Friday, January 30, 2009

2009 Miami Dolphins Draft Preview, Version 1

Originally published by me at Draft Tek.

The Dolphins, despite one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history, were a bit overshadowed in 2009. Apparently winning 10 more games than the previous season - something only one other team, the 1999 Colts, has done - and taking the AFC East crown isn't as important or noticeable as a vastly overrated Brett Favre in New York or rookie QB's (Matt Ryan of Atlanta and Joe Flacco of Baltimore) bringing their franchises to respectability. Oh well. No harm, no foul I guess. But this remarkable turnaround has created an interesting dilemma for a Dolphins franchise getting ready to enter Year 2 of the Parcells-Ireland-Sparano regime. Miami vastly improved in 2008 but was aided by some luck, as pointed out here. Part of that luck - the easy schedule - will change in 2009. While it's almost impossible at this point to predict what teams will and won't be good next season it's pretty obvious that a slate of games containing Houston (a team Miami has never defeated), Indianapolis ('08 playoff team), Pittsburgh (Super Bowl Champs?), New Orleans (crazy offense), Tampa Bay (stout defense), Jacksonville ('08 underachievers), Tennessee (stout defense II), San Diego (better than their '08 record), Atlanta (up-and-comers), and Carolina ('08 playoff team) is more difficult than facing each conference's West Division (even though Arizona made the Super Bowl). Does Miami have the talent to repeat their 2008 season in '09? As of now I say no, and it all comes back to personnel.

Regardless of the easy schedule Miami clearly improved. There is much more talent now than there was a year ago at this time. That's what will happen when a competent regime finds free agent gems (Chad Pennington, Justin Smiley), makes inconceivably awesome trades (Jason Ferguson for a 6th rounder; Akin Ayodele and Anthony Fasano for a 4th rounder), and drafts BPA - Best Player Available - at positions of need (Jake Long, Phillip Merling, Chad Henne, Kendall Langford, Donald Thomas). However I doubt you'll find anyone that truly believes Miami was a Super Bowl contender even after they vanquished the Jets to win their first AFC East crown since the 2000 season. They are competitive, sure, but not up to par with some of the elite teams of this season (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Carolina, Arizona, NY Giants). That is why this offseason is a big one for the Dolphins. They must continue to build on what they started a year ago. We're in the season of resigning players and it'll soon be time for free agency. Then comes arguably the most exciting part of the "off"season - the Draft.

Early draft previews are pretty futile. Though we're at the end of the college postseason "all-star" games, we're still a month away from the combine and even farther from college pro day workouts. But the draft has a cult following... why else would you be here now, in January, for something that doesn't happen for another 87 days?

In order to contemplate whom a team - in this case, the Miami Dolphins - will draft, we must tackle what positions are in need of an upgrade or young, talented depth. Let's start with the offense.

Wide Receiver

On the Roster: Miami burned their #9 selection in the 2007 draft on speedy WR/KR Ted Ginn, Jr. from Ohio State. Returns thus far have been adequate but don't justify a Top 10 pick. Ginn has played in all 16 games in each of his two NFL seasons, amassing 90 receptions and 1,210 yards while scoring four TDs off of receptions. He was used heavily as a returner in his rookie season (24 punt returns, 63 kick returns) but notched only 39 returns combined in '08. 2009 will be an important year for this young man.

Rounding out the WR crew are Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, and Brandon London. Camarillo signed a three year extension and subsequently tore his ACL. He was having a phenomenal season and became Pennington's go-to guy. Bess was an undrafted rookie FA out of Hawai'i and became a reliable slot receiver. Brandon London, despite only three catches in '08, has been resigned and tutored to become Miami's version of Brandon Marshall. I'm leaving off Ernest Wilford - the $7 million bust - because he is clearly not in future plans. Wilford could be cut and is a shining example of how every talent department misses on occasion.

What's needed: A true #1 guy. Ginn could develop into one but my money is on him being a great #2 that stretches defenses allowing the #1 and slot guys room underneath.

Draft Priority: High. The free agents that will be available aren't that enticing. Miami will add a WR in the draft but I doubt it's in round one. A guy in the 2nd or 3rd is more likely.

Draft Targets: Obviously Michael Crabtree but he won't fall past pick four and could be off the board at #2. Realistic targets include Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey and North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks in round one, Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias, Rutgers' Kenny Britt, and Ohio State's Brian Robiskie in round two, or Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi and Florida's Louis Murphy in round three.

