As the national football media continues to belt out mock drafts galore this offseason, it's becoming clear that amateur and professional draft analysts alike believe Iowa tackle Riley Reiff is destined to hoist a Miami Dolphins uniform with Roger Goodell this spring. If you're a fan who loves hulking, technically-sound play in the trenches, you're almost certainly cool with the Reiff selection; if you're a fan who only wants to see big-time impact players drafted in the first round, then you're probably sickened by the idea of Miami using another high selection on an offensive lineman (Reiff would be the third in five years).
Frankly, both factions have a worthy point in this debate. It's almost impossible to suck when you dominate the point of attack on offense, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to load up on offensive linemen when you don't have a franchise quarterback to protect.
But what if Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn is taking snaps for the Dolphins when April 26 rolls around? Is right tackle at No. 8 overall (especially for an offensive line that helplessly surrendered 52 sacks last season) really such a frivolous pick in that scenario? What about a BPA scenario at that spot--should Reiff be considered an elite prospect worthy of a top 10 pick? What if Joe Philbin was allowed to give his input in regards to the Dolphins' first-round selection?
Now, bear in mind that this isn't an article intended to sway you over to the thinking that Riley Reiff is a must-have for the Dolphins this April. Rather, it's a semi-systematic glimpse into several scenarios where Reiff would and wouldn't be an ideal pick for the Dolphins at No. 8 overall.Scenario No. 1 - Peyton Manning is a Miami Dolphin
Let's imagine for a moment that the Dolphins actually come out on top of Manning Mania and land the newly minted free agent. Manning did some great work in Indianapolis despite an offensive line that devolved into a pedestrian unit later in his career, but he also spent the last few seasons becoming more and more acquainted with the turf of Lucas Oil Stadium (and just about every other stadium he played in). Add in his neck injuries, and you're talking about a quarterback who won't want any compromises in protection at his new destination (this is the biggest reason why I find it hard to believe Manning will land in Arizona). The presence of lineman juggernauts like Jake Long and Mike Pouncey holds serious weight (no pun intended) in a scenario such as this, but something must be done about the swinging barn door that exists on the right side of the Dolphins' offensive line. Marc Colombo's stay in Miami was about as long as Jimmy Smits' turn in the pilot episode of Miami Vice, Vernon Carey has serious wear on his tires and Lydon Murtha remains a big question mark. This leaves the draft as the most logical place to find the right tackle Peyton Manning will finish his career with in the NFL. Sure, we could only be talking two, three or four great (hopefully) years, but the likelihood of those years being exceptionally fruitful (think: Super Bowls) increases exponentially with a franchise-caliber right tackle in place.
Ah, but I can hear what some of you are saying right now: Why does that franchise-caliber right tackle have to be a first-round pick? Well, he really doesn't. In fact, some of the better right tackles in recent memory (Ryan Tucker, Tyson Clabo, etc.) entered the NFL as mid-round picks or undrafted free agents. Truth be told, if it was anyone other than Manning at quarterback in Miami (hypothetically, of course), this hear-about-it-later draft strategy to find a right tackle would probably work out just fine. But that's just it, though--your quarterback is Peyton Manning, not some beleaguered journeyman willing to take a beating while your new tackle works to find an identity on the right side of the line. With Manning in tow, you're not looking to "hear about it later" at right tackle; you need plug-and-play at that position.
And that's where Riley Reiff comes in. If the Dolphins are concerned with finding immediate insurance for Manning on the right side, a light-footed technician like Reiff is a tantalizing option at No. 8 overall. Compare Reiff's ability to Packers right tackle (and former Iowa Hawkeye left tackle) Bryan Bulaga, and you'll find that Reiff is the quicker and more technically-sound player of the two (and Bulaga has been every bit a franchise tackle for the Packers during his two seasons with the franchise). And for those of you who will cite the fact that Bulaga was drafted No. 23 overall in 2010, remember that he was viewed as a top 10 pick that year.
If you have a problem with drafting Reiff at No. 8 overall, trade down a bit (beware of the lineman-needy Cardinals at No. 13, however) and take him. If you're of the mind that right tackle isn't top 10 value, don't worry--precedent was set by the Cowboys last April when they selected USC right tackle Tyron Smith at No. 9 overall. If you feel that the Dolphins' main priority should be to surround Manning with weapons galore, trade back into the first round and get him a receiver (Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill) or use a second-round pick on a pass-catching tight end (Coby Fleener, Orson Charles, Dwayne Allen).
Fans will continue to speak out against the possibility of Riley Reiff landing in Miami, but those people need to ask themselves one simple question: what will Peyton Manning need most if he's wearing Dolphins colors next season?
Scenario No. 2 - Dolphins go BPA with their first-round pick
This scenario is where the Reiff haters can really unload their displeasure with the thought of selecting a right tackle with the eighth selection overall. There's a chance that a prospect such as Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne, Trent Richardson, Melvin Ingram, Quinton Coples, Ryan Tannehill or Dontari Poe will still be around when the Dolphins go on the clock draft night, and if Miami switches gears and sets it sights on nabbing the best player available, it's rather tough to envision the team going with a right tackle. Is that position is blatant need in Miami. Hell yes. Are right tackles ever the best player available? Probably not, though you could make a strong case if that right tackle has the upside and ideal footwork to eventually kick over to the left side. Reiff qualifies for this elite category, but even that won't be nearly enough to satiate Dolphins fans who want to draft explosive skill-position players. If BPA reigns this April, Reiff will be a tough sell.
Scenario No. 3 - Joe Philbin gets a say in the Dolphins' 2012 draft
Let's go back to the Bryan Bulaga discussion for a moment. After Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times in 2009, the Packers selected Bulaga out of Iowa the following spring, with the hope that the big tackle could seal up his side of the line and put a significant dent in the "sacks allowed" category. The next season, Green Bay improved to 19th in sacks allowed--not a life-changing turnaround, but a considerable decrease nonetheless. Bulaga's presence may not have been the only reason why the Packers were able to minimize hemorrhaging pressure and whittle down the number of sacks allowed, but he took to the right tackle position in Green Bay and hasn't looked back since he first arrived.
What does any of this have to do with Reiff? Easy: Philbin is a former offensive line coach for the University of Iowa, and he has a very strong relationship with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. And if Bulaga was able to quickly get Green Bay's offensive line back on track, there's a chance Philbin will want to go back to the well and find an Iowa offensive tackle who can have that kind of impact in Miami.
Keep the Philbin/Ferentz pipeline in mind over the next six weeks, as it could have a considerable influence on the Dolphins' 2012 draft plans. Riley Reiff is likely on Philbin's radar, but is he on Ireland's?
Bottom line: Riley Reiff will be a tough call for the Dolphins
Again, this column is neither for nor against the selection Riley Reiff at No. 8 overall. He has the goods to be an elite right tackle in the NFL, but if "elite" weapons are available when Miami goes on the clock, they could very well look to add a right tackle later in the draft.