What Dolphins decide to do in free agency will dictate direction they go in draft

John Harris
Special to Yahoo! Sports

LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 112.6 ypg (17th)
Pass Offense - 198.9 ypg (26th)
Total Offense - 311.5 ypg (27th)
Scoring Offense - 18.0 ppg (27th)
Rush Defense - 108.4 ypg (13th)
Pass Defense - 248.4 ypg (27th)
Total Defense - 356.8 ypg (21st)
Scoring Defense - 19.8 ppg (7th) MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: A consistent receiver and Jake Long .. or his replacement
Defense: Secondary and speed off the edge opposite Cameron Wake


The Dolphins took a bit of a risk last year with former Texas A&M star Ryan Tannehill, a guy that had only started a year and a half in college. But it's going to work. Tannehill suffered the typical rookie ups and downs and he paled in comparison to Luck, RG3 and Wilson. However, Tannehill showed that he's ready to be Miami's guy for the next decade. With Matt Moore as an unrestricted free agent, the Dolphins would be wise to look for a veteran to back up Tannehill, but Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman like the progress Pat Devlin made in 2012. Point being, the Dolphins more than likely won't be players for a quarterback in this draft.

Running Back The Draft Board

4th round RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon (5'9", 188 lb.) 5th round RB/WR Theo Riddick, Notre Dame (5'11", 200 lb.) 7th round RB Onterrio McCalebb, Auburn (5'10", 164 lb.)

For the past two years, Miami has spent a draft pick on running back. Two years ago, they spent a second-round pick on former Kansas State star Daniel Thomas and last year, they drafted former Miami Hurricane Lamar Miller in the fourth round. And, they did that having spent a good sum of money on free agent Reggie Bush. But, those picks spent on Thomas and Miller may be fortuitous given the fact Bush is an unrestricted free agent and likely to test the market.

It's time for Thomas or Miller to take over as the No. 1 back in Miami, even if Bush decides to stay. If Bush departs, it will make sense to look in later rounds for a versatile back who could be used on the field at the same time as Thomas or Miller. Riddick is just that guy. He can line up in the backfield as a third-down change-up back, but he could also play in the slot at receiver if necessary. Barner is a speed burner who has the juice to get to the perimeter and put pressure on the edge of the defense. McCalebb is pure speed gluttony. There isn't much more to get excited about with him as a pure running back, but he can fly, even though he's no bigger than a beefed-up middle school lineman. The Dolphins have a number of additional picks and if they decide to use a few on offense, they have to look for players that have game-changing burst/speed. These backs have it.

Wide receiver The Draft Board

1st round WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (6'3", 205 lb.) 2nd round WR/KR/PR Tavon Austin, West Virginia (5'9", 175 lb.)
WR Terrance Williams, Baylor (6'2", 201 lb.)
WR Quinton Patton, La. Tech (6'2", 206 lb.)
WR Robert Woods, USC (6'1", 190 lb.) 3rd round WR Aaron Dobson, Marshall (6'3", 203 lb.) 4th round WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (6', 204 lb.)
WR Chris Harper, Kansas State (6'1", 228 lb.)

Since trading away Brandon Marshall to the Bears, it's clear the Dolphins need a perimeter pass-catching threat. Badly. Unrestricted free agent Brian Hartline can only do so much. Even if the Dolphins brought him back, he's a solid No. 2, but a questionable No. 1. Keep in mind, the receiver class in this draft is thick with second- and third-round value and the Dolphins have four picks in those two rounds. It'll make perfect sense for the Dolphins to look in the free agent market and then spend at a minimum one pick on a receiver in rounds 2 and/or 3. Think Greg Jennings and Terrance Williams. Mike Wallace and Tavon Austin. Things change a little bit when you think about Tannehill throwing to one of those duos, huh?

Patterson can blow the roof off the joint with his game-breaking abilities. When he gets his hands on the ball, he's a threat to take it the distance every time. But, therein lies the problem, getting his hands on the ball isn't so easy as Patterson has the most inconsistent hands of any receiver in this draft. If he had Calvin Johnson's hands, he'd be a top-five pick. Without them, he could end up in the late first or early second round, if Miami could be so lucky. Austin is pocket dynamite and he's a guy who can line up in the slot, motion to the perimeter or even line up in the backfield as a running back. He can make you miss in a phone booth AND has excellent hands. Patton is the closest thing to a complete receiver of any in this group. He can be a catch-and-run guy, a deep threat or an intermediate, across-the-field third-down target. He had a tremendous Senior Bowl week, which could have him gone by the early part of the second round. Swope makes sense in Miami given the Tannehill/Sherman/Texas A&M connection, but he's also a gem in the fourth round who has the size, route running, speed and strength to play any receiver position on the field. A former running back in high school, Swope can catch a BB in the dark and if he runs in the 4.4s at the combine, he'll move up to a third-round target.

Tight End The Draft Board

2nd round Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (6'5", 252 lb.)
Zach Ertz, Stanford (6'6", 252 lb.) 3rd round Jordan Reed, Florida (6'3", 243 lb.) 4th round Vance McDonald, Rice (6'4", 262 lb.)
Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (6'5", 255 lb.)

