Feedback, details on six potential defensive options for Dolphins with 21st pick in draft

The 21st pick in this year’s NFL Draft could offer the Dolphins a choice of skilled offensive linemen and talented receivers.

But it also could provide the best remaining opportunity to upgrade a defense which has still holes.

Assessing six defenders who could be in play when Miami picks 21st on April 25:

Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy III:

Whether he gets to 21 is a toss-up. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. slots him 19th; NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has him 27th.

He had 29 tackles (including 8.5 for loss) and 5.0 sacks and 29 hurries last season and was Big 12 Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year and a second-team Associated Press All-American.

At 6-1, 297 pounds, he has the bulk to slot into Christian Wilkins’ former defensive tackle spot. PFF gave him very good grades against the run and elite grades as a pass rusher.’s Lance Zierlein, who does an excellent job evaluating players, sizes up Murphy this way:

“Muscular ball of explosiveness with the tools and talent to become a productive three-down defender in the right scheme. Twitchy first-step quickness combined with flexion and power in his lower half create a recipe for disruption as a gap shooter or as a pass rusher. Murphy is powerful and well-schooled at taking on double-teams but lacks ideal mass and length for that role long-term.... Murphy is ascending and could become a successful nose tackle or 3-technique in an even front.”

Zielein cites these weaknesses: “Frame might be close to maxed out….Can be swallowed by size if he doesn’t keep it moving…. Lack of arm length forces him to work harder to separate… Could be worn down by NFL double-teams and size.”

Among his strengths, per Zielein: “Elite combination of strength, balance and flexible power in his lower half….Pass rush driven by relentless energy and exemplary edge-to-edge quickness… Variety of rush approaches are peppered with fluid transitions and counters.” quoted an AFC scout as saying that fellow Texas defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat gets a lot of attention, “but Murphy is the guy who will be the better pro. If he was bigger, he would be talked about as much as any defensive tackle in the draft.”

The metrics-based Pro Football Focus has been bullish on Murphy, writing that he “is a gifted defensive lineman in both the strength and speed categories. He is a versatile three-down player who brings plus abilities as a run defender and a pass rusher, projecting as a first-round impact starter for any front.”

Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton:

The 6-2, 304-pounder would be another appealing option for Wilkins’ spot. He had 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2022 and then 8.5 and 7.5 last season, plus a fumble recovery and forced fumble.

A couple of other nuggets, courtesy of PFF: In 2022, his 13 tackles for loss/no-gain were tied for the most among all FBS interior defensive linemen while his 59 pressures led all Power Five interior defensive linemen. Newton finished 2022 as the most valuable Power Five interior defensive lineman according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

He wasn’t quite as prodigious with tackles for loss or no gain last season but still had 28 pressures, led FBS with four blocked kicks and was named Big 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All American.

Zierlein’s take on Newton:

“Active interior defender with the potential to build on his disruptive production in college. Newton’s size and length don’t stand out, but he has shown a consistent ability to gain extension and set edges against bigger opponents.... His skill level and athleticism should create additional playmaking opportunities for him as a three-down 3-technique with early starting potential.”

UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu:

The numbers are striking: 24 sacks and 111 quarterback pressures during the past two seasons, including 13 sacks (fourth best in the country) and an FBS-leading 21.5 tackles for loss last season, when he also intercepted two passes.

Last season, he won the Lombardi Award (for the nation’s top college offensive or defensive lineman) and the Ted Hendricks Award (for the nation’s top defensive end). He was a first-team Associated Press All-American and was named Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

He also has five forced fumbles over the past two seasons.

And he might have the highest upside of anyone on this list. With Miami, he could join a rotation of Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Shaq Barrett and help fill in for Chubb (and perhaps Phillips) early in the season.

The 6-4, 265-pounder, who can play outside linebacker and defensive end, “is the most natural pass rusher in the class,” said Jeremiah, who slots him 19th.

Kiper, who has him 25th, says Latu “has elite pass rushing skills and is already advanced in his technique. The reason he’s not a surefire top-15 pick is because he has some medical questions; he medically retired from football because of a neck injury when he was at Washington in 2021.”’s Zierlein compares him to former Pro Bowler T.J. Watt and says: “Latu possesses the kind of rare maturity to his game that you usually see from NFL veterans. He rarely stays blocked by tackles as a run defender and dominates blocking tight ends on the collegiate level. His pass-rush approach is both well conceived and instinctive, and he’s brilliant at taking possession of the rep using clever hands and slippery angles to pry open opportunities...

“Everything about Latu’s skill set and production is translatable to the NFL, and he could become a Pro Bowler as a 3-4 outside linebacker with a heavy influence on the game.”

