The NFL draft is unpredictable by nature. Teams are incentivized to keep their plans under wraps, and they spend the better part of two months feeding misinformation to the media in an effort to throw other teams off of their trail.
Yet here we are, trying to predict which player the team will select. So, for this article, I am not going to attempt to predict whom the Dolphins will select. If you’d like my prediction, it is as follows:
The player selected by the Miami Dolphins will be a football player.
He will have played college football, and will be a redshirt sophomore or older.
He will weigh over 180 lbs.
He will be over 5’7" tall.
He will be taken 13th overall, unless the team trades back, in which case he will be taken wherever the Dolphins pick.
The important line to draw here is between a prediction and a preference. Clearly, I do not have a prediction. However, I do have preferences. There really is no use trying to predict whose name will be written on the draft card turned in by the Dolphins on April 28th, but there is value in discussing how the team might choose to approach that selection. So, here are the scenarios that I believe would serve the Miami Dolphins best in the upcoming NFL Draft.
5) Taking Ezekiel Elliott 13th Overall
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best players in this draft. Outside of Laremy Tunsil, he could be this year’s best offensive player. Elliott possesses strength, speed, and the ability to help his team when the ball is not in his hands using his blocking skills. Elliott can also catch the ball out of the backfield, and he has the elite vision that allows him to gain big yardage whether he catches or is handed the ball.
The problem? He plays running back.
The devaluation of the running back position is well documented. Gone are the days of O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and, of course, Larry Csonka. The workhouse running back, while a strong option, cannot carry an offense in 2016. With that being said, should the Dolphins really pass on a player who can improve their defense in an effort to bolster a positional unit that could be addressed in free agency or using a committee approach? The answer is no. Do we always do what we "should" do when a shiny object of desire is dangled in front of our face? Definitely no.
There is a real chance that the Dolphins select Ezekiel Elliott if he falls to 13th overall. You also shouldn’t be upset if that does happen. Remember, this list is of the best scenarios.
My true problem with selecting Ezekiel Elliott is the value that the Dolphins could potentially find by trading away the pick, allowing someone to take the Buckeye. If Elliott makes it past the New York Giants (which I see as his floor, but that team loves to select linemen), he will in all likelihood be passed on by the New Orleans Saints, who desperately need help on the defensive line. If he can get through the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants, he stands a chance of making it to the Dolphins’ pick.
If he fell to 13th, there would be a rush of teams that attempt to trade up for him. Teams that could call the Dolphins in the event of Elliott’s availability include the Jets (who Miami would not send Elliott to for obvious reasons), the Colts, and the Redskins. If the Dolphins moved back into any of these slots, they could still secure a strong candidate to contribute on the defensive line or in the secondary.
When a team has as many needs as the Dolphins do, they have to maximize the value of their assets in any way possible. For Miami’s front office, that would mean leveraging the theoretical availability of Ezekiel Elliott into a bounty of picks from a team who feels they can’t live without the exceptional running back.
4) Selecting Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson, or Kevin Dodd
This would be less of a home run option for the Dolphins, but it would get the job done. Remember that feeling you had when Miami selected Ja’Wuan James 19th overall and you knew it was for the best but were still just "meh" about it? That’s probably where you’d be here.
The options for the Dolphins at 13th overall, barring a high-ranking player unexpectedly sliding, will most likely come down to three players, all from Clemson University. Those players are Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and Mackensie Alexander.
While all of these players are solid, the Dolphins are actually not in the range to make a stronger selection at another position. Reggie Ragland, Emmanuel Ogbah, and William Jackson III are all examples of players whose value doesn’t indicate that they should be selected 13th overall.
I should say that I like Alexander and Lawson. I feel that Kevin Dodd is somewhat of a project and that his stock will level out as the draft approaches. Mackensie Alexander is a good cornerback, but the question remains as to whether or not he can play in a zone system (which Vance Joseph runs). Out of the Clemson players, I believe Shaq Lawson would be the best choice at 13. He is productive, talented, and would add strength to the Dolphins’ defensive line. He bullies his opponents with power, and would compliment the speed rushing ability of Cameron Wake very well.
Now, this is where my draft philosophy diverges from conventional thinking on the subject, specifically regarding player value.
4B) Overdraft Someone
Shaq Lawson is a good prospect, but not a great prospect. Mackensie Alexander is a very good prospect, but scheme questions linger regarding his viability 13th overall. So, if the Dolphins are sitting there with their pick, Hargreaves is gone, and they don’t love Alexander or Lawson, then just overdraft someone with whom you are confident in.
Remember when we all laughed at the Seahawks for selecting Bruce Irvin in the early/mid first round? Well, we all stopped laughing on the first February of 2014.
