2018 NFL Draft: Going against own philosophy puts pressure on Dolphins

Roquan Smith could be a Miami Dolphin by the end of the night. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins try to be as guarded as possible about their intentions in the NFL Draft, which starts with Round 1 tonight. The trio that runs football operations for the organization does all it can to avoid tipping its hand.

The only morsel of insight vice president Mike Tannenbaum has been willing to divulge over the past few years is a core philosophy of not relying on the draft to fill holes in the lineup. Miami’s intention is to already have a game-ready starting 22 and enjoy the flexibility of choosing the best available talent.

That didn’t happen this year.

The Dolphins enter draft weekend with only two clear starters at linebacker and without an established tight end. If they’re serious about competing for a playoff spot this season, they’ll try to find those answers in the draft.

Their best shot at that will be in the first two nights, when they select No. 11 overall, No. 42 in the second around and No. 73 in the third. On Saturday, they have two fourth-rounders, a sixth and two sevenths.

Unless they get lucky and have a top quarterback slide to them in the first round, they’re well-positioned address linebacker at No. 11. They need someone who can be a starter this season and a fixture beyond it.

Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds are thought to be the best two at the position. Smith’s a little more pro-ready, but Edmunds is a tremendously talented prospect who’s only 19.

The Dolphins currently have Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan in place, and there’s good cause to be optimistic about both of them.

McMillan was a second-rounder last year who was so impressive that he claimed the starting middle linebacker job before tearing his ACL in the preseason. Alonso had some issues last season, but he was good enough the year before to earn a three-year, $29 million contract extension.

The trouble is the Dolphins don’t have proven depth behind them. While a third linebacker often isn’t necessary for their defense, it is a need and they’d also like to have contingencies set up in case they run into snags like last year. Plus, they need to be prepared for Alonso’s contract running out after the 2020 season.

The other four linebackers currently on the roster are Chase Allen (four starts last year), Terence Garvin (three), Mike Hull (three) and Stephone Anthony (none).

As thin as the Dolphins appear at linebacker, their tight end situation is even more concerning. They’re currently proceeding with A.J. Derby as the logical starter, and he has 37 catches for three teams since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.

The other options are MarQueis Gray (one catch last season), Gavin Escobar (none) and Thomas Duarte (none).

In the draft, top prospects Hayden Hurst of South Carolina and Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State are projected to go in the 20s at the earliest. The Dolphins probably wouldn’t be getting ideal value for such a high pick by taking one of them at 11th. If they really want Goedert or Hurst, the route would be trading back and acquiring extra picks or exploring a move up from No. 42 into the late first round.

Trading up in general seems highly unlikely for Miami in the first two rounds because it needs its full stock of picks as it tries to reshape a roster that went 16-16 over the last two regular seasons.

If the Dolphins can’t get Hurst or Goedert, or if they go for a quarterback in the second round, they can target someone in the next tier of tight ends in the third.

Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews could go in the second or third round. Indiana’s Ian Thomas, Central Florida’s Jordan Akins, University of Miami’s Chris Herndon and Washington’s Will Dissly are later possibilities.

The roster holes put a ton of pressure on the Dolphins to get it right tonight and Friday. Hitting on the perfect combination of picks in the first three rounds is extremely difficult, and that’s without taking into account what the other 31 teams will do. It’s smart that they typically strategize their offseason in a way that avoids this situation, but this year they’ll have to make it work.

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