The NFL has released its official draft order for the April 2009 draft and although the order might change slightly at the end of rounds 3-7 because of the addition of compensatory picks, you can pretty much bank on much of this remaining.
So here's the 411 on the Dolphins:
They have nine overall picks. They have at least one selection in every round, except the sixth when they have no pick. They have two picks in the second round. They have three picks in the seventh round.
The picks by round:
FIRST -- 25th (25th overall).
SECOND -- 12th (44th overall) from Washington and 24th (56th overall).
THIRD -- 23rd (87th overall).
FOURTH -- 26th (122nd overall).
FIFTH -- 25th (153rd overall).
SIXTH -- 24th (184th overall) to Dallas.
SEVENTH -- 5th (197th overall) from Cleveland, 23rd (215th overall), and 28th (220th overall) from Carolina.
Alrightie then. So what do the Dolphins do with those picks, those nine opportunities to improve the team?
Following the league-wide cooling off of free agency at the end of this week, I think it will be obvious to everyone the Dolphins are not about to sign a sure-fire, starting-caliber player the remainder of free agency. Oh, some unrestricted free agent might sign and have the chance to compete for a starting job. Some veteran might even be cut unexpectedly -- as Chad Pennington was -- and also fit in as the Dolphins look to get an answer at a questionable position.
But are the Dolphins going to find someone in what remains of free agency that will be anointed a starter from the moment he puts signature to contract as Gibril Wilson and Jake Grove were? Probably not.
So it is the draft that will offer Miami the next greatest opportunity -- outside of trades -- to find starters. And on a team with as many needs as the Dolphins still have, one would expect they could find at minimum one and perhaps even three rookies to start relatively quickly out of the coming draft.
And where does Miami need these starters?
Cornerback. Wide receiver. Outside linebacker/pass rusher.
The cornerback spot as currently filled on the Miami roster shows what happens when a team invests a high draft pick on a position and the player flops. The loss of Andre' Goodman in free agency wouldn't be a big deal if Jason Allen, the first-round pick in 2006, were ready to step up and step in. Allen's not, at least coaches haven't thought so -- demoting him time after time after time, to the point he was mostly a special teams player at the end of last season.
So the Dolphins need a starting caliber cornerback and, at minimum, need someone with great promise to groom so he can step in when Will Allen is out of contact after the 2009 season. Cornerback, in my opinion, is currently the team's most glaring need.
Then there is the receiver position. The Dolphins need a No. 1 receiver. Can a rookie be a No. 1 receiver? Most cannot, but rookies can certainly make a difference as evidenced by the work Eddie Royal, DeSean Jackson and Donnie Avery did as rookies last season.
Hakeem Nicks screams "draft me" to Miami. He is polished. He is strong. He has experience in a pro offense. And Nicks is a great competitor as evidenced by the fact that when teammate Brandon Tate went down with an injury and teams rolled their coverages to Nicks, Nicks responded by improving his production. He was better when the pressure was on and teams paid closer attention to him. He would start on the Dolphins tomorrow.
But I doubt the Dolphins would be able to get him unless they get him in the first round and I don't know if that is the plan, given the relative value Bill Parcells places on wide receivers. We shall see. [Update: The youtube video I had up previously was of Nicks in 2007, his sophomore year. Thanks to N.C. fan Reggie Harrison for pointing it out. I've replaced it with a highlight look of 2008 action, including one of the sickest catches of the year at the 2:47 mark against West Virginia. Check out the concentration as Nicks brings the ball behind his back.]
The next highest priority is clearly improving the pass rush and the Dolphins will do this, in all probability, by picking an outside linebacker. Don't get hooked on strong side or weak side. As a rookie that player doesn't really have to start. He can be a situational pass rusher that plays in every passing situation as one of Miami's quarterback-chasing-front-four in the nickel and dime packages.
Eventually coaches will decide if that rookie rusher is Matt Roth's replacement in 2009 ... or Joey Porter's replacement beyond that. Again, don't get caught up in weak or strong side right away. The coaches will figure that out eventually. Concentrate on the need to get pressure on the quarterback from a source other than Porter, particularly in the nickel and dime packages. That's the key.
Actually, those are the three greatest keys to improving the Dolphins in 2009 now that free agency is about to slow to a trickle.