With this Dolphins season seemingly headed nowhere, it’s never too early for our traditional exercise in hope trafficking, otherwise known as the NFL Draft.
If the Draft order were determined today - which would be odd - Miami (per Pro Football Focus) would pick ninth, the same spot where the Dolphins drafted Ted Ginn Jr. (and his family) in 2007.
Not only will the Dolphins enter the offseason with needs at running back, guard, tight end, perhaps tackle and receiver, but also – potentially – at defensive end and linebacker, where the team has failed to solve positions that it believed it had been solved.
(I’m not including quarterback because the team remains committed to Ryan Tannehill. Is it possible Miami could fall in love with one of the draft’s top quarterbacks and select him? Sure. But that would be a surprise.)
An early look at players to keep an eye on during the college football postseason, players who could factor into the Dolphins’ first-round draft thinking:
• Offensive line: It would be somewhat painful for Miami to invest a fourth first-round pick in a lineman this decade, but there will be options to help one of the Dolphins’ weakest units.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper, on his Big Board, has Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson ninth, Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey 13th, Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown 14th and Texas tackle Connor Williams 16th.
Though neither Notre Dame lineman played well against Miami, “Nelson and McGlinchey form the best left side of an O-line in college football,” Kiper said. “At 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, Nelson just causes destruction in the interior. I wrote last year that he was entertaining to watch, and you just don't say that about guards. He's a dominant run-blocker who is powerful at the point of attack but also athletic enough to pull and get into space.
“McGlinchey is a massive athlete (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) who looks like a tight end with pads on.”
Brown is considered a natural left tackle who could move to the right side; Williams has been sidelined for weeks with a knee injury.
ESPN’s Todd McShay said the second-best guard in the draft (after Nelson) is Ohio State center Billy Price, who’s 26th on his Big Board. “He is a plug-and-play NFL starter who should be steady in the league,” McShay said.
But using a pick in the top half of the first round on a guard would be foolhardy.
• Running back: With this position devalued in recent years, the Dolphins probably could find a pretty good prospect in Day 2 or Day 3.UM’s Mark Walton is turning pro - Miami assuredly will study him closely - and here’s what a draft analyst projects for him.
But if they choose to address it in the first round, their potential options would be USC’s Ronald Jones (17th on Kiper’s Big Board), LSU’s Derrius Guice (14th on McShay’s Big Board) and Stanford’s Bryce Love (24th on McShay’s).
Kiper said Jones (1346 rushing yards, 6.3 per carry, 16 TDs and 12 catches for 159 yards ) is “not huge -- 6-1, 195 -- but he has some wiggle between the tackles.”
The 5-11, 218-pound Guice (1153 rushing yards, 5.3 per carry and 11 TDs and 15 for 100 as a receiver) “isn't Leonard Fournette, but he has great quickness and the ability to stick his foot in the ground and get upfield.” McShay said.
Love is averaging a whopping 8.6 yards per carry, with 1848 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Unless they finish with just four or five wins or move up in the draft, Miami likely won’t be in position to draft Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Kiper’s No. 1 overall prospect.
• Tight end: The Dolphins need to find a longterm answer there and Kiper sees one potential top 25 talent: 6-5 Dallas Goedert of North Dakota State. Rated 25th overall by Kiper, Goedert has 60 catches for 966 yards and five touchdowns. He had 92 for 1293 and 17 TDs last season.
• Receiver: At this point, I would be surprised if the Dolphins go receiver in the first round unless Jarvis Landry surprisingly leaves. Adam Gase has said he’s happy with his group, including Landry.
Kiper has Alabama’s Calvin Ridley as the top only receiver in his top 25 (15th overall).
The 6-foot-1 Ridley (55 catches, 896 yards, 16.3 per catch, three touchdowns) “ has been one of the nation's top wide receivers since he stepped onto the field,” Kiper said. “He's a nightmare to try to tackle in the open field.”
McShay has Ridley 15th, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk 17th and SMU’s Courtland Sutton 21st on his board.
