Miami Dolphins

Dolphins desperately need a Gronk-stopper. Will they find him at the Senior Bowl?

Penn State safety Marcus Allen kisses the Fiesta Bowl trophy after defeating the Washington Huskies 35-28 in late December.
Penn State safety Marcus Allen kisses the Fiesta Bowl trophy after defeating the Washington Huskies 35-28 in late December. Getty Images

If you absolutely, positively need to add a safety, good luck finding one in this draft’s first round.

Florida State’s Derwin James is the only no-doubt first-rounder in the 2018 class.

Might he be in play for the Dolphins at 11? Sure. But that is a discussion for another day.

James is a junior and ineligible to participate in next week’s Senior Bowl.

The good news? Plans B, C and even D might work. And those contingency plans will try to turn skeptics into believers starting Tuesday in Mobile.

In fact, there is value to be found throughout this year’s class, which probably suits the Dolphins just fine.

They need a safety, but they doled out $45 million in guarantees to Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald in the past 10 months.

Plus, the Dolphins have historically undervalued the safety position in the draft. The last one they took in Round 1? Louis Oliver in 1989.

That neglect has manifested itself in their notorious inability to cover tight ends. Rob Gronkowski has tormented the Dolphins since he entered the league. Even defensive coordinator Matt Burke acknowledged late in the season that the front office needs to add someone with that skill this offseason.

The offseason has begun, and perhaps they will find one next week.

Seven true safeties have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl.

Here are the best:

▪  Marcus Allen, Penn State, 6-2, 202: With that name, how could he fail? And while he is not the son of the Raiders Hall of Famer with the same name, this Marcus does have a football pedigree. He is the godson of former Jets running back Curtis Martin.

Allen, selected to the All-Big Ten team after an excellent 2017, was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back. He piled up 310 tackles in his four-year collegiate career — the sixth most in program history.

But he’s more than a stat accumulator. He can run — perhaps better than any safety the Dolphins have. Jones and McDonald have a similar skill set, but NFLDraftScout.com lists Allen as the class’ No. 2 free safety, in part, because of his combination of size and speed. He’s a 4.5-40 guy.

If there is a knock against him, it’s his lack of big plays. Allen picked off just one pass and forced a mere two fumbles at Penn State.

▪  Armani Watts, Texas A&M, 5-11, 205: Another first-team all conference free safety who can run, Watts is projected to go somewhere in the third round.

That, of course, is subject to change. He hopes to change it next week in Mobile. And unlike Allen, he made a ton of plays during his final year on campus. Heading into the bowl season, Watts was the only FBS player with at least 9 1/2 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two blocked kicks, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble, according to NFLDraftScout.com.

Those blocked kicks will impress Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who might need to replace team captain Michael Thomas this offseason.

One knock on Watts: His durability. He tore his hamstring as a junior and then missed this season’s Belk Bowl with a rib injury.

▪  Quin Blanding, Virginia, 6-2, 210: The Dolphins love their big defensive backs, and Blanding checks that box. Plus, he can play. He was named to an All-ACC team in each of his four years at Virginia.

Blanding is the Cavaliers’ all-time leader in tackles, passing Jamie Sharper his senior season. The Dolphins could have real interest, particularly if he lasts to Day 3.

▪  Others to watch: Kyzir White, West Virginia, 6-2, 218; Tray Matthews, Auburn, 6-1, 209.

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

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