The Miami Dolphins offense in 2013 was one of the worst in the NFL, and a major issue was negative yardage plays. The Dolphins had the fifth most running plays in the NFL end with the running back being tackled either at the line of scrimmage or for a loss of yards. On passing downs, the Dolphins allowed 58 sacks total, which was worst in the NFL.
It's hard to score touchdowns when the offense moves in the wrong direction so frequently, and not surprisingly, the Dolphins' offense was ranked 27th in yards per game and 26th in points per game. That's not all on the offensive line because factors such as playcalling and the quality of quarterback play, wide receiver/tight end play, and running back play all influence those statistics as well. However, the offensive line did play a big role in those disappointing results.
When it comes to the issue of sacks, the Dolphins' two left tackles, Jonathan Martin and Bryant McKinnie, allowed a combined 13 sacks. Their running backs, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, allowed a combined 5 sacks. Their primary right tackle, Tyson Clabo, allowed 11 sacks, and Martin allowed 1 sack in his 1 game spent at right tackle after the trade for McKinnie.
So an impressive 30 out of 58 sacks (52%) were allowed just by the Dolphins' tackles and running backs. Unsurprisingly, the Dolphins' free agent targets included two offensive tackles and a running back all known for their skill in pass protection. The Dolphins in free agency successfully signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert from the Kansas City Chiefs and a well-regarded pass protecting running back in Knowshon Moreno who faced plenty of disguised blitzes the past 2 years executed by defenses doing their best to try to confuse Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately, free agent right tackle Zach Strief, arguably one of the best right tackle pass protectors in the NFL last year, refused to visit the Dolphins or any other teams because he was deadset on remaining with the New Orleans Saints, even if it required taking less money. After Strief removed himself from consideration, the majority of right tackles on the free agent market were at best "average."
While most think the Dolphins will look to draft prospects at other positions like offensive guard, linebacker, running back, and wide receiver, there is wide consensus that the Dolphins will be addressing offensive tackle in the draft. Not only because of the failed pursuit of Zach Strief, and not only because both Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey said improving pass protection up front remains a priority, but because Dolphins owner Stephen Ross himself said at the annual NFL owner's meeting that the Dolphins would address right tackle in the draft.
This prolonged pre-draft season has seen a ton of leaks or "smokescreens" about various prospects at a number of different positions, but given the high likelihood of an offensive tackle being drafted in the first 2 days of the draft, it's especially worthwhile to at first review what information has been leaked about the Dolphins' alleged interest in various offensive tackle prospects.
Offensive Tackle Potential First Rounders
OT "Leak"/"Smokescreen" tracker, by newspaper
|Player||What the Miami Herald Says||What the Palm Beach Post Says|
|Jake Matthews||No specific mention, but likely top-2 OT||No specific mention, but likely top-2 OT|
|Greg Robinson||No specific mention, but likely top-2 OT||No specific mention, but likely top-2 OT|
|Taylor Lewan||Third best OT to earn 1st Round Grade||Third best OT to earn 1st Round Grade|
|Zack Martin||Fourth best OT to earn 1st Round Grade||Viewed as a guard, not an OT|
|Cyrus Kouandijo||Ruled out in 1st round due to medical red flags||Fourth best OT to earn a 1st Round Grade|
|Morgan Moses||Not a 1st round target||Not 1st round target due to poor work ethic|
|JaWuan James||Fifth and final tackle to earn 1st round grade||Not a 1st round target|
The first disagreement is Zack Martin. According to the Miami Herald, the Dolphins are very, very high on Martin, to the point where they might trade up to get him. According to the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins see him as a guard and are prioritizing offensive tackles.
According to the Herald, the Dolphins will not take Cyrus Kouandijo in round 1 due to medical red flags, while the Palm Beach Post says he's been cleared by the Dolphins' medical staff to be a potential round 1 pick. For what it's worth, Kouandijo was one of just 2 potential round 1 offensive tackles to come to the Dolphin for a pre-draft visit. The other one is...
JaWuan James, who has become an increasingly projection to the Dolphins and is the other potential round 1 tackle to have visited the Dolphins. The Palm Beach Post says he doesn't have a round 1 grade, while the Miami Herald says James does in fact have a round 1 trade and could be a target after a trade down.
Last but not least, Morgan Moses, who was coached by the Dolphins' new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor when Lazor was at the University of Virginia a couple of years ago. The Palm Beach Post says the Dolphins explicitly have concerns about Moses' work ethic that knock him out of round 1 consideration, while the Miami Herald simply says he didn't earn a round 1 grade without giving an explanation.
