Barry Jackson

Sizing up the Miami Dolphins’ options at cornerback and linebacker early in the draft

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Chris Grier, the Miami Dolphins GM discusses his goals during a press conference at the Dolphins' training facility in Davie, FL
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Chris Grier, the Miami Dolphins GM discusses his goals during a press conference at the Dolphins' training facility in Davie, FL

Second of a three-part draft series with an early look at the Dolphins’ first-round draft options

Since it’s never too early to engage in the hope trafficking exercise known as the NFL Draft, here’s an early look at linebackers and cornerbacks who could be available for the Dolphins’ pick at No. 13 or potentially in the second round, with Miami expected to pick 48th in round two:

(We examined the Dolphins’ first-round defensive line options in this piece earlier this week):

Cornerback: If Miami doesn’t pick a quarterback, defensive lineman or right tackle at 13, a case could be made to consider a cornerback because it would allow the Dolphins to move Minkah Fitzpatrick to free safety.

But each of the draft’s top corners has blemishes, and Miami could wait until day two or early in day three to draft one.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay expect the draft’s top cornerback — LSU’s Greedy Williams — to be gone before No. 13. Kiper has him fourth, McShay fifth.

But NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah believes he might fall, slotting him 15th in his mock draft and rating him just the 34th best prospect overall.

“Williams’ play was up and down in the fall,” Jeremiah said. “He had a tough time against Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy.... He does a good job of locating and playing the football. He’s a low, wrap/drag tackler in the run game and his lack of play strength shows up at times. Overall, Greedy is a tough evaluation. I love his size and ball awareness, but I’m concerned about his lack of short-area burst and physicality.”

Williams, 6-3, had six interceptions in 2017 but just two last year.

Another option would be Georgia’s DeAndre Baker, who Kiper has 10th in his first mock draft and McShay has slotted 15th on his Big Board.

“Baker isn’t the biggest or fastest corner, but he shows the best instincts of the bunch and is a ballhawk,” McShay said.

The 5-11 Baker has two interceptions this season and seven over the past three.

Said Kiper: “Quarterbacks who go after Baker don’t have much luck. He has developed into an elite corner.”

But Jeremiah believes 13 is too high for Baker. He slots Baker 30th.

“Baker is a tough, gritty cornerback who plays bigger than his size (5-11, 185 pounds),” Jeremiah said. “In press coverage, he has quick hands and effectively re-routes wideouts. He doesn’t have a lot of ball production, but rarely gives up plays down the field. He has the versatility to play at a high level in multiple schemes.”

After Williams and Baker, the draft’s third-best cornerback might be Washington’s Byron Murphy, who Kiper has going 23rd. Jeremiah rates him 33rd.

“Murphy is still raw, but he’s a ball hawk on the outside,” Kiper said. “He also has the versatility to play in the slot.”

Said Jeremiah: “Overall, Murphy [who stands 5-11] lacks ideal size/speed, but he’s ultra-instinctive and will be very attractive to teams that play a lot of zone coverage.”

But I would expect Miami to play a lot of man coverage under this new coaching staff. So not sure Murphy makes the most sense.

Another potential second-round option: Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen, whom Jeremiah ranks 38th. He had just one interception last season and four in his career.

Miami has had a regrettable experience with Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley as a third-round pick, but that shouldn’t disqualify Mullen from consideration.

“He doesn’t have much ball production,” Jeremiah said of Mullen, “but that’s because the ball is rarely thrown his way. He is a firm tackler in run support. Overall, it’s tough to penalize Mullen for the lack of opportunities. He has the skill set to excel as a press cornerback at the next level.”

Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin also warrants discussion if he’s available when Miami picks in the second round. The 6-2 Ya-Sin had two interceptions last season.

“Ya-Sin has ideal size, speed, toughness and ball skills,” said Jeremiah, who rates him 31st. “He finds the ball in the air and gets his hands on a lot of footballs. He’s very aggressive in run support and he’s a reliable tackler in space. Overall, Ya-Sin has the competitiveness and athleticism to develop into a quality NFL starter.”

