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.