The 2013 NFL Draft will begin three days from tonight. And with it will come all of the excitement and doubt, jubilation and disgust, enlightenment and befuddlement, that is sure to follow the announcement of the Dolphins' No. 12 overall selection. Seriously, book it. Death, taxes and Dolphins fans overreacting to their team's draft pick. All are inevitable ... and equally inescapable.
Of course, those same fans must also know that this year's festivities will have a much different feel than past drafts. That's because there won't be any questions about if and when the Dolphins will draft quarterback. There will be no outcries or jeers, pouting or tantrums, from fans when the team passes on a trumped-up, marginally promising signal-caller prospect. Nope. Not this year. Miami has its long-term guy at quarterback, and like any true field general or leader, he'll model in the Dolphins' logo and uniform fashion show on Thursday night while his coach and general manager are busy making decisions that could potentially determine just how far their young quarterback goes in his pro football career. Now that's a franchise guy, mixing Joe Namath's fashion sense with Troy Aikman's professionalism.
Some members of this site are bound to be elated or disappointed with the direction the Dolphins take with the No. 12 pick (if they don't trade down, of course). I can't soften the blow some of you will feel if Miami selects University of North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert or West Virginia receiver (and apparent bookworm) Tavon Austin. What I can do, however, is at least attempt to explain why the Dolphins' first-round selection fits what Joe Philbin and the Dolphins want to do in Miami.
Hopefully you find the commentary of some use. And if not, you'll let me hear it in the comment section. Challenge accepted.
Final Miami Dolphins 2013 Draft Big Board
1. DeMarcus Milliner, CB Alabama (6'0", 201)
I've avoided mention of Milliner on most of my draft lists this offseason, as his top-corner standing and ridiculous 40 time (4.37) at the Combine in February placed him in the "unattainable" category for Miami. However, reports suggest that Milliner isn't necessarily a top 10 lock, so I'll pay due diligence and slot him into my big board accordingly. Milliner has the potential to be a devastating perimeter defender at the next level, and he's as physical a prospect as you'll find at the cornerback position. Questions persist about his footwork, man-to-man capability and overall ball skills, but Milliner qualifies as a well-rounded, dynamic and hard-working corner. That's why he's the head shred on this list. Think of him as a smarter, instinctive and humble version of Vontae Davis.
2. Lane Johnson, OT Oklahoma (6'6", 310)
It's difficult to find a "wow" factor in a college offensive tackle, but Oklahoma's Lane Johnson has it. A former quarterback and tight end, Johnson is one of the more athletic offensive lineman to hit the draft in recent memory, and he's just getting started. His footwork is top notch, his arm length (35.25 inches) is outrageous, and he's got a mean streak for days. He's also savvy, boasts very light and quick footwork for the position, and has the lower-base strength to bulldoze on the right side, if necessary. Make no mistake, though, Johnson's a prototypical left tackle at the next level, and he could very well be the best prospect in a class loaded with premier blindside talent. The only way this guy comes to Miami is if the Dolphins trade into the draft's top five selections. The furthest Johnson will fall is Detroit at No. 5.
3. Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame (6'5", 255)
Dolphins fans bemoaned the departure of tight end Anthony Fasano in free agency, but what if the team could replace him with another Notre Dame product who is light years ahead as a seam buster and downfield threat? I'd take that deal, and I have feeling so will Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin on draft night. Tyler Eifert is the rare tight end worthy of a first-round pick, and his size, speed and ever-developing skill set will make him a match-up nightmare in the NFL. Eifert's an excellent route-runner, possesses sure, natural hands, and has the lift (35-inch vertical) to qualify as a premier jump-ball candidate. And while he's far from a finished product as a blocker, he greatly improved his in-line ability last season, and should continue to do so in the pros. Far and away the best prospect in a considerably strong tight end class, Eifert's worth the No. 12 selection, and if the Dolphins can trade down and still land him, even better.
