This might sound strange, but I believe the Dolphins' second-round pick in the 2012 draft will be the most important selection they make next April. Yes, it's a great bet that Miami's front office will spend a lot of time looking at the first-round-caliber quarterbacks available next April, but regardless of which QB--Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III or Landry Jones--they end up putting in aqua and orange next season, the Dolphins need to place a very strong emphasis on keeping their brand-new signal caller surrounded by exceptional skill-position talent. Hence why the second round of the 2012 draft could have a major say in whether this team quickly becomes a Super Bowl contender or simply just a playoff contender. I think most of us, given the option, would prefer the former.
Since we've spent some time the last two and a half months examining prospects at areas of significant need on offense, we'll switch gears this week and look at wide receiver--an area that really hasn't been too much of a weakness for the Dolphins this season, but could stand to add some size and speed.
Dwight Jones, WR North Carolina
Who is he?
A very underrated wideout prospect, for starters. Of course, that's what happens when you're part of an extremely strong wide receiver class that will likely include Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State), Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame), Kendall Wright (Baylor), Nick Toon (Wisconsin), etc. At 6'4", 225 pounds, Jones has the elite size that scouts look for in a No.1 wideout. Add in legitimate 4.4 speed, a strong vertical and colossal mitts, and you have raw tools that can make a receiver into something pretty special at the next level.
Despite his "sleeper prospect" status, Jones is neck and neck with the best receivers in this draft class, especially when it comes to speed and upside. The only receiver mentioned above who is faster than Jones is Wright, and only Jeffery can match Jones' height (though Floyd is close). Like many long-limbed receivers, Jones uses his stork-like build to his advantage, able to snare throws way outside of his initial "strike zone." He doesn't catch with his body, either, and does a great job of getting his hands out in front of him when hauling in passes.
As a route runner, Jones is very adequate, but could use some fine tuning in this regard. He can sometimes look sluggish coming off the line, and needs to do a better job of fighting off corner jams at the line of scrimmage; however, he gets up to top speed quickly for a long strider, and gets excellent separation from defenders. Once Jones gets a total handle on running routes in the NFL, the world will pretty much be his oyster.
Still, Jones' best aspect might actually be his hands, which simply absorb and envelope the ball. He'll drop a pass once in a while, but not to the point where it has the potential to become an epidemic.
In terms of production, Jones this season has already matched his reception total from 2010 (62), and has twice as many touchdowns in 2011 (8) than he had for the Tar Heels last year.
Why would we get a No.1-caliber wideout when we already have Brandon Marshall?
This question will probably come up frequently over the next few months, and perhaps with good reason. Marshall has been very good in 2011, on pace to eclipse his receiving and yardage totals (86, 1,014) from last season; however, a big, fast receiver like Dwight Jones would take a lot of heat off of No.19 and give him considerably more space to work with against defenses that typically focus heavily on Miami's superstar wideout. Also, a skyscrapers-type receiving corps doesn't sound too bad, eh?
As for Miami's other receivers, Davone Bess' reception total is way, way down from last season, but he remains an ideal safety valve and slot threat for Miami; the jury is still out on Clyde Gates, and I needed a proof of life on Brian Hartline before he surfaced with a reception against Washington last Sunday (his first catch since the Denver game). The Dolphins' wideout corps isn't utterly fantastic, but it does a variety of things well and has been a big reason for Matt Moore's success in converting third downs. Still, the Dolphins really can't rely so heavily on Marshall and Bess to get everything done in the passing game, and a player of Dwight Jones' caliber would really space things out downfield. Add a new quarterback into the equation next season, and it makes even more sense for Miami to nab a tall receiver with the ability to breeze past defensive backs and make tough catches look easy.
There will be so many wideout options available next April, which means the Dolphins should have the opportunity to find a receiver who best fits what the team wants to do in the passing game. If Miami does indeed select a receiver in round two, speed and hands will be up high on their list of must-have skills. Adhering to this receiver criteria, I believe Dwight Jones is the best fit in Miami, while Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd would be very strong alternatives.