Dolphins hope to find LB among promising undrafted free agents
After failing to address a noticeable need at the linebacker position with any of their seven selections in last week's NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins will instead hope to find the answer to their problem among a promising group of undrafted free agents.
Not long after the Arizona Cardinals selected this year's "Mr. Irrelevant" with the final pick in the draft, the Dolphins were already back at work, reaching out to numerous overlooked and undervalued linebackers that had fallen through the cracks.
Although the team has yet to make any of their post-draft signings official, the Miami Herald reports that Penn State's Mike Hull, Utah State's Zach Vigil, Marshall's Neville Hewitt and Cincinnati's Jeff Luc will all be signing with the Dolphins.
At this point, it'd be foolish to count out any of these relative unknowns with Miami's linebacking corps lacking any sort of certainty outside of weak-side linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who had a team-high 110 tackles in 2014, and middle linebacker Koa Misi.
Yet, despite the team's gaping hole at strong-side linebacker, general manager Dennis Hickey is confident that one of the organization's current players, or perhaps even a hungry undrafted rookie, will rise to the occasion.
"We do like our linebackers," Hickey said at Miami's post-draft press conference. "We added Spence Paysinger and we have some young guys that we're really excited about."
As of now, incumbents Kelvin Sheppard and Chris McCain are considered the favorites to fill the vacancy, while Paysinger, who signed as a free agent in April, is seen as a long-shot to land the job.
None of those names jumping off the page? Understandable.
It will likely take the entire offseason for the Dolphins to sort through these candidates and there's no reason to think that one of the organization's newly inked undrafted free agents won't come out on top.
Hull, 23, was the heart of the Nittany Lions' defense in 2014, recording 140 tackles with two sacks and an interception. He captured the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award and was projected a fifth-round pick before a knee injury affected his draft stock.
"He has excellent diagnose skills to break down the action and attack in the blink of an eye and is the type of player that the ballcarrier seems to find every snap," said CBS Sports' Dane Brugler. Hull's average size/speed/strength traits make his NFL transition tough to project, but he has the football smarts and instinctive talent to stick, fitting best as a WILL or MIKE linebacker and special teams ace."
Vigil, 24, led Utah State in tackles (156), tackles for loss (20.5), sacks (9.0) and QB hurries (6) in 2014 while his 11.1 tackles per game ranked seventh in the nation. He was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
"Vigil has an outstanding resume and although he isn't off-the-charts athletically, he might be able to get away with it due to his terrific instincts and try-hard competitive nature," said Brugler.
Hewitt, 22, played two seasons for the Herd at inside linebacker as a junior college transfer. He registered a team-high 114 tackles in 2014 on his way to being named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.
"He has natural instincts and the read/react quickness to sidestep bodies and arrive at the ballcarrier to make stops - rarely came off the field and is flying under the radar as a NFL prospect," said Brugler.
Luc, 23, was the nation's 15th-leading tackler in 2014, finishing the season with 134 tackles (10.3 per game). A graduate of Treasure Coast High School, he was rated the top ILB prospect in the 2010 recruiting class.
"Sporting a heavily-muscled frame, Luc might be the most imposing inside linebacker in the country," said CBS Sports' Rob Rang. "His powerful build and aggressive nature make him an ideal run-stuffing presence in the middle."
They will arrive to Miami as a quartet of questions marks, but one of them could very well be the Dolphins' next starting linebacker.