However, while an offensive tackle in round 1 wouldn't be unexpected, offensive tackle isn't the only position group that could use an infusion of talent. New Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey has insisted that he drafts with a primary focus on talent, not immediate need, so even if you consider offensive tackle to be the primary need, it's not the only position the Dolphins have been allegedly considering in round 1.
Other Likely Positions
4-3 Linebacker - CJ Mosely and Ryan Shazier
The Dolphins have been very active this offseason in expressing this discontent with the Dolphins' linebacking corps in 2013. They first attempted to sign free agent middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson with a promise of a guaranteed starting spot, at the expense of moving Ellerbe to outside linebacker and forcing Wheeler to compete with Misi for playing time at strongside linebacker. They've also begun an "offseason experiment" (to use Dennis Hickey's words) of having Misi try playing middle linebacker, though there are reports that Misi is less than enthusiastic about yet another position switch.
In other words, linebacker has become the second most projected pick for the Dolphins. Mosely is a natural 4-3 MLB who has the versatility to play the other 4-3 LB spots, but he has worrisome injury history in college that allegedly have led some teams to be wary of choosing him in the first round. Shazier is an increasingly popular choice for the Dolphins, especially due to his family connection to the Dolphins (his father is the Dolphins' team chaplain), high personal and football character (team captain, played through injuries in college), and his frankly absurd workout numbers. However, Shazier lacks the size to play strongside linebacker and doesn't have enough experience to be plug-and-play at middle linebacker as a rookie, so the most natural position for him would be weakside linebacker in our 4-3 (click here for an explanation of the differing linebacker roles).
Wide Receiver - Marquise Lee, Odell Beckham Jr.
Wide receiver only becomes a potential pick in round 1 if the top OL and LB prospects are gone, but the Dolphins have done their homework on several early round wide receivers. 2 potential first rounders who have earned pre-draft visits to the Dolphins' headquarters are Lee and Beckham. Lee is a talented young receiver who is dynamic with the ball and was very productive in college, particularly after the catch, but suffered last year due to poor QB play and injuries. Beckham is a receiver some consider to be the third best in this draft whose strength is versatility and big plays, and he is rumored to be at top target for the New York Jets (who pick before the Dolphins). My personal prediction is a WR pick in round 2, but I wouldn't be shocked by a round 1 WR either.
Offensive Guard - Xavier Su'a-Filo
Su'a-Filo hasn't been subject to many reports linking him to the Dolphins (for example, there are no reports of him being brought in for a visit), but he would fill a potential need at offensive guard and would be a good fit with the Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme. He's not a Jonathan Cooper-level guard prospect, but he'd be a reasonable choice for the Dolphins depending on how the draft plays out, particularly if the Dolphins trade down.
Safety and Cornerback - ??
There haven't been any strong links between the Dolphins and any round 1 cornerbacks or safeties in this draft as part of the pre-draft process. At cornerback, Brent Grimes is awesome, Cortland Finnegan's contract suggests he is valued more highly by our front office than by most fans, and the Dolphins have a second rounder and third rounder from last year's draft in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis who need to see the field eventually. Likewise, at safety, the Dolphins have 2 established starters in Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas, though Delmas has a worrisome injury history. A pick at either these positions in round 1 wouldn't be bad if the player is the best player available, but the Dolphins' have mainly shown interest in mid-to-later round prospects at these positions.
Tight End - Eric Ebron? Austin Seferin-Jenkins?
This is a tight end class that has 1 consensus round 1 prospect in Ebron and a couple of late round 1/round 2 prospects including Seferin-Jenkins. Most mocks have Ebron, a talented receiving tight end who has earned comparisons to Vernon Davis, being selected long before the Dolphins draft in round 1. Seferin-Jenkins earned a pre-draft visit, suggesting he's definitely on the Dolphins' radar but at best a dark horse for our pick at #19 (after a trade down, anything is possible).
Last, just a friendly reminder...
If we don't draft an offensive tackle in the first round, that doesn't mean Tannehill will be sacked 58 times again.
If we do draft an offensive tackle in the first round, that doesn't mean the Dolphins can't address skill positions like wide receiver, tight end, or linebacker.
That's because there are 6 more rounds after the first round, and players like Keith Sims (round 2), Jason Taylor (round 3), and Zach Thomas (round 5) would disagree with anyone who claims you can't get good players after round 1. The entire fate of the 2014 season doesn't depend on the first round pick of the draft, good or bad, so try to hold off on declaring the course of the Dolphins' 2014 season will be set based on tonight's pick.