Dolphins fans interested in acquiring receiver and cornerback talent via the draft will have be watching closely when those position groups take the field during days four and six, respectively, of the upcoming NFL Combine. Of course, identifying which prospects are actually on Miami's radar is kind of like trying to find a tiny needle in an enormous haystack. That's where The Phinsider comes in.
After months upon months of wide-open discussions and debates regarding this year's draft class, we're at a sort of halfway point between the end of the Dolphins' season and opening night of the 2013 NFL Draft. That means we could be just a little over two months away from the addition of a new corner, West Coast-appropriate receivers, a pass-rusher and maybe even a lineman (yay!).
The Dolphins' needs this offseason are well-documented--some positions might even be thoroughly addressed in free agency next month. But the fact remains that this is a team in need of serious help at cornerback and wide receiver. The addition of Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace would certainly upgrade Miami's receiver corps in a heartbeat, and the addition of Chris Gamble (who is expected to be cut by Carolina) would give their secondary some much-needed leadership and stability. However, free agency won't solve all of Miami's issues this spring, and that's why this draft is so blasted important.
Identifying positions of need is the first step toward recovery; the next step is more difficult--identifying the players that best suit what the Dolphins are attempting to do with its receiver and corner groups. On offense, it's all about the West Coast offense put in place by head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. These guys are looking for receivers who run superb routes, possess great hands and consistently pick up yards after the catch. Speed is important, but lack of it isn't necessarily a deal breaker. Same goes for height--great if you have it, but not a turn-off if you don't. Randall Cobb, who stands a mighty 5'10", was a go-to option for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this season. In fact, Green Bay's receiver group averages a height of 6'0".
Remember, the role of a pure No. 1 receiver no longer exists in Miami; rather, this is a team looking to bring in and develop a stable of No. 2 receivers. The sum of the whole is definitely greater than its parts when it comes to the Dolphins' West Coast offense philosophy.
Receivers in attendance at this week's NFL Combine will take the field on Sunday, Feb. 24. Here are some receivers you'll want to check out that day:
1. Robert Woods, USC (6'1", 190)
Woods is the ultimate West Coast-type receiver--a linear-based threat boasting very good speed, strong hands, ultra-precise route-running and a flair for the dramatic once the ball is in his hands. How well he runs on Sunday will depend on whether he's fully recovered from the banged-up ankle that plagued him through most of last season. In terms of comparison, Woods is quite similar to former Colts great Marvin Harrison. That's lofty praise, but Woods' tape backs it up.
2. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (5'11", 185)
Arguably the premier high-octane machine in this year's receiver class, Wheaton has been unfairly painted as a pure vertical threat despite his proven ability to do quality work in horizontal-based sets. Wheaton's an above-average route-runner who also possesses fantastic, natural hands, and shows great effort as a downfield blocker. If the Dolphins pass on Mike Wallace in free agency, it might be because they have a different speedster in mind. Just sayin' ...
3. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (6'0", 200)
"The General" is a fantastic receiver prospect whose modest size and strength belie his ability to a flat-out make plays. Likely a high 4.4 guy, but has the route-running savvy, sure hands and intelligence to be a Greg Jennings-type player at the next level. He also excels at creating separation in tight spaces, and is a proven red zone threat.
4. Aaron Dobson, Marshall (6'2", 204)
Get ready to hear the Jordy Nelson comparisons once Dobson takes the field. The Marshall product is a big-bodied threat with good speed and better hands, and he flashes considerable upside as a route-runner and overall technician. Dobson's hand usage at the line of scrimmage is surprisingly effective, and he's a viable downfield threat despite his lack of gamebreaker speed.
5. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia (5'10" 190)
The prospect who best fits what Philbin and Sherman are looking for in a receiver comes in at No. 5 on this list. Bailey is a tough, smart football player who also possesses arguably the best hands and route-running chops of any receiver in this class. His undersized frame and just-above-average speed will turn off some teams in search of bigger, faster playmakers, but the Dolphins couldn't create a better receiver prospect for their system if they had access to Dr. Frankenstein's table. It's hard not to use words like "route-running savvy," "tenacity," "intelligence" and "fluidity" while watching Bailey's tape, and that should be good enough for a third-round selection. Thank you; please drive through.
The defensive back group's workout serves as the Combine's grand finale each year, and with good reason--these guys bring some serious athleticism to the position. The Dolphins, of course, could use some major upgrades at cornerback, so be on the lookout for the following players when they take the field on Tuesday, Feb. 26:
1. DeMarcus Milliner, Alabama (6'1", 200)
He's the top corner in this class, so we have to talk about him. Milliner is a prototypical prospect in terms of tackling ability and overall physicality at the position, and he has the speed, hips and strength to develop into a very good man-coverage corner. Footwork and backpedal technique both need serious polish (it's an Alabama thing--just ask Dre Kirkpatrick); however, he possesses very good intelligence and feel for the game.
2. Desmond Trufant, Washington (5'11", 190)
Trufant's currently the biggest riser in this year's corner class, and he might not be done, either. A strong performance in Combine drills, as well as a sub-4.45 40-yard dash, will almost certainly launch Trufant into the No. 2 cornerback spot this spring. Arguably the most polished, instinctive and fluid man-coverage corner in this year's group, and he has really come along as a press technician, as well. Factor in his above-average ball skills and overall physicality and it's clear that the sky's the limit for this guy. It shouldn't shock anyone if he lands in Miami at No. 12.
3. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UCONN (6'1", 195)
Wreh-Wilson is right behind Trufant in terms of pure man-coverage ability, but the former might actually time faster at the Combine on Tuesday. The former UCONN standout boats elite-level hips and balance, and has shown the ability to turn and run with just about any receiver he matches up against. Ball skills are a bit of a question mark with Wreh-Wilson, but his tape also reveals a corner who excels in press coverage.
4. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (6'1", 215)
Every year we hear the adage that speed isn't everything when it comes to the NFL Combine. Maybe so, but it'll matter a whole bunch to Xavier Rhodes, as his chances of landing in the first round almost squarely hinge on how he times in the 40-yard dash. A mid-4.4 will do the trick, but anything north of 4.5 will earn Rhodes the same looks that Malcolm Jenkins received from scouts during the 2009 Combine. Still, Rhodes is a phenomenal talent for the position, and is right in line with Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a standout press corner. Length and overall build is similar to former Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was selected No. 17 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals last spring.
5. Jamar Taylor, Boise State (5'10", 192)
It's hard to get a finger on just why Taylor isn't getting more attention this offseason, as he's a fleet-footed corner prospect with good instincts and the flexible skill set necessary to fit into any defensive scheme at the next level. Somewhat undersized for the position, Taylor can nonetheless vault him into early day two territory with a nice showing at the Combine. Remember the name.