No unit was more disappointing for the Dolphins in 2013, when it came to bang for the buck, than their linebackers.
Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler secured a combined $27 million in guarantees when they signed as free agents. They made a combined eight tackles for loss the following fall.
“We need some more game-changing [defensive] plays,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin quipped earlier this week.
So it’s no surprise that the Dolphins are looking to improve at the position. Perhaps they will do so with a player who draftniks believe is actually underrated.
Alabama middle linebacker C.J. Mosley is college football’s reigning Butkus Award winner, a two-time All-American who was the Southeastern Conference’s top defensive player in 2013.
So if he’s there when the Dolphins pick at 19, the value might be too good to pass up — particularly if Miami’s top choices at offensive tackle are already off the board.
“He is a must-draft, mobile mass of natural football genius who has no negatives and works full speed, full time,” wrote Frank Cooney, who runs NFLDraftScout.com. “Mosley is even a blocker on punts, covers kicks, and if you want more, just ask.”
By picking Mosley, first-year general manager Dennis Hickey would show yet another shift in philosophy for a franchise that has put a premium on size since the Bill Parcells days. Wheeler and Ellerbe are both over 240 pounds.
Mosley, meanwhile, is smaller, at 6-2, 234 pounds. He’s part of a new guard of linebackers who make their mark with range and quickness, not brute strength.
“I think I’m one of the best,” Mosley told reporters at his Pro Day, according to AL.com. “I’m not bragging on who I am or what I do. If I say that I’m not one of the top linebackers then I probably wasn’t, and I’d be disappointed in myself because I know the work that I put in.”
That work led to an extraordinary career at a school that has become a factory for NFL linebackers. In the past four years, two Crimson Tide linebackers have gone in the first round. Mosley will most certainly become the third.
The question is, will he be there at 19?
He has reportedly visited with the Ravens, who pick two spots ahead of the Dolphins. The Vikings, owners of the eighth overall selection, are seen as another possible destination.
If he does end up in Miami, his No. 1 priority would be shoring up a run defense that was uncharacteristically generous a year ago. The Dolphins allowed 1,998 rushing yards, the most since their 1-15 season.
If there is a question on Mosley, who recorded more than 100 tackles in each of his final two years in Tuscaloosa, it’s whether he’s big enough to withstand the violence associated with the position.
Mosley was held out of drills at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a lingering shoulder injury, spending so much time with doctors that he didn’t have a chance to speak with reporters.
He also had elbow and hip issues in college, raising questions about his long-term durability.
Still, Mosley is clearly the best inside linebacker in the draft. Scouts rave about his ability to run downhill, move laterally and inflict damage on the ball carrier.
He played in the 3-4 defense at Alabama, but NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah thinks he would thrive in a 4-3 front, which Miami employs.
“C.J. Mosley is somebody I think that doesn’t get talked enough about,” Jeremiah said. “When you watch him on tape, in scouting, we talk about guys being clean players on tape. I don’t have a lot of negatives when I watch him. I thought he could play in the 3-4 defense. I thought he could take on blocks better than he gets credit for, and I think he’s ideally suited to be a Mike [linebacker] in a 4-3.”
Jeremiah also praised Mosley’s ability to cover and blitz but said his instincts are his most important trait.
“Pretty much all my talent’s on tape,” Mosley said.
And that tape is better than anything seen in Miami a year ago.