When the Dolphins make their first-round draft pick in two months, they could face a difficult choice among three skilled pass rushers, an exceptional offensive tackle, at least one disruptive defensive tackle and a quarterback who was coached by Miami’s new offensive coordinator.
Or, if they get bold or really lucky, they could end up with the draft’s second-best quarterback (which would require a costly trade up for Robert Griffin III), the top cornerback or the premier receiver.
All the players in the mix for Miami’s pick, eighth overall, are here at the NFL Combine this weekend, putting their bodies - and in some cases, skills - up for inspection for the league’s 32 teams. Here’s a look at Miami’s potential options on April 26, in no particular order:
### North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples: Though some project him coming off the board slightly sooner, Coples said he wouldn’t be upset if he falls to Miami. And that could happen because of his disappointing senior season, where his overall numbers (57 tackles, 7.5 sacks) declined slightly from his junior year (59 tackles, 8.5 sacks).
"I’m not a Coples guy. He looks the part, is pretty, will remind a lot of people of [Bears defensive end] Julius Peppers,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said. “But I’d be scared to death to take him [with Miami’s pick] because he didn’t play hard or well as a senior.” Coples, at 6-5, 284 pounds, would be an ideal 4-3 defensive end.
Coples, who is meeting with the Dolphins, said he knows some people believe "I didn't play as hard" as he should last season. "I could see where it would look like that on film," he said. "I'm a big guy, long strider." But he insisted Saturday that he gave full effort every play.
### Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff: ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Dolphins taking him in his mock draft, noting his tape “was exceptional this past season.”
Reiff, a left tackle at Iowa, would need to play right tackle with the Dolphins. He has played only one game at right tackle, during his redshirt freshman year, but “I’d be happy to move over” to that side.
“From a talent perspective, I don’t think he should be a top 10 pick,” Mayock said. “Because of his position and where we are in the draft, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a top 10 pick. I like him a lot. I don’t think his upside is as high as [Southern California’s] Matt Kalil.”
### South Carolina defensive end/linebacker Melvin Ingram: Mayock rates him as the draft’s No. 1 defensive end, ahead of Coples, and could envision the Dolphins picking him, though “it might be a little high.”
If it comes down to a choice between Ingram (6-2, 272) and Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw (6-1, 271), Mayock said, “I like Ingram’s movement skills better. You can move him around more. He showed up as a nose tackle, hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. He reminds me a little of [the Giants’] Justin Tuck. And he has shown the aptitude to learn all those different positions. He’s got natural pass-rush ability.”
Sporting News draft analyst and ex-Browns scout Russ Lande said Ingram, who had 10 sacks last season, “is a more explosive athlete with better pass-rush skills” than Upshaw.
Ingram, who has met with the Dolphins, started full-time only one season (his senior year) but said Saturday that what sets him apart is “my relentless effort to get after the ball.”
### Upshaw: Mayock said he “might be a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end even though at Alabama, he played rush linebacker.” Upshaw, who’s better operating in tight quarters than when he has to chase runners outside, was productive (52 tackles, one interception, nine sacks). ESPN’s Todd McShay calls him an “elite” run defender, and his exceptional BCS title game created a buzz.
If Ingram or Upshaw is the pick, the Dolphins would hope either could be plugged in immediately to give them another pass rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake when they’re in a 4-3 alignment.
### Baylor’s Griffin: This is only an option, of course, if the Dolphins outbid other teams to acquire St. Louis’ No. 2 overall pick – a deal that would take multiple picks, including at least two first-rounders. “I love everything about the kid,” Mayock said. “Bottom line is he’s a playmaker. That’s what the league is all about. He’s got great touch and accuracy medium and deep.”
### LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers: Mayock regards Brockers, who left LSU after his sophomore season, as a potential top 10 pick; scouts love his explosiveness, strength and long arms.
At 6-5, 322 pounds, he’s a natural tackle, but Mayock said he also could play outside. "I played so many positions at LSU," said Brockers, he of the 35-inch arms. "I'd be the perfect fit anywhere they want to put me.''
“The only concern,” Mayock said, “is he’s a one-year guy.”
### Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill: Mayock said Tannehill, who has made 20 college starts at quarterback after switching back from receiver, “is a little similar to Jake Locker – big, strong, prototypical quarterback. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a team looks at him in the first round.”
Locker went eighth to Tennessee last year, and Mayock said he could see Tannehill going that high, though some believe that's too high.
Whether it's at No. 8 or in a trade-down, Tannehill would be a realistic candidate only if the Dolphins do not sign Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn.
Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who coached Tannehill at A&M, said he has “an advantage” because he’s coming from a West Coast style offense. Sherman said Tannehill has great poise and makes players around him better.
McShay said Tannehill “misses on some throws he should not” but loves his ability “to create after the initial play breaks down. Intangibles are through the roof with him. He’s the most consistent in ball placement” among the quarterbacks ranked behind Andrew Luck and Griffin.
Tannehill, recovering from foot surgery, said, “I’ve always thought of myself as a quarterback. I feel good where I’m at now.”
### Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne: It would be a mild surprise if either slips to Miami’s pick at No. 8, but either would be difficult to pass up.
“Versatile, explosive, a better prospect than Dez Bryant,” Kiper said of Blackmon. Though Blackmon isn’t a speed demon, he said Friday, “Look at the tape. I’ve never been caught from behind.”
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland recently gave a vote of confidence to Sean Smith, but Claiborne “is an exceptional pure cover corner with impeccable instincts,” Kiper said.
### Less likely options: Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly: He’s a tackling machine (191 last season) but a bit undersized by Miami’s standards at 237 pounds, and No. 8 would seem too high….Illinois defensive end/outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus: He had 16 sacks in 2011 after producing just one in 17 previous career games. "I was able to put everything together," he said Saturday. "You can't just fall into a sack." His stock is rising, but No. 8 is higher than anybody expects. He’s an option if Miami trades down…
Beyond potential top 10 pick Brockers, there are a few other defensive tackles that could sneak into the mid teens, but No. 8 would seem too high for any of them, including Penn State’s Devon Still, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox and Memphis’ Dontari Poe. Miami’s pick also would be too high for two Alabama defensive backs – cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron.