The 2013 NFL Draft is three months away, but every day that passes is one less day teams have to prepare, and is one fewer day fans have to speculate. Of course, with the Miami Dolphins not in the playoffs, their fans have plenty of time to speculate, especially with holes like the ones Miami has at wide receiver, defensive end, and cornerback. Meanwhile, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. has begun to ramp up his own draft preparation.
On his most recent big board, Kiper ranked his top 25 prospects for April's draft. Among those, he had one wide receiver, seven defensive ends, one pass rushing linebacker, and one cornerback.
Sitting in the top two positions, Kiper has Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore. About Jones, Kiper writes:
I don't know if he'll hold this position through the draft process, but his performance and positional value to this point have gotten him here. Explosive, disciplined, relentless edge rusher who profiles as a 3-4 OLB and doesn't need to come off the field. A quick first step, violent hands, tackles well and closes fast. Solid against the run and can really cover.
And about Moore:
Glad he's in the draft, as he needs to take advantage of a great season. He's an athlete, but the production really jumps out. Consistent performer. Adjusted well to playing as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Excels as a pass-rusher, able to dip hips, turn the corner and use quickness and length to bother tackles.
The Dolphins next need filling player, according to Kiper, would be the eighth ranked Barkevious Mingo, defensive end from LSU. About Mingo, Kiper writes:
Maybe no player will get more scrutiny on tape. You love the raw ability, but Mingo is so gifted athletically that he misses some "football skills" coaches demand. He's survived without taking on a lot of blocks, for instance. Leverage was an issue all season, and there's a little boom-or-bust feel with him right now. Uses length and a great first step to turn the corner. Still learning.
Right behind Mingo, Kiper ranks Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. Kiper explains:
Officially in the draft. Has great awareness, both as a pass-rusher and as a guy who defends the pass with his hands in the air. There's a little J.J. Watt in that trait. Werner finds a way to disrupt. Reads the game really well, eyes up, which isn't easy to do when you play so fast. Strong but athletic, he has great ball awareness as he rushes.
Possible Dolphins targets continue with the tenth ranked player on Kiper's Big Board, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. About Milliner, Kiper writes:
The pillar in the secondary for Bama, he got better and better as the season progressed. Milliner's raw football skills are exceptional. His physical prowess is a step above other corners. He hits receivers and isn't shy in run support, but with that, he is fluid, reads the game well and can turn and run with wideouts. High floor.
The lone wide receiver in Kiper's rankings is Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee. Kiper states:
He could be the top WR available when all is said and done but faces a true discovery process during the draft lead-up because of a limited sample size. He's here because his ceiling is extremely high. Great size and leaping ability, strong hands, with explosiveness as a runner with the ball in his hands. Can go up and get it. Helps his QB. Ceiling of a very good No. 1.
BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan claim the 17th and 18th positions. About Ansah, Kiper writes:
A raw player who was an accomplished sprinter before turning to football, Ansah might get the Jason Pierre-Paul label during the draft process, meaning he needs a lot of coaching, but has physical gifts that can't be coached. A potentally dynamic 4-3 DE pass-rusher.
And, Kiper's statement about Jordan reads:
He went to Oregon with the possibility of playing either offense (TE) or defense (DE), and Jordan has emerged as an athletic, lanky pass-rusher who will get looks as either a 3-4 OLB or a 4-3 defensive end. In a 4-3, the question will be bulk, but he can certainly afford to add some on his long frame.
Kiper has LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery as his 22nd ranked player:
LSU's most effective DE, he's been a more productive player than Mingo, but his ceiling probably isn't as high. Love his motor, he is a fit in almost any system, and his range of skills is improved with added bulk, which helps him against the run. Max-effort player who profiles better for a 4-3 scheme.
The final Dolphins need player according to Kiper's current Big Board, is Texas defensive end Alex Okafor. Kiper writes about his 24th ranked player:
On his best days, Okafor profiles as a potential upper-crust 4-3 defensive end on a good team. He's quick, bends, uses his hands effectively and can turn the corner. A three-year starter, he brings a lot of experience and should be considered a safe, high-floor pass-rushing option.
Of course, the Dolphins could completely go a different direction with their first pick in April. Could they end up landing someone like linebacker Manti Te'o, who fell on Kiper's Big Board after a less than stellar National Championship game? Where are the tight ends, which could be another target for the Dolphins?
Make sure you check out the entire Big Board over on ESPN.