Quick note: For a look at UM/NCAA news from Tuesday night, see our last post or our story on the sports home page.
WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With the NFL Combine beginning Thursday, more than a dozen players have emerged as possibilities for the Dolphins’ first-round pick at No. 12. That group will start to get whittled down as they fill needs in free agency and examine players up close, warts and all.
“You better start supporting your young quarterback,” Mike Mayock said of the Dolphins on an NFL Network conference call this week. “And the best way to do it is either at wideout or offensive line. The o-line options are going to be a heck of a lot safer than the receiver options at 12.”
Some chatter on the possibilities, two months from the draft:
### Receiver: Two are options at this spot, but neither is likely if Miami re-signs Brian Hartline and signs Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings. As Armando Salguero and I have noted in recent weeks, the Dolphins are targeting Wallace; they will make a strong effort to sign him when free agency begins March 12.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper has been driving the Cordarelle Patterson bandwagon for months – projecting the Tennessee receiver to Miami at No. 12 – and says: “He’s got freakish talent. He’s worthy of being the 12th pick.”
But one NFC scout raised concerns about his intelligence, inexperience and penchant for drops. And some believe he shouldn’t go that high, citing his lackluster production in big games (Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina).
Patterson at 12 “is not a stretch from a talent standout,” Mayock said. “The problem is he’s got one year of Division 1 experience after two years at a [junior college]. There are a bunch of those guys that have failed over the past 20 years.”
Not everyone has Patterson as the top receiver. Among receivers, “only Cal's Keenan Allen would be worth the 12th pick,” Sporting News draft analyst Russ Lande said. “There are a lot of A.J. Green characteristics – long, linear kid, can make high catches.”
Mayock could understand taking Allen at 12 but believes “he’s a later first round pick. If you like him, he’s Anquan Boldin. If you don’t like him, he’s speed deficient. Speed is the only question on Allen.”
Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, Baylor’s Terrance Williams and Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton would be options if Miami trades down much lower in the first round and picks a receiver.
### Defensive backs: None seem the perfect fit at 12, assuming Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is gone. “He will go 4, 5 or 6,” Kiper assured.
But Lande said “if Milliner doesn’t run well at the Combine, some of those teams in the top 10 may have concerns about using a top 10 pick on him.”
And Mayock said: “I think Milliner is more like the 20th pick. However, if he runs a sub 4.5 [in the 40], he’s going to be a top 10 pick.”
The next best corners, FSU’s Xavier Rhodes and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, are considered late first-rounders at best, though Mayock wouldn’t rule out Banks as a top-13 pick if he runs very well at Combine.
The only other defensive back that could draw consideration in the top half of the first round is Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, whom Kiper has going 21st and Mayock around 20th. But he has just five career interceptions, and wouldn’t make sense for Miami at 12.
### Defensive ends: Of the top prospects --- Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, FSU’s Bjoern Werner, Oregon’s Dion Jordan and BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah – a couple could be there at 12.
Moore (12.5 sacks last season) and Werner (13 sacks) are considered top-10 picks by many. "But I don’t see it that way,” Mayock said. “I don’t see the elite quick twitch burst with Moore and I don’t see a great run defender. Werner doesn’t have that clean get off and go.”
Mayock calls Jones “an explosive, impact player” but but he “potential stenonis in his back” and some wonder if he’s big enough to play end at 241 pounds or whether he projects at linebacker.
There are similar size questions about Jordan (242 pounds) and LSU’s inconsistent Barkevious Mingo, who Mayocks claims he is 230 pounds and better equipped for linebacker. Some evaluators include Mingo in Miami’s range, but Mayock said: “I have him at the end of the first round.”
As for Jordan, “he’s two years away from being an Aldon Smith type,” Mayock said. “Right now, he’s too small to play 4-3 end. Two years from now, he wouldn’t be if he puts on 20 pounds. [If he does], he’s going to be a perennial All-Pro.”
Said Lande said: “Jordan is an electric guy but very thin. Unless you’re a rare Dwight Freeney or Jason Taylor, no one will survive playing end at 4-3 and 240 pounds.”
It’s easy to envision Miami pouncing on Moore or Werner if either slips to 12. If not, “I bet Ansah would be Miami’s pick if the Dolphins pick an end,” Lande said. “Ansah will be a Jason Pierre-Paul type. “Mingo would be a mistake at 12. Some scouts think he takes a lot of plays off." Kiper said Mingo has “a small bust potential.”
