Owners, executives and coaches alike carefully play their cards close to the chest in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft. Contrarily, Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, may have tipped his club’s hand on Sunday.
“We’ll get a right tackle in the draft and then we’ll see what else we have to get,” Ross told media members at league meetings in Orlando.
Ask anyone familiar with the Dolphins’ roster, and they would have said the same. With only stopgap solutions available to fill Miami’s void at right tackle on the open market, GM Dennis Hickey will assuredly select a right tackle at some point during May’s draft after the position was responsible for 13 of the franchise-record 58 sacks Miami conceded in 2013.
Ross’ remarks seem to indicate that the Dolphins will nab a right tackle early in the draft. That’s not exactly breaking news either; most expect Miami to pick up a tackle on the draft’s first or second day. However, Ross’ comments, while not earth-shattering in insight, were an admission that the Dolphins plan to draft for need at some point — most likely early — rather than selecting the best player available.
Many GMs around the league will say that their philosophy is to take the best player available on their board regardless of circumstance. Those same GMs are not being truthful. For as much as Hickey would love the freedom of selecting the best player on his board during the first, second and third rounds, the need for a new right tackle is so pressing that it will, like clockwork, force his hand on the draft’s first or second day.
And if the Dolphins go into the draft with the mindset that Ross appears to embody, looking at what they “have to get,” selecting a right tackle with the No. 19 overall choice would become Miami’s most likely scenario seeing as though right tackle is the team’s highest priority need.
Suddenly, those countless mock drafts by mainstream media sites that almost unanimously tab Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin as the Dolphins’ most likely target in round one, don’t seem as lazily conceived. Selecting Martin or another potential right tackle on the premise of need alone would be a mistake, though.
Perhaps Martin, Taylor Lewan, Morgan Moses or another tackle will be the Dolphins’ top-rated player when they are on the clock with the No. 19 overall pick. There will most likely be higher impact players available with that selection, however.
Not to advocate that the Dolphins neglect the need for a right tackle, much like former GM Jeff Ireland did with both tackle spots last spring. The Dolphins surely don’t want to be in the same predicament they were in 2013, with their potential franchise quarterback absorbing hit after hit and seemingly running for his life every Sunday.
But the right tackle spot isn’t quite as valuable as the left tackle spot on a right-handed offense. Wisely, the Dolphins have already tended to Ryan Tannehill‘s blindside by signing a dependable pass protector in Branden Albert. The opposite tackle spot is still vital, but doesn’t require the same level of urgency addressing. While adding an above average to elite left tackle requires investing serious coin or a top draft choice, quality right tackles can be had for much cheaper in free agency and much later in the draft.
Not to mention that the 2014 draft class is considered a deep one at the tackle position. “I believe the depth in this year’s draft could come at offensive tackle,” NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks wrote in December. “I believe there are as many as eight offensive tackles that could carry first-round grades.” If accurate, there will be quality right tackles available in not only the first round, but in the second and third rounds as well.
In this draft especially, the drop off between the No. 1 tackle on the board and the No. 5 tackle on the board likely won’t be significant enough to justify passing on a difference-maker like linebacker C.J. Mosley, tight end Eric Ebron, defensive tackle Aaron Donald or safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Dolphins should keep their options open in the first round. One option that should remain a possibility is selecting a right tackle, as long as their options aren’t limited to doing so.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.