4. Jonathan Cooper, G North Carolina (6'2", 311)
Alabama guard Chance Warmack has attracted more attention from scouts this pre-draft season, but Jonathan Cooper is, for my money, the better talent at the position--and he has considerably higher upside, as well. The former North Carolina standout is a super-agile, technically refined prospect who will become a top five left guard the moment he hits the NFL, and the balance and quickness he displays in pulling situations is a sight to behold. Cooper's an absolute terror for second-level defenders, and he's quite possibly the quintessential zone-blocking guard. Add in Cooper's excellent standing as a pass protector, and you have an interior lineman who is worth a top 10 pick (am I selling this guy enough?). Regardless, Cooper will have to make it past Arizona, Buffalo, NYJ, Tennessee and San Diego before the Dolphins can turn in his card, so you OL haters can rest easy.
5. Desmond Trufant, CB Washington (5'11", 190)
What can you say about Trufant that hasn't already been uttered on this site? He's an explosive, scheme-diverse corner prospect with very good instincts, footwork and speed for the position. Trufant's ball skills aren't overly impressive, and he is indeed a big tight-hipped, but his short-area burst, awareness and upper-body strength should allow him to do quality work in both man and zone coverage. An outstanding corner prospect in a strong draft class. Trufant's an immediate candidate for the Dolphins if they trade down (with Minnesota, perhaps?).
6. D.J. Hayden, CB Houston (5'11", 191)
Hayden may be the crown jewel of this year's cornerback class ... and few people knew it prior to last month, when he floored scouts with a strong pro day showing. The Houston cover man missed most of last season with a torn inferior vena cava vein he suffered after colliding with a teammate during practice, but there's no time like the present, and Hayden has plenty of momentum heading into Thursday's draft. Fast, fluid, wiry and balanced, Hayden is the definition of a premier zone corner prospect, and he has the short-area burst to get up on his man in a hurry, and the strength to reroute and funnel assignments. Best part: Hayden hasn't even scratched the surface of his talent, and should become a premier perimeter defender in the NFL. I want this guy in Miami.
7. John Cyprien, S Florida International (6'0", 217)
This year's race for top overall safety was supposed to be between Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and LSU's Eric Reid. And then Florida International's John Cyprien showed up to the Senior Bowl in January and put up a phenomenal week of practice that landed him in the conversation to be the first safety selected this spring. Cyprien, simply put, is a hammer on legs--a bullish in-the-box defender who can blitz effectively and smash the run. He's still developing his man coverage skills, but Cyprien's ultra-physical style of play bears a strong resemblance to Troy Polamalu in his prime. That's not the last time you'll read a Polamalu comparison in this big board write-up, either...
8. Menelik Watson, OT Florida State (6'5" 310)
Should Miami choose not to trade for Branden Albert, it will have to find a considerable upgrade at offensive tackle somewhere within the draft's first three rounds. And if the Dolphins choose to find their guy in round two, it'll likely be Florida State's Menelik Watson, a Great Britain-born tackle blessed with outstanding size, 34-inch arms and considerable upper-body strength. Watson is extremely raw (he has just two years of football experience--one at JUCO; one at FSU) and will need some technical refinement in the pros, but he's an incredible athlete and a fierce competitor who fits best at right tackle. Watson may also have the best initial punch of any tackle in this year's class. Think his boxing background has something to do with that?
9. Matt Elam, S Florida (5'10", 208)
Like Cyprien, Matt Elam is a Polamalu-type safety who does his best work at or near the line of scrimmage. Unlike Cyprien, the former Gator is comfortable playing single-deep coverage, with the ball skills and burst to moonlight as a playmaker. Overall coverage instincts remain a question with Elam, but there's no debating that he's a compact, explosive striker with outstanding range. Elam lacks Cyprien's sure-tackling ability, but he's considerably more explosive and dynamic. Reshad Jones likes!
