"With the 14th selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select ..."
It's a phrase countless Dolphins fans have thought of during the past few months--formal, meaningless words that give way to the magical moment in which the player of their team's desire is revealed to all. That moment is also one of the most projected and scrutinized events in the world of sports, as literally thousands of hours are spent in an attempt to deduce every selection in the NFL Draft. Simply put, it's grueling work to churn out a complete mock draft.
It's also borderline pointless.
What good is there in attempting to prognosticate an NFL team's draft selection other than perhaps securing bragging rights and/or receiving a small boost in ego? Well, for some draft analysts, mock drafts and projections are used as a tool to spark conversation and debate, and maybe even persuade some readers to take another look at prospects they've overlooked or simply disregarded.
However, this post isn't a mock draft, per se. Rather, it's an attempt to take a simple premise and use it in an attempt to break down the first 13 picks in this year's draft (the number of selections guaranteed to have taken place when the Dolphins go on the clock, provided they remain at No. 14 overall). Further, we can break down this year's draft prospects into three simple classes: those almost certain to be off the board at No. 14; those with a chance to be available at that spot; and those almost certain to be available at that spot. Of course, we can't be 100 percent of who will and won't be there for the Dolphins at No. 14, which is why we'll talk through the stocks of numerous prospects as a way to determine whether or not a specific player could legitimately fall to Miami.
Make sense? Good. Let's begin.
The Dirty (Baker's) Dozen
Provided the Dolphins don't work the phones prior to their first-round selection in this year's draft, we can safely say 13 prospects will be off the board before Miami turns in its card. What we cannot safely say is that we know the identities of those 13 players, thanks to the elements of unpredictability (need vs. best player available, reach vs. value) and surprise (trades) that often permeate opening night of the NFL Draft. As stated above, logic isn't the most ideal reference point when it comes to projecting draft picks. It's easy for someone to project the player they believe will go to each team, but unless they're sitting in on draft board talks with all 32 teams, their guess is as good as yours. That's why the mock draft business gets so much flak from the public: it's almost always glorified guessing. And for every draft analyst who has a legitimate source inside the team facility, there are 10 who make a similar claim and then use unfounded rumors to build their case for what players go where. That's fine if you're a fan looking for something interesting to read, but if you want legitimate insight regarding your team's draft plans, you're probably wasting your time.
Because of everything noted above, we're going to approach the 13 selections preceding Miami's and determine how many of those selections are guaranteed to be filled by specific prospects, and how many are up for grabs. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, 2015 isn't a quarterback-heavy draft class, which means more teams in the top 13 will use their picks on positions that are of serious interest to Miami. Quarterback-heavy drafts often benefit signal-caller-needy teams as well as teams that already have a franchise passer in tow; that's because quarterback prospects have a tendency to rise up draft boards due to the position, as opposed to what drives the stock of non-QB prospects--talent, production and measurables. As a result, a quarterback prospect who belongs in the second half of round one can easily find themselves in the top 10 (cue the Ryan Tannehill jokes). Suppose a top 25 quarterback burrows their way into the top 10; naturally, a player previously in the top 10 (one we can presume is a top 10 talent) is uprooted and made available to teams picking outside the top 10. So a quarterback-heavy draft just doesn't just benefit the teams in need of a quarterback, but also teams that desire top 10/15/20 talent yet do not possess the draft position necessary to land said talent. Think of it as trickle-down economics for the NFL Draft, except it actually works.
This theory largely informs what we're trying to do here. The quarterback position is certain to occupy at least two positions in the top 10, but what about blue chip players at other positions? Would anyone confidently wager on USC defensive end Leonard Williams sliding out of the top 10? It's doubtful--so much so, in fact, that we can slot him in the top 13. A bigger gamble exists with the top edge-rushers in the draft, namely Dante Fowler Jr., Shane Ray, Randy Gregory and Vic Beasley. These players are all worthy of top 10 selections, but due to the nature of the edge-rush position and how it applies to the teams in the top 13, their selections in that range are far from a sure thing. Therefore, we know all four can go in the top 13, but that's a best-case scenario, not a likelihood.
On the flip side is the chance of a top 20 player landing somewhere within the first 13 picks. The prospect most capable of realizing this, as far as we can tell, is Kentucky pass-rusher Alvin "Bud" Dupree, who is big enough to play with his hand in the ground in the 4-3, but also possesses the range and athleticism to handle the edge in the 3-4. More of a top 10 wildcard is Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead, who has the look and skill set of a powerhouse 5-technique player. Again, scheme fit makes players like Armstead a wild card in terms of projection, although he'd make for an interesting fit at defensive end in the 4-3 (perhaps similar to what Justin Tuck did with the New York Giants).
All right, enough gab. Let's try to pare down the list of available players for the Miami Dolphins at No. 14 overall.
1. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
3. Leonard Williams, DE Southern Cal
4. Kevin White, WR West Virginia
5. Brandon Scherff, OT Iowa
No real explanation necessary for Winston and Mariota, as they're in a draft with as many as six QB-needy teams (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington, New York Jets, Chicago, Cleveland) in the top 12. We expect Winston to go No. 1 overall (duh, right?), and Mariota really shouldn't make it past the Titans at No. 2, although stranger things have happened. It's extremely difficult to fathom Mariota sliding all the way to the Browns as No. 12, but if he does, the Browns would be insane to pass on him (they can't really like Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel that much, can they?).
As for Williams, he's been recognized by several draftniks (oh, how we hate that term) and analysts as the best overall football player in this draft. We know he wants to play in Oakland; we know he could go as high as No. 2 to Tennessee and as low Atlanta at No. 9. Either way, he's gone before Miami's selection; that's why he's on the list.
White was considered a candidate for the Dolphins prior to his monstrous performance at the NFL Combine, and now it's reasonable to suggest that he'll land somewhere between the Raiders at No. 4 and Chicago at No. 7 (he's a very popular topic there right now; that's for sure). Worst-case scenario, White makes it to Cleveland at No. 12.
Scherff's name probably comes as a surprise to a few of you, but the reasoning behind his inclusion is simple: he's the most versatile (in terms of production) offensive lineman available in this draft, and arguably its best, too. Is he a left tackle, right tackle or guard? We don't know, but he could go as high as Washington at No. 5 and as low as New Orleans at No. 13. The Giants and St. Louis Rams are of course the most likely candidates for Scherff's services, but Minnesota is in play, as well. And considering the fact that the Saints traded Jimmy Graham for center Max Unger and a first-round pick, one could suggest that the Saints are interested in rebuilding more than just their defense. Regardless of destination, Scherff is an excellent bet to go prior to the No. 14 overall pick. In fact, the only way we see him hanging around for the Dolphins is if another offensive lineman crashes the top 13. It could happen, but the once-popular candidates (Andrus Peat, T. J. Clemmings) have faded a tad. If we had to put money on the player most likely to unseat Scherff as the first offensive lineman selected on draft night, we'd take LSU's La'el Collins. It's also reasonable to believe that both Scherff and Collins will go in the top 13. That's bad news if you're a fan of Miami using a high pick to seal up the interior of its offensive line; it's great news if you're interested in landing a receiver not named Kevin White.
Should be unavailable (otherwise known as 'so ... you're saying there's a chance')
6. Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
7. DeVante Parker, WR Louisville
8. Danny Shelton, DT Washington
9. Trae Waynes, CB Michigan State
Cooper's situation is an interesting one, as he's a receiver who does just about everything well. No, he's isn't a big-bodied guy, and his low 4.4 speed looks paltry when compared to the times White and Breshad Perriman put up this pre-draft season. But Cooper's value as a high-end wideout basically comes down to this: receivers who run strong routes and boast above-average wheels are typically day two candidates; however, Cooper is also a considerable deep threat, and displays a willingness to go up and get the jump ball. That's why he's good enough to go--and probably should go--top 10. That said, no two NFL teams perceive wide receiver value the same way, and that's where the smaller body hurts him. That's why he's on this list and not the previous one, regardless of how many big boards have him ahead of White. In terms of landing spots, Cooper's window begins with Washington at No. 5 and extends past the Dolphins at No. 14. St. Louis feels like a major player in this category, as well.
Parker has become a sweetheart prospect for Dolphins fans, and perhaps rightfully so. With Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron serving as primary targets in Miami, all that's missing is a guy who can make plays anywhere on the field, and especially in the red zone. That's Parker--a spring-legged, smooth playmaker who is capable of carrying a wide receiver group, let alone serving in one with considerable weapons like Landry and Stills. However, questions remain about Parker's ability as a blocker and route-runner. While the concerns with Cooper are likely more focused on size and upside, Parker's concerns are of the game variety, and they've been enough to keep him from reaching "lock" status. Still, great player, and he'd be a machine for Ryan Tannehill. As for landing spots, stick with Minnesota and Cleveland at Nos. 11 and 12, respectively, and keep an eye on St. Louis at No. 10.
Remember when Shelton was actually considered a top 10 lock? Us too, but it's safe to say those days are over. That's not to suggest Shelton unworthy of going top 10 or top 13, because he's incredibly exciting as a 0- or 1-technique prospect at the next level. Rather, Shelton's stock has likely suffered due to his extreme size (he was in the 340s, last time we checked). Of course, Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork were both enormous when they entered the NFL Draft, and we doubt the Ravens and Patriots, respectively, regret picking them. Will Chicago at No. 7 adopt a similar logic? Maybe. Its front-seven is still a mess despite what the team has added in free agency thus far, and Shelton would be a major get for the Bears and their absolutely shameful run defense.
Had the 2015 NFL Draft taken place a week after last month's Combine, it would've been reasonable to project Waynes as a top 10 lock. His 4.31 40 time in Indy was a jaw-dropper, and he did impressive work as the Spartans' No. 1 cover guy last season. Of course, "pre-draft season" is really just a synonym for "analysis season," and Waynes' tight hips and grabby-grabby style of play has drawn the ire of some popular draft analysts. We're not nearly as down on him, however, and believe he could easily land in Minnesota or New Orleans.
Pass-rushers 'r' us
10. Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
11. Shane Ray, Mizzou
12. Randy Gregory, Nebraska
13. Vic Beasley, Clemson
We' discussed this crew earlier, but all of that bears some form of repeating. All four should go in the top 13, and perhaps will if the teams that own those selections act accordingly. Of course, that never happens, so we're left with simply identifying the pass-rush needy teams in attendance: Jacksonville, Oakland, New York Jets, Chicago, Atlanta, New York Giants, Minnesota, Cleveland and New Orleans. Gregory's history of marijuana use further complicates matters, but not enough to boot him out of the top 13. Not for us, at least.
The wild cards
As previously mentioned, every draft has its share of surprises in the top 10, and this year stands to be no different. And yes, there are multiple candidates in this category.
14. Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
15. Arik Armstead, DE Oregon
16. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, OLB Kentucky
17. Eric Kendricks, ILB UCLA
18. Malcom Brown, DT Texas
19. Marcus Peters, CB Washington
20. La'el Collins, OT LSU
Quite the list, as you can see. Gurley and Armstead are our clicks to pick regarding surprise selections in the top 15, while Dupree has a chance purely because of the aforementioned nine pass-rush needy teams in the top 13. Armstead and Brown are both powerhouse 5-tech prospects, while Peters has a good shot at unseating Waynes as the No. 1 cornerback in this draft.
And now that we've compiled enough information on the matter, let's use it in an attempt to put together a likely draft-night scenario. Here's what we know:
- At least five players are guaranteed to be off the board prior to No. 14
- At least one non-Leonard Williams pass-rusher (and as many as four) will go prior to No. 14
- At least one "reach" is likely to jump into the top 13
And here are the players guaranteed (or highly likely) to be unavailable when the Dolphins go on the clock: Winston, Mariota, Williams, White, Scherff, Fowler Jr., Ray and Beasley.
Now let's put together a corresponding 13-selection projection using the above information.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
2. Tennessee Titans - Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Dante Fowler Jr., DE Florida
4. Oakland Raiders - Leonard Williams, DE Southern Cal
5. Washington Redskins - Brandon Scherff, OT Iowa
6. New York Jets - Vic Beasley, OLB Clemson
7. Chicago Bears - Malcom Brown, DT Texas (surprise pick)
8. Atlanta Falcons - Randy Gregory, DE Nebraska
9. New York Giants - Shane Ray, DE Mizzou
10. St. Louis Rams - Kevin White, WR West Virginia
Well, after stating that it would be difficult for four pass-rushers to go top 13, we have four going in the top nine. Sound unlikely? Maybe, until you look at how our draft board falls in regard to the first 10 picks. The biggest wild card in this category is Gregory, but he's also a prototypical pass-rusher in Dan Quinn's defensive scheme, making him an ideal player for Atlanta and its rebuilding-on-the-fly defense.
The next group of picks falls out of the scientific range (really, you could make the case for that after the second selection, but humor me). Minnesota will is expected to go receiver or defensive back; Cleveland is expected to go receiver or defensive lineman; New Orleans is expected to go anything defense. Let's see what happens.
11. Minnesota Vikings - Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
12. Cleveland Browns - Danny Shelton, DT Washington
13. New Orleans Saints - Bud "Alvin" Dupree, OLB Kentucky
Of course, those three picks easily could've been (in sequence) Parker, Cooper and Waynes; Waynes, Parker and Peters; Kendricks, Cooper and Shelton; etc. Regardless, just know that everything becomes murkier once the Rams are off the clock (since their needs this offseason are incredibly well-defined).
And that brings us to the Miami Dolphins at No. 14 overall. We obviously don't know the players who will be available at that selection, but we do know the players guaranteed to be unavailable at No. 14, as well as the ones highly unlikely to be there. After that is the group that may or may not be there. That one (excluding pass-rushers) looks something like this:
- Amari Cooper
- DeVante Parker
- Danny Shelton
- Trae Waynes
- Eric Kendricks
- Marcus Peters
- La'el Collins
- Malcom Brown
As you can see, even a hypothetical, consolidated list creates maddening work for those interested in correctly projecting the Dolphins' selection at No. 14. But at least we have an idea of the players who are likely and unlikely to hold up a Dolphins jersey on Thursday, April 30. From there, your guess is as good as anyone's.