Barry Jackson

Some insight into the Dolphins undrafted free agent pickups on the defensive side

What are the Dolphins getting with their undrafted rookie pickups on defense? Some insight:

Maryland’s Tre Watson:

The Dolphins swooped in to wrest Watson away from the Redskins, who thought they were signing him after the draft.

Watson, a 6-2, 236-pound inside linebacker, had 108 tackles, was first-team All-Big 10, averaged more tackles per game than anyone else in the conference (9.6) and had a Big Ten-leading five interceptions last season but still didn’t get an invitation to the Combine.

What’s more, Pro Football Focus ranked him 29th among all linebackers in run stop percentage.

So yes, he will have the proverbial chip on the shoulder after going undrafted.

Before transferring to Maryland, he played three seasons at Illinois and had 102 tackles in 2016. His father Tim had a five-year NFL career in the 1990s.

“He’s a tackling machine, but average athlete,” draft analyst Tony Pauline said in a phone conversation assessing Miami’s undrafted free agent signings.

Pro Football Weekly’s assessment: “He is tough and competitive, giving Watson a chance to make a team as a backup with good special-teams potential.”

And his pass coverage was a surprise last season: He allowed 22 of 38 passes thrown against him to be caught for 245 yards, but for no touchdowns and the five interceptions. He had one sack last season and four in his college career.

The Dolphins have been eyeing him for a while; he was brought to Davie for a predraft visit.

Linebacker Terrill Hanks:

The 6-2, 242-pound Miami LaSalle High product certainly could fill the stat sheet. In four years in college, he had 391 tackles, including 43.5 for loss, 11 sacks, eight interceptions, 14 passes defended, three fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles.

“A lot of people liked him and he was good at the Senior Bowl, but then he ran a 4.99 at the Combine and that was it [as far as being drafted],” Pauline said.

But the Dolphins showed interest throughout the draft process. He participated in Miami’s workout day for local prospects.

He had nine sacks in 2017 but just one last season. His career coverage numbers are average: 136 passes caught in 196 attempts for 1396 yards, with 10 touchdowns allowed and eight interceptions and 12 passes defended.

Defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter.

There can be no better opportunity for a defensive end right now than with the Dolphins, with only Charles Harris assured of a job and journeyman Tank Carradine also having a decent chance to stick at Miami’s weakest position.

At 280 pounds, Ledbetter also could play defensive tackle.

The 6-4 Ledbetter had his best season last year with 56 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles.

But he had only 4.5 sacks in four seasons, despite producing 44 quarterback hurries. So he has gotten close but hasn’t finished enough.

On the plus side: His run-stopping percentage was fourth best among interior defensive players (where PFF graded him).

“He had a better junior year than senior year,” Pauline said. “He could be a defensive tackle or a 3-4 end.”

Pittsburgh defensive end DeWayne Hendrix:

He had 7.5 sacks in 28 college games — 21 for Pittsburgh and seven for Tennessee as a freshman before transferring.

Hendrix, as a rotational end last season, had 29 tackles, including five for loss last season, and 4.5 sacks but went under the radar as a prospect.

“He has to get bigger,” Pauline said.

But he is a good athlete; he was a four-star recruit with 19 offers from Power 5 schools. He could stick on the practice squad if he impresses this summer.

UTEP cornerback Nik Needham:

Needham (6-0) was decent in coverage last year, ranking ninth among all FBS cornerbacks in yards allowed per coverage snap. He permitted 31 of 51 passes thrown against him to be caught (that 60 percent was a big, unfortunate jump from 40 percent the year before), but for only 195 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.

His passer rating against the past three years: 83, 64.8, 86.6. He had three career interceptions.

“I like Needham,” Pauline said. “A feisty player with a slight chance to be dime back and special teams player” on a 53-man roster.

Northwestern cornerback Montre Hartage:

The 6-0 cornerback was second in the Big Ten with five interceptions in 2016 and had two last season.

And his passer ratings against were excellent the past three years: 58.8, 62.8 and 68.4.

Over his college career, he had twice as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns allowed (five).

And last year, he permitted only 47 percent of the passes thrown against him to be caught (35 for 74) but for too many yards (517, or 14.7 per catch).

“Good player, but no speed,” Pauline said.

Boise State cornerback Tyler Horton:

What sticks out are the huge plays in his career — two interceptions returned for touchdowns (one for 85 yards, one for 99 yards) and three fumble recoveries for touchdowns.

“Small guy [at 5-11],” Pauline said. “Showed flashes, but very up and down.”

Villanova safety Rob Rolle:

He led the FCS in interceptions with seven in 2016, missed all but four games in 2017 with a torn ACL and had 53 tackles and a fumble recovery last season.

The 6-0 Rolle played seven games at corner as a freshman before moving to safety and has position versatility. He was used similarly to the way Alabama utilized Minkah Fitzpatrick in his final season in college.

“He had a draftable grade coming into the season but never really elevated his game,” Pauline said. “Very streaky. He’s OK.”

Among specialists, it was telling that the Dolphins gave FIU’s Stone Wilson a contract instead of simply a tryout at their rookie minicamp beginning May 10. He’s a legitimate candidate to beat out Matt Haack.

Walterfootball.com rated Wilson the fifth-best punter in this draft. Wilson averaged 44 yards per punt with a long of 63 yards; last year, he had a 71-yard punt.

Nevada’s Wes Farnsworth also has a legitimate chance to beat out John Denney at long snapper.

DOLPHINS CUT VALOAGA

Up against the 90-man NFL offseason roster limit after this past weekend’s draft, the Dolphins released defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga, according to a source.

Valoaga played in nine games for the Detroit Lions in 2017. His release leaves five defensive ends on the roster: Harris, Carradine, Jonathan Woodard and aforementioned rookies Ledbetter and Hendrix. Miami likely will add veteran defensive ends in the coming weeks.

Here was my Tuesday piece with intel on Miami’s undrafted rookie pickups on offense.

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