10. Robert Alford, CB Southeastern Louisiana (5'10", 188)
We keep hearing that the Dolphins might address cornerback in the second round of this draft, and it's players like Alford who are fueling such rumors. A perimeter defender who pairs balance and fluidity with great speed and strength, Alford has been one of the biggest risers during this pre-draft season. He's an aware, explosive defender who flashes plenty of grit and tenacity despite his average frame, and he has some of the best closing speed and ball skills of any corner in this year's class. A natural zone defender, but he has the looseness to match-up well in man coverage. If Miami passes on Trufant and Hayden, it could very well target Alford and/or the next corner on this list.
11. Terron Armstead, OT Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6'5", 306)
Armstead sure turned a lot of heads when he blazed an official 4.71 40-yard dash at the Combine, but the really cool thing is that Armstead's timed speed didn't simply prop up his draft stock. Rather, it put the spotlight on an offensive tackle who put together some damn good tape while at Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Armstead's upper-body strength, arm length (34 inches) and footwork are all very good, and qualify him as candidate to play the right side in a zone-blocking scheme. He's not without some warts, however, and will need to reinforce his lower base and develop more of an initial punch if he wants to thrive at the NFL level. Still, his athleticism is undeniable, and if you thought Jonathan Cooper and Lane Johnson were quick to reach second-level defenders, wait till you see Armstead get out and run. He's like a truck with a 427 block under the hood.
12. Alex Okafor, DE Texas (6'4", 264)
It's strange to feature just one pass-rusher on this list, but I subscribe to the theory that Olivier Vernon will be a bigger contributor in year two of his career. Nevertheless, Okafor's one of the few natural 4-3 ends in this draft, boasting a quick first step, great bend and a phenomenal bull rush maneuver. He doesn't have the freakish athleticism of Oregon's Dion Jordan or BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, but Okafor is superior as a run defender, and has arguably the most violent hands of any pass-rusher available in 2013. A quality power-end prospect despite marginal upside, and he could represent solid value late in round two.
13. Darius Slay, CB Mississippi State (6'0", 192)
Oddly enough, the prospect who best fits what the Dolphins are looking for at the cornerback position is currently viewed as a late-second-round pick. Of course I am talking about Darius Slay, and the semi-ambiguous nature of his draft stock is likely due to the fact that he played under the shadow of fellow corner Johnathan Banks at Mississippi State. It's been a case of role reversal for the two this spring, however, as Slay has dominated pre-draft workouts while Banks' testing has been mediocre at best. Slay is a big, aggressive corner with very good awareness and rare timed speed (4.36 40-yard dash at the Combine), and he's displayed improved footwork and change-of-direction skills this spring. Arguably the best zone-corner prospect available next weekend, and he's still developing as a ball hawk and run defender.
14. Gavin Escobar, TE San Diego State (6'6", 254)
Should the Dolphins pass on Eifert in the first round, they'll have a chance to find a semi-comparable talent in San Diego State's Gavin Escobar. Like Eifert, Escobar is a sure-handed tight end with the size and strength to bust up just about any seam he encounters. Unlike Eifert, Escobar is a virtual bulldozer after the catch. The former Aztec is a fantastic red zone threat, and displays the ability to box out lengthy defenders in jump-ball situations. Where Escobar loses points, though, is in the blocking game. In-line work shouldn't be much of a struggle for a player of Escobar's size, but he often lets assignments get outside of his frame, and he doesn't consistently sustain blocks, either. There is upside in the in-line department, however, but blocking is currently one of the chief hang-ups separating Escobar from the top names in this year's tight end class.
15. Brennan Williams, OT North Carolina (6'6", 318)
Perhaps the great undiscovered talent in this year's offensive tackle class, Williams is a burly right-side prospect with long arms (34 inches) and quick feet, and he'll be a valid option for the Dolphins if they A) don't trade for Albert, and B) decide that Jonathan Martin is their guy at left tackle. Williams could use some refining in terms of hand placement and riding speed rushers past the pocket, but he sets quickly, has the base to nullify power rush moves, and will flatten any second-level defender in his path. He doesn't have near the athleticism of Johnson, Armstead or even Watson, but Williams is nimble enough to make it work, and he's also one of the more devastating run blockers available this spring.