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NFL Miami Dolphins

5 Potential First-Round Scenarios For The Miami Dolphins In 2014 NFL Draft

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5 Potential First-Round Scenarios

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With the NFL draft just three months away, it’s never too early to start thinking ahead, especially for a team like the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins finished the 2013 season at an 8-8 record, their fifth straight non-winning season. Though the Dolphins were just a win away from clinching their first playoff berth since 2008, the near playoff berth masked many of Miami’s deficiencies in 2013.

For one, it’s hard to argue that Miami didn’t have the worst offensive line in all of the NFL. The line allowed 58 sacks in the NFL, a league-high, and blocked for the 26th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. On top of that, the offensive line lacked stability as poor play and the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin scandal contributed to the shuffling of players in-and-out of the starting lineup.

Offensive tackle will be on top of the Dolphins’ wish list, as Martin will likely be released or traded, while his replacement from last season, Bryant McKinnie, will be a free agent this offseason.

To make matters worse, the Dolphins will have four key free agents from the defensive side – cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll, and defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Along with offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive tackle will be key positions that the Dolphins will have to address through the draft.

The Dolphins have the 19th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. The question is, which positions and which players will they target with their first round selection?

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5. OT Zack Martin

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The Dolphins' biggest need at the current moment is at offensive tackle. It is definitive that the Dolphins need to draft a franchise left tackle to protect franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins were incapable of protecting their franchise passer, which is the reason why they were unable to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

Here are the facts — Jonathan Martin will be traded or released. Bryant McKinnie and starting right tackle Tyson Clabo are free agents. Offensive tackle Dallas Thomas, was drafted with a third-round selection in 2013 with the intention that he'd be the franchise left tackle to replace the departing Jake Long, but that plan has not worked after one season.

This means the Dolphins will have to address the offensive tackle position through the draft, and what better way to do it than in the first round?

Notre Dame Offensive Tackle Zack Martin is projected as a late first round draft selection. Because left tackles are highly valued due to the increased value of the passing game in recent years, offensive tackles who are projected to be drafted higher than Martin might not be available by the time the Dolphins are on the clock, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Martin impressed during Senior Bowl week, lining up at both tackle and guard. At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, he has the size to line up at either position. Many scouts believe he would project best as a guard because of his less-than-ideal length, but he started at tackle for his entire collegiate career.

The worst-case scenario of drafting Martin is that he ends up starting at guard instead of tackle. In that case, the Dolphins need a left guard with the departure of Richie Incognito. Either way, the Dolphins get a starting offensive lineman with their first round selection, which is something they desperately need.

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4. CB Justin Gilbert

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The Dolphins’ two starting cornerbacks from the 2013 season are free agents, which obviously means the Dolphins are in the hunt for a cornerback. Unlike the offensive tackle position, however, if the Dolphins are to re-sign Brent Grimes, the need for a cornerback isn’t pressing enough to warrant a first round selection – the Dolphins could always draft a cornerback in the second or third rounds.

Having said that, let’s imagine a worst-case scenario where the Dolphins aren’t able to lock up Grimes or re-sign Nolan Carroll. Even if Miami is to notch a top-flight CB in the free agency class, who is going to start opposite of him?

If the Dolphins find themselves in this predicament, they can always draft Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. At 6-foot and just over 200 pounds, Gilbert possesses the ideal size for a cornerback in the NFL. He is projected to be a late first round selection, and barring an unexpected occurrence or a Combine showing that skyrockets Gilbert up the first round, he will likely be available when the Dolphins draft at 19th overall.

The Dolphins wouldn’t just be getting a corner who would be ready to start from Day 1, but they would be getting a corner who can be a return man. At Oklahoma State, Gilbert returned six kickoffs for touchdowns during his collegiate career.

By selecting Gilbert, Miami would draft their future starting cornerback while also drafting their future kickoff return man.

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3. DT Aaron Donald

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The Dolphins likely won't be able to re-sign both Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Because of this, defensive tackle becomes a priority.

This is where Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald fits into the equation. Donald was the nation’s most dominant defensive player in 2013. Donald racked up the hardware, winning the Nagurski (best defensive player), the Lombardi (top lineman or linebacker) the Outland (interior defensive/offensive lineman) and the Bednarik (best defensive player) awards. So, how is such a dominant force at defensive tackle projected to slip late in the first round?

One reason is his lack of size. In an age where defensive tackles are 340 pounds, Donald stands at just 6-foot-1, 288 pounds. That is a big size difference between what Donald weighs and what a guy like Soliai weighs. However, despite his lack of size, Donald has proven that he can disrupt backfields with his ability to anticipate off of the snap.

If the Dolphins are looking for a defensive tackle in the first round, Donald is their best bet.

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2. OT Cyrus Kouandijio

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Despite the Dolphins’ pressing needs at other positions, offensive tackle is their biggest problem. Zack Martin is a nice pick, but if Cyrus Kouandjio is still on the board, the Dolphins would be wise to select the latter.

Kouandijio anchored the left side of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s offensive line. He has the perfect size for a franchise tackle at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds. He has played against the best competition college football has to offer since he played in the SEC. He’s considered solid as a pass protector, but even better as a run blocker.

If Kouandijio can offer the Dolphins solid pass protection and excellent blocking for the running backs, it would go a long way toward the Dolphins clinching a playoff berth.

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1. OT Taylor Lewan

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Taylor Lewan is a lot like former Dolphins left tackle Jake Long. Like Long, Lewan played at the University of Michigan. And similar to Long, Lewan has perfect size for a starting left tackle in the NFL, standing at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds.

Lewan is considered the second best offensive tackle prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. If he is available at the 19th spot, there is little doubt that the Dolphins would select him. The biggest obstacle for Miami not selecting Lewan? He might not be available at the 19th spot.

Some mock drafts have Lewan going to the New York Giants at the 12th spot or the St. Louis Rams at the 13th spot. If Lewan slips past the Giants and the Rams, however, the Dolphins will have another franchise left tackle from the University of Michigan again.