Many commentators up and down the country believed the Miami Dolphins would be pushing for the playoffs in 2015, rather than languishing in the doldrums of the NFL.
But there is still hope. Miami is scheduled to have the 8th overall pick in this year's draft. With holes at guard, linebacker, defensive end and corner, lets check out three prospects that the Dolphins could, and should, target in round one.
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida, 5-11, 198, 4.44
As it currently stands, cornerback should be considered Miami's number one need. Brent Grimes will be 33 years old next season, and showed signs of regression in 2015. Jamar Taylor has suffered from injury throughout his career, and when on the field has been underwhelming, while Brice McCain is capable in the slot but should not start opposite Brent Grimes. Finally, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett need more development and should considered as depth, only. In a quarterback-friendly league, and playing Tom Brady and the New England Patriots twice a year, Miami desperately needs an upgrade.
Fortunately this year's draft is stocked with quality defensive backs, and Vernon Hargreaves III may be the best pick of the bunch for Miami's scheme. While he is shorter than most scouts would prefer, he has the instincts, route recognition, speed and acceleration to keep up with the NFL's wide receivers, and the aggression and physicality to make tackles in run support. In fact, he is a true playmaker, making ten interceptions in college. Primarily a cover corner, Hargreaves has some experiencing playing press and was also used to blitz around the edge.
However, Hargreaves has been accused of being too aggressive by biting on moves from receivers and over-pursuing tackles, both of which could potentially allow the opposition to gain big yardage. Nevertheless this is something a good defensive backs coach should correct, and it just so happens that the well-respected, and former Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach, Vance Joseph will be Miami's defensive coordinator this season. He'll want to add talent to the secondary.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson, 6-3, 275, 4.64, Redshirt Junior
Cameron Wake could be a salary cap casualty and should no longer be relied upon as an every down pass rusher, due both to his age and the torn Achilles injury he suffered last October. Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby are also out of contract and are set to become unrestricted free agents. If Miami lose one of the three, they may need to address this position at some point in the draft.
With the 8th draft pick, Shaq Lawson would be a smart move. Quick, powerful and determined, Lawson is a quarterback's worst nightmare on every snap. In 2015 he led the nation with 25.5 tackles for loss and amassed an impressive 60 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Lawson has a good motor, hands and strength to play against the run, while also has some natural pass rushing moves. He's a perfect fit in a 4-3 defense.
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame, 6-6, 315, 5.17, Redshirt Junior
This year it would not make sense from a financial standpoint to cut Miami left tackle Branden Albert, but injuries are a concern. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James has also missed significant time this season. Moreover, Miami's offensive line was a mess once again in 2015, but drafting Stanley could lock up the right tackle position, before eventually sliding over to replace Albert in a few years at left tackle. In this scenario Miami could kill two birds with one stone by moving James over to guard, where he could really excel.
Stanley has the length, athleticism and balance to eventually play left tackle in the NFL and has experience at the position by playing three years at Notre Dame. In 2015 he was good, but not dominant because, while he is great in pass protection, he needs to be more imposing in the running game and would benefit from adding more strength. A year or two of seasoning on Miami's right hand side, and Stanley could become the franchise left tackle to protect Ryan Tannehill that the Dolphins need.
Alex Parish is an Associate Editor at The Phinsider. Be sure to follow me on Twitter@AlexParish89.