Tis the season to speculate. The best part about this time of year is you don’t have to be right in fact it’s impossible to be correct. So you speculate. You guess, and you try your best to make sense and present a calculated opinion on what could transpire in the coming two months. It would be easy to sit here and say, “the Dolphins will sign Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, and Mario Williams, but of course that would not only likely be wrong, it financially is impossible and makes little or no sense.
Instead, if you are going to try and figure out a solution, you need to be prepared to do some research, talk to some people who do this kind of thing for a living, and really dive into what is available, fits your team needs, and then, make a guess. I have done just that. So here we go with a seven round mock draft including a look at how free agency could impact that draft.
Free agent QB: The Dolphins are poised to make a move in free agency for a QB. Whether that QB is Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn, it’s hard to say. A lot needs to go into this but the reality is, the Dolphins need to make a splash here and their draft options are limited sitting at number 8. I am going to go off the assumption that they land Matt Flynn. I put my faith here in Joe Philbin’s knowledge of the QB and the fact that Manning won’t likely be cleared to sign a new contract prior to the draft.
Free agent lineman: The Dolphins have RFA Lydon Murtha who will likely be back and I would not be surprised to see Vernon Carey back at a much more reduced salary given the fact that he won’t likely find much play on the market. While the Dolphins would be wise to look at a guy like Evan Mathis or Ben Grubbs of Baltimore, the money they put into QB is going to prohibit them from making a major play for someone else. I would look at Ryan Diem of Indianapolis. He is in his early 30’s but is a solid lineman with the right guys around him and aside from last year is accustomed to winning. Failing there, I would look at Jeremy Zuttah a G/C from Tampa Bay who could move into the RG position and play well.
Round 1: With the QB situation resolved in free agency, the Dolphins can turn their attention to the other side of the ball. Rumors are beginning to swirl that WR Justin Blackmon‘s stock has slipped from his Combine performance. I would keep an eye on that because if he does indeed fall the Dolphins would have to seriously consider him. If I can address part of the right side of my line in FA I would skip drafting a first round lineman for the third time in five years. Instead, I look at the best option available on the defensive side of the ball. My pick here? OLB Courtney Upshaw. With the move to a 4-3 defense finding a pass rush specialist on the outside is a must. I would also take a long look at DT Dontari Poe. His Combine was extraordinary and he is quick enough at 350 pounds to play DE in a 34. Having him as an interior defensive lineman in the 43 would be huge.
Free Agent Secondary: The Dolphins need to upgrade their safety position and they will need to spend some money here. Reggie Nelson soared in the Bengals secondary under new Dolphins DC Kevin Coyle. The familiarity with the defense will help teach the others how it is run. With Yeremiah Bell currently slated to make 6 million against the cap this year and a new rumor circulating the the 2012 cap number could be lower than the projected 120 million per team, it is a major priority to reduce that figure with a re-structured deal.
Round 2: If the Dolphins go Dontari Poe in round 1 or Justin Blackmon, Ronnell Lewis should be the pick here as the OLB for the team. Since I chose Upshaw with the 8th pick, my round 2 pick is going to be WR Alshon Jeffrey of South Carolina, I would also look at TE Coby Fleener if he is still on the board. The Dolphins need a legit number 2 WR and Jeffrey should make Marshall much better if that is possible. Brian Hartline is a very solid WR but he isn’t great and he isn’t elite. Jeffrey could be that one/two punch the Dolphins offense needs and I wouldn’t be looking at free agent WR’s unless I find a trade partner for one of the guys I have on the roster now.
Free Agent LB’s: The Dolphins need to keep their defensive line and their LB’s moving. Obviously the move to 43 will have some consequences. How the team approaches the defense in free agency is going to be simple. Barring a move for at top pass rusher which I do not think they can afford, the team will have to look at second and third tier LB’s/DE’s to add depth and competition. Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling are both impending free agents but the Dolphins may be reluctant sign one or both of them. I would be too simply because neither has really played to the level they were expected to. Merling will be the cheaper of the two but his off-field issues are cause for concern. In 2011 Langford didn’t take a step forward but instead regressed. 28 year old Manny Lawson is familiar to Kevin Coyle and played well in the 43 last year, however, he may be too expensive for the Dolphins unless they can get creative with the cap. I would look at DE/LB Eric Walden of Green Bay. He is 27 years old and would provide solid depth to the position. Going under the assumption that my target in the draft is Upshaw or Ronnell Lewis.
