Miami Dolphins

Ten Dolphins-centric players to watch at this week’s Scouting Combine

Is Vanderbilt’s Cunningham the Dolphins’ next star linebacker named Zach?
Is Vanderbilt’s Cunningham the Dolphins’ next star linebacker named Zach? AP

Defense, defense, defense.

Get used to saying it, Dolphins fans.

Because that’ll be your team’s focus this offseason, both in free agency and the draft.

They need help on that side of the ball, and they know it. They’ll be active early in free agency, which unofficially kicks off this week in Indianapolis. Teams cannot legally speak with pending free agents’ reps until next week, but teams still get an informal sense of the market at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Mike Tannnebaum’s M.O. is to fill holes in free agency, so he’s not pigeonholed into drafting for need, at least early.

But that might not be possible this year; half the starting lineup on defense might be replaced.

The Dolphins have seven picks. Expect more than half of them on defense, including their first rounder, which Miami hasn’t used on the defensive side of the ball since 2013 and has done so just three times in the last decade.

Here are 10 names to monitor this week. The Dolphins surely will be.

  Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison, right, looks for an opening past Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, left, and Dante Fowler Jr. (6) as he gets a block from Irving Huggins (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Sat., Nov. 23, 2013.John RaouxAP photo

▪  Jarrad Davis, linebacker, Florida: This is a logical fit for the Dolphins in Round 1 if they’re not sold on their revamped group of linebackers after free agency. The senior weak-side linebacker has long been linked to the Dolphins, and his build (6-2, 238) and production (17 tackles for loss his final two seasons at UF) are reasons why. Davis missed four games as a senior due to a series of injuries, but earned second-team all-conference honors nonetheless.

  Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) watches during an NCAA college football game against Maryland, in Ann Arbor, Mich. To upset No. 2 Ohio State and win at the Horseshoe for the first time since 2000, Jabrill Peppers will probably have to make big plays for No. 3 Michigan on defense, offense and special teams.Paul SancyaAP Photo

▪  Jabrill Peppers, safety, Michigan: The NFL Draft is about luck nearly as much as it is about skill. The Dolphins got lucky last year when Laremy Tunsil’s gas-mask bong video was leaked minutes before the draft, causing teams picking ahead of Miami to scatter. Could they get lucky again with Peppers, the do-everything Wolverine who is expected to come off the board before the Dolphins are on the clock?

  North Carolina State tight end Jaylen Samuels (1) holds off Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) for a first down pass reception in the first half of the Camping World Independence Bowl NCAA college football game in Shreveport, La., Mon., Dec. 26, 2016. North Carolina State won 41-17.Rogelio V. SolisAP Photo

▪  Zach Cunningham, linebacker, Vanderbilt: Draft analyst Lance Zierlein calls Cunningham a “play-making machine,” which has to sound sweet to a Dolphins coaching staff who got precious few plays out of their linebackers not named Kiko Alonso last year. Cunningham declared early after his 16.5 tackles for loss secured him a spot on the AP All-American first team as a junior.

  Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett sacks Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, left, during an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky. The matchup Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, between No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 9 Tennessee potentially features two of the naton's top pass rushers in the Aggies' Myles Garrett and Barnett, assuming Garrett is healthy enough to play after sitting out last week's victory over South Carolina.Adam LauAP Photo

▪  Derek Barnett, defensive end, Tennessee: Mock drafts before free agency should be taken with heaping spoonfuls of salt, but Barnett has been slotted to the Dolphins by more than a fewer mockers, including NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah. Barnett produced from the moment he stepped on campus in Knoxville, recording nine sacks as a freshman, 10 as a sophomore and 13 as a junior.

  Iowa defensive back Desmond King, left, runs from Maryland tight end Avery Edwards, while returning an interception 88-yards for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Sat., Oct. 31, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 31-15.Charlie NeibergallAP Photo

▪  Desmond King, safety, Iowa: King had a nearly impossible task in 2016 — follow up his Jim Thorpe Award-winning 2015 season with no drop off. The collegiate cornerback, who’s projected to play safety in the NFL, still had three interceptions and broke up seven passes in his fourth year. The knock against King is his size and speed, so he’ll need to run well in Indianapolis to ensure a first-round grade.

  Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis (75) knocks the ball from Baylor quarterback Zach Smith (4) as he pressures him late in the first half at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, on Sat., Nov. 19, 2016. K-State won, 42-21.Bo RaderWichita Eagle/TNS

▪  Jordan Willis, defensive end, Kansas State: Sleeper Alert! Willis has been on the Dolphins’ radar for some time, and believe he’s better than a mid-round pick, as some have projected. Willis (6-4, 255) can really help himself with a strong week in Indy, and even force his way into the first round.

  South squad center Ethan Pocic of LSU (77) runs on the field during the player introductions of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Sat., Jan. 28, 2017, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.Butch DillAP Photo

▪  Ethan Pocic, center/guard, LSU: Yes, the Dolphins will take an offensive player at some point draft weekend. Pocic, who can play anywhere on the interior, is as good a pick as any. He’d compete for starting job at guard this year, and possibly replace Mike Pouncey down the road.

  Texas A&M defensive lineman Daeshon Hall, right, runs around Kansas State offensive lineman Dalton Risner, left, and running back Justin Silmon (32) during the first half of the Texas Bowl NCAA college football game, Wed., Dec. 28, 2016, in Houston.Eric Christian SmithAP Photo

▪  Daeshon Hall, defensive end, Texas A&M: Hall has played the Wide-9, so he’d be a scheme fit with Miami. The late-bloomer is only now growing into his body. Expect him to go on Day 2.

  Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone (34) recovers a fumble by Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, left, after he was hit my defensive back Marcus Maye (20) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Sat., Oct. 15, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won 40-14.John RaouxAP Photo

▪  Alex Anzalone, linebacker, Florida: If the Dolphins don’t land Davis, maybe they’ll target his UF teammate. Anzalone couldn’t stay healthy in college, but could be worth a flier in Round 4.

  West right end Michael Roberts (82), of Toledo, runs with a reception during the first half of the East West Shrine football game Sat., Jan. 21, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla.Chris O'MearaAP Photo

▪  Michael Roberts, tight end, Toledo: The Julius Thomas trade took away some of the urgency of landing a tight end, but Roberts might make sense as a third-day project.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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