Miami Dolphins: Areas of Need Heading into the NFL Draft

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the podium on stage before the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the podium on stage before the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

With the NFL Draft less than a month away, the Miami Dolphins still have a number of pressing issues. Here’s a look at those issues, and some possible answers the draft can provide.

When I wrote my first preview of the Miami Dolphins draft, I mentioned that I would likely be writing more previews as things changed the closer we got to the NFL Draft. Well, it’s just over a month later, and my how things have changed!

Jaylon Smith received a grim prognosis on his knee injury that may have put his entire NFL career in question. The Dolphins suffered a mass exodus on the first day of free agency, losing three key contributors from the 2015 season in RB Lamar Miller, WR Rishard Matthews, and DE Olivier Vernon. In addition to those three, they also lost a key depth player in DE Derrick Shelby.

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As if that wasn’t enough to make Dolphins fans cry (admit it, you’re humming that Hootie & the Blowfish song right now, aren’t you?), Miami also pulled off a head-scratcher of a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Dolphins acquired the horrendous contract of CB Byron Maxwell (6 years / $63 million), and the talented but oft-injured LB Kiko Alonso. In exchange for these pieces, the Dolphins swapped first round picks with Philadelphia, dropping from the 8th selection in the draft down to the 13th.

The more that I think about it, the more that I have to admit, I have no idea where the Dolphins are going to go with their first-round selection. They have a lot of holes on both sides of the football that need to be addressed, so let’s break it down one level at a time, starting with the offense.

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The struggles of the Miami Dolphins offensive line over the last several years have been well documented. The position that is in most dire need of an upgrade is the guard spot. If that’s the direction that the front office decides to go in, there should be several suitable options available when they go to make their selection.

Cody Whitehair, a guard from Kansas State, I believe is the best pure guard available in this draft. However, I also believe that both Jack Conklin, an offensive tackle from Michigan State, and Taylor Decker, an offensive tackle from Ohio State, could both easily be kicked inside to the guard spot to start their NFL careers.

The problem with this scenario is, if you buy what the Miami front office is selling, they have already addressed this glaring need with the signing of former Chicago Bears offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod. If the front office truly believes that Bushrod is the answer that they have been searching for at the position for years, then it’s hard to imagine Miami spending a first-round selection on another player at the position.

Moving beyond the line, the departure of the aforementioned RB Lamar Miller to the Houston Texans leaves the Dolphins with a gaping hole at the running back position. Though I seem to be one of the few fans who is okay with the Miller departure, you can’t ignore the fact Miami still doesn’t have anyone to fill his shoes now that he’s gone.

Miami has thus far struck out in their efforts to find a replacement for Miller, first with the Denver Broncos matching an offer sheet to C.J. Anderson, then with veteran running back Chris Johnson choosing to re-sign with Arizona instead of coming to the Dolphins.

This leaves Miami with either trusting second-year man Jay Ajayi with the primary running back duties (which would be a mistake in my opinion), or choosing Miller’s replacement in the draft. The issue with that idea comes with the trade Miami made with the Eagles. In moving down from the 8th pick to the 13th, it’s unlikely that the best running back available, Ezekiel Elliot from Ohio State, will be available when Miami goes on the clock.

Though there are several other good running backs in this draft class, Elliot is the only one that I have with a first round grade. I know that a lot of people consider Derrick Henry to be a first-round talent, but between the beating he took at Alabama, his poor vision, and his ineffectiveness in the passing game, I just can’t justify taking the risk of drafting him in the first round. Not with how de-valued the position has become in today’s NFL. Were he to be there when Miami’s pick comes around again in the second round, then that would be a much better value for him.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Lamar Miller’s departure isn’t the only one on the offensive side of the ball that leaves Miami with a position that could be addressed. The departure of Rishard Matthews leaves the Dolphins with a wide receiver corps lacking depth.

Jarvis Landry, primarily a slot receiver, is firmly rooted as the team’s number one target. Kenny Stills and last year’s first-round pick Devante Parker should both be slated to start on the outside. What the Dolphins would need in this draft is depth should one of those three be lost to an injury. There isn’t much behind them should the worst happen.