Offensive Line

On the Roster: Going into 2008 the offensive line was thought to be a huge strength, especially in the run game. Not quite. Though the numbers were respectable the run game was widely inconsistent. As a result the Dolphins fired o-line coach Mike Maser, replacing him with former Giants assistant Dave DeGuglielmo. Injuries took a toll on the starters too. Rookie 6th round pick Donald Thomas severely injured his ankle in the first half of the season opener (he finished the game though) and was placed on IR. In week 13 Justin Smiley was lost for the remainder of the season and around that same time starting center Samson Satele suffered a torn labrum, though he finished out the season. Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Andy Alleman, Al Johnson, Donald Thomas, Ike Ndukwe, and Vernon Carey all played significant roles in the 2008 o-line. Long made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and had a tremendous first year. Big things are ahead of him. Smiley is said to be on track to be ready for training camp, though his availability for offseason workouts is in question. Donald Thomas will more than likely earn back his starting RG spot. The biggest question marks are at center and right tackle. Satele just isn't a great fit for the Miami scheme. He is undersized and lacks ideal lower body strength to move the giant NTs that fill out AFC East rosters (Marcus Stroud, Kris Jenkins, Vince Wilfork). Satele would be of more use in a pass-happy system such as Cincinnati, New Orleans, Arizona, or Philadelphia. He has versatility and could become trade bait. The backups aren't much better. Al Johnson, though liked by the front office, is undersized as well. Ditto for AndyAlleman. Each of them can play guard too, like Satele. Is it fruitful to have three undersized (for your scheme) versatile OC-OG on your roster but no clear-cut beast? Not really. One of them should be cleared for a legitimate powerful center. Right tackle poses another dilemma but this one is easier to solve. Resign Vernon Carey. DO IT. Do no low-ball him; offer a package at face value and lock him up for three or four more years. He isn't dynamic but is above average. He was the best run blocking o-lineman this year. He has experience at LT which is a benefit in case something would happen to Long (God forbid). Carey has earned a new contract and Miami should pay him.

What's needed: A beast at C, possibly a RT, and depth. Satele should be a backup or in a different system and Carey may be leaving town.

Draft Priority: Above Average. A strong center would do wonders for the offense. Some mid-round guys are needed for depth at both tackle and guard. If Carey is gone, RT must be addressed.

Draft Targets: If Miami cannot sign the Ravens Jason Brown (set to be a FA) then a center will be drafted. The best available, as Long Ball points out, are California's Alex Mack, Oregon's Max Unger, and Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs. I'd add Louisville's Eric Wood and Alabama's Antoine Caldwell to that list as well. Each has the size and frame to add strength and bulk to dominate large d-lineman. Mack should be available at 25, if Miami wants to use a first rounder on a center. He probably won't slip to 44 but Unger could be there. Luigs is a possibility at 56 but may be available in the third. Wood and Caldwell are, currently, third rounders as well.

If Carey leaves then the Dolphins could be looking RT in round one in addition to center. At 25 there won't be many OTs available but one that may be is Arizona's Eben Britton. Late second and third rounders of interest could be Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt and Orgeon's Fenuki Tupou. Even if Carey is resigned Miami could be looking for a backup OT in rounds five through seven.

Adding a guard would be a luxury if Alleman, Johnson, and Satele stick around. However it is a possibility in the late rounds. Some options could be BYU's Ray Feinga, Wisconsin's Andy Kemp, and Texas Tech's Louis Vasquez.

Offense Summary

Those are Miami's biggest needs on offense. They may be considering a QB and RB late as well, depending how some prospects fall and what else is available. It's rumored that Miami is actively shopping John Beck for a 4th or 5th rounder, meaning they may need to draft someone late to fill in as the 3rd QB. Ronnie Brown is entering the final year of his rookie contract and Ricky Williams is no spring chicken. They took two RBs in the 2008 draft (Jalen Parmalee, sniped by the Ravens from the practice squad, and Lex Hilliard). They may add another late-rounder for insurance. Now on to the defense...