Mayock believes Ansah “has got as much upside as anybody in this draft. I don’t think there is anybody in the NFL that doesn’t think he’s going to be a good player. But the question is when? This year, next year or three years from now?”
### Defensive tackles: Utah’s Star Lotulelei should be gone in the top five, and Ohio State’s 340-pound Jonathan Hankins and North Carolina’s 320-pound Sylvester Williams wouldn’t make sense for Miami, because they’re similar to Paul Soliai.
But Missouri’s 295-pound Sheldon Richardson is more of a Randy Starks type and would be in the mix for Miami if Starks leaves. So would UF’s 303-pound Shariff Floyd, who is “skyrocketing and scheme versatile,” Kiper said. But Mayock believes Floyd is now a top-five pick.
“Richardson is really exciting -- has movement skills of a 250 pound linebacker,” Mayock said.
### Tight end: Kiper said in December he could make a case for drafting Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert at No. 12, but has him 30th in his mock draft and Stanford’s Zack Ertz 19th. “Eifert doesn’t have a rare trait to make you say take him that high,” Lande said.
### Linebackers: Georgia’s Alec Ogletree is rated eighth by Kiper but had a drug suspension last season and a recent DUI arrest. And Mayock says Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o should go around 20th. And both are best at middle linebacker, which isn’t a Dolphins need because of Karlos Dansby.
Kiper said if Te’o “runs well in the 40, he could be in the top 10 to 12 discussion. How he runs determine whether he’s an every down linebacker.”
### Offensive line: Some will scoff at taking one at No. 12, but it’s an option if Jake Long leaves. “The deepest position is o-line,” Mayock said. “I’ve got six tackles I’ve given first-round grades to.”
Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel will be gone by 12. Kiper said Central Michigan's Eric Fisher also "is solidly in the top 10, probably top seven" and Lande calls Fisher "a better athlete than Jake Long."
Kiper said Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson could rise to top 12 status; he's 16th now in Kiper's mock draft.
Lande also said Miami would be justified to take North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper (Kiper has him 11th) or Alabama guard Chance Warmark (18th), though No. 12 is high for a guard and Dolphins fans would be understandably outraged.
Said Mayock: “If either Warmack or Cooper are on the board at 10, I’d jump all over them. I couldn’t care less whether that’s a position of value or not.”
### Who would have thought that UM would pick up its highest-rated recruit nearly two weeks after National Signing Day? That's what happened Tuesday when Miami inked Derrick Griffin, rated ESPN's No. 33 overall player.
Though he can play receiver, ESPN analyst Corey Long said he's likely to play tight end longterm. "He has great explosiveness and his long arms and body type remind me of [former Philadelphia Eagles receiver] Harold Carmichael," Long said. "But he might need to go to prep school for a year because of academics." That's still in question; Griffin said he will take the SAT multiple times and is working on qualifying.
UM has now landed the No. 1 high school tight end prospect in Griffin (according to ESPN's rankings), the No. 1 junior college tight end prospect in Beau Sandland (according to ESPN) and the No. 14 high school tight end in Standish Dobard.
Credit new UM running backs coach Hurlie Brown, who was the primary recruiter with Griffin.
He said he expects to play basketball at UM, also. Rivals.com ranks him 81st among all basketball recruits, which would give UM two incoming top-100 players, with Davon Reed, who ranks 100th. UM still five basketball scholarships to fill.
### Some UM people are steamed that Mario Cristobal took the Alabama job. "It doesn't speak well of him," a UM official said. "It burned his chances of returning." An associate said Cristobal will make $500,000 or close to it - about twice what he made at UM.
### With the NBA trade deadline Thursday, LeBron James said Tuesday evening he's happy that "we're not a part of the talk of trades. We're comfortable with what we have."... Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday he has no plans to rest players during the second half of the season, though nobody should be surprised if that changes in the final week of the season.
### One of the Heat’s big issues on the road has been its guard play, especially the backups. This is pretty staggering: With Ray Allen on the court, Miami has outscored teams by 81 at home but been outscored by 79 on the road. With Norris Cole, it’s plus 33 at home, minus 78 on the road.
### For those interested in the Lil' Wayne/Heat story, an associate of Wayne said contrary to what he said, the NBA has not banned him from arenas, nor has the Heat. The associate said Wayne is angry that the NBA didn't give him a courtside seat for the All-Star Game. He is being refunded by his ticket broker for two Heat courtside season tickets.