With the Dolphins having identified defensive end, cornerback and linebacker as their three biggest needs, the good news is that about half of the players currently projected for the top 12 of the NFL Draft play those positions.
An early look at Miami’s options, with the Dolphins holding the sixth spot in the draft at the moment and having the potential to fall anywhere between third and 10th pending Sunday's results:
### Defensive end: Ohio State’s Joey Bosa is the best player in the draft according to ESPN's Mel Kiper, and Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche and Oregon’s DeForest Buckner are considered top 10 material.
Kiper, on Bosa, on ESPN.com: “The guy just dominates on an almost play-to-play basis, with great instincts against the run and the ability to create pressure on the quarterback in a variety of ways. If you try to take away the outside edge, he can just drive a tackle right into the QB.
“He didn't start the season playing quite this well, but he keeps getting better. Explosive pass-rusher and is consistently disruptive against the run. Bosa has size -- he's 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, and could play bigger --- and versatility that will fit any scheme.”
Bosa can't be ruled out as a possibility for Miami if the two high-end quarterbacks (Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Cal's Jared Goff) jump him in the draft and if Miami ends up with a top five pick. Tennessee, which has the top pick heading into the final weekend (Cleveland also is in contention), doesn't need a quarterback but could consider Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.
As for Nkemdiche, he's ninth on Kiper’s Big Board and “can be dominant… when he's 100 percent,” Kiper said. “He explodes off the snap like a guy 40 or 50 pounds lighter. And Nkemdiche isn't just quick; he also has strength at the point and doesn't get eaten up by double-teams.”
But there’s a red flag; Nkemdiche was suspended for this week’s Sugar Bowl after an arrest for possession of marijuana.
“I and many around the league ask about where he's at with off-field questions,” Kiper said. “He's a talent, but you need the reliability.’’
ESPN’s Todd McShay said the 296-pound Nkemdiche (who had 29 tackles and three sacks this season) can play tackle or defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, like Miami’s. But some believe he is better suited to tackle in a 4-3 and end in a 3-4. Of course, the Dolphins won't know what defensive scheme they're running until they hire a coaching staff.
Buckner, 6-7 and 300 pounds, has an impressive motor and the ability to play in any system, according to Kiper, who ranks Buckner fourth overall. He had 9.5 sacks this season.
McShay ranks Buckner 10th and says he “uses his explosive upper-body power to jar blockers and push the pocket, while his height (6-7) and length come in handy when trying to bat down passes. When he plays with leverage, he's tough to stop.”
After those three, Kiper’s next highest-rated defensive ends are Clemson’s Shaq Lawson (11th) and Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah (19th). Lawson will be on display in the national semifinal at the Orange Bowl on Thursday.
Kiper said Lawson has “quickness, spin moves, a special knack for finding the ball early."
Lawson had 9.5 sacks this season, Ogbah 13.
Both have very good quickness for their size (275 pounds).
McShay has Lawson 13th, Ogbah not in his top 25.
### Cornerbacks: FSU’s Jalen Ramsey and UF’s Vernon Hargreaves will be serious considerations for Miami if available. Kiper has Ramsey third overall and Hargreaves eighth. Either might end up being the safest pick for Miami, filling a high-need position.
Ramsey, a converted safety, “has the length, range and exceptional instincts to make plays all over the field,” Kiper said. “A truly gifted athlete.”
Ramsey, McShay said, “can do it all in the secondary: match up in the slot, play center field and stuff the run.”
Hargreaves “is the best pure cover corner in the draft class” with great instincts, Kiper said. “At 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, he's not small; he just lacks a margin for error compared to some.”
There’s a dropoff at corner after Ramsey and Hargreaves. Kiper has Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller 18th and LSU’s Tre’Davious White 20th.
### Linebackers: Kiper and McShay have only one in their top 10 lists: Notre Dame outside linebacker Jaylon Smith.
Kiper very recently raised him to second overall, behind only Bosa.
“A rare player at his position who could be drafted this high,” Kiper said. “It's really hard to pick out serious flaws, aside from a missed tackle here and there and occasional over-pursuit. He can be moved around, has good length and can flat-out fly for a linebacker, with sub-4.5 speed.”
