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NFL Mock Draft 2017: Dolphins continue to look defense according to SB Nation

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NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins will head into the 2017 offseason with several needs to be addressed. Many of those needs will be focused on improving the defense, while also potentially adding some offensive weaponry and continuing to bolster the depth of the offensive line. Some of those needs will be addressed during March’s free agency period, but some will wait until April’s NFL Draft.

One of the most popular publications around the internet throughout the offseason are mock drafts, a projection of how the actual Draft could unfold, specifically the first round. It leads to discussion, debate, and arguments as fans look toward what they see as the top need for their favorite franchise, as well as who best fits that need from the prospects available in the Draft.

For the Dolphins, there are three names which seem to be swirling around the team as January comes to a close: Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, and Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham. Things could obviously change, both for the Dolphins and with the prospects, between now and the Draft, but each of those three names seems to fit a specific need for Miami, and could be the way the Dolphins look when the Draft does finally arrive.

The latest 2017 NFL Mock Draft from SB Nation’s Dan Kadar has each of those three players come off the board between picks 21 and 23, with Miami holding the 22nd selection. First up is Charlton, going to the Detroit Lions. With the 23rd pick, the Giants add Howard. Which means the Dolphins, with the 22nd pick, select Cunningham.

This is a repeat pick from last week for Kadar, who updates his explanation of the selection, writing:

The Dolphins need linebacker talent so badly it’s hard to see this pick not being Cunningham if he’s on the board. He’s an instant-impact player for a team like Miami thanks to his dependability and ability to play all three downs.

Kadar is not wrong in stating that Miami needs linebacker help this year. The question may be, where do they need it? Kiko Alonso is currently manning the middle of the field, but the team has been rumored to be considering a move for Alonso to the outside, giving the team the flexibility to address any linebacker position in either free agency or the draft, with Alonso moving to wherever the team needs him to play. Miami’s Wide-9 defensive technique puts a lot of responsibility on the linebackers, who have to make sure they are in the right place to play the run as the defensive ends attack the quarterback. The 2016 linebackers, in part because of injuries and a constant shuffling of the available players, struggled to do that. Adding a player like Cunningham could go a long way to fixing the issue for 2017.