One other potentially appealing second-round option: Vanderbilt’s Joajuan Williams, who had four interceptions last season.

“Williams is an enormous (6-3, 208 pounds) cornerback who is at his best in press coverage,” said Jeremiah, who rates him 47th. “He has quick feet and is surprisingly fluid for his size.... Overall, there is still some development ahead of Williams, but his unique build and toughness are very enticing.”

And one more potential second round option is Notre Dame’s Julian Love.

“Love could be a No. 1 corner at the next level,” Kiper said. “He just keeps improving. He is developing into a shutdown corner.”

Jeremiah ranks Love 45th, noting “he played inside and outside in Notre Dame’s scheme, but I’m projecting him as a pure nickel at the next level. He has outstanding foot quicks and is very fluid.”

But the Dolphins already have Bobby McCain as their nickel. So Love doesn’t seem the ideal fit.

Linebacker: The Dolphins will be looking for help because they will use both a 4-3 and 3-4 next season, as colleague Armando Salguero has noted.

And they need to find skilled pass rushers to play outside in a 3-4 – a role for which Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker aren’t particularly suited, though all bring different strengths in a 4-3 or as inside backers in a 3-4.

Florida outside linebacker Jachai Polite looms as a possibility; he would be ideal for that outside pass rush role.

Kiper has him 15th and McShay 17th.

McShay notes Polite (who was sixth in the nation with 11 sacks) has “speed and slipperiness” and calls him “the perfect pass-rusher for a 3-4 defense who came on strong with 11 sacks this season. Polite plays with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end, but I think he’s probably a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.”

But Jeremiah ranks him 25th on his big board.

“Polite is an undersized (6-2, 242 pounds) edge rusher with tremendous twitch and explosion,” Jeremiah said. “As a pass rusher, he wins early with pure speed and he’ll mix in a crafty spin move. He has a dynamic inside counter move, but he doesn’t use it very often. He does get swallowed up at times and struggles to free himself.... Polite lacks ideal size, but he’s very explosive and fits teams looking for a stand-up pass rusher.”

It’s possible Polite could be available if Miami trades down a few spots.

Michigan’s Devin Bush - rated 20th by Kiper, 17th by Jeremiah but eighth by McShay - is a better fit as an inside linebacker than an outside backer. He’s just 5-11 and 233 pounds.

Kiper says of Bush, who 79 tackles and five sacks last season: “The phrase I keep repeating about Bush is “perfect for today’s NFL.” He would be a great fit as a three-down linebacker who never has to leave the field.”

Two linebackers who are projected to be gone before Miami’ pick: Kentucky’s Josh Allen (Kiper has him third) and LSU’s Devin White. Allen would be the more appealing option from Miami’s standpoint.

White, an inside linebacker, is highly skilled but wouldn’t fill Miami’s outside pass rusher need.

Allen would fill as a need as an outside backer, but it’s almost impossible to envision him slipping to 13. Kiper and Jeremiah have him third.

Kiper says of Allen: “If you’re talking about pure pass-rushing ability, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Allen is right up there with [Ohio State’s Nick] Bosa” - who Kiper projects as the first pick in the draft.

Allen finished with 21.5 tackles for loss (tied for sixth in the nation), 17 sacks (second) and five forced fumbles (tied for second) this past season.

There are also several first or second round ends who we wrote about here -- such as FSU’s Brian Burns and Lousiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson - who could be 3-4 outside linebackers.

Among other potential second-round options, Alabama’s Mack Wilson (6-2, 239) wouldn’t seem the ideal roster fit for Miami because he’s an inside backer.

Drafting another safety clearly wouldn’t make sense, and the top two safeties – Alabama’s Deionte Thompson and Mississippi State’s Jonathan Abram - are projected to go in the 20s or later. Jeremiah includes Delaware’s Nassir Adderley in that group of first-round safeties.

Coming Thursday: Exploring offensive options at pick No. 13.

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