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Draft prospects for Dolfans to watch; Zambrano interests Marlins



So what happens if the Dolphins aren’t bad enough (or lucky enough) to get Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the consensus No. 1 pick next April and widely considered the draft’s best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning? Then what?

Here’s a look at the other top prospects Dolphins fans should be eyeing, if Miami doesn’t “Luck” out:

### Among others quarterbacks, Mel Kiper rates Oklahoma junior Landry Jones No. 4 among all prospects and Southern California junior Matt Barkley 10th.

    Kiper, on ESPN.com, compares Jones with fellow ex-Sooner Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams: “He’s an elite quarterback talent. In any other year, he would have a good shot to be the top quarterback off the board. Pinpoint accuracy, consistently puts the ball in the right place. Has size [6-4], sees the field well.”

    Kiper said Barkley “has shown a great growth curve in three years and throws a nice ball, particularly on the move. Like his accuracy. A high IQ player, a leader and a guy out of a pro style system.” His arm strength “is good, not great. He’s still having those mistake-prone days, like we saw at Arizona State.”

Sporting News analyst Russ Lande is less than effusive, saying Barkley reminds him of Carolina Panthers backup and former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

If the Dolphins don’t get the No. 1 pick but want Jones, they must hope teams picking ahead of them already have their anointed quarterbacks (St. Louis, Jacksonville). Incidentally, Kiper said Luck is so good, that he would be “celebrating losses as a victory” if he were a Dolphins fan.

Luck has one season of eligibility remaining but it is widely assumed he will turn pro after he passed up on being the No. 1 pick this past April.

### Miami’s other likely top 10 options would include North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples (rated second overall by Kiper); junior offensive tackles Matt Kalil of USC (third), Jonathan Martin of Stanford (sixth) and Riley Reiff of Iowa (seventh); and receivers Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State (fifth) and Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina (ninth).

Most evaluators have Alabama running back Trent Richardson as a top 10 pick; Kiper has him eighth: “He can be absolute star” if he becomes more consistent. But running back won’t be a need if Daniel Thomas continues to impress.

As for Coples, Kiper said he’s “your prototypical, elite pass-rushing defensive end. Quickness, incredibly long arms, and regularly schools offensive tackles on the way to the quarterback.”

### What about the Top 10-caliber receivers? Blackmon, 6-4, is “a better version of Dez Bryant and the best practice player any of the Oklahoma State coaches can remember,” Kiper said. “Has elite physical size and strength, runs great routes, breaks tackles.” Jeffery, 6-4, “will draw Calvin Johnson comparisons,” Kiper said. “Phenomenal hands. A perpetual matchup nightmare.”

### Players considered borderline top-10 picks include inside linebackers Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State (“great instincts and will draw Ray Lewis comparisons,” Kiper said), Luke Keuchly of Boston College (“dependable tackling machine”) and Manti Te’o of Notre Dame; defensive tackles Alameda Ta’amu of Washington and Brandon Thompson of Clemson, and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

### FYI: Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) in his first three games this season, has great arm strength and deep-ball accuracy and could rise into the first round if he turns pro, Lande said Friday. But Lande said he doesn’t expect him to become a top-10 pick.

Kiper said Griffin’s performance against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas later this season “will go a long way in him deciding whether he goes into the NFL or needs an extra season” at Baylor. Kiper believes Griffin is an “equally good athlete and more polished passer than Terrell Pryor.” Oakland picked Pryor in the third round of the supplemental draft.

Potential second-round quarterbacks include Arizona’s Nick Foles and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill.



### The Marlins have interest in acquiring pitcher Carlos Zambrano – whom the Cubs want to trade – if Chicago picks up a large chunk of his $18 million salary for 2012 and doesn’t expect a lot in return. Zambrano’s numbers were down last year (9-7, 4.82 ERA), but he didn’t pitch the final 6 1/2 weeks, including four when the Cubs placed him on the disqualified list after he cleaned out his locker and told clubhouse staffers that he planned to retire (he quickly changed his mind) following a bad start and ejection against Atlanta.

But he’s only 30 and is 43-26, with a 3.96 ERA, over the past four years. Zambrano told a Spanish newspaper that he and Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen speak almost every day.

### The Marlins also are intrigued by impending Texas free agent lefty C.J. Wilson (16-7, 2.94), but some Marlins officials don’t see wisdom in paying close to $20 million a year for a pitcher. Somewhat less expensive would be White Sox free agent lefty Mark Buehrle (13-9, 3.59 ERA). He has a good relationship with Guillen and said it would be “an interesting challenge” to switch leagues.

The Marlins publicly have ruled out a $100 million payroll. The team’s front office has been expecting a payroll around $80 million, but Jeffrey Loria appears willing to consider exceeding that somewhat if he can get high-impact players.

The Marlins would be at about $66 million if you count six players signed, 10 under team control and arbitration-eligible Anibal Sanchez, Emilio Bonifacio, Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop and possibly Chris Volstad.

So if they could get Zambrano for say, $6 million, and Buehrle for $14 million (his 2011 salary), the Marlins would have one of the league’s best rotations, on paper. But in this scenario, Loria would need to spend a few million more (about $90 million in total payroll) to add an inexpensive veteran who could start in center or at third base if neither Chris Coghlan nor Matt Dominguez wins the one open starting position player job.

### Another option that hasn’t been ruled out would be trading disappointing Ricky Nolasco ($9 million) for cheaper, big-league-ready talent. And the Marlins also will consider adding both Zambrano and a free-agent pitcher who’s cheaper than Buehrle (such as Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon or lefties Paul Maholm or Chris Capuano).

For the first time, Marlins scouts were asked to evaluate and prepare reports on every available pitcher, even the most expensive.

### The Marlins will discuss the merits of making a run at free agents Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder; it’s not out of the question, but two team officials expressed considerable skepticism about landing either. If the Marlins somehow could, it would leave little or no money to upgrade the rotation, which the team’s baseball people consider its biggest need. But it’s Loria’s decision on the big-ticket free agents.   

### The bankruptcy trustee in the Nevin Shapiro case said it’s trying to work with UM and the NCAA to recoup money from former players and coaches before it takes matters into its own hands and considers issuing subpoenas to make the allegedly involved players testify under oath.

### The Heat wants to keep Mario Chalmers and can match any offer, but worries about another team driving up his price with an inflated bid. The Heat isn’t enamored with free agents T.J. Ford, Delonte West or incumbent Mike Bibby; all would be among options only if the Heat can find nothing better. They hope to find a better complement to Chalmers if there’s an amnesty clause in the new labor deal, which could free up Baron Davis (who has a good relationship with LeBron James), among others.