Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ top needs likely more available in free agency than draft

Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton is projected to go as early as No. 10 in the NFL Draft. Could he fall to the Dolphins at No. 14?
Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton is projected to go as early as No. 10 in the NFL Draft. Could he fall to the Dolphins at No. 14? AP

Mike Tannenbaum has plenty to tackle when he officially takes over on Feb.1.

His top priority, of course, is helping identify and acquire the talent needed to get the Dolphins over the hump.

And yet, the earliest projections of May’s NFL Draft present an early red flag. The top tier is weak at places the Dolphins need help most: Up the middle on both offense and defense.

That’s according to ESPN’s Todd McShay, whose business is to know these things. And based on his hour-long Q&A with sportswriters from across the country this week, the Dolphins better fix their porous run defense in free agency, because the talent might not be there to do it in the draft.

“There’s a good amount of talent, probably better than average, on the perimeter,” McShay, speaking of edge rushers expected to be available.

As for defensive tackle, inside linebacker and safety – all positions where the Dolphins need reinforcements?

“Average,” was McShay’s assessment.

Arguably the best inside linebacker in the draft? Miami’s Denzel Perryman, who will be lucky to go late in the first round.

That’s bad news for the Dolphins, who finished 8-8 and again will draft in the no-man’s land: the middle of the first round. Mediocre seasons are unfulfilling in two ways: Not quite good enough to get to the playoffs, and not quite bad enough to be in position to draft an elite player.

They had to sweat out 18 picks before taking Ja’Wuan James – the last offensive tackle with a first-round grade – last year.

And the same scenario could occur this year, particularly if the Dolphins don’t solve their issues at defensive tackle in free agency. The Dolphins were uncharacteristically bad against the run last year – ranking 24th in rushing yards allowed and 21stin yards per rush – and that was with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks, who both could both be gone in the coming months.

That will make the very few elite defensive tackles in this year’s draft all the more coveted.

The fastest riser: Danny Shelton, a first-team All-American at Washington in 2014. Shelton, who has accepted an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl later this month, could go as high as 10th, and certainly would be an option.

Eddie Goldman, whom McShay calls Florida State’s best defensive player from last year, is another option on the defensive interior.

After that, there’s not a ton of great options up the middle.

And cornerback doesn’t appear to be much better. Marcus Peters, also of Washington, might be a bit of a stretch, and Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is dealing with a knee injury.

So how about on the interior offensive line? Surely, there has got to be an elite guard available in the middle of the first round who could help shore up a group that allowed 46 sacks last year, right?

There again, need might not match up with value for the Dolphins.

The best lineman in the draft might be Brandon Scherff, a tackle from Iowa who reminds McShay of Zach Martin – a player the Dolphins coveted last year but was off the board by the time they picked. Though Scherff played tackle in college, his measurable probably translate to guard on the NFL level.

After that? Not much.

“The sweet spot for offensive line will be the bottom half of the first round,” McShay said. “That’s where you’ll get a lot of value.”

So if Scherff goes before the Dolphins pick, they might not have any other great option at 14. Texas A&M, as it does seemingly every year, will have a lineman selected in the first round, but prospect Cedric Ogbuehi is a tackle, and the Dolphins seem set there.

Same goes for UM’s Ereck Flowers, another tackle whom McShay called “probably the most underrated tackle in the draft.”

McShay added: “He’s really jumped out to me as an underclassman who’s made improvements. … He could be the surprise of this class if he comes out.”

Problem is, the Dolphins have James and Branden Albert as their bookends.

All this means unless a top-tier player unexpectedly falls, the Dolphins might be best served to trade back and accumulate picks, or simply stand pat and take the best player available, regardless of need.

There should be some good ones available, including Alabama safety Landon Collins, Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, Florida defensive end Dante Flowers, running back Melvin Gordon, Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley and West Virginia receiver Kevin White – who at 6-foot-3 could finally provide the team with a big target in the red zone.

Related stories from Miami Herald