Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland last spring banked on the team's in-house offensive line personnel when he spent the majority of free agency and draft loading up on receivers, linebackers and defensive backs, thus placing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in the hands of second-year left tackle Jonathan Martin.
Bank on Ireland using an early pick or two next May to upgrade the Dolphins protection upfront.
And what a year it would be for the Dolphins to get back to their old ways and use a day-one selection on the offensive trenches. The incoming offensive line class is as stacked as it's been in years, and with plenty of big-ticket quarterbacks, pass-rushers and defensive tackles also in the 2014 draft mix, Miami could potentially get a franchise-caliber left tackle somewhere near the back-third of round one (where the playoffs teams are slotted, of course). Many of you will gag and hiss at the thought of drafting another offensive lineman in the first round; however, consider this: You like Tannehill, right? He makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside every time he drops back to pass, yes? Well, the difference between him playing seven years or 17 years for the Dolphins could solely rest on whom Miami enlists to protect him. Bottom line: your franchise-caliber quarterback (and Tannehill is indeed that) deserves a franchise-caliber offensive tackle. Give little Ryan the gift he really wants for Christmas.
With so many first-rate offensive tackles ready to make the jump to the NFL in 2014, it's probably a good idea to get familiar with the guys who have the best odds of landing in Miami (hint: not Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan). Without further ado ...
1) Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (6'6", 310)
Kouandjio is getting tons of love from Scouts Inc. right now (what else is new? They love Bama players), but while they have him ranked as the No. 2 OT in the country, I struggle to envision a scenario in which Kouandjio goes before Lewan next May. That isn't to say Kouandjio is a lock to slide all the way to the second half of round one, but it's possible he gets close enough for the Dolphins to trade up. Hey, they do things like that nowadays.
2) Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, Tennessee (6'6", 330)
My mancrush du jour, and for good reason: Richardson is practically an ax murderer over on the left side of the line. Enormous, yet incredibly agile, Richardson actually projects well in the zone-blocking scheme, and he has the football intelligence and freak strength to absolutely thrive at the NFL level.
3) James Hurst, North Carolina (6'7", 305)
As of right now, I believe Hurst is the tackle likeliest to land in Miami next spring. His frame is similar to zone-blocking extraordinaires Duane Brown and Bryan Bulaga, and he displays impressive range, strength and technical grasp for the position. A stud left tackle in the making, and he's still a bit of an unknown at this point. Expect that to change come wintertime, however.
4) Zack Martin, Notre Dame (6'4", 308)
The jury's still out on whether Martin will be a better fit at tackle or guard in the NFL, but I believe he's a knockout zone-blocking prospect--specifically on the left side. Great in terms of footwork and hand usage, but could stand to get a bit stronger. Still, a fringe first-round talent who could deliver big results in the right system. And in case you have a problem with Martin's height, remember that the aforementioned Duane Brown--arguably the best left tackle in the sport right now--is also 6'4".