Barry Jackson

Examining the Dolphins’ defensive options at No. 13 in the NFL Draft

The Dolphins went into this draft process eager to begin to rebuild their defensive line. And the good news is that Miami could have a choice of a handful of top prospects — at defensive end, defensive tackle or linebacker — at No. 13.

Chatter on each:

Mississippi State defense end Montez Sweat:

He was a second-team All-American, had 11.5 sacks last season, dominated the Senior Bowl and then ran a 4.41 at the NFL Combine, the fastest ever recorded by a defensive end at that Indianapolis event. But several teams have taken him off their draft board because of a pre-existing heart condition, according to multiple reports.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: “Some will see Sweat as a leggy edge prospect with average play strength and a lack of refinement in his pass rush. His transition as an NFL rusher will take some time, but he should come out on the other side as a good, impact starter as an every-down edge defender.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. still has him going eighth despite the heart issue. He would be tempting at No. 13 unless Dolphins doctors raise serious red flags.

Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary:

He could fall to No. 13, and this would be a tough call, because you need to reconcile the immense talent with the underwhelming college production.

Kiper said Gary “had a strong Combine — he ran a 4.58 40-yard dash and tested well in every workout — but we already knew he was gifted physically. The interviews were more important for him there. He was undoubtedly asked about why he had just 10.5 sacks over three seasons. This pick is a bet for his ceiling, which is extremely high, and coaches will try to get the best out of him consistently.”

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver:

Though some mock drafts have Oliver sliding past Miami’s pick at No. 13, many believe he’s a top-10 talent. There were initial concerns about whether he would have the weight to hold up at defensive tackle, but that shouldn’t be a concern after he weighed in at 287 pounds at the Combine.

“While some will suggest Oliver is a reach as a top-five pick, I believe he is worthy of being selected that early and he should be in the discussion as the top player in the draft based on his entire body of work as a disruptive player at Houston,” NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks said.

“Oliver is a nightmare to block as a three-technique with exceptional first-step quickness, athleticism and closing burst. He has arguably the best “get off” I’ve seen from a prospect since Von Miller entered the league in 2011 and his first-step quickness makes him a disruptive force as a one-gap penetrator at the point of attack. It’s hard to find defensive tackles with the explosive combination of skills that the 2018 Outland Trophy winner (top interior lineman in college football) possesses. As a run defender, Oliver combines extraordinary strength and power with his quickness to win at the line of scrimmage.”

Oliver said the Dolphins were tough on him in their interview because they had him break down a lot of tape.

ESPN’s Todd McShay has him going ninth.

Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell:

We keep hearing the Dolphins really like Ferrell, who had 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last year. Some have him going in the mid-teens; Kiper and McShay have him falling to 27th. So he could be a target in a trade-down.

“Ferrell is a fit as a classic 4-3 defensive end with a big frame (6-foot-4, 264 pounds),” Kiper said. He’s not flashy on film, but he gets to quarterbacks and is strong against the run.”

Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins:

Could see this being Miami’s pick at 13. Kiper has him 14th, and even at that spot says he could “be a steal.”

Kiper said he’s “a different kind of defensive lineman who could play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4. He has been underrated on a loaded Clemson defense.”

Zierlein notes he’s “agile as a rusher which should help keep him on the field” on third down.

FSU defensive end/outside linebacker Brian Burns:

He had 10 sacks and three forced fumbles last season and is now being projected for the mid-teens, in Miami’s range. The question is whether Burns (6-5, 249 pounds) will be strong enough against the run.

Zierlein said Burns’ “edge speed and varied rush approach should translate to the league, but his skinny frame and lack of play strength are absolutely concerns moving forward. While some view him as a pass rusher only, it might be a waste not to utilize his blue-chip athletic ability in space as a hybrid linebacker.”

Kiper has him going 16th.

Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence:

Picking him at 13 would be too high but he would be an option in a trade down. The other two high-end Clemson prospects (Wilkins, Ferrell) are considered better prospects by most.

“Lawrence is the best true nose tackle in this class, a massive 6-foot-4, 342-pound rock,” Kiper said.

Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush:

Most have him going in the 8 to 14 range — Kiper has him 10th — but the Dolphins already have three inside linebackers they say they like (Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Kiko Alonso).

Upgrading the lines and finding pass rushers must take priority.

LSU inside linebacker Devin White, meanwhile, is widely projected as a top-10 pick; McShay has him fifth. And inside linebacker isn’t a critical Dolphins need.

Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons:

Because of his torn ACL sustained in February, he wouldn’t be good value at 13.

But he could be if Miami trades down and picks him in the 20s. Simmons visited the Dolphins and would fill a gaping hole on Miami’s defense. But Kiper said he could miss his rookie season. McShay has him dropping to 25.

A trade down for a cornerback. DeAndre Baker (Georgia), Greedy Williams (LSU) and Byron Murphy (Washington) are not value options at 13, but would be if Miami trades into the 20s and picks up multiple picks.

Baker, who’s from Miami, had only two interceptions last season but won the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back.

Zierlein said: “The biggest issue teams might have with Baker is determining whether or not he can give up 30-plus pounds against bigger, outside receivers and still hold up. While there might be some matchup concerns at times, his ball skills, talent and competitive nature should overcome his smaller frame.”

Williams also had only two interceptions last season and Zierlein said “his ball production dropped a little from 2017 and he continued to struggle with finding the ball downfield, but he is rarely ever out of position. He needs to get stronger and more competitive in run support, but he has the talent and traits to become” a No. 1 cornerback.

Murphy had four interceptions last season and Zierlein says he’s a “ball-hawking man corner who makes up for a lack of physical tools with outstanding instincts, toughness, and short-area quickness. Murphy’s ball production per target is as good as you will find thanks to an innate ability to process the quarterback and route development simultaneously.”

McShay has Baker going 19th and Kiper has Murphy going 20th. McShay has Williams 29th.

I could see the Dolphins waiting until the second day to add a cornerback from a group including Michigan’s David Long, Auburn’s Jamel Dean and Temple’s Rock Ya Sin, among others.

And if Miami doesn’t get an edge rusher in the first round, second-round options could include TCU’s L.J. Collier, Michigan’s Chase Winovich (better suited to a 3-4 than 4-3; Miami will use both), Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson and Old Dominion’s Oshane Ximines.

FYI: We din’t mention Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen and Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams because all are assuredly going to be gone by Miami’s pick.

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