As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am unabashedly a Miami Dolphins fan. I have been ever since I can remember, and I will be until the day I die. I have been remarkably quiet about the Dolphins on here since writing my last preseason article, due in large part to just how utterly disappointing their 2015 season really was.
But with another off-season comes a renewed sense of hope. The club has made many personnel changes, some of which I don't necessarily agree with, but am taking a “wait and see” approach to. The real start of that new hope, however, is always the NFL Draft. It's one of my favorite times of the year, and the prospect of the Dolphins bringing in fresh, young talent to turn the franchise around annually brings me great expectations…which are usually dashed quickly, but I digress.
With that hope in mind, and with some new projects coming down the line, I've decided to try my hand at some amateur scouting. I've taken a look at several mock drafts that have been put together and have put together my thoughts on the top 5 players that, as of right now, seem most likely to be the Dolphins' choice with the 8th pick in the draft.
All of the tape that was watched to put this article together can be found thanks to the wonderful people over at Draft Breakdown. If you've ever wanted to try your hand at film study, or just wanted to know more about the players that your team drafts, I would strongly suggest heading over to their website. They have all the film you could ever want, and then some.
So, without further ado, let's kick off my top 5!
#5 – Shaq Lawson
We'll start off this article with Shaq Lawson. Lawson is an edge rusher from Clemson. As I'll discuss a little later, though edge rushers is a huge area of need for the Dolphins, with Olivier Vernon likely to leave in free agency and Cam Wake coming off an Achilles tendon injury and on the wrong side of 30, selecting Lawson this high would be a mistake.
The first thing that jumps out at you when you watch the tape on Lawson is the kid's athleticism. He's a freak athlete who has the rare combination of size, speed, and strength that makes scouts, and coaches, drool. We'll have to see what numbers he puts up in the Combine in April, but I would anticipate him being right up there with the leaders at his position.
That athleticism lends well to him not only in the gym, but he manages to translate it on the field very well. When you watch his film, you see a kid who can play multiple edge rush techniques. Whether he's lining up on the inside of the tackle, wide of the tackle for a speed rush, or standing up, there's not much of a drop off in his ability, which makes him an attractive prospect at the next level.
Playing multiple techniques well means that Lawson isn't going to be considered a specialist, someone that you have to take off the field in obvious run situations. He has the ability to be an every-down contributor. The other thing that really jumped out at me is his play recognition. Lawson does a great job of staying with his backside responsibility on misdirection plays. He seldom gets caught coming up the field, leaving himself vulnerable to the cut-back or having made the wrong read.
When it comes to the read-option, again Lawson is disciplined in both his eyes and his body. He reads the quarterback well and has a knack for reading when the quarterback is handing the ball off and when he's kept it himself.
Now that we've covered the pros for Lawson let's talk about some cons. The biggest con that I've seen on Lawson is that he doesn't, to me, seem to use his hands all that well. What I saw on the film was a guy who doesn't hand-fight well to get off the block, instead relying on his superior athleticism and remarkable spin move to get past the offensive tackle. He's not going to have a clear edge in athleticism on most guys at the next level, so he's going to need to be coached up in that aspect.
The only other real con that I found for him are slight size and injury concerns. Personally, I'm not much for knocking a guy simply because he's not the “ideal” height or weight, but the fact remains that it is something that scouts look for. While Lawson does have prototypical weight compared to the elite edge rushers in today's NFL, he is a couple of inches shorter than them, which may cause him to slide down some team's draft boards.
As far as the injuries are concerned, he left multiple games this past season with knee issues. None of them were serious, and he never missed much time with the injuries, but it does give me pause. I wonder how much damage those tendons have actually taken and if he may be a ticking time-bomb for a blown ACL and never being the same player he was. Miami doesn't exactly have a great history with players who have suffered knee injuries (Yatil Green, anyone?).
#4 – Carson Wentz
If this were based purely upon talent, quality of film, and value of the pick, then Carson Wentz would be in the number one spot, and it's not even close. Everything about this kid just screams “Franchise QB.” Even as I type this, there's a voice in the back of my head saying “Well then why isn't he in the number one spot? You know how important the quarterback is!”