Since the position is in need of depth and not someone who can step in and start from Day 1, the Dolphins would be making a mistake were they to address it with their first pick. There are a few dark-horse receiving prospect that can be had towards the tail end of Day 2 and into Day 3 that would provide the Dolphins with a player more in-line with their needs. Would it be great to draft a talent like Treadwell or Corey Coleman? Sure! But it would come at the expense of a position that needs someone to be a Day 1 starter, and that’s not a sacrifice that Miami is in a position to make.


Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, there are just as many holes as on the offensive side, if not more. Last year’s team was far from the defensive stalwarts that fans of this franchise have grown accustomed to, even in recent seasons. They were porous in pass defense and looked even worse when it came to run defense. There are holes at every level of this defense. Lucky for Miami, this draft is pretty stacked on that side of the ball. Unfortunate for the fans, is the idea that Miami’s front office may feel like they’ve addressed these needs as well.

With the departure of Olivier Vernon, and with perennial Pro-Bowler Cam Wake another year older and coming off of a relatively major Achilles injury, a pass-rushing defensive end would seem to be the ideal pick for Miami at 13. If you watched the Denver Broncos post-season run the past year, you know just how far you can go if you have players who can wreak havoc upon the opposing offense.

Defensive end may be the deepest position in this year’s draft, with a handful of players being worthy of a first-round selection. When Miami goes to pick at 13, they should have their choice between Shaq Lawson (who is a much better value at 13 than he is at 8), Noah Spence (who has top-ten talent, but off-the-field issues may turn a lot of teams off of him), Kevin Dodd, and Emmanuel Ogbah.

If Noah Spence is available, and if Miami is convinced that his off-the-field problems are behind him (he was dismissed from the Ohio State Buckeyes for repeated failed drug tests), he would be the guy I select at 13. He’s, in my opinion, the most solid pass-rusher available in this draft. Shaq Lawson should be available as well, but I would give the slight edge to Spence. Both Dodd and Ogbah will be available as well, but I feel like their value is in the second round (where at least Ogbah should still be available).

Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Though a pass-rushing defensive end may seem like the most likely choice, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami is comfortable going into the season feeling like their starters are set at that position. In free agency, Miami went out and signed former Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams to help turn the defense around.

Williams had a down year last season in Buffalo, but the front office is counting on that poor performance being attributed to Williams being unhappy in the system in Buffalo, and that he will return to his usual form (Williams had double-digit sack totals in each of the three previous season before last year) with the change in scenery.

If Miami is confident that Williams will be happy in Miami and not be in the same mental state that he was in Buffalo, and if they are confident that an aging Wake can make a full recovery from his Achilles injury to be the player he was before the injury, then I can see the front office being comfortable with that tandem and feeling like they can wait until later rounds to draft a defensive end for depth, rather than for one to push towards the starting line-up.

If guard is the position in the direst need of an upgrade, the cornerback position isn’t far behind. Miami has been struggling at this position for several years now, and this year is no exception. In the trade with Philadelphia, Miami was able to pick up Byron Maxwell to help out at the spot. However, Maxwell, as with Williams, struggled last season in a scheme that was not a fit for his skill-set. Miami is banking on Maxwell having a rebound year in a style of defense that is more suited to his success.

Beyond Maxwell, there isn’t much on the roster as far as corners go. The Dolphins chose to part ways in the off-season with Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, due in part to his advancing age and nagging injuries, and in part because of his off-the-field distractions revolving around his wife, Miko. Even though Defensive End is, in my opinion, the smartest direction to go with the 13th pick, cornerback is the direction that I think Miami is most likely to go in.

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The bottom line is that no matter what direction the Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross decide to go in, when it comes time to make the 13th overall selection in the NFL Draft, they have to hit a home run. This is a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for nearly two decades, and the fan base is becoming increasingly tired of it. If the Dolphins want to get back to being the elite franchise they once were, it’s pivotal they choose a player fans can look back upon in five years and say, “That’s when things started to turn around in Miami.”