The Miami Dolphins have many holes that need to be filled this offseason, specifically along the offensive line, the linebacker corps, and the defensive secondary. Some of those needs could be addressed in free agency, as soon as the Dolphins free some salary cap space, but the majority will have to be addressed in the NFL Draft in April. It is going to have to be a methodical and deliberate process by the Dolphins' draft team of Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, General Manager Chris Grier, and Head Coach Adam Gase.
NFL.com's Chad Reuter conducted that deliberate process in a four-round 2016 NFL Mock Draft he recently posted. He acknowledges that this is very early in the draft process, and that several of his picks may slide a round or two, but he also states that part of his draw to do a four-round mock this early in the offseason is because of the "sheer depth of talent in this year's class."
The approach Reuter takes to the Dolphins' draft makes a lot of sense. His first pick is a little surprising, at least with where the Dolphins stand right now. However, with free agency looming, it could make a lot of sense if the Dolphins are unable to re-sign defensive end Olivier Vernon.
Reuter projects the Dolphins to use the eighth overall selection on Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson. Reuter explains the pick, writing, "Miami struggled to get a consistent pass rush this season, averaging less than two sacks per game. Shaq Lawson can help in that respect, and could take Olivier Vernon's spot if he leaves via free agency."
Lawson comes into the league as a player with high potential and outstanding athleticism. He needs to improve on his run defense, not reading and reacting to plays sometimes, but he appears to be destined to be a star in the league. The Dolphins could need to replace Vernon if the do not re-sign him, or could use Lawson in a rotation with Cameron Wake and Vernon, keeping all three healthy and fresh throughout the season.
The selection of a defensive end in the first round does fill a potential need for Miami, but it does not address the immediate and obvious needs the team has right now. Reuter targets those needs in the next three rounds. In the second round, he projects the team to pick Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III, then Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russel in the third round. Miami then concludes their picks in Reuter's mock draft with a fourth round selection of North Carolina State offensive lineman Joe Thuney.
With four picks, the Dolphins fill all of their pre-free agency projected needs.
Wright is an interesting prospect this offseason, exploding on the college football scene as a sophomore in 2014, but then spending nearly the entire 2015 season on the sideline due to a knee injury. He has demonstrated outstanding ability to read a play and get himself into the right position to stop an opposing offense. He is going to have to prove he is healthy, but he tackles well (something Miami needs), and he has good sideline-to-sideline ability.
Russel has some question marks that need to be answered, particularly his broken leg that ended his 2015 season early. He also missed the entire 2014 season after being suspended by Notre Dame due to academic dishonesty. He should be a true NFL cover corner, however, and does not get beat on double-moves often. He tracks the ball well, but he has a tendency to focus on his opponent, rather than looking for the ball. Russel is not a run-support type of corner, but he should be a solid starter.
Thuney did not allow a sack in 2015, primarily playing tackle, but having experience at all five offensive line position. He probably has to move inside at the NFL level, which is exactly where Miami needs the help. Thuney has continued to develop in his three years as a starter at North Carolina State, and he should continue that growth at the NFL level. He is athletic, but he probably needs to add some weight to effectively play in the league (he is just under 300 pounds, which would make him the lightest offensive lineman on the Dolphins' roster.
Overall, I like Reuter's draft for the Dolphins. If Miami does lose Vernon this offseason, addressing defensive end early - as early as the eighth overall pick - makes a lot of sense. Then picking up a linebacker, cornerback, and offensive lineman in the next three rounds answers all of the needs for the team. What do you think of the projection?