The truth of the matter is that the only reason Wentz ISN'T in the number one spot is because of the large contract we gave Ryan Tannehill before last season. I know that contracts aren't something you're necessarily married to in the NFL, but something about giving a player nearly $100 million dollars and then replacing him two years later leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Now, as for how Wentz breaks down on film:
Simply put, amazing. There really isn't much not to like about this kid. When you watch his tape, there's not much that he can't do, and do it very well.
The first thing you notice about Wentz is his size. He is the very mold of a QB, at 6'5” and 230lbs. To a scout, it really doesn't get any better than that. With that size, he's got a huge arm that is able to make every throw on the route tree. He can fling the ball with velocity on a deep out from the opposite hash, he can hit the quick slant on his hot read, and he can put touch on the deep ball.
Unlike a lot of bigger quarterbacks, though, he's also a wonderful athlete. He has great speed for a quarterback, especially one of his size, and he has some moves to go along with it. He's not going to beat a DB with his speed or moves, but he's got a great shot to fake out most linebackers. A quarterback with such athleticism is highly coveted.
There are downsides to being so athletic and having such a big arm, however. In watching his tape, I haven't seen him demonstrate an ability to get down and avoid taking hits. He played at his college ball at a lower level, where the guys trying to tackle him were the same size, if not a little smaller than him, so he could afford to take them head-on. That's not going to be the case in the NFL.
That speed and athleticism has also led to a tendency for Wentz to rely upon it more than he should. He hasn't demonstrated a real ability to get through a read progression before making a play happen. Too often, if his first or second option isn't open, he'll tuck and run instead of going down a third or check-down option.
This manifests itself in a couple of negative ways. Either he'll break the pocket and look to make a play with his legs, or he'll suffer from “Brett Favre Syndrome”, where he trusts his arm to be able to fit the ball into a window he really shouldn't attempt to. Decision-making and read progressions are definite areas he will need to work on.
Footwork is also a slight weakness for Wentz. Too often he'll let himself get an overly-wide base in the pocket, which will throw off his mechanics ever so slightly. It's something he can usually overcome with arm talent, but it's enough to perhaps give coaches a little pause.
When on roll-outs, Wentz also has a bad tendency to throw the ball off the wrong foot, which is something that NFL cornerbacks will take advantage of. He gets away with it at the FCS level, he won't anymore.
#3 – Jaylon Smith
These next two players I had an exceedingly hard time separating. For me, they are in essentially a dead heat for the pick. I gave Myles Jack a slight nod for the pick because he seems to be a little more athletic than Smith. In truth, though, linebacker is a huge area of need for the Dolphins, and I think that any fan, and the organization itself, would be thrilled with either one of these kids.
Now, as for what the tape says on Jaylon Smith, the Middle / Strong-side linebacker from Notre Dame: Athleticism. That's the biggest thing jumping off the tape at you when you watch this kid, he is explosive in run support. He's big, strong, and fast, and isn't afraid to come lay down a big hit.
He reads and reacts to running plays very well, and uses that explosiveness to have great pursuit. He always manages to find himself around the ball carrier. He may not always make the tackle, but you'll never accuse him of taking a play off.
Along with that, and as opposed to the aforementioned Shaq Lawson, when I watched Smith's tape I saw a player who uses his hands very well. He's very adept at knowing when to swipe and how to hand-fight with bigger, stronger linemen to get off blocks and make a play. When he's blocked by a tight end or receiver, he doesn't waste time hand-fighting, instead using his superior strength to simply overpower the blocker and make a play.
Also working in Smith's favor is the level of competition his tape comes against. Of all the players that I watched while composing this blog post, he has by far the strongest competition. During his career at Notre Dame, Smith faced off against the likes of Michigan, LSU, Stanford, Florida State, Clemson, and Ohio State in just two years of tape.
If that's not a murderer's row of teams, I don't know what is. He has proven himself time and again against elite competition, and that bodes very well for him from a scouting perspective.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows for Smith, however. He has the most significant injury concerns of anyone evaluated in this article. During the bowl game against Ohio State, Smith suffered a torn ACL and LCL. Obviously he was forced to make an early exit in that game, but the severity of his injury leaves in question whether Smith will be ready to go for the start of training camp.
That's not to say that it will affect his draft status very much, as we've seen players like Willis McGahee and Marcus Lattimore drafted after suffering gruesome knee injuries, but it is something that will, or at least should, be taken into account.
