Top 8 Miami Dolphins NFL Draft targets in tonight’s CFB title game

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith is after Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield here. Keep a close eye on#3 of the Georgia Bulldogs tonight. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The states of Florida, Georgia and Alabama produce three of the four highest ratios of NFL players per resident.

And so it really shouldn’t be all that surprising that Georgia and Alabama (each featuring some players from Florida) are squaring off in tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship (8 p.m., ESPN).

But if you’re a Miami Dolphins fan, there are at least eight players worth focusing in on, any of whom could be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft (April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas).

Here are our Top 8 players that would look oh-so-nice in aqua and orange in 2018:

  1. Georgia LB #3 Roquan Smith. Projected first-rounder. Sideline-to-sideline explosiveness. Three-down capable. He can pressure the quarterback and cover? Yes, please. Increased his stock with a remarkable effort against Oklahoma in the CFB Playoff semifinal. Speed. Youth. Raekwon & Roquan (McMillan & Smith) just sounds good, doesn’t it?  (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  2. Alabama S #29 Minkah Fitzpatrick. Projected first-rounder. He probably won’t be available when the Dolphins pick at 11th. But Fitzpatrick is your new-age safety. He can play close to the line of scrimmage or deep. He can cover but also has the size and strength to hold up in the NFL game. Would allow coordinator Matt Burke to unleash Fitzpatrick, T.J. McDonald and Reshad Jones. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  3. Alabama WR #3 Calvin Ridley. Projected first-rounder. Why would the Dolphins take a receiver when it’s not an obvious position of need? Well, maybe you decide to let Jarvis Landry walk. Or maybe you decide to trade DeVante Parker. Ridley is a Fort Lauderdale native who compares to former ‘Bama receiver Amari Cooper. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  4. Alabama RB #34 Damien Harris. Projected third-rounder. There are four backs in the game the Dolphins could consider as a compliment to Kenyan Drake, including ‘Bama’s bull rusher Bo Scarbrough. Harris is a mostly north-south runner who has averaged more than 7 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  5. Alabama S #15 Ronnie Harrison. Projected second-rounder. Harris can cover tight ends. If only because of that, he should be on Miami’s radar. Again, safety is not an obvious position of need. But if Miami wanted to add a player with great range to its secondary, Harris could be a valuable weapon that increases flexibility for the team. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  6. Georgia RB #27 Nick Chubb. Projected third-rounder. There could be good value here, if Chubb slides at all because of a previous knee injury. Chubb is  a downhill, power runner, which could compliment Drake well. Chubb has good vision and can break tackles and he may be even better as a rookie than he was this season with Georgia. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  7. Georgia LB #7 Lorenzo Carter. Projected second-rounder. Can rush or cover. Can be an outside linebacker as well as edge rusher. Carter can create pressure and Georgia has also used him to cover tight ends and running backs. Carter is going to need to add size and strength, which may not be ideal for Miami’s 2018 defense. Upside pick. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)
  8. Georgia RB #1 Sony Michel. Projected second-rounder. Michel has improved his draft stock this season and may be taken ahead of Chubb because of his speed and elusiveness. Michel was a star at Plantation American Heritage and he has emerged as a complete back in college. He can run inside and outside and pass catch. Michel = burst. (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS)

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Restructuring Ndamukong Suh contract would give Dolphins salary cap help

The Dolphins could free up some salary cap space this this year by renegotiating with Suh. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—There’s no disputing Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is among the best players in the game at any position. There’s not even much argument against him being worth the $114 million deal Miami gave him three years ago.

The real issue is whether a Dolphins team that needs several upgrades can afford that luxury.

As they move into 2018 planning, the $26.1 million salary cap hit for Suh is going to be an obstacle. If they restructure with him, spreading his guaranteed money out over more years. Suh agreed to redo his deal once already, doing so in early 2016.

“We really haven’t gotten towards the salary cap yet,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said when asked about reworking Suh’s deal. “In a perfect world, we try to give ourselves as much flexibility as possible. We’re going to sit down and look at all of our players and figure out what makes sense for us. Some situations, we may have a little bit more flexibility than others.”

According to Spotrac’s calculations, the Dolphins currently have the fourth-lowest salary cap space for 2018. They’ll be able to add, though, by making some personnel moves in the coming months.

Even by letting go of some high-priced veterans, though, Miami faces the financial challenge of re-signing Jarvis Landry, any outside free agents at positions of need, several important role players who are hitting unrestricted free agency and possibly an established backup for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Restructuring Suh’s contract might sound simple, but it takes two sides working together to get something like that done. He could insist upon a bump in total guaranteed money to agree to that.

When asked whether Suh has been a cooperative partner, Tannenbaum steered the topic toward how he’s contributed as a player.

“He’s been a pro,” Tannenbaum said. “He’s played well. He helped us win a bunch of games, helped us get to the playoffs a year ago. He’s played well for us, and again, we’ll evaluate each player, their salary and what flexibility we have.

“I appreciate everything he’s done. He’s a hard-worker, does everything he’s asked and he does extra in terms of preparing himself for games; but like I said, we’re 72 hours out after our last game and we have a lot of work to do to evaluate everybody.”

In three seasons with Miami, Suh has 180 tackles, 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He has played all 48 possible games and been on the field for at least 83 percent of the defensive snaps every season. Pro Football Focus ranked him in the top four at his position each of his three years with the Dolphins.

[Ryan Tannehill’s 2018 return from knee injury at forefront of Dolphins’ minds]

[Miami Dolphins find a hidden giant in offensive lineman Jesse Davis]

[Longtime tight end Anthony Fasano weighs his NFL future]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Top 10 Miami Dolphins who aren’t part of the problem going into 2018

Wake’s had back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

DAVIE—The Dolphins have a lot they need to fix if they are going to be a playoff contender next season, but not everything is broken.

They’ll benefit quite a bit from getting guys like Ryan Tannehill and Raekwon McMillan back off Injured Reserve, and there are some other pieces in place. Some of the guys who were involved in this season’s debacle weren’t really the issue, and Miami should be glad to have them back next year.

Here are the top 10 Dolphins who aren’t part of the problem:

10. S Michael Thomas
If Thomas gets a good offer as an unrestricted free agent this year, the Dolphins will have to think hard about matching it because he’s highly valuable in their secondary and on special teams. Pro Football Focus ranked him the best special teams player in the NFL this year, and he was solid for Miami when it needed spot work at safety.

9. K Cody Parkey
Don’t take The Jupiter Juggernaut for granted. He matched Jay Feely’s single-season franchise record by making 91.3 percent (21 of 23) of his field goals—his only misses were from 48 and 50 yards. He was also excellent on kickoffs and is the only kicker known to have successfully pulled off four onside kicks in a season (that stat is tracked back to 1997). This offense needs the security of being able to take the three points anytime it’s in range, and the Dolphins should move quickly to re-sign him.

8. LB Kiko Alonso
Alonso is a popular target for the disappointed fan base, especially after signing a four-year, $28.9 million extension last year. He had 115 tackles and two forced fumbles this year, which was a bit of a dropoff from the six turnovers he got his hands on in 2016. The bottom line on Alonso is that he’s a valuable talent, and the coaching staff needs to hone in on the best way to use him.

7. RB Kenyan Drake
Getting Drake at No. 73 overall in the 2016 draft is looking like a smart pickup. Jay Ajayi was very good at times, but Drake is much more the style of running back Gase likes to have in his offense and he proved that once he got his shot. After the Ajayi trade, Drake averaged 94.6 yards from scrimmage per game. The 29 catches he had during that span were more than Ajayi totaled in his entire 2016 Pro Bowl season.

6. C Mike Pouncey
As the Dolphins continue to mix and match and hope for the best on their offensive line, they’re fortunate to have Pouncey as a reliable in the middle. As long as his health is good, which is promising after he played all 16 games and 93.6 percent of the offensive snaps this year. Some renovating is necessary, but Pouncey at $9 million next year sounds just fine.

5. S Reshad Jones
For the second straight year, Jones made people wonder whether he’s the Dolphins’ most important offensive player. He looked worthy of the five-year, $60 million extension they gave him before the season and totaled a team-high 122 tackles to go with two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two touchdowns. And his shoulder held up with no issues after undergoing rotator cuff surgery the year before.

4. WR Kenny Stills
This will go down as one of vice president Mike Tannenbaum’s best personnel moves. He got Stills for a minimal price in a trade, he developed well in his first two seasons and then re-signed for a reasonable price heading into his mid- to late-20s. Stills’ strong year in 2017 helped mitigate an underwhelming one from DeVante Parker.

3. DE Cameron Wake
The Dolphins might try to secure Wake’s 2019 season sometime in the next few months. Anyone who thought he was done after that torn Achilles tendon in 2015 has been proven completely wrong after he put up 22 sacks, 65 tackles and five forced fumbles the last two seasons. He also had no trouble hitting the threshold for his $1 million playing time bonus this year. Wake looks like he’s going to do this to age 40, and that’s big for Miami.

2. WR Jarvis Landry
Forget for a moment that Landry and the Dolphins seem to be playing hardball heading into contract talks as he hits unrestricted free agency. It’s not profitable for them to say this right now, but he’s their best offensive player. He produces no matter who plays quarterback and he just broke his own franchise record for catches in a season with 112. Ask Tannehill if he wants this guy back next year.

1.DT Ndamukong Suh
He’s a luxury the Dolphins probably couldn’t afford, but he’s here and he’s dominant. At 30, he was still one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. It’s not even necessary to get into all the details of how great he is. Everyone knows it. The only issue for Miami is his scheduled $26.1 and $28.1 million salary cap hits for next two seasons, which the team can try to restructure.

[Ryan Tannehill’s 2018 return from knee injury at forefront of Dolphins’ minds]

[Miami Dolphins find a hidden giant in offensive lineman Jesse Davis]

[Longtime tight end Anthony Fasano weighs his NFL future]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Adam Gase runs Dolphins’ offense, but OC Clyde Christensen gets booted?

Clyde Christensen is being replaced as Miami’s offensive coordinator. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

DAVIE—Clyde Christensen is losing his job over all the bad plays he didn’t call.

Christensen was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator the last two seasons to help Adam Gase in his first NFL head-coaching gig. Now he’s out as Gase turns to Dowell Loggains to replace him after Miami spent another year in the bottom 10 of the league in total offense.

Who’s to blame for all the “garbage offense,” to use Gase’s term, South Florida has endured the last two years? Not Christensen.

Gase runs the offense, something 11 other head coaches do, and he’s relied on Christensen mostly as an advisor. Gase calls the plays and works directly with the quarterbacks.

He recruited Christensen at least in part because he had almost four decades experience coaching offense, including 20 with the Buccaneers and Colts. At 61, he’s also more than 20 years older than Gase. That’s an extremely helpful resource—if you’re somehow able to secure it.

It’s hard to picture many coaches with his résumé wanting to take a job like this, one in which the head coach was intent on maintaining total control. Christensen seemed to embrace the role of getting Gase’s career off and running.

When asked during the recent season to clarify his responsibility on the staff, Christensen described it as “giving him some ideas and kind of manage the things underneath him, talk through some things like ‘How do we get this thing back on track?’ so he can focus on calling the game.”

He continued, “It’s the same as it’s always been, just to be a complement to him. It’s his show, and I’m just dancing in it.”

That’s not Christensen being snarky, by the way. That was something he said very humbly and supportively in a press conference when Miami’s offense was at its worst.

A funny story emerged in the preseason when the wide receivers began complaining that Christensen threw the ball too hard during their warmup drills. That prompted some good chuckles, but also this question: Why was the offensive coordinator doing a job that could’ve been handled by an intern?

“We’ve got about four quarterback whisperers here, so I just moved over to the receivers,” he said, making a joke that really wasn’t a joke. When asked about Jay Cutler’s performance at one point this season, he deferred by saying, “I’ll let Coach deal with that just because he’s kind of handling him.”

It gets harder and harder to see where Christensen is at fault.

Gase and Christensen’s dynamic has always come across like a father-son relationship, an image that traces back to the days Gase and Sean McVay and a bunch of the league’s other up-and-coming offensive minds would huddle around Christensen at the NFL Combine like he was their grandpa.

“We’d all be sitting in the end zone, and there’d be Clyde Christensen,” Gase said. “And there’d be like a herd of all these guys in their mid-20s sitting around him listening to Peyton Manning stories.”

Christensen backed Gase at every turn, no matter how bad things looked when he opened his career with a 1-4 start or this season when his offense managed two touchdowns in the first three games. After being shut out by the Saints in London, there was Christensen counseling Gase in a corridor at Wembley Stadium.

If Christensen doesn’t remain on staff, or if he’s marginalized to the point that he’s no longer part of the inner circle, Gase is going to miss that voice. He’d benefit from keeping Christensen as close as possible, but that could be awkward after replacing him.

The man replacing him, Loggains, is 37 years old, spent exactly one season working with Gase and was the offensive coordinator of a Bears team that averaged 16.5 points per game last year (he had a rookie quarterback, to be fair). He was looking for work because Chicago fired coach John Fox last week.

It takes a lot of faith in Gase to believe this is the move that’s going to get Miami’s offense rolling, which is something people down here have craved more than anything. It’s not just that the Dolphins are perpetually mediocre, it’s that they’re boring. They haven’t had a top-10 offense since 2001.

Since Gase took over the Dolphins, they’ve scored the ninth-fewest points, gained the sixth-fewest yards, committed the seventh-most turnovers, posted the second-worst third-down conversion rate and ranked 18th in passer rating. Something definitely needs to change, and apparently he thinks this is it.

He’s surely feeling the pressure of turning that around, especially going 6-10 this year. That sets the stage for a pivotal—and tense—upcoming season. He’d better be right that Loggains is the one to help him navigate it.

[Ryan Tannehill’s 2018 return from knee injury at forefront of Dolphins’ minds]

[Miami Dolphins find a hidden giant in offensive lineman Jesse Davis]

[Longtime tight end Anthony Fasano weighs his NFL future]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

The real reason for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry’s ejection vs. Bills

NFL referee Jeff Triplette ejects Jarvis Landry in the Dolphins’ season finale. (AP)

DAVIE—There was widespread confusion in the Dolphins’ season finale against the Bills when a hullabaloo broke out following Jarvis Landry’s touchdown catch with 6:16 remaining.

It got so convoluted that referee Jeff Triplette at one point announced ejections of Buffalo’s Richie Incognito and Miami’s Jake Brendel despite neither of them even being on the field at that time.

In the end, Landry and running back Kenyan Drake were the only players thrown out. Drake’s was obvious after he threw a Bills helmet 20 yards, but Landry’s was murkier.

Triplette announced an unnecessary roughness penalty for Landry headbutting and hitting Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer, then added something about disrespecting the official. Triplette was not available after the game to clarify which penalty merited the ejection, or whether Landry committed two offenses that warranted an ejection.

It turns out it was verbal abuse of a referee that actually got Landry thrown out of the game, a source said. While it is possible to be tossed for an unnecessary roughness violation if it’s egregious, in this case Landry would’ve remained in the game if he had restrained himself after going at Poyer.

Afterward, he maintained he’d done nothing wrong and believed he’d been ejected because of the incident with Poyer.

“He said I was ejected, and I just walked to the locker room,” Landry said.

At likely the exact time Landry was giving that version of what took place, Miami coach Adam Gase was asked about it in the post-game press conference room and said, “I know what he did, but it’s not something that I want to say right now.”

The good news for Landry—and Drake, though this was far less of a question for him—is that he’s unlikely to be suspended, which would have kept him out of the 2018 season opener. If an offense merits a suspension, the NFL typically announces that the next day. As of late this afternoon, nothing had come up on that front.

Landry’s actions did carry a cost, however, regardless of whether the league fines him later this week. He came up 13 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season, and the Dolphins had two more possessions after his ejection.

[Ryan Tannehill’s 2018 return from knee injury at forefront of Dolphins’ minds]

[Miami Dolphins find a hidden giant in offensive lineman Jesse Davis]

[Longtime tight end Anthony Fasano weighs his NFL future]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Dolphins DT Jordan Phillips believes he’s tracking toward ‘elite’ level

Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips made progress this year. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—The idea of Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips aspiring toward the distinction of being one of the elites at his position would’ve sounded absurd a year ago. Even he admits that wouldn’t have been believable.

But Phillips set out to change the book on him this season and made some headway. Starting late in the preseason, he showed Miami coaches he was serious about growing into a mainstay and fought off impressive rookie Davon Godchaux for the starting job. He fought through injuries and put together a satisfying year that showed promise heading toward next season.

“I felt like I accomplished what I was trying to do,” Phillips said. “I had a better year, still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but showed improvement and that’s all you can ask for.”

Adam Gase and defensive coordinator both gave him good reviews late in the season, his third since Miami took him in the second round of the 2015 draft.

The first two years were marked by underachievement, which has been the story on Phillips dating back to his time at Oklahoma. He was determined to maintain his effort this season and grow into a true pro.

“It’s just disappointing the way that I came into the league,” he said. “I’m just trying to change the views from you guys’ perspective to everybody around. I want to be a great player. I want to be an elite player. I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve gotta do to get there.”

Phillips had 16 tackles, two sacks and five quarterback hits this year. He missed three games, but played at least 48 percent of the defensive snaps eight times.

The upcoming season will be the last on his rookie deal, setting him up to reach an extension with the Dolphins this offseason or hit unrestricted free agency in March 2019. Phillips didn’t say whether he intends to pursue an extension.

He carries a modest $1.4 million salary cap hit for next season, which is good for Miami considering Ndamukong Suh is currently set to count for $26.1 million.

[Ryan Tannehill’s 2018 return from knee injury at forefront of Dolphins’ minds]

[Miami Dolphins find a hidden giant in offensive lineman Jesse Davis]

[Longtime tight end Anthony Fasano weighs his NFL future]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

QB Ryan Tannehill’s 2018 return foremost on Miami Dolphins’ minds

Ryan Tannehill will be celebrated as a hero when he returns. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—There’s no way to say this without it being a shot at Jay Cutler, but the Dolphins have really, really missed Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill’s 2018 return from a season-ending knee injury has been on players’ minds throughout the year, especially considering how much he remained involved. He’s been on the sideline, traveled with the team, sat in meetings and done a lot of his rehabilitation work on the field in full view.

That’s heightened the expectations, and Miami’s hoping Tannehill will pick up right where he left off in a promising 2016 season the last time anyone’s seen him on the field.

“We were making a lot of improvement this offseason, OTAs and training camp, and we were pretty excited at the improvements that Ryan was making and the timing and us getting on the same page and knowing this offense,” wide receiver Kenny Stills said. “That’s where we’re back to, knowing that he’s going to be back, he’s going to be healthy and just continue to work on the chemistry that we’ve built these past couple of years.”

There’s no question the Dolphins are moving forward now with Tannehill as their quarterback. Owner Stephen Ross identified his injury as the No. 1 problem for his team this year, and Cutler and Matt Moore both seem unlikely to be back next season.

In his first year playing for Adam Gase, Tannehill posted career bests in passer rating (93.5), interceptions (12), completion percentage (67.1) and yards per attempt (7.7). For comparison, Cutler was at 80.8, 14, 62.0 and 6.2.

Miami was 8-5 with Tannehill at quarterback, including the Dec. 11, 2016 game against Arizona when Calais Campbell knocked him out for the rest of that season with an injury to his left knee. Tannehill rehabbed that in time to be fully cleared for OTAs, but shortly into training camp the knee buckled on a non-contact injury.

“I think Ryan is a great piece,” safety Reshad Jones said. “He was coming along, he was having a good spring. I think he’s a valuable piece to this team.”

There’s no guarantee Tannehill will be a star after he’s been something less than that throughout his career, but he’s decisively better than Cutler. He’s more accurate and far more of a running threat, which is something this team needs at quarterback. If he’s healthy for next season, there’s one position Miami has already upgraded.

[Five instant takeaways from Dolphins-Bills]

[Mike Pouncey is ready to see Ryan Tannehill back at QB]

[Grading the Dolphins on their season-ending loss to Buffalo]

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Miami Dolphins 2018 schedule: Next year’s opponents finalized

The Dolphins get a look at Aaron Rodgers next season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

MIAMI GARDENS—The Dolphins’ 2018 set of opponents is finalized following their 22-16 loss to the Bills at Hard Rock Stadium today.

Much of that slate was locked in regardless of how the team fared this season, with one conference home game and road game left to be determined based on where teams ended up in their divisions.

Miami was set to play at home the same-place finisher from the AFC West, which is third-place Cincinnati. It also visits fellow third-place finisher Oakland from the AFC North.

The Dolphins will play their usual home-and-home with New England, Buffalo and the Jets, and the most important aspect of those matchups is when they take place. Because Miami’s climate is so different than the other three, it’s ideal for the Dolphins to play those games (home or away) early in the year. The NFL announces its complete schedule in April.

The rotating divisions paired up with the AFC East this year are the AFC South and NFC North.

Here is the full list of 2018 matchups for the Dolphins:

Home:
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Detroit Lions
Chicago Bears
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Oakland Raiders

Away:
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Cincinnati Bengals

Some notes based on those games:

–This will be Miami’s fourth straight year facing the Titans, with three of those being in South Florida. The Dolphins are 2-1, including a 16-10 win this season.

–The Dolphins are back in Cincinnati for the second time in three years. They played there on a Thursday night in 2016.

–Miami is due for an early-season visit to Buffalo. The team has played at New Era Field in November or December each of the last three years.

–Another concern about the order of the schedule that the Dolphins will surely raise to the NFL: They’ve opened at home once since 2011. Miami was schedule to host the Buccaneers in Week 1 this year, but it was delayed by Hurricane Irma.

–This will be the Dolphins’ first regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, host of this year’s Super Bowl. They played there in the preseason a few months ago. Miami’s last time there was a 2010 game in the Metrodome.

–The team will make its first appearance at Lambeau Field since an October 2010 victory. Only two of its six trips to Green Bay have been in November or December.

–There hasn’t been any indication that the Dolphins will play an international game, and the NFL will not ask them to give up a home game to do so. It remains possible they could play as the road team in London or Mexico.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Amazing images from the Dolphins’ season finale]

[Dolphins throw away strong seasons by five of their star players]

[Dolphins QB Jay Cutler says he won’t be a backup]

[A resurgence for Dion Jordan–and a warning for future Dolphins]

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