Draft needs and prospect fits for the Miami Dolphins

Analyst John Breitenbach runs through the three biggest draft needs for the Miami Dolphins.

| 3 months ago
Laremy Tunsil

(Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Draft needs and prospect fits for the Miami Dolphins

Year one of Adam Gase’s regime in Miami was an unmitigated success. The offense flourished until Ryan Tannehill was lost for the year through injury, and even Matt Moore appeared competent in the QB-friendly system. Drafting for the future paid off, as 2015 first-rounder DeVante Parker emerged as a legitimate starting receiver, while Jay Ajayi—selected in the same year—laid a claim for the title of the league’s best back. One or two tweaks in the trenches could elevate the Dolphins from contender to legitimate Super Bowl threat.

Need: Defensive tackle

The Dolphins’ defensive tackle rotation is bare, to say the least. Behind Ndamukong Suh, the only options are Jordan Philips, Lawrence Okoye, and Nick Williams. Between them, they have managed only 1,400 NFL snaps. To make matters worse, Suh’s cap figure spikes to the almost unpalatable $26.1 million in 2017, and $28.1 million the year after. There is no guarantee he’ll sustain such a high level of performance into his 30s. William Hayes was a shrewd addition to bookend Cameron Wake, and the Dolphins could engineer a dominant pass-rush by finding the right partner for Suh on the interior.

Early-round target: Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State

Taylor fits an aggressive, penetrating scheme almost certain to remain at Miami under new defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Vance Joseph’s departure for Denver is unlikely change the skill-set required on that side of the ball. Taylor is a good fit to shoot gaps because of his quickness off the ball. He flashed the ability to drive blockers vertically, wrecking plays in the backfield consistently. At Oklahoma State, he bullied offensive lineman on first contact, using heavy hands to jack up blockers at the line of scrimmage. Taylor also possesses an array of pass-rush moves, offering him the option of collapsing the pocket with either speed or power. Although consistency and effort are concerns, adding a player of Taylor’s potential could change the fortunes of the Dolphins’ defense in an instant.

Mid- or late-round target: Montravius Adams, Auburn

Sticking with stylistic fits, Adams is also at his best flying upfield. When playing with momentum, there are times when Adams displays a special skill-set. The combination of refinement and athleticism make him a consistent threat as a pass-rusher. Adams’ movement skills also come in handy in the run game, where he made his fair share of tackles for loss. He also has the versatility to line up at multiple positions, suiting the Dolphins’ variable interior alignments. No game better highlights his potential than Auburn’s matchup with LSU. Adams destroyed one of the top centers in this year’s class, teaching Ethan Pocic a lesson. If he had sustained that level of performance throughout the year, Adams would have been a first-day pick. Instead, the Dolphins might get an opportunity to snag a hidden gem later in the draft.

Need: Offensive tackle

Stealing Laremy Tunsil after his slide in the 2016 draft brought a major influx of talent to the offensive line, but more work is required. Shifting Tunsil to tackle should not be a foregone conclusion, even if his college career suggested he has potential as Tannehill’s blindside protector. The former Ole Miss Rebel was merely solid at guard a season ago, and must still develop his kick slide before he can be trusted on an island on the perimeter. Meanwhile, on the other side, although Ja’Wuan James improved last year, he still allowed 40 combined QB pressures. Entering his contract year, the Dolphins could look to add a better, cheaper talent up front. James could always kick inside, massively improving the depth on the interior.   

Early-round target: Roderick Johnson, Florida State

Johnson’s athletic traits make him a good fit for Adam Gase’s offense. Calling outside zone on almost 50 percent of snaps, Gase requires athletic lineman capable of blocking on the move. Florida State asked Johnson to block in space regularly during his college career. He flashes on outside zone in particular, firing off the ball to make tough reach blocks at the line of scrimmage. Johnson is incredibly adept in space, smoothly sealing linebackers at the second level regularly. His inconsistency in pass protection, however, is a concern. Although Johnson appears comfortable on the majority of reps (16 QB pressures allowed in 2016), there are times when he overextends, leaving his quarterback vulnerable. Johnson is not a flawless prospect, but his flashes of brilliance make him an incredibly enticing proposition.