Defensive Line

On the Roster: This was an area of concentration in 2008 so not too much is needed this offseason. The additions of Jason Ferguson, Randy Starks, Phillip Merling, Kendall Langford, and Lionel Dotson paid huge dividends in '08. Merling, Langford, Starks, and holdover Vonnie Holliday had solid seasons. No upgrades are needed at DE unless someone is cut (not likely, but it has been rumored that Holliday could be a cap casualty). The age of Jason Ferguson and the stunted development (and character concerns) surrounding '07 pick Paul Soliai means that NT is a definite need. Starks filled in for the injured Ferguson (and suspended Soliai) for most of the first Ravens game. However he is undersized and had never played the position before. He is better suited as a DE in a 3-4 (or DT in a 4-3). So we have only two pure NTs on the roster. Someone else is needed.

What's needed: A massive NT. They are quite rare in both free agency and the draft but getting one is a must for the 3-4 to work properly.

Draft Priority: High. The need at NT is about equal to that of a feature WR.

Draft Targets: The best NT available, Boston College's B.J. Raji, will be off the board way before the 25th pick (he could go as high as 9 to Green Bay and probably wouldn't slip past Denver; both the Packers and Broncos are switching to the 3-4). So what's left? Well basically nothing at 25. Miami should be looking in rounds two and three for their man. They could tray to bulk up USC's Fili Moala but most "experts" think he is a better option for the 4-3. Perhaps the best fit is Raji's teammate at Boston College, Ron Brace. He'd look good in aqua and may be available in the late 2nd or 3rd. Clemson's Dorell Scott would be a reach in the 3rd but would be a nice addition late in the 4th. Another late round prospect would be Michigan's Terrence Taylor. And that's about it. There isn't much available so landing one of the NTs in round two or three is dire unless they want to wait until 2010 (Alabama's Terrence Cody anyone?).


On the Roster: The starters this year were Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder inside and Matt Roth and Joey Porter outside. Providing depth were Reggie Torbor, Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses, and Erik Walden. Channing Crowder is set to be a free agent and, according to sources close to the team, most likely will not be back in 2009. This creates an obvious need at ILB. If Crowder does in fact bolt for a bigger payday he could be difficult to replace. When he missed the Kansas City game in late December the Miami defense had a terrible time stopping the run. Torbor is just not cut out to be a starter for this defense; he is better suited as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme. Ayodele and Crowder provided a serviceable duo - not spectacular, but solid. They made tackles but not big plays, possibly a reason why this regime isn't adamant about bringing Crowder back at an exorbitant figure. Outside was a mixed bag this season. Matt Roth made a surprisingly smooth transition from DE to OLB but had some rough spots. He was pretty solid versus the run but has a difficult time in coverage. Perhaps an offseason of conditioning and technique tweaking will help. Porter had a great season in terms of rushing the QB but he was a bit of a liability in the run game. At this stage of his career he just doesn't have the strength or agility to shed some blockers at the point of attack. Porter and Roth will enter 2009 as the starters outside but will be pushed by Charlie Anderson as well as recent CFL signee Derek Cameron Wake.

What's needed: An ILB and possibly an OLB. An ILB must be added even if Crowder does return. Adding a young OLB to groom to replace Porter soon would be a luxury but one that this regime might covet.

Draft Priority: Above average for ILB but high if Crowder leaves. Average at OLB; adding a young project is a possibility (always have an eye on the future!).

Draft Targets: As we have seen in recent years, some top LBs drop on draft day; the LB position isn't a perceived glamour spot. But who wouldn't kill to have Patrick Willis right now? The top three ILBs are Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, USCs Rey Maualuga, and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. Curry should be a top five pick. It is unlikely that Maualuga drops to 25 either, but many draftniks think Laurinaitis will be there for the taking for Miami. Each has the size to play ILB in a 3-4 however neither are as polished as Willis. I'd be more open to taking Maualuga if he fell; I think Laurinaitis is overrated. Unfortunately if Miami passes on an ILB in round one there isn't much else available later, at least not that will make an immediate impact. Late in round two LSU's Darry Beckwith may be available. The same goes for Georgia's Dannell Ellerbe in round three. However each needs a lot of work and wouldn't be ready to start as a rookie. This is a very weak class at ILB; Miami will not find a future starter after the third round. Fortunately the OLB class makes up for it.

