As they prepare for the April 27 start of the 2017 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins have put themselves position to go for the BPA (Best Player Available) with their initial selection, 22nd overall.
Among re-signings and acquisitions, the Dolphins have a minimally-acceptable starter at almost every position. That has some mock drafts selecting Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp as the Dolphins' first-round pick. Lamp, a left tackle in college, will likely convert to guard in the NFL with the idea he could also play center.
Miami addressed numerous defensive needs, including acquiring inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh), extending the contract of linebacker Kiko Alonso, restructuring linebacker Koa Misi's contract, re-signing defensive end Andre Branch, signing safety Nate Allen, and trading for defensive end William Hayes (Rams).
That means the Dolphins could put a defensive starting 11 on the field that includes tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips, ends Cameron Wake and Branch, Timmons at middle linebacker with Alonso and, say, Misi, on the outside, cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell, and safeties Reshad Jones and Nate Allen.
Offensively, the starting 11 could be quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Jay Ajayi, center Mike Pouncey, right guard Jermon Bushrod, left guard Ted Larsen, right tackle Ja'Wuan James, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, tight end Julius Thomas, and wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.
Here is a closer look at where the Dolphins are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2016 finish: 2nd AFC East (10-6)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 332.8 (24th)
RUSHING: 114.0 (9th)
PASSING: 218.8 (26th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 382.6 (29th)
RUSHING: 140.4 (30th)
PASSING: 242.2 (15th)
1. Strong-side linebacker: Head coach Adam Gase wasn't specific on the linebacker alignment at the NFL league meetings, but conventional wisdom suggests Lawrence Timmons in the middle and Kiko Alonso on the weak side. That would leave an opening for a strong-side linebacker. Miami has a few candidates among Koa Misi, Spencer Paysinger and Donald Butler, to name a few. But there's a general feeling an upgrade is needed.
2. Pass rusher/defensive end: This remains a priority. General manager Chris Grier, speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine, said this area would likely be addressed both in free agency and the draft. Look for the Dolphins to acquire such a player in the first three rounds. The group of returnees is led by Cameron Wake and Andre Branch, but among Terrence Fede, William Hayes, Nick Williams and others, more is required to form a reliable rotation.
3. Guard/center: Although the Dolphins re-signed right guard Jermon Bushrod, acquired Ted Larsen and still have players such as Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen on the roster, they want to build a long-lasting unit. That was part of the reason they traded veteran left tackle Branden Albert to Jacksonville. Given that logic, it would be reasonable to think the Dolphins might want to upgrade at guard while grooming someone at center because Mike Pouncey (back, hip) has been bothered by injuries recently.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)
LB Kiko Alonso: RFA tendered at $3.91M with first-round pick as compensation); $28.91M/4 yrs, $7M SB/$18.5M guaranteed, $2.5M injury only at time of signing.
DE Andre Branch: UFA; $24M/3 yrs, $6M SB/$17.1M guaranteed.
G/T Jermon Bushrod: UFA; $3M/1 yr, $750K SB/$2.225M guaranteed.
LS John Denney: UFA; $980K/1 yr, $40K SB.
WR Kenny Stills: UFA; $32M/4 yrs, $7 SB/$19.95M guaranteed, $2M injury only at time of signing.
S Nate Allen: UFA Raiders; $3.4M/1 yr, $2M SB/$3.4M guaranteed.
TE Anthony Fasano: UFA Titans; $2.75M/1 yr, $1.25M SB.
DE William Hayes (trade Rams).
G/C Ted Larsen: UFA Bears; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
S T.J. McDonald: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
TE Julius Thomas (trade Jaguars).
LB Lawrence Timmons: UFA Steelers; $12M/2 yrs, $5.5M SB/$11M guaranteed.
S Isa Abdul-Quddus (released/failed physical).
T Branden Albert (traded Jaguars).
TE Jordan Cameron (UFA/retired).
LB Jelani Jenkins: UFA Raiders; $1M/1 yr, $100 SB.
DE Dion Jordan (released/failed physical).
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (released).
DT Earl Mitchell (released).
TE Dion Sims: UFA Bears; $18M/3 yrs, $1M SB/$10M guaranteed, , $4M injury only at time of signing.
DE Mario Williams (released).
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 22nd overall).
Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft):
Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky. Trading away starting left tackle Branden Albert (to Jacksonville) says a lot about the Dolphins' confidence in last year's first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. While Tunsil should have no problem reacclimating to tackle after starring at left guard last season, his absence inside could be an issue. Lamp looks like a plug and play solution after a seamless transition inside to guard at the Senior Bowl.
Dane Brugler (March 27 mock draft):
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan. The Dolphins will be looking to add another pass-rush option in the draft and Charlton is an ascending prospect that can be groomed behind Cameron Wake.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team's current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see NFLDraftScout.com's full mocks and ratings.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.