A few Dolphins-flavored items on the eve of the start of the NFL Combine:
• The group of edge rushers in this draft is perhaps the deepest in years, and that’s good news because it’s increasingly likely that the Dolphins will use the 22nd pick on a front seven defender, with defensive line the slight priority over linebacker, but both positions high on Miami’s list and scheduled to be addressed in free agency and the draft.
“It’s one of the best defensive drafts I’ve seen,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Monday, raving about “the defensive edge rushers, whether 4-3 or 3-4.” (Miami is sticking with a 4-3.)
Among many defensive linemen in Miami’s first-round range that the Dolphins are expected to spend time with in Indianapolis: defensive ends Derek Barnett (Tennessee) and Charles Harris (Missouri).
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“Barnett can be tremendously productive as a pass rusher,” said ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who has Barnett going 23rd and Harris 31st.
Mayock predicts Barnett (photo above) will be selected between 10 and Miami at 22, noting “Derek Barnett is one of the hardest working edge rushers in this or any draft.” He believes Barnett would be a good pick for Miami.
But ESPN’s Todd McShay cautions: “Barnett isn't expected to put up elite workout numbers, which could cause him to slip a bit. But he plays with good discipline, a consistent motor and impressive physicality. He led the SEC in both tackles for loss (19.0) and sacks (13.0). He has terrific intangibles and finds a way to affect the game in multiple ways with his natural instincts.”
At least three other defensive ends also have been linked to Miami - Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and UCLA’s end/linebacker Takarrist McKinley, but Kiper has them going 7th, 11th and 15th.
Thomas, Mayock said, “can play outside on run downs, inside on pass downs. I love his versatility.”
By contrast, McShay has Thomas fifth among all players in this draft, Charlton 11th, Barnett 19th, McKinley 21st and Harris 31st.
• After McKinley at 15, Kiper doesn’t have another linebacker being drafted until Temple’s Haason Reddick at No. 30. It’s possible he could rise to Miami’s range with a strong next two months.
“He had 21.5 tackles for loss last season, and the traits match the production,” Kiper said. “Get to know this name.”
McShay has Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster ninth but only two other linebackers between 10 and 32: McKinley 21st and UF’s Jarrad Davis 23rd.
Kiper has Davis 13th, and he will be a consideration if he’s there at 22.
McShay said the 6-foot-2, 238 pound Davis is best suited to weakside linebacker but could play middle linebacker if he bulks up: “He's an explosive athlete with great range who profiles as an every-down player in the NFL. He could also play middle linebacker if he bulked up a bit.”
Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham is somewhat polarizing; some have him as a first-rounder, but Kiper and McShay do not.
• The good news, Mayock said, is “there’s talent throughout [the draft] with the edge rushers.”
Among second- or third-round ends, he mentions FSU’s DeMarcus Walker, Ohio’s Tarell Basham, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis and Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon.
• I asked Mayock the best option for Miami at 22 from among front seven players. Here’s how he answered:
“I look at it two different ways. When I say linebackers, I am looking at off the ball linebackers, like in a 4-3, which is effectively what they’re going to be. [Alabama’s] Reuben Foster should be long gone. After that, you’ve got to look at: Do you want a Jordan Cunningham from Vanderbilt, a Jarrad Davis from Florida or Haason Reddick from Temple. I am very much a Haason Reddick guy, and if he tests well at the Combine, I think he’s going to come from nowhere to be at worst a second-round pick and perhaps a late first-round pick. Reddick or Jarrad Davis might even be there in the second round.
“Then you start talking about the edge guys. I really like Derek Barnett. I think [Alabama’s] Tim Williams is going to slide a little bit with some off the field stuff and he’s more a 3-4 guy. So from Derek Barnett, Solomon Thomas, Taco Charlton; I think they’re all 4-3 guys and they’re all first round picks.
“Then you get to the 3-4 guys: Takkarist McKinley, [Wisconsin’s] TJ Watt. Charles Harris can probably play in either. There are eight guys I have potential first-round grades on on the edge. Anybody looking for an edge in the first round is going to find one.”