By Todd Ambuel. Despite making the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and finishing far above preseason expectations, the Miami Dolphins are hungry for more. Under new head coach Adam Gase, the Dolphins implemented a new system in Miami geared to one thing, one thing that Dolphins fans aren’t used to: winning.
The road to the playoffs wasn’t easy last season. With lingering injuries to Brandon Albert and Mike Pouncey, plus franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill hurting his knee down the stretch, the Dolphins still finished the regular season strong. Matt Moore, with a lack luster offensive line in front of him, helped the Dolphins win two of their last three games, locking up a playoff spot.
While the Dolphins had a lot of players hitting the open market this offseason, Adam Gase and his staff did all they could to extend and re-sign certain players. Kenny Stills took a discount to stay with the Dolphins, a team he believes is destined for greatness. Kiko Alonso and Cameron Wake also signed extensions with Alonso’s through 2020 and Wake’s through 2018. They also signed free agent safety TJ McDonald and traded for defensive end William Hayes. While these signings, extensions, and trades help to maintain a deeply talented roster, there are still areas of need that the Dolphins must address going forward.
The Dolphins only have two on the roster in Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips. Although fans would like to see more consistent play from Phillips, he is a capable starter going forward. With Earl Mitchell leaving the team due to free agency, it’s time for Phillips to embrace a starting role, which he’s perfectly capable of.
The Dolphins must add depth in the draft, which can be easy in this defensive heavy draft. Suh and Phillips have the potential to be a top-five defensive tackle duo going forward. With solid depth behind them, they can continue to have a big impact on the game.
The Dolphins already have a good linebacker group on paper, but injuries have plagued the position in recent years. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins have missed extended time due to injuries last season, and despite flashing excellence, the Dolphins ran out of patience with Jenkins this offseason (signed with Oakland Raiders). Koa Misi has been the most inconsistent player for the Dolphins in the short time he has been on the field, and he’s running out of time to prove himself. Kiko Alonso had a pro-bowl caliber year in his first season with the Dolphins, but he’s had a history of injuries too.
The Dolphins signed Lawrence Timmons, who is a favorite to start with Kiko Alonso, but the third linebacker spot is up for grabs. Neville Hewitt would be a good choice, as he showed he can be a great run stopper and good tackler. But if Misi is healthy, he will challenge Hewitt for the job. Hopefully the Dolphins draft one or two linebackers to add competition and depth for training camp.
Lucky for the Dolphins, this year’s draft is heavy with talented cornerbacks. The Dolphins made a smart move trading for Byron Maxwell before last season, as he proved he can be a solid number one corner with a good pass rush in front of him. In his short time on the field, I liked what I saw from Xavien Howard. Although Howard played well, one could argue Tony Lippett played better after he embraced his new position and led the team in interceptions.
With a healthy Howard coming back this season, look for the Dolphins to add a cornerback in the middle of the draft, just to assure injuries do not deplete their roster again, like last season.
The Dolphins were lucky when Laremy Tunsil fell to them in last year’s draft. Tunsil played exceptionally well in his rookie season, and he did it at two positions. The Dolphins cut Brandon Albert this offseason, so Tunsil is a lock at left tackle, which opens up the left guard position. Although Jeremy Bushrod was retained this offseason, Dolphins fans wouldn’t be upset if a young rookie who can pass protect better took his starting spot.
Even if Bushrod starts at right guard, the Dolphins need someone to step up at left guard. The Dolphins signed veteran guard Ted Larsen in the offseason. So, adding one or two more guards would greatly benefit the team.
The Dolphins have the twenty-second pick in the draft, and many analyst have them drafting defense in the first round. If I were the Dolphins general manager, a run stopping linebacker would be at the top of my list. The Dolphins will more than likely choose a defensive tackle early and a linebacker later.
The logical pick, and most likely, is for the Dolphins to take the top defensive tackle with the twenty-second pick. Popularly mocked Michigan State’s Malik McDowell might be the best option for the Dolphins here. He stands 6’6” tall and weighs about 300 pounds. He’s an explosive player who has the potential to wreak havoc on other teams back fields. He had an ankle injury last season which he played through, which many believe to be the reason his numbers were down from his freshman and sophomore seasons. McDowell would be a perfect rotational player with Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips, and would greatly benefit playing with a veteran like Suh.
If the Dolphins do not select a defensive tackle at twenty-two, they’re likely to take a defensive end. Although the position isn’t as thin as defensive tackle, they still need a good pass rusher to rotate. Andre Branch and Cameron Wake are expected to start again, but after them, Terrance Fede and William Hayes are the only players left on the depth chart with considerable experience. Therefore, the Dolphins might consider selecting Taco Charlton. Charlton is a massive specimen standing 6’6” tall and weighing 275 pounds. He’s got great size and length to be effective on the pass rush, which is what he’ll mostly likely be used for if the Dolphins draft him.
A dream scenario would be if linebacker Reuben Foster fell to the Dolphins. It’s highly unlikely due to the talent and production he brings to the table. But with his off-the-field behavior at the Combine, it’s possible he falls into the Dolphins lap.
Another linebacker that will most likely be available at pick twenty-two is Jarrad Davis from Florida. He’s an efficient pursuit tackler, who is good at hunting down running backs, and shooting offensive line gaps. His run stopping ability is exactly what the Dolphins need. Kiko Alonso was effective as a middle linebacker last year, but it’s not his natural position. If the Dolphins can draft Davis to take over MLB duties, then the Dolphins will have three versatile linebackers good at identifying plays and laying the wood.
Finally, Haason Reddick is another linebacker that has a decent shot of being on the board for the Dolphins when they pick in round one. Reddick is excellent blitzing, solid at pass defense, and moves smoothly as a defensive back in open space. He’s great at pursuit and reading plays, which is reflected in his 22 tackles for a loss last season. Hasson Reddick is a candidate to start immediately, and it’d be silly for the Dolphins to pass on such a superior talent.
Although I’d love to see the Dolphins draft a stud run stopping linebacker, I think they will most likely take the best defensive tackle available on the board. The Dolphins almost have to. The Dolphins only have two on the current roster, and unless they want to move some of their defensive ends inside, they have to address their most pressing need early.