Among other linebackers, Kiper has UCLA’s Myles Jack 14th and Alabama’s Reggie Ragland 24th.
Jack, recovering from a torn ACL, is “a linebacker with quickness you would get from a smaller safety, and that extends to his ability to cover, as well,” Kiper said. It's possible he could rise to Miami's range if the Dolphins end up in the 9th/10th slot, but most have him rated lower.
Besides Jack, McShay also has Ohio State’s Darron Lee as a mid-teens linebacker prospect.
### For those wondering about quarterback: The Dolphins remain committed to Ryan Tannehill and prioritize defensive needs over everything else. It would be very surprising, at this point, if Miami invests a top 10 pick in a QB.
But keep in mind that two quarterbacks are projected top 10 picks: Memphis’ Paxton Lynch (the Dolphins like him, as Armando Salguero has noted) and California’s Jared Goff.
Lynch had 28 touchdowns and three interceptions this season and Kiper said his “talent for the position is so clear, and the decision-making has been very good.”
Kiper has Lynch sixth and Goff 10th among all draft-eligible players. It wouldn't be surprising if either rises into the top three.
But a new coach probably would have to be given some personnel authority, and have serious doubts about Tannehill, for a QB to become a serious consideration, considering the Dolphins have been so transparent about their commitment to Tannehill (at least for next year).
While most of the UM assistants on the former staff are aware they’re not being retained, decisions were still pending on at least two: interim coach/tight ends coach Larry Scott (a possibility to stay, but nothing decided as of Tuesday) and receivers coach Kevin Beard (scheduled to interview with Mark Richt)….
At least four new assistant coaches will be announced imminently, a group expected to include former Georgia assistants Todd Hartley and Thomas Brown and former Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who is especially well-regarded. The man Kuligowski replaces, Randy Melvin, is taking a job at Purdue.
Update: Those three have been announced, along with the addition of Richt's son, Jon, as an offensive assistant. Brown will be co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach and Hartley special teams coordinator.]
### Though Artie Burns is turning pro, cornerback Corn Elder announced on Twitter he’s returning for his senior season. Stacy Coley hasn't informed the school what he's doing; UM staffers feel strongly that he needs another year here.
### Ron Rothstein noted on the Heat radiocast last night that this team can't seem to win when Gerald Green isn't scoring. Miami is 6-2 when he scores 15 or more, but the bench is too limited to play at anything but a deficit when he's off his game.
Despite Green's shooting struggles the past two nights, this is a testament to Pat Riley and the Heat’s front office: The only two free agents signed to minimum deals last summer who began the week averaging double figures in points are Green and Houston’s Marcus Thornton, who would have been signed if Green hadn’t.
"I look at all the guys who got paid," said Green, a good value at $1.4 million. "You’re like, ‘Wow!’ But I’m happy. I still have the best job in the world. I’ve gotten paid way less in the D-League.”
### Josh Richardson today was dispatched to the Heat's D-League team in South Dakota.
### Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has done good work crafting this Panthers roster, and a little luck helped, too. Here’s how: Last June, the Rangers rejected Tallon’s offer - which reportedly included Jimmy Hayes - for goalie Cam Talbot. That allowed Tallon to use Hayes in a trade for Boston’s Reilly Smith.
Fast forward: Smith is tied for the team lead in goals with 11 (Hayes has five for Boston); and Al Montoya has been a much more consistent backup goalie than Talbot, who has been erratic for Edmonton. Montoya is fourth in goals-against average, Talbot 60th.
Incidentally, the Panthers' 22 points this month were the most in franchise history.
### The Marlins had interest in closer Aroldis Chapman before the Reds traded him to the Yankees this week, and Miami had given thought to making Chapman the No. 2 starter in its rotation…
The Marlins, still hoping to find a pitching bargain, have been discussing several names, including Doug Fister (5-7 in 2015), Edwin Jackson (4-3) and Cliff Lee (missed 2015 with an arm injury).
### Morning host Sid Rosenberg, who was fired this week by WMEN-640 (as WINZ's Andy Slater reported while I was away), told me that the station indicated it was because of budget cuts.