There are a plethora of 3-4 OLBs available this year. I doubt Miami will use a round one pick on any of them - there are much higher priorities. However, this regime loves monster rush LBs; Parcells is always looking for the next Lawrence Taylor. He found a pretty good one in DeMarcus Ware. Perhaps he'll find one for Miami too. In round one it is believed USCs Brian Cushing and Virginia's Clint Sintim will be available. Sintim is someone gaining steam and would be a perfect fir in Miami. He played in a 3-4 at Virginia, for a Parcells disciple no less. How about someone in round two... like Cincinnati's Connor Barwin. The converted TE played DE his senior year as a Bearcat and will most likely become a 3-4 OLB in the NFL. He is a fantastic athlete and the combine will shoot his stock way up. He is obviously raw but can learn from Porter. Another option in round two to groom for the future is Northern Illinois' Larry English. Like Barwin he'll be a converted DE and will need time to learn the position. His stock will rise during the combine too. With their second pick in round two the Dolphins could try to land one of USC's other linebackr prospects, Clay Matthews. Utah's Paul Kruger would be ideal at the end of the second as well. Since this isn't a high priority need Miami may wait to take a flyer on someone in the later rounds, perhaps Texas Tech's Brandon Williams or Iowa's Mitch King. Both will be available in the 3rd or 4th. Virginia Tech's Orion Martin, Missouri's Stryker Sulak, and Kentucky's Johnny Williams all have the size but lack experience in a 3-4. They'll all be available late on April 26th.

Defensive Back

On the Roster: Will Allen, Andre Goodman, Renaldo Hill, and Yeremiah Bell improved drastically as the year progressed as the four starters in the secondary. Goodman, Bell, and Hill are all free agents but it is expected that at least two of the three will be resigned (most likely Goodman and Bell). Each of these players is on (or approaching) the wrong side of 30. And none are exactly dynamic playmakers like Baltimore's Ed Reed or Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu. The depth is even worse. Jason Allen has shuffled positions, back and forth between safety and cornerback, but hasn't played that well either place. He seems destined as a dimeback at best (thanks, Nick Saban!). Nate Jones and Joey Thomas are just fillers at this point, though Jones proved he can be an excellent blitzer. Former Packer Tyrone Culver backed up Hill and Bell at safety and played pretty well. He is at his best on special teams but is still young and could improve into a reliable fall back option. Courtney Bryan is - at best - a fifth option at safety and is only on the roster for special teams. He may not be back. Recently signed Bengals castoff Ethan Kilmer will compete with Bryan for a backup safety spot... unles a rookie comes in.

What's needed: A true shut down #1 CB. Will Allen and Andre Goodman are good but would be best as complements to a dominant corner (like Nnamdi Asomugha). A ball-hawking FS and/or a young, developmental SS.

Draft Priority: Very high. The need is there but this regime likes the big bodies. I don't see them taking just any CB in round one to satisfy a need and a round one safety is unlikely to happen. These needs are best filled in round two through four.

Draft Targets: If the Dolphins were to take a DB in the first it would probably come down to Illinois' Vontae Davis, Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore, or Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith. Moore is a bit undersized for the Dolphins defensive scheme but Davis would fit nicely. I think teams are starting to sour on Missouri's Will Moore after his workouts and game play at the Senior Bowl but that could change come the combine and pro day workouts. If he shows he has adequate speed he'd be a great heir at SS to Bell. Some possible round two targets include Utah's Sean Smith, who is capable of playing CB or FS, Virginia Tech's Victor "Macho" Harris, Connecticut's Darius Butler, and Cincinnati's Mike Mickens. There aren't many strong prospects at either safety position but possibly the best - and my personal favorite - is Western Michigan's Louis Delmas. His stock has been rising; he outperformed Moore at the Senior Bowl and is someone that will perform great at the combine. If Miami wants him they may have to take him with the Redskin's pick in the 2nd. Other safety choices on day on include Oregon's Patrick Chung and Mississippi State's Derek Pegues. Because Miami needs a player at both CB and S, let's look in other rounds. Clemson's Michael Hamlin would be a nice project at SS. he should be available in round three. The same goes for the speedy CB from San Jose State's Coye Francies. Michigan's Morgan Trent would be a nice addition at the end of the 3rd. CB is always a position with plenty of prospects. There is a good possibility the Dolphins will add three secondary players during the draft.


It is not hard to pinpoint Miami's needs. A true #1 receiver and cornerback are high priorities, as is a mauling center. ILB and RT become huge needs as well if Crowder and Carey leave in free agency. Depth and young players are needed at OG, OT, NT, OLB, and S. Because the current regime wants to fill needs but also utilize the "best player available" cliche, it's hard to pinpoint just who will be taken when. Miami will have a ton of options at 25. What they do then will determine what they will do the rest of the draft.

No comments: