The Miami Dolphins are finalizing their draft board and doing the final looks at college prospects as they get read for the 2013 NFL Draft, now less than two weeks away. One of the annual events in the build up to the draft is General Manager Jeff Ireland's pre-draft press conference. Ireland met with the media yesterday, discussing the team's activity in free agency this year, as well as what could happen when the Draft kicks off on April 25.
Since the beginning of free agency, the Miami Dolphins have signed wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, tight end Dustin Keller, defensive tackle Vaughn Martin, guard Lance Louis, and cornerback Brent Grimes. About the spending spree the Dolphins have been on this league year, Ireland said, "Well, we've got a long way to go. Free agency's not over. Obviously, we like the progress. We felt like we've made some progress. There's been a lot of work that went into it obviously. I've got a lot of people to thank. Actually, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank my team, obviously, up to this point, our personnel department, our football administration, in particular, (Executive Vice President of Football Administration) Dawn Aponte and (Manager of Football Administration) Ryan Herman, my right hand guy (Assistant General Manager) Brian Gaine, (Assistant Director of Pro Scouting) Chris Shea.
"Coach (Joe) Philbin and I worked extremely well together during this process, along with Dawn, and it's been a lot of fun to work with them. It's been a lot of busy work, a lot of ups and downs in the process, but nothing we weren't prepared for. But we've got a long way to go. We've got some holes to fill."
Continuing to discuss free agency, and how the team's moves have impacted the draft plan, Ireland explained, "I think it gave us a lot of flexibility in the Draft. Obviously, I think we helped ourselves in the front line in certain areas, obviously at the wide receiver position (by) getting Brian (Hartline) back, adding Mike (Wallace) and Brandon (Gibson). Adding that to Davone (Bess) and some of the young players we have, obviously that helped us in the wide receiver position. I think that's a strength of our team now, one of the strengths of our team.
"Certainly from a depth perspective, Vaughn Martin, Lance Louis, those guys helped our depth. Brent Grimes, adding Brent to the schematics, obviously helps some of the front line things. I think going into the Draft or coming out of free agency, at least this part of free agency, has helped us from just having a little bit more idea of just being able to do what we do in the Draft, and that's hopefully just picking the best player that we feel like marries a need if we can and not have to reach for anybody."
The idea of marrying a need with the best player of available is the definition of a horizontal draft process. Miami Herald writer Armando Salguero recently explained the horizontal draft process:
"Teams using (the horizontal) approach stretch every position group horizontally across a board--left ends, nose tackles, right ends, weak linebackers, strong linebackers, inside linebackers, wide receivers, quarterbacks and so on (teams with 4-3 defenses use different position groups than teams running 3-4 looks)," Salguero wrote. "The Dolphins would then take a small number of players--between 120 and 180, depending on the year--and plug them into their board according to their position."
Ireland discussed his draft process as well. "We don't draft vertically. We draft more horizontally. I don't go through the board and say, ‘This guy over this guy over this guy over this guy over this guy.' I don't do that. I have the draft more horizontally by position (and) by round. So if you're in a position where you have a guy at guard and you have a need at guard, he's up there, but you have maybe two other players at the same value then you might take the guard because it's a player of need. But you may have two or three other players that have the same value as that player, but it marries the need. The value marries the need. That's basically how I go into it."
With a horizontal draft process, and the Dolphins apparent need at cornerback this year, Ireland was asked if it was essential that Miami look to that position early in the draft this year. "Well, I don't want to say it's essential," Ireland explained. "Certainly, I'm not going to pinpoint myself exactly where I'm going in the Draft, but I think a corner, I think corners can be selected and have an active role just about anywhere in the Draft. That's one position that, they develop differently and you can find them, just like Brent Grimes, you can find them in free agency. You can find them in the fourth, fifth, sixth rounds obviously. I don't think that's particularly a position you have to have to take high."
While cornerback may not be a position you have to take high, Ireland has said he likes to take "core" positions early in the selection process. Asked about that, and if he considers tight end a corer position, Ireland replied, "It depends on your coach sometimes. It hasn't necessarily been a core position. I think it becomes a core position when you may not have other pieces to your offense. I think you're trying to control the middle of the field in some cases and if you don't have kind of the horses on the outside that control the perimeters, then you certainly want to be able to control the middle of the field and, in a lot of cases, you want to be able to do both. But I wouldn't call it an absolutely core piece."
Of course, the biggest area of need heading into the draft for Miami is the offensive line. The Dolphins need to add a tackle, either a left or right tackle, with the loss of Jake Long in free agency. A pre-draft media availability was sure to touch on the offensive line, at least a few times.
