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NFL Miami Dolphins

2014 NFL Draft: Ranking the Miami Dolphins’ Top 5 Needs

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Miami Dolphins' Top 5 Needs In NFL Draft

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Teams can begin pursuing free agents on Saturday and signing them on Tuesday, but it's never too early to begin discussing the NFL Draft. For the Miami Dolphins and first-year GM Dennis Hickey, it will be a crucial draft where the team must put the finishing touches on a remodeled offensive line and address those areas of need they were unable to in free agency.

While it's difficult to predict what the Dolphins will do during the draft in advance of free agency, it's easy to project that some needs will remain needs even after key signings are made. The Dolphins have ample cap space -- $36.1 million after Brent Grimes' deal -- but there likely won't be enough quality options on the market to fill every club need.

After the free-agency spending spree former GM Jeff Ireland conducted last spring, it would probably be wise if Hickey scales back the spending some this time around. With many big contracts comes complacency which theoretically explains why signings like Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler didn't pan out in Miami despite both playing well in 2012. Also, there is no way to predict how a player will fit on a new team and in a new system. Success with one team doesn't necessarily correlate to success on another.

For those reasons, the Dolphins should consider addressing many of their needs in May. Here are the top five areas of need that Miami should address during the draft.

Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.

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5. Tight End

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Despite Charles Clay's emergence as one of the league's most productive tight ends -- although his time at fullback makes him more of a hybrid player -- the Dolphins should consider drafting a tight end in May. Preferably, Miami should select a tight end who can block.

Clay's improvement as a receiver was substantial, but he struggled as an in-line blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, Clay registered a run blocking grade of -9.2, which ranked 50th of 64 qualifying tight ends. Drafting a tall, athletic type with a large-catch radius would be an added bonus as the Dolphins don't have enough big targets for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to throw to in the red zone.

This probably isn't a need that the Dolphins will address on day one. Tight ends usually aren't valued as first-round picks unless they have the potential to become elite. Troy Niklas (pictured) and C.J. Fiedorowicz are ideal fits in the second or third round.

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4. Defensive Tackle

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In the increasingly probable event that both Paul Soliai and Randy Starks bolt town in free agency, the Dolphins are expected to pursue a veteran like Pat Sims or Linval Joseph at defensive tackle. With currently only three interior defensive linemen on the roster, though, Hickey should also consider drafting a tackle to at least bolster the unit's rotation, if not find a starter to pair with Jared Odrick.

On day one, Aaron Donald, Louis Nix III and Timmy Jernigan (pictured) will be in play. Later on, options like Will Sutton, Anthony Johnson and DaQuan Jones might be considered.

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3. Offensive Guard

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With both tackle and guard spots to replace along the offensive line, the Dolphins likely won't have the resources to construct almost an entirely new line in free agency alone. Even if they sign one of the market's top offensive guards, the need for another to play on the opposite side of center Mike Pouncey will persist.

The Dolphins have in-house candidates at guard like Dallas Thomas and Sam Brenner who the team could be quietly hoping develop into starters in 2014. But neither showed enough potential to bank on this past season. Selecting a guard in the middle-to-late rounds should be a priority.

If they choose to address the need early, Zack Martin, Xavier Su'a Filo (pictured) or David Yankey could be the pick. A quality starter could potentially be had on the draft's third day, though.

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2. Running Back

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If there is one area of need that the Dolphins shouldn't address in free agency, it's running back. It's a position that has one of the shortest shelf lives in the game. Nabbing a late 20-year-old or early 30-year-old running back is like buying a used car with over 150,000 miles: Chances are, there could be problems. The draft, meanwhile, turns up highly productive runners in the middle-to-late rounds on a yearly basis.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas disappointed as essentially co-starters in 2013. The offensive line's struggles certainly inhibited their ability to produce, but neither made enough defenders miss with speed or power to be trusted down the road. Miller should be given another chance -- just not without a tough, between-the-tackles runner alongside him. That certainly doesn't describe Thomas, who probably should be cut at some point this offseason or in training camp.

Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill (pictured), Tre Mason and Charles Sims, among many others, are all backs the Dolphins could consider during the draft.

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1. Right Tackle

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The Dolphins are expected to go all-in during free agency to sign one of the market's most coveted left tackles. Expect either Eugene Monroe or Branden Albert to don aqua and orange in 2014. Although either manning Tannehill's blindside would give the Dolphins considerably improved pass protection this season, it wouldn't solve all of their protection issues.

Tannehill was brought down 12 times on sacks conceded by the right tackle in 2013, after all. With so much attention being paid to which left tackle the Dolphins sign, the need for a right tackle is being undervalued.

Miami will likely turn to the draft to address the issue. Morgan Moses, Jack Mewhort and Billy Turner are among those potential right tackles the Dolphins should take a look at it.