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Dolphins to Pursue an Offensive Tackle in the 2013 NFL Draft?

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With over two weeks since the start of free agency, the Dolphins have still not signed a tackle. Will they look to the draft to protect our prized asset, Ryan Tannehill?

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

At the beginning of free agency, the tackle market was steeped in talent. Many believed the Dolphins would either re-sign Jake Long or sign a seasoned veteran to fortify our offensive line and protect our young quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. So far, this has failed to happen.

On Thursday, Eric Winston openly admitted that he would like to land in Miami. It's been reported that the Dolphins have mutual interest in Winston, a seven-year veteran with the experience and skill-set suited to the zone blocking scheme that Mike Sherman plans to run in 2013.

Speaking to NFL Network's NFLAM, Winston said:

"Obviously I have ties down in South Florida. I have a lot of friends down there from college that still live down there. I know the area pretty well. Obviously that is an added bonus, being able to play for a franchise like the Dolphins."

Like I said, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. Being down there is not the be all, and end all."

This doesn't sound like a guy who is close to joining the Dolphins. Winston has interest from the Dolphins, the Chargers, and the Eagles, yet still does not have a contract offer. While the reasoning for this is pure speculation, it does appear unlikely that the Dolphins are just not that interested in Winston.

This begs the question: will Jeff Ireland turn to the draft for an offensive tackle?

On Wednesday Jeff Ireland was asked to outline his plan for the draft during the team's season-ticket holder conference calls.

"I've got a lot of ideas and I have a strong idea of what I'm going after, but I just can't tell you Sean," he told one season-ticket holder.

Speaking specifically about the draft, Ireland explained that he viewed deep positions as those where top prospects are available in the second and third rounds.

"There is strength in core positions. Pass rushers, tackles, receivers, corners. I like drafting when the core position meets a need, and it meets the grade. And I try not to reach for a need position if I don't have to."

Then Ireland explained his draft strategy. Put simply, Ireland uses a tier system. Elite prospects are tier one, possible starters are tier two, and so on.

"We definitely have guys we've targeted. We definitely have a certain number of players we've targeted. There's 255 draft picks that will be selected, but we don't put that many players on board....We eliminate it down to a specific number that we feel like is the number we want to go into [the draft with], and then we even cut that down even further to guys we're targeting."

The strategy is a prudent one. It is simplistic, yet effective. Ireland will not reach for a certain player. He will take into account injury history, character, and scheme fit. Then he will select the player who best fits this philosophy.

It just so happens that the tackle position is deep in the draft this year. Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson remain the top prospects available at the position, and are likely to be picked before the Dolphins come on the clock at number 12. If Ireland wants one of these players, he'll have to trade up. Later in the first round, D.J. Fluker could become a realistic option. His skill-set is tailor-made for the right tackle position. But do the Dolphins want a player that is only effective at the right tackle position, and not at left tackle?

In the second round, the position is stacked. Terron Armstead, Kyle Long, Menelik Watson, and David Bakhitiari could all prove enticing options. Ireland will be able to draft one of these players with either of their second round picks. In my opinion, this is where the tackle position is the most deep in the draft.

Finally, in the third round, the Dolphins may still be able to find a starter. Jordan Mills, David Quessenberry, Xavier Nixon, and Oday Aboushi are the prospects available here. However, if I were a betting man, I wouldn't put my money on Ireland selecting a tackle in the third round. Does Jeff Ireland really want to protect his young quarterback with a third round pick? It would personally make me feel uneasy if he did.

So this brings the question: which offensive tackle would you like the Dolphins to pursue in the draft?