Mid- or late-round target: Jonathan McLaughlin, Virginia Tech

Adding depth at tackle is always a wise draft strategy, and McLaughlin would represent good value in the middle rounds. He saw extensive experience at right tackle for the Hokies, racking up over 2,500 snaps in the past three seasons. McLaughlin has steadily improved in pass protection each year, culminating in an excellent 2016 in which he allowed only three sacks, two hits, and eight hurries. The ACC is stacked with quality pass-rushers off the left side, and McLaughlin performed admirably against a slate including Ejuan Price, Duke Ejiofor, Christian Wilkins, Harold Landry and Derek Barnett. Of that group, only Wilkins could leave the field with the knowledge that he dramatically influenced the outcome of the game. He hasn’t received much attention in the draft process, and needs to develop as a run blocker, but McLaughlin would be a solid addition to an offensive line in need of depth.

Need: Tight end

The Dolphins have been searching for a solution at tight end for the past five seasons. Jordan Cameron’s retirement, coupled with Dion Sims’ departure, leaves Miami incredibly thin at the position. Anthony Fasano provides a boost in the blocking department, but the Dolphins could still use a player in the mold of a modern hybrid. Julius Thomas has regressed since his outstanding 2014 season, recording four-year lows in receptions (30), yards (280) and touchdowns (four). The offense has a range of explosive options on the perimeter in Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, but a tight end capable of creating mismatches would add an extra element to the passing game.

Early-round target: Evan Engram, Ole Miss

Engram is an athletic freak—more of a big wide receiver than traditional tight end. His combination of size and speed is hard to find in the NFL, let alone the SEC. Engram can shatter the heart of a defense down the seam, running clear of defensive backs with relative ease. Covering an athlete with such raw tools is difficult, enough, but Engram also has an understanding of route running to combine with his searing speed. The Ole Miss graduate will drop simple passes at times, and doesn’t always use his body effectively to box out defensive backs, but his playmaking ability could transform the Dolphins’ offense.

Mid- or late-round target: Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas

Sprinkle was only infrequently used as a pass-catcher in Arkansas’ pro-style offense, but his production on limited opportunities was nonetheless impressive. He possesses outstanding hands and concentration, making some incredible grabs in tight coverage in 2016. Sprinkle runs well for a man his size, proving a competent downfield threat. Although he’s unlikely to generate yardage for himself with the ball in hand, Sprinkle’s solid skill-set will become attractive once Day 3 comes. He would be instantly upgrade Miami’s playmaking corps.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Flavius Id

    I love PFF, but this is article is ridiculous. Clearly the needs are LB, DE (Wake will be 35), G, and S.

    • Bob

      The thing is the Phins have put themselves in a good position not to have to draft for need so sorry to disagree but this article makes the sense it was written for. Positions of depth that are also needed and we have more than 4 draft picks also.

      • Matthew Farmer

        There aren’t three starting LBs on the roster right now. Neville Hewitt and Koa Misi are listed as starters and the first should never start an NFL game and the other is going to retire due to injury….

  • BartDePalma

    MIA has done a very nice job filling holes in trade and free agency with reasonably priced vets, so they have no glaring needs.

    After MIA brought in Thomas and Fasano, TE is definitely not an area of need. Gase knows how to use Thomas as a seam threat, where JAX apparently did not.

    MIA was far more impressed than PFF with Tunsil and is certain he will be a fixture at LT.

    Areas where MIA could improve at starter or will need to replace a starter in the near future are SLB, OG, DT, DE and FS in about that order. MIA will be looking for an OG who could sub in at OT or OC.

    • Tony Oliva

      Nice write up. You seem to know a lot about the Dolphins. Go Fins!!

  • crosseyedlemon

    Who needs a pet detective when you have Gase doing such a good job? For the first time in a long time the Dolphins have some swagger and confidence heading into a season. If Miami stays healthy they are going to be a real headache for most opponents in 2017.

  • gllmiaspr

    I would buy the DT argument but to suggest that Miami will get an OT and TE in the early rounds is absurd
    Miami has glaring needs at LB and at Guard, They are planning to start one of PFF’s worst graded guards in the league. They have two first round pick OT (James and Tunsil). They brought in J. Thomas at TE.
    Very glad that PFF is not drafting for Miami.

  • Terry Sewell

    the 1st 3 picks have to be defense!!! we have to get this defense up to at least the top 10. we have to play NE twice a yr. and we are not going to win the division without a very good defense. 1st pick-OLB,2nd pick-DE, CB-3rd pick. if we don’t trade up to the 4th which i hope we do!!!!.. then go G, G,T…..if when the 1st pick comes up i would not cry if we got LAMP the G. but,i don’t think he will be there at 22…..and i see at least 6 good GUARDS in this draft so we should get at least one if not don’t forget FA after draft is done…still good players out there….