As Thursday's NFL Draft approaches, here's the question I posed to four draft analysts:
If the top four quarterbacks (Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield) are all off the board as Miami expects when the Dolphins select 11th overall on Thursday – and if top defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama) and Denzel Ward (Ohio State) are, as expected, also off the board – who should the Dolphins draft?
The top candidates who might be there at 11 in this scenario: Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea,FSU safety Derwin James and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Many expect Darnold, Allen, Rosen and Mayfield, plus Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb to be gone in the top 10. That's six.
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If that’s the case, at least three of these seven prospects would be available when Miami picks 11th: Ward, Fitzpatrick, Smith, Edmunds, Vea, James and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. Miami must hope a team in the top 10 takes Nelson, because it would push one more of the other defenders to 11.
Some of the feedback I received on who the Dolphins should take:
▪ NFL Network’s Mike Mayock:
"With Vita Vea, as much as I love him, I'd like him to lose 15 pounds and stay there, and you're going to have to manage that for the next five years. And really the key to his value is how many snaps are you getting from him in a subpackage? And if you believe you're getting significant pass pressure out of him, then yeah, he'd be worth the 11th pick in the Draft. However, there's two question marks with him that would discount him for me.
“I'd be looking -- between those two inside linebackers and Derwin James, I think Roquan Smith and Derwin James are the safest. I think those two kids are special. I think they're home runs. I think they're plug and play day one, and they solve multiple issues for you on defense. The only down side to Edmunds, he's 19 years old. He doesn't even turn 20 until the week after the draft. I think his upside is higher than those other kids, but I think his floor is lower. I'm not sure what you're getting with him at the end of the day. So I would say either Smith or James, and you'd sprint that up to the podium and be really happy with either."
▪ NFL Network draft and Fox NFL game analyst Charles Davis: “I lean toward Edmunds. He's just 19, but if am doing all the right things and supporting this young man and making sure he is looked after the right way, his talent is breathtaking.”
Though Davis also likes Smith, he said: “Edmunds is bigger and faster than Roquan Smith. I think he can cover tight ends and running backs because of his athleticism. I have seen him on tape drop into coverage. He’s good against the run. The one thing I would have a little bit of pause on is if I am using him as an outside linebacker to rush the passer. Do I have enough confidence he's an excellent pass rusher? But pass rush is not a screaming need for Miami. [Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan and Edmunds] can all be three-down linebackers.
“I love Derwin James. Vea is a prime guy, but the way this game is being played, if I have linebackers who can run all over the field and make plays, that’s” vital. That’s why he opts for Edmunds here.
▪ NFL Network analyst and former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly: “Linebacker and cornerback were the two biggest needs the Dolphins laid out to me when I talked to them. If Baker Mayfield is gone, Edmunds would be the pick if based on need. But I have James rated ahead of both of them. James might be the best of all of those guys, even with Edmunds there. James can do everything. He can play deep, he can play nickel corner, and he’s a Pro Bowl safety.”
▪ NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline: “Of those five (Smith, Edmunds, Vea, James, Jackson), it would come down to Edmunds or Roquan Smith for me, and I would take Edmunds. He doesn’t have same range as Roquan Smith and is not as fluid as Smith but he’s got better size than Smith, and there’s not as many [negative] mismatches as you would have with Smith, who’s only 6-1.
“Edmunds’ ceiling is higher than Roquan Smith’s because of size and athleticism and he has a cleaner bill of health. Some teams have red flags with Smith.”
What about Vea? “The Dolphins already have an underachieving tackle [in Jordan Phillips]. Vea is better than Phillips but he needs a fire lit under him. Derwin James is good but Edmunds is better.”
Pauline, incidentally, believes he knows what the Dolphins really want.
“If the Dolphins don’t move up for a quarterback, sources tell me the player they really want is Roquan Smith,” Pauline said. “But will Smith be available when the team is called to the clock? In our recent mock draft, we have the Oakland Raiders selecting Smith with the pick immediately preceding the Dolphins’ selection.
“If that happens, I’m told [Boise State] linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be a consideration for the Dolphins if they can’t get a quarterback and both Smith and Tremaine Edmunds are off the board.
“Director of college scouting Adam Engroff, a resident of Boise, Idaho, has been raving about Vander Esch since last summer and rates the junior on a par with Edmunds. Vander Esch would definitely help the run defense and has the athleticism the team needs to cover running backs and tight ends.”
We reported weeks ago that the Dolphins like Vander Esch. And Engroff's voice carries weight inside the front office because of his strong track record that earned him a promotion from a Western scout to director of college scouting in recent years.
Several mock drafts have Vander Esch as a mid-to-late first-rounder.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said if he were the Dolphins, he would either trade up for a quarterback or trade down for more picks.
“When you look at their needs, it makes more sense to move one way or the other," Jeremiah said.
I wouldn't be shocked if the Dolphins trade down because they believe they need plug and play players at linebacker, tight end and defensive tackle, plus help at cornerback and safety and a young quarterback and third running back. That's a ton of needs.
Incidentally, agent Drew Rosenhaus predicted on his weekly WSVN-Fox segment on Sunday that the Dolphins would take Jackson at 11. Jackson does not have an agent.
▪ Why was the Dolphins’ home finale against Jacksonville listed as either Dec. 22 (a Saturday) or Dec. 23 (a Sunday)?
For the first time, the league put aside four “flex” games that weekend, with two of those to be moved to full national telecasts on Saturday. The four options: the Dolphins game, Baltimore at Chargers, Giants at Indianapolis or Washington at Tennessee. A decision will be made after Week 8.