Barry Jackson

Interesting draft conundrum already emerging for Dolphins

LSU defensive end/linebacker Arden Key (49) sacks Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins in a game earlier this season. Key is considered one of the top front seven players available in next year’s draft.
LSU defensive end/linebacker Arden Key (49) sacks Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins in a game earlier this season. Key is considered one of the top front seven players available in next year’s draft. AP

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Monday:

▪ Miami would pick 13th in the first round if the season ended today. Two months ago, it appeared very likely this would an offensive-focused draft for the Dolphins next April.

And while the offense assuredly will be addressed during the draft, it might make more sense to use the first-round pick on a front-seven defender, particularly an outside linebacker, if a quality one is available.

Follow my reasoning on this as we expand on each offensive position:

Quarterback: The team is committed to Ryan Tannehill for 2018, so investing a first-round pick on a QB wouldn’t seemingly make sense. (And I know there are some of you who will disagree, but with all of Miami’s needs, the Dolphins cannot afford to use a first-rounder on a player who might not get on the field for years. Just my two cents.)

Running back: Not only is Kenyan Drake making the most of his opportunity (120 yards rushing Sunday, 4.9 yards per carry on the season), but this comment from Adam Gase on Friday was very telling:

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to have feature back-type situations. I like using multiple guys. I like guys moving in and out and I like having guys that can do multiple things and really put pressure on the defense where they can’t focus on one thing. I don’t know. We might be out of that game.”

With Drake playing well, that doesn’t sound like a coach who wants to draft a back in the first round. Yes, one will be drafted. But you can find a quality rotational running back later in the draft.

Receiver: Certainly can’t rule this out if Miami falls in love with Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and if he’s available when Miami picks. The Dolphins certainly could draft Ridley and trade DeVante Parker.

But with Parker’s lack of development, the odds of Jarvis Landry returning next season continue to increase. And Kenny Stills has proven to be a clearly above-average receiver. So the need to draft a receiver on the first or second day isn’t pressing.

Tight end: Clearly a need, but there isn’t one currently considered a top half of the first round prospect.

Mel Kiper has one tight end rated in the first round: 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 1,293 and 17 TDs last season.

▪ Offensive guard: How many teams use top 20 picks on guards? That’s usually not good value except for rare instances (such as Dallas taking Zack Martin 16th in 2014).

▪ Offensive tackle: Certainly a possibility, and this might make the most first-round sense of any position on offense.

Miami could save $9 million in cap space by cutting Ja’Wuan James and drafting Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey, Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown or Texas tackle Connor Williams. Kiper has all of them between 13 and 16 on his Big Board.

But it would be helpful if Jermon Bushrod returned from his foot injury this coming week (Gase suggested it’s real possibility), so the Dolphins can get a four-game sample size of Jesse Davis at right tackle.

That would help determine whether the Dolphins want to project Davis as a starting right tackle or starting right guard next season. He has done enough, to this point, to warrant strong consideration as a starter somewhere.

If Miami drafts defense in the first round, a linebacker or another defensive end would make sense. At linebacker, disappointing Lawrence Timmons is at risk of being cut. At defensive end, William Hayes will be a free agent, Cameron Wake will be a year older and Charles Harris hasn’t proven yet if he’s an everydown player.

We discussed potential front-seven first-round options in this post last week, with LSU junior linebacker Aren Key (four sacks, one forced fumble) among the appealing options.

So don’t rule out defense in the first round. As much as the offense needs help, it’s no longer a no-brainer to use a first-round pick on that side of the ball.

So this conundrum has emerged: You know the offense needs help. But in this case, is that necessarily the best use of a first-round pick?

▪ A couple of Pro Football Focus items: Drake earned the highest grade for any running back in Week 13 and led all running backs in yards after contact (106) and forced missed tackles (seven).

But left tackle Laremy Tunsil had his lowest-graded game of the year at 39.0. Tunsil allowed two QB hurries and one hit and graded out at 26.8 for the day in run-blocking. For the season, Tunsil’s overall grade stands at 51.9, 54th out of 80 qualifying tackles.

▪ Landry is the only player in the NFL to catch at least five passes in every game this season.

Landry’s 80 receptions this season are ninth in Dolphins history despite having four games still to play. Landry already holds the No. 1 (110 in 2015), No. 2 (94 in 2016) and No. 6 (84 in 2014) marks in team history.

Also, he extended his NFL record for most catches in the first four years of a career and now has 368 career receptions.

▪ Notable offensive snap counts Sunday: Drake played 53 of 67 offensive snaps, with Sinorise Perry playing 12. ... Mike Pouncey played 56 of 67 snaps before leaving with an injury that Gase suggested isn’t serious. ... Jakeem Grant, who had a carry in the game, played two snaps and Leonte Carroo four. ... The Dolphins gave one snap to Zach Sterup as a sixth offensive lineman.

▪ • Notable defensive snap counts Sunday: Not only did undrafted Houston rookie defensive end Cameron Malveaux make his NFL regular-season debut, he played 32 snaps. Charles Harris played 39, Andre Branch 36, Wake 33 and Terrence Fede 31.

“He’s caugh the eye of a lot of coaches,” Gase said Monday of Malveaux. “We were all excited to see him play.”...

Cornerback Walt Aikens (nine snaps) got his first defensive work all season, and defensive baqck Jordan Lucas (11 snaps) also got rare defensive playing time. With Cordrea Tankersley limited to eight snaps because of injury, Bobby McCain played 67 of 72 snaps, Xavien Howard 63 and Alterraun Verner 46. ...

T.J. McDonald was the only player who logged all 72 defensive snaps. ... At defensive tackle, Jordan Phillips was great but played four fewer snaps that rookie Vincent Taylor’s 36. ... Miami gave defensive work to six linebackers: Kiko Alonso (61 snaps), Timmons (41), Stephone Anthony (29), Chase Allen (25), Mike Hull (11) and Neville Hewitt (1).

▪ With Howard’s two interceptions (including one for a touchdown) and the two safeties against Denver, Miami became only the third team in NFL history with two safeties and a pick-six in the same game, according to Elias.

The Giants did that in a pair of shutout wins, against the Pottsville Maroons in 1927 and against the Redskins in 1961.

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