WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Since this Dolphins’ season is on its death bed, it’s never too early for a CliffsNotes peek-ahead to what awaits in 2016:
### Draft: If the draft were held today, Miami would pick sixth. And as long as the Dolphins stay in the top 15 (likely), they should be in good position to add a linebacker or cornerback --- two areas of need – or perhaps a defensive end, with Cameron Wake coming off an Achilles’ injury and Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby impending unrestricted free agents.
Here are the draft-eligible players that ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranks, in order, as his top 10: Mississippi defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, California quarterback Jared Goff, Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, FSU cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Notre Dame outside linebacker Jaylon Smith, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark.
Here are Kiper's 11th through 16th prospects: Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller, Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin, Southern California linebacker Su’a Cravens and LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White.
From a Dolphins perspective, that’s two defensive ends, three linebackers and four cornerbacks. Kiper believes FSU’s Ramsey, who had been a safety before this season, is well equipped for corner.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has 12 of Kiper’s top 16 in his own top 16. The four that McShay lists that Kiper doesn’t: Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed (seventh), Mississippi receiver Laquon Treadwell (12th), Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee (14th) and Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas (16th).
But the Dolphins doesn’t need a receiver and they cannot justify taking a defensive tackle in the first round, even if they part ways with Earl Mitchell.
Incidentally, all of the 20 aforementioned top prospects are undeclared draft-eligible underclassmen except Reed, Stanley and Buckner.
### 2016 schedule: Besides AFC East opponents, the Dolphins will play host to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Arizona, San Francisco and the comparable finisher in the AFC South (perhaps Tennessee).
The Dolphins’ out-of-division road schedule will feature Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Seattle and the comparable finisher in the AFC West (San Diego if the Dolphins and Chargers finish last in their divisions).
That schedule doesn’t look overwhelmingly difficult, aside from visits to Seattle and Cincinnati, but it’s moot if the Dolphins are again as dismal in AFC East play as they’ve been this season.
### Free agency: The Dolphins have six starters who will be unrestricted free agents: Vernon, Shelby (became a starter after Wake’s injury), Lamar Miller, Rishard Matthews, Kelvin Sheppard, plus injured starter Louis Delmas. The Dolphins are expected to try to keep Vernon and Miller, at least.
Also impending unrestricted free agents: Matt Moore, Spencer Paysinger, Jeff Linkenbach.
Jordan Kovacs is restricted, and five are exclusive rights free agents (making it simple to keep these players): Michael Thomas, Mike Hull, Ulrick John, Matt Hazel and Jake Stoneburner.
The Dolphins can clear out $45 million in space if they restructure Ndamukong Suh and Ryan Tannehill, cut Greg Jennings and restructure Jordan Cameron.
Space would top $50 million if they also cut Earl Mitchell and Koa Misi, and they can clear out nearly $60 million if they cut Mitchell and Misi and restructure Brent Grimes and Cam Wake.
If all four of those players are cut, as well as Jennings and Cameron, and if Suh and Tannehill are restructured, then cap space would top $70 million. (Not that we're advocating that, but merely presenting the possibilities.)
### Coach: The Dolphins have interest in Saints coach Sean Payton and will consider Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, UCLA coach Jim Mora and others.
### Quick note: The Dolphins say lineup changes are in the works, and they quietly made one on Sunday: benching safety Walt Aikens (no snaps) and instead playing Shamiel Gary (15) as Thomas’ backup.... Please see the last post for four Dolphins roster moves from today.
### The UM job is Mark Richt’s if he wants it, sources say. But UM was impressed with Greg Schiano during his Sunday interview, and Manny Navarro and I hear that Schiano has been studying UM’s roster and recruits and soliciting input on what assistants to keep if he gets the job.
Tennessee Titans quarterback coach John McNulty, who’s close with Schiano, would be a logical choice for offensive coordinator if Schiano is hired. But UM would only turn to Schiano (or Dan Mullen or someone else) if Richt turns them down.
One UM official ranked Schiano second on UM’s list behind Richt, because some key UM people remain uncomfortable with hiring Butch Davis, though Davis has not been ruled out. Some others put Mullen second.
### The Davis interview "had to be done" to appease the masses and hear what he had to say, one UM official said.
Davis is willing to help UM in fundraising if he gets the job and has been working on putting together a quality staff. One close associate said he has interest in bringing back former UM coach/defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, UF's associate head coach. But it's unclear if Shannon would consider that.
The problem with Davis, one UM official said, is that "he has a lot of baggage."
It's not the North Carolina academic scandal that concerns UM as much as his hiring of John Blake, who was found by the NCAA to have accepted payments from deceased agent Gary Wichard, as our Susan Miller Degnan notes.
### Though Mississippi State’s Mullen remains under consideration, his brash personality rubs some UM people the wrong way. Mullen tonight declined to discuss the UM job or his interest in it.
### As of Tuesday, UM had shown no interest in interviewing former UM player and current Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, according to an associate.
“We don’t want a guy who was fired by FIU,” one high-level UM Trustee said, scoffing at his 27-47 record there.
### Former UM offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, now on Michigan’s staff, covets the job and Blake James likes him, but there are more qualified candidates.
### UM gave serious thought to UM alum Winston Moss, the Green Bay Packers’ assistant head coach and linebackers coach, but didn’t contact him for an interview.
### In its coaching search discussions, UM even briefly tossed around the idea of contacting former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, the president at Youngstown State.
### UM believes Yankee Stadium and Jacksonville are leading contenders for its bowl game.
### Please see the last post for a lot more on the UM coaching search.
### Josh McRoberts has taken the fewest shots per game (2.6) of any NBA power forward who's playing at least 15 minutes per game --- by far the fewest shots, along with Minnesota's Kevin Garnett --- and Heat fans were screaming for him to shoot during Monday’s game.
“My game is unique,” he said Tuesday. “I don't think it's necessarily appreciated by everybody, but my teammates appreciate the way I play. I play for them and the coaching staff.”
Erik Spoelstra said he doesn’t ask McRoberts to shoot more but said he would be an “even better passer” if he were more offensive-minded.