PFF gave him elite pass rush grades and strong run defense grades last season, adding: “Overall, though somewhat limited athletically, his home is in the offensive backfield due to his hand usage and pass-rush moves that will continue to win at the NFL level.”

An anonymous AFC executive told that Alabama’s Dallas Turner — a projected top 10 pick — “is going to go higher, but Latu is easily the most skilled rusher in the draft.”

Missouri defensive end Darius Robinson:

The talented 6-5, 285-pound defensive lineman has in the ability to play inside and out.

Of his 43 tackles last season, 14 were for loss, including 8.5 sacks and 27 quarterback hurries, plus a forced fumble and fumble recovery in by far his best year in five seasons at Missouri. He was named first-team All-SEC after last season.

“Darius offers versatility, physicality and athleticism,” Jeremiah said.

PFF graded him out well as a pass rusher, but even better against the run, adding: “Robinson is a powerful lineman who can line up anywhere from zero- to a seven-technique. He won’t win with speed much at the next level, but he certainly can with power. His strength profile projects to a rotational role as a floor with starting potential if he can continue to hone in on his pass-rush plans.”

Robinson would project more as a defensive end than a standup linebacker. Every defensive lineman on Miami’s roster is listed as a tackle, not an end. But Robinson could play any spot along the defensive line.’s Zierlein assesses him this way: “Right out of the gate, Robinson’s physical attributes should give him a potential advantage in head-to-head matchups.... His play can lack control and awareness at times, but the good outweighs the bad. He’s a good athlete, but his pass rush is predictable. He lacks potent moves and counters as an edge rusher, leaning heavily on force. Robinson’s power and motor increase the chances he becomes a good starting base end who reduces inside on third downs.”

Robinson displayed his confidence - and impressive skill set - at Missouri’s Pro Day:

“I’m fast, physical, violent,” he said. “I don’t rely on a bunch of tools. Some guys are a jack of all trades and master of nothing.” Robinson impressed at the NFL Combine as well.

FSU defensive end Jared Verse:

He has risen up some draft boards; ESPN’s Matt Miller has him going 19th.

“He is relentless with high-effort production,” Miller said. “Verse helped lead FSU to an undefeated regular season with nine sacks and 50 pressures. He’s a plug-and-play 4-3 defensive end starter with Trey Hendrickson-like ability.”

At 6-4 and 254 pounds, Verse can play defensive end or outside linebacker.

He’s a “talented edge defender with the field demeanor, athleticism and skill set to rack up statistics in key categories fairly early in his NFL career,”’s Zierlein said.

“Verse dominated at Albany and then showed an ability to do the same at Florida State. He’s twitchy and compact, with explosiveness featured at the point of attack and in his upfield burst as a pass rusher. He’s great with his hands and does a nice job of diagnosing plays quickly and staying out of the clinches of offensive linemen looking to snatch him up. He can play up or down and should be in consideration for all defensive schemes looking to add a safe, high-impact edge.”

Penn State outside linebacker Chop Robinson:

He’s perhaps not as polished a prospect as the aforementioned prospects, and it’s difficult to see this as the pick at 21 unless Miami falls in love with the high ceiling. But if Miami trades down, he becomes a more interesting option.

He had 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in a combined three Big 10 seasons (one at Maryland and two at Penn State. The sack numbers are underwhelming. The upshot is that he had 52 quarterback hurries in two seasons at Penn State.

Kiper slots him 27th and says: “The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Robinson had an inconsistent 2023 season — four sacks, down from 5.5 in 2022 — but I love his explosion off the ball and his closing speed after he makes a move. He pops on tape every time I watch Penn State from the past two seasons. He also ran an eye-popping 4.48 second 40-yard dash at the Combine, an elite number for his size.”’s Zierlein is bullish on him, raising comparisons to Dallas Cowboys All Pro linebacker Micah Parsons:

“Edge defender who offers the type of elite athleticism we’ve seen from players like Micah Parsons and Myles Garrett. Robinson might not be as fast as Parsons, but he’s close.”

PFF gave him high marks as a pass rusher and decent grades as a run blocker, adding: “Regardless of his lack of polish, Robinson is a gifted player athletically — likely on a level that is top of the class.”


A handful of cornerbacks are projected for Miami’s range at No. 21. But with Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller as starters, and four skilled young players in reserve (Cam Smith, Kader Kohou, Nik Needham and Ethan Bonner), it would be difficult to bypass much bigger needs and take a corner with the first-round pick.

Cornerbacks projected from the teens to 20s include Alabama’s Terrion Arnold, Clemson’s Nate Wiggins, Iowa’s Cooper DeJean and Iowa State’s T.J. Tampa.