The Miami Dolphins have not drafted a linebacker since 2014. As a glaring need for Miami heading into 2017, they absolutely have to take at least one in this year’s draft, right? Right?
The last time the Miami Dolphins selected a linebacker at any point of the draft was in 2014 when they selected Jordan Tripp in the 5th round. Tripp is no longer on the team, and three years later, Miami is still looking for help in the middle of their defense. Kiko Alonso proved to be a great addition for the Dolphins last season, but he needs help around him.
Koa Misi has been great for Miami when healthy, but has become too injury-prone for the Dolphins to depend on. Due $4.2 million in 2017, the Dolphins may elect to part ways with Misi instead. Jelani Jenkins is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The Dolphins may want to re-sign Jenkins, but at the same time, they could look to upgrade their starting lineup. Miami may view Jenkins as a player who could fill out their depth, and help out on special teams, rather than continuing to rely on him as a starter.
We will have a better understanding of how the Dolphins will approach the linebacker position once free agency hits. As of right now, however, it’s safe to assume that Miami will look to add at least two linebackers. One could be had in free agency with the other likely to be found in the NFL Draft. There’s a good chance even that they could address the position immediately with their first-round selection. Here’s a look at some potential first-round linebackers Miami could select with their first pick.
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Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Peppers played so many positions at Michigan that it’s hard to pinpoint just one where he will settle in at during his NFL career. He is best graded as an outside linebacker and safety, two positions the Dolphins could use help with. The fact that his skill-set is so diverse, and that he could help Miami in at least two areas should have him on their radar.
Even though the majority of mock drafts agree that Peppers will be a first-round pick, he’s not projected to be available when the Dolphins select at pick 22. The few that do believe he will be available think that Miami will look elsewhere for their first-round selection. While moving up would be too much for Miami to grab Peppers, he’s worth consideration if he’s still on the board.
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
If you have been looking at numerous mock drafts I’m sure that you’ve noticed they are all over the place. Myles Garrett seems to be the consensus #1 and then it’s take your pick with the rest of the field. For the Dolphins, the most popular pick among the many is Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt. For good reason too, as he is the 2nd-best rated inside linebacker in this draft class.
Cunningham is an excellent run defender, evidenced by his 16.5 tackles for loss in 2016. The Dolphins run defense was terrible last season, and will be a key component for Miami when evaluating talent. Also considered a decent pass coverage linebacker, Cunningham checks off in all the right areas.
Tim Williams, Alabama
The Dolphins would probably love nothing more than Reuben Foster from Alabama to fall into their laps at 22. Seems unlikely, however, as Foster is the top-rated linebacker and is projected to go anywhere within the top 15. Instead, they could turn to his college teammate, Tim Williams. It should be noted first that Williams could also be off the board by the time Miami selects. If available though, Miami could roll the tide here. The Dolphins need pass rush help, in addition, to an outside linebacker, and should look for a player that excels at both. Williams fits the bill.
Unfortunately, Williams is his own worst enemy. He’s had off-the-field issues that include a September arrest and multiple failed drug tests at Alabama. This news is sure to turn off a strong majority of Dolphins fans, who will rightfully claim that we don’t need that kind of negativity on this team. The Dolphins management team may agree in the end, but the fact that he is still rated as a first or second-round selection proves his potential level. If he can clean up his act, he could be a huge steal for the Dolphins.
Charles Harris, Missouri
Harris is viewed by many as the best outside linebacker of this draft class. Even with the top billing, Harris is projected as a late first-round or second-round selection. With the 22nd pick, this could look like a bit of a reach for Miami, but still a great choice. A best-case scenario for Miami, if they are indeed really high on Harris, would be to trade down a few spots, and still snag him a few picks later.
The knocks on Harris though is that he may be better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, while the Dolphins are expected to continue running a 4-3. Should Miami decide to use him primarily as a defensive end, he’s not considered a great run defender despite being a great pass rusher. The Dolphins are likely looking for more than just a third-down pass rusher.