Taking a look at the five biggest needs in the 2017 Miami Dolphins draft.
The Miami Dolphins 2016 season was nothing short of spectacular. In only the first year under new head coach Adam Gase, the team qualified for the playoffs. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked poised and confident for the first time in his career. Jay Ajayi emerged as a force in the backfield. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that the Miami Dolphins draft is a home run.
The 2015 and 2016 drafts have laid the foundation for the resurgence the Dolphins experienced last season. In 2015, the team was able to acquire key contributors such as the aforementioned Ajayi, along with DeVante Parker, Jordan Phillips, and Tony Lippett, who emerged as a solid corner in 2016.
The 2016 draft saw the team acquire even more talent, hitting a home run when the best tackle in the draft, Laremy Tunsil, slid to them. That pick alone would have been great, but to make it even better, the team pulled off a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire starting linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Later in the draft, they selected Xavien Howard and Kenyan Drake, who, though struggling at times, emerged as key contributors, as well. There’s no doubt that the Dolphins are a team on the rise.
How can the Dolphins capitalize on their recent draft momentum in 2017? Let’s take a look at the top 5 biggest needs the team needs to address in the draft.
For all the flak that the Miami Dolphins front office has taken over the years, they have managed to put together a pretty good offense. He’s taken his lumps, but Ryan Tannehill has developed into a very good quarterback. Running back Jay Ajayi emerged last season and appears poised to be the workhorse the Dolphins have been searching for for years.
Combined with one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills, and the Dolphins offense is just a piece or two away from consistently giving opposing coordinators nightmares. One of those missing pieces? A legitimate pass-catching threat at the tight end position.
With the glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball, and along the offensive line, tight end is a position that should take a back seat to the other needs of the team. However, with the Dolphins picking at 22, it’s entirely possible that all of their targets could already be off the board. If that is the case, the 2017 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded with talent at the tight end position.
I couldn’t blame the front office at all if they decided the value was better at tight end. I would rather see the team draft a talent at a needed, but less-needed, position than reach for someone just because it’s a bigger need.
It’s easy to let the success of the past season trick you into thinking the Dolphins offensive line woes are a thing of the past. Ryan Tannehill spent less time on his back and made strides in Adam Gase’s offense. Jay Ajayi exploded onto the scene after a tumultuous beginning, running for more than 1,200 yards. The line blocked for three separate 200+ rushing yard games. It was the best O-line performance this team has had in years.
However, there is still a long way to go before the offensive line can compete with the likes of the Dallas Cowboys of the league. Branden Albert was nicked up this season, and isn’t going to be around forever. Left guard Laremy Tunsil performed well in his first season, but is the heir apparent to Albert and will eventually kick outside. Mike Pouncey is a huge question mark with his hip injury, and Jermon Bushrod was one of the worst-ranked guards in all of football.
Whether it’s at tackle, guard, or even center, there is a lot of talent to be had in the 2017 draft. With that being said, the fact that this is only the fourth biggest need heading into the draft should encourage every Dolphins fan with how bad things have been up front in recent memory.
First Round Options: Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky; Garrett Bolles, Utah
Defensive end Cameron Wake is coming off of one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory. Wake totaled 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. Those numbers are, by themselves, pretty impressive. But they’re outright astounding when you consider that he put up those numbers at age 34 and coming off of a ruptured Achilles. Wake turned in a performance that, by all rights, would have taken Comeback Player of the Year awards, were it not for a fantastic year from Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
Wake’s counterpart, Andre Branch, also turned in an impressive year after coming to the Dolphins in free agency from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Branch turned in 5.5 sacks of his own, forcing another two fumbles. The tandem of Wake and Branch was dominant last season, so the Dolphins are solid at the position, right? Well, no. Not exactly.
As impressive as Wake’s season was, conventional wisdom says that he doesn’t have much left in the tank. He’s going to be 35 at the end of next season, and he’s going to have to start slowing down eventually.
On the other side, Branch had a solid year, but he only came to the Dolphins on a one-year deal. He could easily cash in on his success in this year’s free agency period. With Mario Williams not returning, the Dolphins could be in a world of hurt at the position.
It’s not an area of major concern for Miami yet. But it is one that, should other talent be off the board at 22, they should consider. There is a lot of EDGE talent in this year’s class, and investing in the future is never unwise.
First Round Options: Derek Barnett, Tennessee; Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
It’s easy to shovel all of the blame for the Dolphins porous pass defense on the linebackers. They were a poor-performing unit all season, and they need some serious attention in the draft and/or free agency. But you don’t give up that many yards in a season without some help from the corners and safeties.
Things did not start well for the Dolphins in the defensive backfield. Byron Maxwell struggled early, as did rookie cornerback Xavien Howard and second-year man Tony Lippett. To make matters worse, All-Pro caliber safety Reshad Jones was lost in the middle of the season with a shoulder injury. Depth was a huge issue for the Dolphins all season, particularly in the defensive backs unit.
For as bad as the corners looked at the beginning of the season; however, I was encouraged by the growth I saw from them towards the end of the year. All three of them (Maxwell, Lippett, and Howard) greatly improved their play. However, there is some serious corner talent in this year’s draft, should the Dolphins decide to look in that direction.
The draft is stacked with talent on the defensive side of the ball, and the defensive backfield is no exception. This year’s crop of safeties is one of the deepest I’ve ever seen. It may not be very top-heavy, but there is significant depth. Should someone like Budda Baker, Tre’Davious White, or Marlon Humphrey be atop the Dolphins draft board, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
First Round Options: Tre’Davious White, LSU; Marlon Humphrey, Alabama; Budda Baker, Washington
I feel like a broken record at this point, but it’s really hard to overstate just how much of a need linebacker is. The Dolphins were eaten alive over the middle all year, and the linebacker play bares the brunt of that responsibility. The final weeks of the season were particularly brutal for this group, allowing tight ends to have a field day against the Dolphins defense.
But it wasn’t just the passing game in which the Dolphins linebackers were lackluster. They were nothing short of atrocious against the run. Only two teams allowed more rushing yards per game over the 2016 season than the Miami Dolphins. Obviously you can’t place the blame for that number solely on one unit, but when your linebackers can’t be trusted to come up and make a tackle in the run game, the yards pile up quickly.
Lucky for the Dolphins, there are plenty of options in the 2017 NFL Draft for them to address this weakness. Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster should be long gone by the time the Dolphins pick at 22. But there is a lot of talent behind him. Whether the team chooses an outside linebacker, an inside linebacker, or an EDGE position player who could make the transition to linebacker, there’s a bevy of exciting options.
First Round Options: Jarrad Davis, Florida; Haason Reddick, Temple; T.J. Watt, Wisconsin