The last time that the Dolphins didn’t want to draft a player in a spot because they felt his value was too high was 2015 when they traded down, expecting to be able to select Denzel Perryman. Well, the San Diego Chargers scooped him up, and the Dolphins had one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL last season.
If the Dolphins like a player such as Ogbah, Ragland, Jackson III, or Apple, then just make the pick. The point of the "try to get as much value as you can for your assets" is clear to me but, in all honesty, if you are locked into the pick, don’t lock yourself into a 2-4 prospect window.
Many would be upset by the Dolphins if they chose to select a player like Reggie Ragland or William Jackson III with the 13th overall pick. While this is true, I know many will agree with me that they would be happier with Ragland at 13 than they would with Shaq Lawson in the same pick, regardless of how he grades on draft boards.
3) Vernon Hargreaves Falls to 13th Overall
If the Miami Dolphins loved Vernon Hargreaves as much as some other teams do, then they would not have traded back to the 13th selection. They simply would have made Hargreaves the pick. Reminder, this is if they "loved" Hargreaves. The more likely scenario given recent events? The Dolphins are willing to risk losing him in an effort to fill more holes on defense.
If Vernon Hargreaves did fall to the 13th overall pick, he would surely be wearing aqua and orange in 2016.
There is no way that the Miami Dolphins pass on Vernon Hargreaves if he falls to the 13th overall pick. While draft stocks fluctuate wildly (usually peaking after a player’s pro day then steadily normalizing by late April), it is far more likely that Hargreaves is selected ahead of the Dolphins than it is that he falls to them. However, it is possible that he does slide on draft day.
The Miami Dolphins’ main impetus in an attempt to secure Hargreaves is Tampa Bay. The team could be looking for a cornerback to play opposite Brent Grimes, as they seem disappointed in the early showing of Alterraun Verner. While this is true, the Bucs are not so disappointed that they would pass on a player like DeForest Buckner, Joey Bosa, or maybe (hopefully for Dolphins fans) even Shaq Lawson. Tampa Bay desperately needs to improve their pass rush, and one of the aforementioned players is the best way to do so.
If Vernon Hargreaves gets past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the odds become very strong that he is a Miami Dolphin in 2016.
2) Trade Back & Select William Jackson III
One of the main purposes of the combine is to dig up players who might have been overlooked on film. For me, and for many others, that player was William Jackson III.
Jackson ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, the best among cornerbacks in Indy. This was surprising, given his propensity for big hits. He has several highlight reel tackles and shows the ability to blow up plays on tape. His main drawback in the NFL will be his weight (189 lbs. at the combine) and ability to tackle. While many of his tackles end up on highlight reels, he is not consistent enough in that area.
If you draft Jackson III, you are making the pick for his ball skills and athletic ability. He has elite speed and acceleration. William Jackson III’s most impressive quality could be his instincts. He is immensely quick to diagnose plays, and on tape, it seems that his innate skill in this area exceeds that of Hargreaves or Alexander.
Trading back for William Jackson III is somewhat risky because teams will be all over the board in terms of his value. Some teams see him as a mid-first rounder (the Dolphins could be one of those teams) and some teams see him as a second round pick. So, if the Dolphins traded back any further than the 18th, they would be playing a very dangerous game, one they lost last year when Denzel Perryman was taken before their delayed pick. However, the risk could pay off if Miami is able to both secure later picks and acquire a player like William Jackson III, whose upside is much higher than many cornerbacks in this year’s draft.
1) Trade Back & Select Reggie Ragland
There are no sure things in the NFL Draft. Even the players who are labeled "safe" picks come with some potential risk. The real measure of how sure one can be in a player is how high their floor is. This means that, at their worst, how much can that player contribute?
There are very few prospects in this year’s class whose floor is as high as Reggie Ragland’s.
Coming out of the University of Alabama, a strong benefit in itself, Ragland is one of the more technically sound players in the class. He plays the inside linebacker position as it was meant to be played. He is not going to set the edge, or be a masterful coverage player. However, in a 4-3 defense, that isn’t the primary goal of the ILB. That goal is to stuff the run and take advantage of the blocks used up by the crowded defensive line. At 250 lbs., you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better run-stuffing linebacker in this class than Reggie Ragland.
Ragland’s main detractors will also argue that he benefitted from the strength of the defensive line at Alabama. Yes, on tape he was not paid much attention to in many cases. In those cases, he was able to make big plays. The counter argument is this: If Ragland is going to play behind one defensive lineman in the NFL, Ndamukong Suh is as good as it gets. Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips both command blockers in high volume (Suh thanks to strength, Phillips thanks to size).
If the Miami Dolphins are able to trade back and still select Reggie Ragland, then they have killed two birds with one stone. First, they have added a player who can almost surely be relied on to contribute immediately in 2016. Second, they have acquired more draft picks in this hypothetical trade, allowing them to fill more of the needs on their roster.