The other reason that I have Jaylon Smith one spot behind Myles Jack is he has slightly less versatility at the position than his counterpart. When I watched the tape I didn't see a linebacker who was very skilled in coverage.
Smith does well in zone coverage, but he was rarely asked to take on a wide receiver or tight end one-on-one in coverage, which is something that Jack was asked to do often, and excelled at.
Ultimately I think the decision comes down to which position the Dolphins view as a priority in the draft. Jaylon Smith has the edge if they prioritize a linebacker who can play the strong side position and be a run-stuffing force.
If, however, they feel they need a middle linebacker with the versatility to move around the field, switch it up with weak-side Jelani Jenkins, and who can cover tight ends and wide receivers in the slot, then the pick will be Jack.
#2 – Myles Jack
Injury concerns, unfortunately, seem to be a theme with the players in this article, and Myles Jack is no exception. Much like Jaylon Smith, Jack suffered a major knee injury, this one a torn meniscus in his knee. Unlike Smith, however, Jack's injury occurred very early in the season and should not put his availability for training camp in question.
That injury does, however, give me some cause for concern, because when you watch Jack's tape, you immediately notice the explosive athlete he is. His speed is virtually unparalleled at the linebacker position. He has enough speed to be an effective pass-rusher off the edge if asked, and more than enough to cover larger receivers and tight ends in one-on-one coverage.
Jack is a dynamic athlete who played both sides of the ball during his career at UCLA, gaining experience as a running back in addition to his time as a linebacker. He even returned a few kicks. This experience makes him invaluable at the next level. If you want to make an impact as a rookie and guarantee yourself a spot on a team, being able to contribute on special teams is key.
How he recovers from the torn meniscus and what effect it has on his previously explosive nature remains to be seen.
Jack isn't just a player who relies on his superior athletic ability to get by, he is also very adept at reading plays and reacting. He reads the running back very well and explodes to the hole to meet him, and in the passing game he is very quick to react to screen plays, always finding himself in a position to make a play on the receiver (much like Jaylon Smith).
Physicality is another major strength for Jack. He's not simply a finesse player. He has the tools to take on linemen and does so with enthusiasm. When you look at the footage, you'll see a linebacker who is eager to take on linemen, and will frequently beat them with physicality and skill. In the passing game, Jack uses this physicality to play excellent bump-and-run coverage, not allowing the receiver or tight end to get a clean break off the line.
Choosing Jack with the 8th pick in the draft would be a very solid choice. He has a rare combination of speed, strength, and playmaking ability. He has the versatility to play any linebacker position in a 4-3 defensive scheme, and that versatility lands him as my second choice.
#1 – Vernon Hargreaves
Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to say about my number 1 choice for Miami in the 2016 NFL Draft. The tape speaks for itself. When you watch Vernon Hargreaves III, it quickly becomes clear that he is the best pure cornerback in this draft, and the second-best defensive back behind potential first overall pick Jalen Ramsey.
Hargreaves III is a true shut-down corner in every sense of the word. He's skilled in playing every coverage asked of him. Zone or man. Press or off. He can do it all and will shut down his opponent no matter which scheme he's asked to play. He has the speed to stay in the hip pocket of his receiver, as well as the speed to recover on the rare occasion that he is beaten. His technique is nearly flawless, possessing very fluid hips and great feet to be able to change direction with the cut of any route.
If Hargreaves III does have a weakness, it's his desire to make a highlight-reel play. This is especially apparent when he comes up in run support. Though he has great instincts and ability in run support, showing enthusiasm to come up and make a hit on the RB, he could use some work on his form tackling. Too often it seems he's concerned with making the spectacular hit and fails to wrap up, leading to broken tackles and potentially big plays.
Cornerback is probably the biggest need that Miami has right now, with Brent Grimes, our best player at the position, aging and seemingly unable to cover his grandmother last year, it's very clear that upgrades at this position are of the utmost importance. Choosing Hargreaves III with the 8th pick in the draft would go a long way towards solidifying the position, especially if we are able to pair it with someone like Xavien Howard in the second round.
These rankings, and players, are sure to change about a million times between today and the start of the NFL Draft. This is my projection as of this minute, but I anticipate writing several more of these articles as we get closer and closer to that glorious day. Stay tuned to see how my opinions change the closer we get. Until then, thank you for reading A Spoonful of Sports!
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.