O-line? D-line? Edge rusher? Dolphins head into NFL draft with possible focus on trenches

One approach the Miami Dolphins could take into this week’s NFL draft could be a weight minimum to obtain through Friday night.

What should we set the number at? Five-hundred forty pounds added to the roster between the first and second rounds? Maybe 700 pounds by Round 3 if they’re able to add a third-round pick and afford themselves one early selection that won’t factor into trench play?

The Dolphins go into the 2024 draft with needs on the offensive and defensive lines and possibly at edge rusher, so it could be a focus on big bodies when they’re on the clock in the first round for the first time since 2021 on Thursday night.

The NFL draft begins Thursday with the first round, goes through the second and third rounds Friday night and wraps up with Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

Miami is slotted to pick at No. 21 in the first. On Friday, the Dolphins have their second-round pick at No. 55. They are without a third-round pick due to the tampering violations found in an investigation sparked by former coach Brian Flores’ lawsuit filed against the team and the league two years ago, which cost the organization its first-rounder last year. Also without a selection in the fourth, they have their next in the fifth round (158), two in the sixth (184, 198) and one in the seventh (241).

It’s been so long since the Dolphins last picked in the first round, they’ve already decided on the fifth-year options of their last two first-rounders — wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and edge rusher Jaelan Phillips — before selecting in the opening round again. General manager Chris Grier already said last week they will exercise that option by the May 2 deadline. The lack of an early pick is due to a combination of last draft’s forfeiture and trades that sent first-rounders to the Kansas City Chiefs for star wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the Denver Broncos for outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.

Grier, philosophically, likes to go with a best-player-available approach, as evidenced by his first choice in the 2023 draft, cornerback Cam Smith, a second-round pick at a position that wasn’t viewed as a big need after acquiring Jalen Ramsey in a trade earlier that offseason. But with a few specific holes for a roster that’s ready to win now, he may opt to target those positions.

There’s a number of directions the Dolphins can go once they’re on the clock with the 21st pick.

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For one, they can look to the offensive line, and that’s either on the interior or at tackle.

At interior offensive line, Miami lost right guard Robert Hunt to the Carolina Panthers in free agency. There’s also uncertainty over how center Connor Williams will come off of his ACL tear last season, and he remains a free agent that’s focusing on his rehab. Miami picked up center/guard Aaron Brewer, a former Tennessee Titan, in free agency, but the team could still use another blocker inside.

Duke’s Graham Barton is a scheme fit with athleticism to work well in coach Mike McDaniel’s offense with traits that can work well when the team runs outside zone. He also has positional versatility, so he can play guard in his rookie season but then kick out to tackle if five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead calls it a career next year after already contemplating retirement this offseason. Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson is also expected to go in the second half of the first round and could very well be the first choice.

While the Dolphins are set at tackle for 2024, with Austin Jackson on the right side and Armstead at left plus Kendall Lamm there to back them up, they could still pick their next tackle at 21.

Before Miami’s up, several top tackles in the draft might be gone: Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga, Alabama’s JC Latham, Washington’s Troy Fautanu. But if any of those drop, it may behoove the Dolphins to pounce on him.

There’s also Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton and Georgia’s Amarius Mims. Then, you get to the possibility of Arizona’s Jordan Morgan or Houston’s Patrick Paul. Miami should have a number of tackle options.

And if the Dolphins want to go that route but don’t feel particularly strongly about any one prospect, they could seek a trade down, letting other teams decide for them which lineman lasts to the pick they acquire while adding an extra pick down the line. After all, Miami has a 103-pick gap between selections from the second to the fifth round, as currently slated.

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The Dolphins could also go defense for new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver.

They lost defensive tackle Christian Wilkins in free agency, and they’ve replaced him with a number of rotation-caliber pieces on the defensive line but no one of the caliber of Wilkins to slide in next to Zach Sieler.

Could Texas’ Byron Murphy be the choice in a draft where the defensive tackle talent drops off a bit after the first few? What about Illinois’ Johnny Newton, who was recruited to the Fighting Illini by current Dolphins defensive line coach Austin Clark?

The edge rusher position is interesting because Miami has one of the best starting tandems when healthy in Phillips and Chubb. But they’re both coming off serious season-ending injuries. One or both may not come back the same player, in which case the team needs its future contingency plan — or a talented player off the edge that could work in with the others, including recently acquired free agent Shaq Barrett.

Alabama’s Dallas Turner, a South Florida product from St. Thomas Aquinas, should be long gone. The same could be the case for Florida State’s Jared Verse. Some consider UCLA’s Laiatu Latu the best pure pass rusher, but he has a concerning medical history that could have him drop to Miami. It could be Penn State’s Chop Robinson and Missouri’s Darius Robinson after that.

Or maybe the Dolphins shock us all and don’t go with a position of need. They still are in the market for a third wide receiver behind the elite tandem of Hill and Waddle. Could they pounce on the chance at LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr. or maybe Texas’ Xavier Worthy, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash in combine history? We know McDaniel loves speed.

All these questions get answered this week as the Dolphins bring in their 2024 draft class, plus a series of undrafted prospects that will compete for roster spots throughout the summer and into next season’s training camp.

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