The 5-11 Kirk (58 catches, 730 yards, 12.6 average, seven TDs) “hasn't been running an NFL route tree at Texas A&M, but he's a solid all-around player and dangerous punt returner,” McShay said.
McShay on Sutton: “Smooth route runner who has the ability to make the first defender miss”
. He has 62 catches for 1017 yards with 12 TDs and has averaged between 16.4 yards and 17.3 yards per catch the past three seasons.
• Defensive end: Wasn’t this supposed to have been solved with the drafting of Charles Harris and contract extension for Andre Branch? I’m not sure it has been.
Though Dolphins coaches remain publicly and privately bullish on Harris despite modest stats (11 tackles, one sack), this position again cannot be ruled out for Miami in Round 1.
Keep an eye on North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb (seventh on Kiper’s Big Board; sixth on McShay’s), Boston College’s Harold Landry (ninth by McShay, 11th by Kiper) and Clemson redshirt sophomore Clelin Ferrell (12th by Kiper, 19th by McShay).
Chubb (72 tackles, 10 sacks, 23 tackles for loss) “shows good takeoff from the edge as a pass-rusher, and he has an excellent mix of speed and power,” Kiper said.
Landry has five sacks in eight games after leading the nation with 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season.
“I still have concerns about his size (listed at 6 feet 3, 250 pounds), but he should be an every-down player in the NFL, and teams will value his versatility,” McShay said.
Ferrell, a 6-5, 260 pound redshirt sophomore with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss, is solid against the run and quick off the edge. Watch him in the UM game this weekend.
If Miami wants a defensive tackle in round one (less likely), Clemson’s Christian Wilkins (10th by McShay, 18th on Kiper’s board) , Michigan’s Maurice Hurst (11th, 19th) and Washington’s Vita Vea (23rd, 29th) are options.
• Linebacker: Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons haven’t been very good the past month, and so outside linebacker is very much in play with Miami’s first-round pick.
The Dolphins hope and expected Raekwon McMillan – off major knee surgery – will be their middle linebacker for years, but outside linebacker options include LSU’s Arden Key (seventh on McShay’s board, eighth on Kiper’s), Georgia’s Roquan Smith (20th by McShay) and Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (24th).
“The more I watch Key play, the more he reminds me of Miami Dolphins great Jason Taylor,” McShay said. “Key missed spring practice for personal reasons and has only 4.0 sacks so far, but that included a game-winning sack against Auburn.”
McShay said of Smith: “An athletic sideline-to-sideline weakside linebacker, Smith has impressed recently. Even with all of the speed on Georgia's defense, he stands out.”
He has 100 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
Okoronkwo (eight sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 64 tackles overall) “is a tough evaluation because of his size; he's listed at 6-1, 240, which is below average for a pass-rushing outside linebacker,” Kiper said. “But he's such a good pass-rusher…kind of reminds me of James Harrison.”
Two other outside linebackers to keep in mind: Texas’ Malik Jefferson (30th by McShay) and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds (32nd by McShay).
Jefferson (110 tackles, 10 for loss, four sacks) has “a high ceiling,” McShay said. “Listed at 6 feet 3, 240 pounds, he isn't a true edge rusher, which makes his sack numbers more impressive.”
Edmunds “is a versatile linebacker with a great frame and speed for his size (6 feet 5, 236 pounds),” McShay said. “He has been flying around the field, with 101 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.”
• Cornerback: Would be surprised if Miami uses its first-round pick on a corner because of internal belief in Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley, plus Tony Lippett’s return from Achilles’ surgery.
But it certainly cannot be ruled out. Projected first-round corners include Ohio State’s Denzel Ward (12th on McShay’s board) and Iowa’s Joshua Jackson (21st by McShay). Jackson leads the nation with seven interceptions.
The draft’s top defensive back prospects, according to McShay, are Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and FSU safety Derwin James, though the Dolphins already have invested longterm in the safety combo of Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald.
Important note: Of all the aforementioned players, eight are seniors - Chubb, Landry, Hurst, Ward, Ridley, McGlinchey, Price and Jefferson. The remainder are draft eligible underclassmen.