the 12th overall pick, they are at the mercy of events beyond their control — by the teams picking ahead of them and those behind them who move up.
Ireland puts more stock in need than those who go strictly by the board — and after an aggressive splash in free agency, they simply don’t have many needs left.
Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson have recast the receiving corps. Dustin Keller will start at tight end.
And Brent Grimes — whose torn Achilles has healed to the point that he might participate in offseason conditioning drills — has shored up the cornerback position.
“I think it gave us a lot of flexibility in the draft,” Ireland said.
The only glaring hole remaining is at offensive tackle, with Jonathan Martin as the only clear-cut starter. He can play either right or left, giving the Dolphins flexibility. Ireland said he is comfortable with Nate Garner, a career backup who started the final month of the season after Jake Long got hurt, at tackle.
Draft guru Mel Kiper thinks the Dolphins will select right tackle D.J. Fluker at 12, although that would go against Ireland’s philosophy of taking what he calls “core positions” high (quarterback, left tackle, pass rushers, corners and wide receivers).
The team could at any time sign Eric Winston, the former Miami Hurricane who’s currently a free agent, but has not been in a hurry to do so. Winston told The Miami Herald this week he thinks the team might be waiting to see what happens in the draft before getting serious.
It’s possible the Dolphins would even take a megatalented guard such as Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper if either slips to 12.
When asked about the reaction he would get by selecting yet another lineman that high — since 2008, the Dolphins have drafted Long, Mike Pouncey and Martin in the first two rounds — Ireland shrugged.
“If I get another Pouncey and another Jake Long, I’d do it every draft,” Ireland said. “I wish I had a team full of Mike Pounceys and Jake Longs.”
If the Dolphins don’t take a lineman, other candidates include a corner (Dee Milliner, Desmond Trufant and Xavier Rhodes), a pass-rusher (Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan, Bjoern Werner) or a tight end (Tyler Eifert).
Of course, there could be a complete curveball, too. Linebacker Manti Te’o’s visit to Dolphins headquarters Wednesday was a reminder of that.
• Equipment manager Joe Cimino and accounting manager Craig Heil will again represent the Dolphins in New York during the draft. It’s their responsibility to turn in the card with the team’s selection.
• Season-ticket holder Giovanni Estevez will announce the Dolphins’ fourth-round pick from the stage at Radio City Music Hall. He won a promotion open to members of the Fin Club.
• If the Dolphins pick at 12, it will be just the second time in team history they have picked in that spot. The previous time was in 1992, when Marco Coleman was taken.