The NFL Draft is at some level about falling in love.
Personnel men, scout and coaches watch games or study tape, then meet with the prospects. There are frank conversations. There are shared meals. And as the courtship progresses, these men representing teams find themselves loving some of the players they have studied and met.
They love a tough player’s heart, they love an offensive lineman’s feet or punch, they love a receiver’s hands or speed or quickness, they love a cornerback’s hips. They love a player’s value.
It takes that love for an NFL team to commit to a kid in the first round, particularly early in the first round, because there are reputations and jobs and a lot of money riding on how well that love is rewarded.
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So it’s a problem when a team doesn’t necessarily love the players it might be in a position to draft. And that’s where the Dolphins find themselves right now.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland says he has “a pretty good idea of three or four guys that I am looking at, absolutely.” He says he’s excited about the prospects in this draft. He believes the Dolphins will eventually land a good player.
But is he in love with one player right now, as he was last year when he already knew weeks before the draft he was picking quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first round?
Is Ireland in love with a player he believes is the perfect marriage of ability and availability at No.12?
The offensive tackle position, one of significant need for the Dolphins following the free agent departure of Jake Long, is a perfect example of the Dolphins’ quandary. The club loves Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and even Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.
But because this draft probably will not have two or three quarterbacks drafted in the top-10 picks like last year, those two offensive tackles will be long gone by the time Miami’s turn comes in the first round.
And the other highly rated offensive tackle, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, also might be gone when Miami picks, but even if he isn’t, Ireland isn’t totally in love with the prospect of picking him.
The Dolphins’ general manager likes Johnson. Believes he will be a first-round selection. Believes he will play in the NFL. But he has questions about Johnson’s game that keep him from loving the guy.
And Johnson is not the only player who presents issues for the Dolphins.
The Dolphins need help at cornerback — regardless of Ireland’s insistence that the position is well-manned — so if Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, big and physical and more than fast enough, could play zone and off-man techniques as well as he plays press, he might be the pick at No. 12.
But the Dolphins don’t think Rhodes is suited for their defense. He’s not a good fit for their system.
“We don’t play a ton of press, but we do play a lot of man-to-man. There is a difference,” Ireland said. “So, is it extremely important that we get a guy who plays 90 percent press? No it’s not, but it’s important that the guy we draft can play man-to-man. But also, we play some zone and we play some off-man. Off-man is very difficult. There is a different skill set to that, so finding a guy that can have a pretty good skill set that is not strictly one thing or the other is important.”
Rhodes and Johnson aren’t the only players the Dolphins don’t exactly love. Tavon Austin is a great slot receiver and perhaps the most promising playmaker in the draft.
But he’s barely 5-9, and his shorter arms don’t make him a good target on the outside for Tannehill. And Ireland loves players with prototypical size. And the Dolphins just spent a ton of money on signing three receivers in free agency.
So the Dolphins like Austin. But for the stated reasons, they don’t quite love him.
The truth is some players would be easier to love if Miami wasn’t picking so high. The Dolphins really like Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was in town visiting the team Tuesday. They really like defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Sylvester Williams, cornerback D.J. Hayden and even Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
So are the Dolphins ready to commit to any of those players at No. 12? No, they all appear possibilities in a trade-down scenario, where the increased value of the picks could bring the Dolphins to loving any of those players, particularly Vaccaro.
But if the club stays at No.12, love will continue to be hard to find. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is great example of that.
He’s more than a good value at No. 12. He plays a position that Randy Starks and Paul Soliai currently play, so that makes him a good fit for the future because Starks is tied only by a one-year franchise tag and Soliai is in the final year of his contract.
But Lotulelei’s problems are he admittedly takes some plays off and he also plays a position that is not a huge need right now. Next year? Sure. But now? No.
So can Ireland get past those issues and pick Lotulelei?
It would depend on if he finds a way to love the guy.