The Miami Dolphins checked off the first of their 2014 NFL Draft needs last night with the selection of offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James from Tennessee with the 19th overall selection. They still need to do more to get this team ready for the 2014 season, but it was the first major step during the three day Annual Selection Meeting.
What's next on the plate for the Dolphins? It could depend on the board from here on out. With the selection of James, the Dolphins seem to have given themselves some flexibility in the rest of the Draft. While no one would be surprised if they spend multiple picks of the six they have remaining on more offensive linemen, the pressure to take one immediately is now gone and, in a Draft that has been readily described as the deepest in years, that could play right into Miami's favor.
Below, you will get a chance to vote for which position you would address next for the Dolphins. First, though, we update our Draft needs tracker for the team following James' pick.
Pre-1st Round Analysis (2nd): There are two issues with this need - money and position. The Dolphins spent a ton of money on upgrading the linebacker corps last year with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, only to see them disappoint in their inaugural season in aqua. They could both bounce back this year, after getting used to playin in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's system and next to each other, but the Dolphins should still be considering an upgrade over their upgrade.
Both Ellerbe and Wheeler have large salary cap numbers, so they are not going anywhere this season, but they could move around between the three linebacker positions - or the bench. The second issue comes down to, where do the Dolphins upgrade? Could they add a middle linebacker, kicking Ellerbe to the weak-side and splitting time between Wheeler and Koa Misi at strong-side? Could they add an outside linebacker, effectively replacing Wheeler, move Misi to middle linebacker and Ellerbe outside? Could they simply rearrange the three starters? Or, could they promote second-year linebacker Jelani Jenkins into the rotation?
Lots of questions, without many answers at this point. Whatever the answer is, linebacker is a need and the Dolphins should look to address it one way or another.
Pre-2nd Round Analysis: Not much has changed here, with the team still in the market for an upgrade at the position. Is it really their top need? Maybe not, but it should be one they are looking to address soon.
2. Tight End.
Pre-1st Round Analysis (3rd): This one is a little hard to call a "need" in the sense that Miami needs to fill a position in which they do not have a player. The Dolphins have a starting tight end in Charles Clay, and they have two developmental backups in Michael Egnew and Dion Sims. The position looks decent from a depth chart point of view.
That does not change the fact that this is a need, however. As soon as teams figured out Clay was a weapon, they simply rotated coverage to take him out of the game plan last year. The New England Patriots went so far as to put Aqib Talib on Clay, effectively shutting down the tight end. Adding a second, seam-threatening option from the tight end position could be exactly what quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs. Sims and Egnew could become that player, but aggressively grabbing one of the top flight tight ends, like Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, or Austin Seferian-Jenkins, could be on Miami's radar.
Pre-2nd Round Analysis: Like linebacker, nothing has changed here give Miami's pick of an offensive lineman in the first round. This is another "need" in terms of looking for an upgrade, but is not a "they-will-fail-in-2014-if-they-don't-pick-a-tight-end" type of need. Like I said above, with the addition of James, the Dolphins should feel some freedom to make a pick away from the line of scrimmage. That pick could stay fairly close to the line, however, if Amaro or Seferian-Jenkins are still on the board at the 50th pick.
3. Offensive Line:
Pre-1st Round Analysis (1st): The Dolphins need to address the offensive line, and they likely need to do it with multiple picks. The real question simply becomes, how much confidence do Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin have in the players already on the roster. Will The newly signed Jason Fox, versatile backup Nate Garner, last year's surprise Sam Brenner, or 2013 draft pick Dallas Thomas be able to fill either the right tackle or the right guard position? Who will man the left guard spot?
Most of the draft analysts and mock drafts have predicted the Dolphins will attack this need with their first round pick - with Zack Martin, Cyrus Kouandjio, and Morgan Moses the most common names at the spot. Many of those same projections see the team using two of their first three picks on the line, doubling down on their top need.
Will Miami really spend multiple picks on the offensive line? We will find out for sure this weekend, but it should be considered likely at this point.