Round 3: Regardless of what I addressed in free agency, I still need to be certain of my QB position. Kirk Cousins could likely be gone by now but I’m going to go under the assumption that he is still here. Cousins has had a tremendous Combine and is one of the best leaders coming out of college. The Dolphins need to double up on the QB situation and in the event that Flynn doesn’t work out, you need a guy who can step in a year or two down the road and take over. Cousins is a little raw and will need some work but Mike Sherman knows how to develop QB’s. In the event that Cousins is gone, I would look away from the position and turn to the offensive line where Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler may still be on the board.
Free Agent TE: The Dolphins have Charles Clay and Anthony Fasano under contract and it remains to be seen if Fasano who had a very solid season last year can excel in the new style of offense. He is scheduled to make over 4.5 million in 2012, a number that should be reduced by a restructure. The best free agent option for the Dolphins would be Dallas TE Martellus Bennett. A tall receiver who did well when he played in place of Dallas’ pro-bowler Jason Witten. Bennett is not considered an elite prospect but he has the potential to become very good. He will not command a huge salary either and would provide Fasano with solid competition.
Round 4: The Dolphins have suffered over the last few years with their offensive line so I would stay the course here and double up my draft stock. If I go Cousins in round 3, I need an offensive lineman, if I go OL in round 3, I would still consider another G/T in round 4. Lucas Nix would be my pick here. His stock has risen a bit lately so he may not be available when the Dolphins pick. However, we are speculating after all, so I’m going to roll with it. Another option here would be Troy OT, James Brown.
Free Agent CB’s: The Dolphins don’t “need” new CB’s with youngsters Sean Smith and Vontae’ Davis but they could use some depth especially given the fact that Sean Smith is too inconsistent at times. Terrell Thomas is probably the best option here but he would look to start and the Dolphins really need more depth. Will Allen is pushing 35 and likely will be gone. I would look here for CB’s who can contribute on special teams. The list is a little too vague to throw out many names, but I will say this, a surprise player this past year was former number 1 pick Jason Allen who did very well in the Houston secondary. Just saying.
Round 5: Cal Poly CB Asa Jackson. With free agency not really providing much in the way of depth, Jackson is a young guy who could eventually push Smith with some coaching up. At 5’10 and 190 Jackson runs in the mid 4.45 to 4.50 range (Combine results not in at time of posting).
Free agency wrap: At this point I really have to look at depth across the board. The Dolphins have 17 free agents total but none of them stand out as must sign players. If they all walk however, they will need to be replaced either in FA or in the draft. I would be looking internally to see which players should be brought back and what FA’s are available that will create competition on the special teams more.
Round 6: So far I have drafted Courtney Upshaw in 1, Alshon Jeffery in 2, Kirk Cousins in 3, Lucas Nix in 4, and CB Asa Jackson in round 5. I have addressed LB, WR, QB, G, and CB but the Defensive line has yet to be touched. Although the Dolphins are deep at the positions for a 43 switch, chances are I will be losing a couple in free agency. Tydreke Powell of NC would be my round 6 pick.
Round 7: Wrapping it up. I could cop out and say I was trading this pick but I wont. DE Matt Conrath of UVA would be final pick here.
The Miami Dolphins have holes at OLB, QB, RG, S, and RT. Everywhere else poses more depth issues than a major need for a starter. They will only have so much and given the fact that a smaller cap number could be in play this year, it will be impossible to fill all their holes in free agency. The draft offers options but there are no guarantees either. Players may move up or down in any given round or completely move out of a round all together. There is always surprised on draft day. The Dolphins need to pick their battles in free agency and realize that the draft is where they will build their team for the future. If they can land a starter to fill one of their holes, and can afford to do it, they must. It will allow them to address other needs in the draft where a “best available” approach can be taken. Looking into this years draft, “Best Available” may not be the best option for the Dolphins…unless they can address the positions of need before hand.