Anthony Fasano is an unrestricted free agent who caught only 41 passes for the Dolphins in 2012. He's not a tight end who will command big money on the open market, so it might make sense to keep him in Miami. Yet, it makes perfect football sense to complement him with an athletic pass-catching target. Former sixth-rounder Charles Clay has the potential to be that guy, as does 2012 draft pick Michael Egnew. However, Clay has been inconsistent and Egnew didn't get off on the right foot with the coaching staff. As mentioned above, the Dolphins have four picks total in the second and third rounds so it'll make sense to find Tannehill as many different weapons as possible.

Each of the prospects listed above fills that athletic pass catching tight end need and then some. Reed is a bit up and down, but when he's on, he's a tremendous threat who can line up all over the field. The more I watch Ertz, the more I'm convinced he's going to be there when the Dolphins select in the second round. But, Eifert is the guy who may make the most sense. Miami could let Jake Long walk, sign a name receiver in free agency, trade up into the top ten, take Eric Fisher in the first round, then target both Eifert/Ertz and a receiver in the second round. That would make the Dolphins' offense a much more consistently explosive unit in 2013 and beyond. The other scenario is to re-sign Long, still sign a WR in free agency, find a stud edge rusher opposite Cameron Wake in the first round, target WR in the second and add one of these tight ends on the board in the third or fourth round.

Offensive line The Draft Board

1st round LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (6'7", 305 lb.)
LT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (6'6", 302 lb.) 2nd round T Kyle Long, Oregon (6'6", 304 lb.) 3rd round T David Bakhiatari, Colorado (6'4", 295 lb.)
G/T Brian Winters, Kent State (6'4", 310 lb.) 5th round T Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6'6", 310 lb.) 6th round G/T Manase Foketi, West Texas A&M (6'5", 333 lb.)
G Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech (6'3", 302 lb.) 7th round G/C Patrick Lewis, Texas A&M (6'2", 312 lb.)

The offensive line isn't one of the league's best units, but it's fairly settled going into 2013. With the exception of one key position, left tackle. Former first overall pick Jake Long is an unrestricted free agent that has spent the last two years fighting nagging injuries and inconsistency. Given the value of Pro Bowl offensive linemen, it's going to be difficult for the Dolphins to keep Long without giving him a huge contract. Miami has no other alternative currently on the roster, however, as Jonathan Martin isn't equipped to handle the task. Long has some very good years remaining in his career, but how many quality years at left tackle is the question. Could the Dolphins be so bold as to re-sign Long, move him to the right side to protect him, move Jonathan Martin to guard and then draft a bona fide left tackle to start from Day 1 (CMU's Eric Fisher)? The only piece I don't like in that scenario is moving Martin inside. Sign Long, leave him at left tackle and the only draft picks in the OL will be in later rounds to bolster depth. Lose Long and the Dolphins MUST draft one early. The problem is that there may not be one at No. 12 who can start right away.

Let's say Long walks, Fisher seems to be a virtual lock … if he's still on the board at No. 12. No player is making a faster rise on draft boards than Fisher. The Jake Matthews/Taylor Lewan void, combined with Fisher's stellar week at the Senior Bowl, should put Fisher in the top 10. One other viable option is moving up to ensure they can take Fisher. The Dolphins have additional selections in the second and third rounds which could be valuable to a team looking to move down. If Long walks, the Dolphins stand pat, and Fisher gets taken prior to No. 12, Miami will have to determine whether Johnson is ready to start at left tackle. He should be ready by 2014, but asking him to jump right into Long's shoes is asking a bit much. He's got potential, but he's not a finished product. He moves well and has excellent feet, but his technique still needs work, while his strength isn't where it needs to be against NFL edge rushers. One of the most intriguing options at left tackle is Oregon's Long. He's only been playing football for a couple of years after playing minor league baseball, but he's got the necessary athleticism. He probably still needs some time to work on, and clean up, his technique.

Defensive line The Draft Board

1st round DE Kiki Mingo, LSU (6'4", 240 lb.)
DE Ziggy Ansah, BYU (6'5", 274 lb.)
DE Sam Montgomery, LSU (6'5", 260 lb.) 2nd round DE Alex Okafor, Texas (6'5", 261 lb.) 3rd round DE John Simon, Ohio State (6'2", 256 lb.)
DE Tank Carradine, Florida State (6'4", 265 lb.) 4th round DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6'7", 275 lb.)

Unrestricted free agent DT Randy Starks is coming off of two Pro Bowls in the last three seasons and flourished in Miami. That success could come at a cost for the Dolphins as impact defensive tackles are highly marketable. If he leaves, the Dolphins could move former Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick inside to defensive tackle and investigate defensive ends to play opposite Cameron Wake. If Starks stays, the question becomes whether Odrick fits at defensive end or whether the Dolphins need to look at defensive end early in this draft. The Dolphins drafted Olivier Vernon in the third round last year and he could be in the mix to start opposite Wake by the start of the season. The draft presents some intriguing options to compete for that spot with Vernon and Derrick Shelby.