Pre-2nd Round Analysis: Ju'Wuan James drops this from the top need to third, though I would expect the team to make at least one more offensive lineman pick - and it could be as early as in the second round. If Joel Bitonio, Morgan Moses, or Xavier Su'a-Filo are on the board, Miami should not hesitate to add one of them. With the expected run on wide receivers to start the second round, it's very possible one of them falls. Currently, the Dolphins are set at left tackle (Branden Albert), center (Mike Pouncey), and right tackle (James). That leaves Sam Brenner, Nate Garner, Dallas Thomas, Jason Fox, and Sam Shields to battle for the two guard positions; two of those guys should be able to claim the starting job if Miami chooses to not pick up another offensive lineman in the next couple of rounds.
4. Running Back
Pre-1st Round Analysis (5th): Similar to safety, this is a need looking forward to 2015, rather than needing an answer today, meaning this is a later round pick for the team. The Dolphins will likely start free agent signing Knowshon Moreno this year, with Lamar Miller as the second option. As of now, Daniel Thomas will fill the third spot, while Marcus Thigpen, Cameron Marshall, and Mike Gillislee fill in somewhere behind them.
Just like Delmas, however, the Dolphins only signed Moreno for one year. Add in the disappointment that has been much of Thomas' career (between injuries and low production), and Miami should be in the market for a running back. It may not be a "need" in terms of have-to-have this year, but it should be a need on the board for consideration during the second half of the Draft.
Pre-2nd Round Analysis: For the second straight year, no first round running backs were selected. Miami could use a later round pick to add some depth being Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller, but it's not a pick they need to make in the second round.
Pre-1st Round Analysis (4th): Miami allowed Chris Clemons to leave via free agency this year, replacing him with Louis Delmas from the Detroit Lions. A big-hitter with an attitude, Delmas gives Miami an imposing duo with Reshad Jones next to him, while the team has depth with everything-secondary Jimmy Wilson and last year's Patriots game hero Michael Thomas. Delmas, however, only signed a one-year contract and the Dolphins need to find a long-term solution. Grabbing a safety on the second- or third-day of the Draft would give the team a developmental option to sit behind Jones and Delmas this year, before potentially moving him into the starting lineup in 2015. The team could even consider a first-round pick, like Calvin Pryor from Louisville, if all of the first-round targets for the above needs are selected prior to Miami's choice.
Pre-2nd Round Analysis: While this need has not changed, I was very tempted to drop it from the list altogether. Adding a top-flight safety would have been great for the Dolphins, but now that they are moving into the second round, the team will likely remain happy with Louis Delmas and Reshad Jones starting, with Jimmy Wilson, Michael Thomas, and Don Jones working as the reserves.
Other areas of consideration (no changes):
Cornerback - The team seems ready to let Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, both products of the 2013 Draft, play bigegr roles this year. The two of them will battle, along with Cortland Finnegan, for the starting cornerback slot opposite Brent Grimes. A rotation of Taylor on the boundary and Finnegan and Davis in the slot could make sense for the team, and allow both the younger players to see the field more than their injury filled rookie campaigns allowed. Drafting another cornerback to fill out the depth of the position must be an option for Miami.
Wide Receiver - Adding another option to the passing game - assuming the team can keep Tannehill upright this year - should always be a consideration. There have been lots of rumors about the Dolphins wanting to dump Mike Wallace this year, but, given the explosiveness he brings - and the money he is owed - that's not going to happen. Adding a compliment to the Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson trio - or even someone to compete with Gibson - would be a smart play by Miami, and give them an option if they do decide in the future that Wallace is too expensive.
Defensive Tackle - The Dolphins are set this year with Starks, Jared Odrick, and the newly signed Earl Mitchell, as the three man rotation for the two defensive tackle positions. The future, however, could have Miami considering a defensive tackle, as Odrick is scheduled to be a free agent after this season, and Starks' re-signed this year for two seasons, meaning he's back on the free agent market in 2016. Grabbing a developmental defensive tackle here would give the club some time to prepare him for the starting role if Odrick or Starks do not return.
Quarterback - Absolutely a luxury pick at this point, with Matt Moore, Pat Devlin, and Jordan Rodgers all on the roster behind Tannehill, but I believe in always drafting a quarterback. Maybe this isn't the year to do it, given that Moore is on the roster for one more year before the backup position opens up, but adding someone in the late rounds - like Clemson's Tahj Boyd, Georgia's Aaron Murray, or Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas - could give the Dolphins some time to develop the rookie before needing to use him as an insurance policy for Tannehill.