Asked if the team was happy with Jonathan Martin moving from his right tackle position last year to his college position, left tackle, this year, or will the draft be where the team finds Long's replacement. "There's a lot of options still open. I'm going to let my coaching staff pretty much decide at the end of this process where Jonathan Martin plays. I think what we do have is a flexible player, a versatile player that can play left, that can play right. I think his development has been good. I think he's got a long way to go to play right or left to be a really, really good player. That's what we want him to be.
"Obviously, we have all of our options open. There's still free agents on the street. There's still guys in the trade market that are available and then we have the Draft that's two weeks away that certainly we could go that route as well. Obviously, I think we'll probably be active in maybe one of those pieces and maybe more."
What does Ireland think of the offensive line prospects in the draft this year? "I think it depends on how many guys you have in the first round," he stated. "If you only have two guys in the first round, then the second round is probably pretty strong. I think there's a good level of guys that have a lot of experience, that can come in right away and play. And then there's some really good players that may be a little bit further down in the Draft that have the potential to play and be really good in this league, that may not have the level of experience that you're looking for early. I think that's the beauty of this Draft is that there's some at the top, there's some second and third round that all can, at the end of maybe a year, that you have exactly what you're looking for."
So, will he be comfortable if, after the draft, the Dolphins still have not addressed the tackle position? "I feel very comfortable with Nate Garner. I feel comfortable with some of the young developmental players. Obviously, I could look at the whole offensive line in particular, we're going to try to upgrade the offensive line as whole. Where we do it (and) how we do it, right now, we have a really good core of players with Jonathan and Richie (Incognito) and John (Jerry) and obviously (Mike) Pouncey, and I think Nate's in that core group of guys at this point. Behind them, we have a very young group of guys that don't have a lot of experience. So we need to add depth there. We need to add some experience. We certainly need to add some talent on the offensive line."
The Dolphins have used a first round pick on an offensive lineman three times since 2000, and twice with Ireland as the general manager. Could the team again be looking at the offensive line in the first round this year? According to Ireland, if you can add top talent at the position, you do it every year. "If I get another (Mike) Pouncey and another Jake Long I would do it every draft. Those kinds of guys are pretty darn good. I wish I had a whole team full of Mike Pouncey's and Jake Long's to be honest with you. Those guys are really good players. They are productive; I know what I'm getting every single day with the guys. Particularly, I'm not going to pigeon hole myself just to take an offensive lineman. I think we have a couple other positions that we might go after obviously. I think there is going to be a good player for us. I'm excited about going into this draft."
Prior to last year's Draft, it was fairly easy to pick out the Dolphins' first round choice. The team needed a quarterback. Everything screamed Ryan Tannehill. People complained that it was a "reach" to take the Texas A&M play caller, but it was a given by the time the draft rolled around.
This year is different. The Dolphins have so many draft choices they can go in multiple directions this year, and the selection would make sense. So, does Ireland know who is top target is this year?
"Not exactly. It's a little bit different this year. There are a lot of different things that I'm playing through my head right now that Joe (Philbin) and I are talking about. There are still a couple positions that we haven't actually talked about in our meetings yet. I've sent Joe off to watch different guys and said, ‘hey let's get back together.' So this is the time we bring our coaches back and try to marry what we see as a personnel department to what our coaches see and the schematics of where they are at. I have a pretty good idea of three or four guys that I am looking at, absolutely."
"You have to play out all of the options," Ireland explained, looking at the Dolphins' five draft picks in the first three rounds. "That's what we're in the business to do is look at your contingencies. I can certainly sit here and say I'm going to have three players out of the five. I can certainly say I'm going to have six players out of the five. I think there are certain levels of the Draft that are really attractive to me. So I think all options are open, absolutely."
Does "all options" being open include trading up in the draft, and where could the team land if they were to move up? "I've got enough ammunition to get to the first pick if I wanted to, but I don't see myself doing that personally. I don't know. It depends on what's there and we haven't gone through the process of (figuring that out) and talking to other teams at this point and seeing where we would go up or back. Right now, we're trying to get the board right and we're kind of grinding through the process. We're in our second week of Draft meetings. We've got about six more days left to kind of finalize the board and so, at that point, we have about a week-to-10 days to kind of work the kind of the nuances of moving up (and) moving back. So we've got a little ways to go."
The Dolphins' draft this year is going to be highly entertaining. Miami really could move all over the board, and could select from anywhere on the prospect list, and it would make sense. Thankfully, we are down to less than two weeks before we know what will really happen.