Alabama's Dee Milliner is the best cornerback in college football right now. Yes, Miami could probably use him. - Kevin C. Cox
The 2013 NFL Draft will be a maddening one for several teams around the league. The quarterback class (Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, Logan Thomas) is an inconsistent group, and there are but a few offensive linemen in this draft class who truly warrant a first-round grade. The Dolphins and their fans, however, will have plenty of reasons to be excited next spring.
Why, you ask? Well, the Dolphins' three biggest needs right now are receiver, corner and safety, and the 2013 draft will be strongest at the pass-rushing, defensive, tackle, receiver, corner, safety positions. Emphasize those latter three positions and it's easy to see why the 2013 NFL Draft will be tailor made for the Miami Dolphins. Therefore, the team and its front office will have the opportunity to identify and acquire young talent, and transition from a sneaky contender to a fire-breathing AFC East juggernaut in as little time as possible.
Here are 10 college players best suited to make that happen.
1) Keenan Allen, WR California
Keenan Allen narrowly gets the top nod on this list, even though Joe Philbin's DNA still probably has some remnants of Green Bay's "no receivers before day two" approach. Nothing wrong with that rule, but Allen's the kind of receiver who deserves an exception. He's a receiver in the Larry Fitzgerald mode--not necessarily a freak athlete, but certainly a big-bodied wideout with first-rate ball skills, awareness and route-running ability. He's also a terror after the catch, as evidenced by his ability to make numerous big plays this season for Cal's crummy offense. If you need a legit comparison for Allen, think of him as a supercharged Jordy Nelson.
2) Dee Milliner, CB Alabama
Alabama hatred notwithstanding, Tide cornerback Dee Milliner needs to be on the wishlist of Dolphins fans everywhere. A big-framed prospect with excellent speed, technique and rare strength for the position, Milliner is blossoming into a true shutdown corner this season, and he can jam and frustrate receivers at the line of scrimmage with the best of them. Milliner's ball skills could still use some polish, but his pure cover skills and physicality bear a strong resemblence to Darrelle Revis' work at Pitt. Easily the top corner in this class, and could be a top 10 pick before it's said and done.
3) Manti Te'o, MLB Notre Dame
Linebacker doesn't jump out as a top priority for the Dolphins next spring, but Manti Te'o is a franchise changer on the defensive side of the ball. How good is he? I've been a Notre Dame hater my entire life, but I f'n love that team right now. Te'o has had the ability to defuse the run since the moment he set foot in South Bend, and he has developed exceptional pass rush and coverage skills the last two seasons. A true knockout at a position that can be woefully overlooked these days.
4) Robert Woods, WR USC
If Allen is tops on this list, Robert Woods should be no lower than fourth or fifth. Woods' lack of ideal size hurts his potential as a universal No. 1 receiver, but his speed, route-running ability, velcro-like hands and awareness make him a no-brainer in the West Coast offense. And while Allen might be off the board by the time Miami is on the clock next April, I am confident the Dolphins can get Robert Woods if they want him. Let's hope they do.
5) Matt Elam, S Florida
Plenty of Gators defenders have upped their draft stock over the last six weeks, but none more so than Matt Elam. A fast, smart, physical safety with certified play-maker ability, Elam is a turnover machine in Florida's secondary, as evidenced by the ferocious takeaways he has stockpiled this season. Elam might not be the best safety on the board next spring, but he might be one of the best fits at that position for Miami.
6) Eric Reid, S LSU
When it's all said and done, I think Reid will surface as the No. 1 safety in the 2013 draft class (remember, Mark Barron was a considered a third-round prospect by Scouts, Inc. last summer, and then went No. 7 overall). Serving as both a play-maker and intimidator in LSU's defense, Reid is close to the total package for a college safety, boasting size, excellent strength, keen awareness and an almost absurd willingness to smash the run. Reid's speed is in the average-to-above-average bracket, but his tape reveals a thick, bruising safety with good athleticism and plenty of range. Highly unlikely that this guy will escape the first round.
7) Alec Ogletree, ILB Georgia
Again, interior linebacker will be considered a luxury pick for the Dolphins next spring, but when you have top-class linebacker talent like Te'o and Georgia's Alec Ogletree available in the draft, you'll gladly consider such luxuries. Te'o is the total package at the mike linebacker spot, but Ogletree is the better athlete and has a bit more upside than his Notre Dame counterpart. Ogletree's game kind of reminds me of Brian Urlacher (young Urlacher, not Gandolf-age Urlacher), and he's really just scratching the surface of how good a linebacker he can be. If Te'o is off the board, but Miami still wants to get younger and more explosive at middle linebacker, then Ogletree's their guy.
8) Shawn Williams, S Georgia
In case you haven't already figured out, the SEC churns out NFL-caliber safeties at an almost alarming rate. And because Shawn Williams will be right up there with Elam and Reid next spring, he certainly belongs on this list. A fast, big-hitting safety with phenomenal technique and first-rate awareness, Williams patrols the Bulldogs' secondary with a style and conviction that you rarely see in college (or Dolphins) safeties these days. His ball skills will be the big question moving forward, but his tenacity and fluidity against both the run and pass will get him first-round consideration.
9) Terrance Williams, WR Baylor
Man-crushes die hard, and my love for Baylor wideout Terrance Williams isn't about to disappear anytime soon. Williams is really proving himself to be a Dwayne Bowe-type receiver this season. And his success this season is even more impressive when you consider the downgrade Baylor experienced at quarterback prior to the 2012 season. Not sure if Williams will grade out as a first-round talent, but if he doesn't, that will be great news for the Dolphins and their multiple second-round picks April.
10) Sam Montgomery, DE LSU
Miami's pass-rush department looks exponentially brighter with rookie Olivier Vernon, but suppose the Dolphins decide they want to wait until day two to get their receivers and secondary upgrades. What then? Well, you can never have enough pass rushers, and LSU's Sam Montgomery has played like an elite-caliber defensive end this season. Montgomery isn't a freak athlete like fellow Tigers defensive end Barkvious Mingo, but he has better technique and instincts for the position. Best part: he'd fit handsomely into the Dolphins' hybrid 4-3, and might be available when Miami goes on the clock.