A strong – very strong – case could be made that the Dolphins’ two most pressing needs entering the draft are linebacker and tight end, based on the need for starters there.
A case could be made that defensive tackle is their third most important need, because the Dolphins still haven’t added anyone to replace Ndamukong Suh and his 877 snaps (though defensive end William Hayes will play some defensive tackle).
So it’s notable that when NFL Network analyst and former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly spoke to Dolphins officials this offseason, they identified two primary draft needs to him: linebacker and cornerback.
Yes, cornerback, a position where Miami has invested a 2016 second-round pick on Xavien Howard and a 2017 third-round pick on Cordrea Tankersley. A position where they have a slot cornerback (Bobby McCain) who they insist they really, really like. A position where Tony Lippett is returning from an Achilles injury that wiped out his 2017 season after he intercepted four passes and displayed considerable growth a year earlier.
So it’s no coincidence that the Dolphins have used several of their 30 permitted pre-draft visits on at least three cornerbacks expected to go in the first three rounds of the draft — Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, Iowa’s Josh Jackson, and on Tuesday, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander.
And you can be sure that Alabama cornerback/safety Minkah Fitzpatrick would receive strong consideration if he surprisingly slips to Miami’s pick at 11.
Alexander, who isn’t a big corner at 5-11, intercepted five passes and broke up nine others in 13 starts in 2016, earning second-team All-ACC honors. He missed about half of the 2017 season with leg and hand injuries and had one interception in seven games.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projects Alexander as a first- or second-round pick and evaluated him this way: “Twitchy and quick, Alexander is an instinctive cornerback with the ability to anticipate routes and the quickness to close on throws and make plays on the ball. He tape in 2017 was uneven due to issues with a sprained knee which could raise concerns over his durability considering his slender build. When healthy, he has the potential to become a second cornerback, but teams may view him as a full-time nickel cornerback who is able to avoid the rigors of excessive run support.”
Zierlein quoted an AFC defensive backs coach as saying this about Alexander: "It looked like he kind of cruised by sometimes this year like he was trying not to get hurt. You can see that talent, man. He can stay on you all over the field and he was one of the smoothest ones I saw at the Combine."
It’s easy to understand why the Dolphins believe they need more cornerbacks:
1) They play in a pass-heavy league where teams lined up in three-receiver sets against them 65 percent of the time last season.
2) Lippett is coming off a major injury, and the body of work isn’t big enough on Tankersley to know if he’s an above-average starting NFL cornerback.
3) Lippett and McCain are eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, and Howard has two years left on his contract.
That said — unless a top cornerback falls to 11 (perhaps Fitzpatrick or Ward) — it would be difficult, in my view, to justify taking a cornerback in the first or second rounds if a top linebacker and tight end are available in those slots.
But know this: The Dolphins don’t believe they have fully solved their cornerback situation. And that adds yet another Dolphins need to a substantial list of them.
Former tight end visits
The Dolphins this week used another of their 30 pre-draft visits on Temple offensive lineman Cole Boozer, a former tight end whose potential and quick feet have several teams intrigued.
Zierlein projects Boozer will go undrafted and said: “The tape isn't kind to Boozer as it relates to his NFL prospects, but to be fair, he is still very early in his transition to tackle and he's added more weight since the season ended.
“While it may be unlikely that Boozer gets a Day 3 call, teams love the opportunity to work with tight ends turned tackles, and he might land on a practice squad for a year or two as an offensive line project if teams can find enough to work with at either tackle or center.”