Barry Jackson

Sizing up first-round options at two Dolphins need positions: Defensive end and tackle

NFL draft prospects will rise and fall during the next three months but this much is already clear, and it’s good news for the Dolphins: This draft has a bunch of defensive linemen who are projected, at least initially, to go between 10 and 25.

The Dolphins, picking 13, badly need more quality ends and tackles after a season in which Miami finished 31st against the run and 29th in sacks with just 31. Defensive line will be a Dolphins priority in the draft and throughout the offseason.

With Ohio State end Nick Bosa and Alabama tackle Quinnen Williams considered likely top-four picks, here’s a look at the defensive linemen projected to go anywhere from five to the second round, with the Dolphins expected to look closely at all of them (and we include some expected to be picked after Miami’s selection in case the Dolphins trade down for more picks):

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver.

He could be right in Miami’s wheelhouse.

ESPN’s Todd McShay has him ninth, while ESPN’s Mel Kiper has him 14th.

He had three sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss this past season. The downside is he missed four consecutive games with a knee injury and had a verbal altercation with coach Major Applewhite on the sideline.

“He’s still a potential top-five pick, but people I’ve talked to believe he’s closer to 275 pounds than the 290-plus at which he’s listed, and he hasn’t developed consistent pass-rush moves,” Kiper said on ESPN.com. “That’s why I have always said the comparison to Aaron Donald was unfair. Now, Oliver is still a game-wrecker and a great player; just play the East Carolina tape when he had five tackles for loss. And his first step is one of the fastest I’ve seen from a defensive tackle. He can dominate a game when he’s playing at his best.”

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah rates him eighth on his Big Board and says: “Overall, Oliver isn’t as powerful or polished as Aaron Donald, but he has similar athleticism and should be a disruptive force for the team that drafts him.”

Michigan defensive tackle Rashan Gary.

Kiper has him going seventh to Buffalo. McShay has him sixth, and Jeremiah second.

So even though the Dolphins need defensive tackles and seemingly have an affinity for Michigan players, he figures to be off the board by 13.

“He dominates when he’s at his best; he just manhandles offensive linemen,” Kiper said. “Gary has a high ceiling. The problem? Consistency. A defender this big and this talented should create more pressure and disruptions. The former No.1 overall recruit disappears too often for my liking. Gary could play end in a 3-4 defense or three-technique in a 4-3.”

Gary made headlines this weekend when he announced he’s starting his own sports agency, which - naturally - will represent him.

Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons.

Jeremiah has him seventh overall, noting “teams are buzzing about his talent. Overall, Simmons has Pro Bowl potential and a similar skill set to Eagles DT Fletcher Cox.”

Kiper has him 17th and said “one thing that really impressed me in Mississippi State’s loss to LSU earlier this season was Simmons’ hand usage. He knows how to disengage blockers and find the football.”

But, as Kiper noted, “Simmons will have to answer to NFL teams about his 2016 arrest on a charge of simple assault.”

ESPN’s McShay has him as the fourth best player in the draft, so there’s a wide variation in how he’s regarded, partly because of the off-field issue. He had a blocked punt for a touchdown and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the same game this past season – against Louisiana Tech.

Kiper believes he can play in a 4-3 or 3-4, and the Dolphins plan to use both. He had five sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2017 and 18 tackles for loss and two sacks this past season.

Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell.

One of three potential Clemson defensive linemen who could go by the early 20s. Kiper has him 12th, McShay seventh.

He had 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss this past season.

“He terrorized Texas A&M and Georgia Southern with two sacks apiece and multiple pressures,” Kiper said. “Clemson has one of the most talented defensive lines I’ve ever seen in college football, and Ferrell is the top prospect.”

McShay believes he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or defensive end in a 4-3.

He would figure to be in any Dolphins discussion at No. 13.

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has him going 12th in his mock draft but rates him just 22nd on his big board, a pick before Miami, noting “Ferrell lacks elite athleticism, but I love his combination of size, effort and production.”

Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.

McShay has him rated 13th, but Kiper 26th and Jeremiah 32nd. The value here is that he can play on third down.

The bad news is he was suspended for the national championship game after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, ostarine.

“Big-bodied guys who move like Lawrence and can eat gaps don’t last long in the draft,” Kiper said. “And Lawrence has shown that he is more than a plugger -- he had nine sacks in his first two seasons.”

Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. He had 5.5 sacks this season and 14 for loss.

McShay has him 16th, Kiper falling to 28th.

McShay said “he might not have the upside of fellow Clemson linemates Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence, but he has a great motor.” Jeremiah calls him a “top 10 talent” and said he “will be an immediate force against the run and I believe he has the potential to develop into more than a pocket pusher in the passing game.”

FSU defensive end Brian Burns.

Kiper has him 16th and he could play outside linebacker initially. He had 10 sacks this past season.

“Burns can bend the edge as well as any other pass-rusher in this class,” Kiper said. “He has a lean frame. He needs more time in the weight room, but he could grow into a 4-3 end in time.”

But Jeremiah puts Burns 43rd in his top 50, noting that “as a run defender, he lacks the girth and strength to consistently hold the point of attack, but he plays with excellent effort on the back side. Overall, Burns needs to get stronger, but his upside is sky high because of his length and speed.”

He would be an option in a trade down from No. 13, as is also the case with the players listed below.

Mississippi State defense end Montez Sweat.

McShay has him going 15th after a season in which he had 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. But Kiper has him 25th.

“Sweat has outstanding length, burst and production,” said Jeremiah, who has him going 21st in his mock draft.

Old Dominion defensive end Oshane Ximines.

Kiper has him 21st and said he’s “an explosive pass rusher who has the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up on the edge.” He had 12 sacks last year.

He would be an option in a trade-down for more picks.

Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery.

McShay has him 18th, but Kiper doesn’t have him as a first-rounder.

“Tillery uses great upper-body strength to press in the run game and flashes upside as an interior pass-rusher,” McShay says on ESPN.com.

He had eight sacks, three forced fumbles and 10.5 tackles for loss this past season.

Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones.

McShay has him 20th and Kiper 30th. Like Ximines and Tillery, likely an option only in a trade down.

“Good first step and above-average straight-line speed for his size, but he does lack a consistent plan as a pass-rusher,” McShay said.

Jones had 13 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and a pick-six for Ohio State.

“Overall, Jones is a great fit for teams looking for an inside penetrator,” said Jeremiah, who rates him 49th. “He’ll need to continue to add strength to become more dependable in the run game.”

Boston College defensive end Zach Allen.

McShay has him 22nd; Kiper doesn’t have him in the first round.

McShay: “Converts speed to power as a pass-rusher, and he is a solid run defender -- one of only two linemen who had 100 tackles in 2017.”

Allen had 61 tackles this past season, including 15 for a loss and 6.5 sacks.

Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson.

He put up monster numbers this year: 17.5 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss. He had 14.5 sacks two years ago and seven last season.

“Ferguson has some stiffness, but his length, power and production will be very appealing to a team in need of edge rushers,” said Jeremiah, who has him 24th.

McShay has him 23rd but Kiper dropped him out of the first round, calling him a “protypical 4-3 end with a big frame. He’s still growing into it. You can see some of that raw talent when he pushes around Conference USA offensive tackles.”

Coming tomorrow: An early look at first-round (and potential second-round) options at cornerback and linebacker.

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