Mingo's first-round grade is based on one thing: speed. He has it. He has a lot of it. But, he's all over the map on draft boards because he hasn't completely refined his game. He was a basketball player in high school, so he's still learning the game and understanding his role on the edge. Ansah is similar in that his best football is in front of him and he's a physical specimen. He'll light up Indianapolis at the Combine, which will amp up the Ansah love fest to full throttle by late February. He struggled at times at the Senior Bowl, in particular in 1-on-1 pass rush drills. But, he's come so far in a short time that he can learn the rest on the fly. No. 12 in the first round is a bit higher than I'd project him, pure value wise, but knowing that teams will covet him in the middle of the first round, the Dolphins may need to jump on him early. Montgomery is the most complete player of the three, but he doesn't have the speed or physical gifts of either Mingo or Ansah. No. 12 is way too high for Montgomery, but if the Dolphins move down and pick up more picks in later rounds, Montgomery would make sense sitting there on the board in the 20s. Cornelius 'Tank' Carradine is an intriguing candidate in the third, in large part, because he's rehabbing a torn ACL, but if and when he's right, he's a beast. Since the Dolphins have two third rounders, it might be worth the risk to take him, and let him get back on his own time.

Linebackers The Draft Board

5th round OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn State (6'1", 239 lb.)
OLB DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina (6'2", 246 lb.) 6th round ILB Vince Williams, Florida State (6'1", 247 lb.) 7th round ILB Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (6', 234 lb.)

Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett man the MLB and WLB spots respectively, but both are 30-plus and don't' have more than two or three good years left in the middle of this defense. SLB Koa Misi is seemingly miscast as the Sam linebacker in a 4-3 as he's more of a 3-4 OLB, but there are other more pressing needs elsewhere.

Hodges didn't have the best senior year for Penn State, but he's a versatile defender who can rush the edge, play in coverage and tackles well. He's got a complete skill set, but will likely need a year to adapt to the next level and could start out as a stud special-teamer. Holloman is a hammer. He's a former safety who played the Spur position for South Carolina, a hybrid safety-linebacker spot. But, he can run and he can hit. Williams certainly looks the part, but I kept waiting for him to break out and be the player that he appeared he could be. It didn't happen. However, in the sixth round, Williams would be a solid option to groom behind Dansby in the middle. The only real reason Taylor is listed in the seventh is hisdiminutive stature. If he had more size, the Dolphins would have to draft him in the second, at a minimum. He can be undisciplined in pursuit at times, but he's always around the ball. He'd be a solid find in the last two rounds of this draft.

Secondary The Draft Board

1st round CB Dee Milliner, Alabama (6'1", 199 lb.) 2nd round CB Desmond Trufant, Washington (5'11", 190 lb.)
CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (6'1", 217 lb.)
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (6'1", 185 lb.)
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers (6', 190 lb.)
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (6', 182 lb.) 3rd round CB David Amerson, NC State (6'2", 194 lb.)
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Conn. (6'1", 192 lb.) 5th round FS Zeke Motta, Notre Dame (6'2", 215 lb.)
FS Josh Evans, Florida (6'1", 205 lb.) 7th round FS Rashard Hall, Clemson (6'1", 213 lb.)

After trading Vontae Davis to the Colts prior to the start of last season, the Dolphins essentially forced their own hand as it pertains to CB Sean Smith. They know they need to have him back. Although he's been up and down, showing brilliance at times and struggling at others, it'd help to have Smith, an unrestricted free agent, back with Richard Marshall and Nolan Carroll. Smith walks and the Dolphins must look at cornerback early in the draft. Regardless, the Dolphins may want to look at cornerback early given the crop of cover corners that could be available in the first three rounds of this draft. Even though Chris Clemons is an unrestricted free agent, safety isn't a priority. The 26th-ranked pass defense could use a boost, but some help in the pass rush will help this group's overall productivity, too.

There's little chance that Milliner makes it all the way to No. 12, but if he's there, the Dolphins have to seriously consider him. He's physical enough to play zone, and runs well enough to play man. He had a stellar junior campaign for the Crimson Tide. Trufant was so good at the Senior Bowl that it's highly unlikely that he makes it all the way to the top of the second round. If there's a run on quarterbacks or receivers, though, he could fall right into Miami's lap. That said, he threw a blanket over the nation's best WR in Mobile and a strong combine could move him further up draft boards. If both Milliner and Trufant are gone, the second round has a ton of value for the Dolphins at cornerback. Banks fought through some nagging injuries in his senior season, and got exposed in man coverage against Alabama. Amerson is another option in the third for the Dolphins as he was also a guy who had an inconsistent 2012. He picked off 13 passes in 2011 and then started off 2012 getting torched by Tennessee's cadre of pass catchers. He's better than he showed in that opener, but is more of a zone corner who doesn't run exceptionally well, hence his third-round grade. At safety in later rounds, finding one of the three on the board will bolster depth and give them a guy who can participate on special teams immediately, if nothing else.

John Harris hosts The John Harris Show for Yahoo! Sports Radio.

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