The Miami Dolphins boast one of the league’s most talented defensive lines, which could get even better in 2014 if Dion Jordan makes the jump everyone expects him to. Led by suffocating coverage from cornerback Brent Grimes, the secondary is fairly strong as well. But there is a reason the Dolphins’ defense, as a whole, ranked 21st in total yards conceded in 2013.
Miami’s linebacker corps, despite its lofty pay roll, was one of the league’s leakiest units — certainly not the only reason the defense underwhelmed, but arguably the biggest factor why. Pro Football Focus graded Dannell Ellerbe, the NFL‘s 11th-highest paid inside linebacker, the sixth least efficient player at his position and Philip Wheeler, the league’s sixth highest paid 4-3 outside linebacker, the absolute least efficient player at his.
Thus, with virtually no way to move on from either’s massive contract, the Dolphins have expressed interest in kicking Ellerbe outside, where he would be less of a liability against the run, and making Wheeler compete for snaps on the opposite spot with Koa Misi, a stout run defender who rarely makes an impact play. Doing so, however, would leave a sizable void at “Mike,” and there isn’t a current member of the roster who appears capable of filling it.
After the free agency market offered mostly washed up veterans and pricey marginal upgrades, the Dolphins have set their sights on May’s draft to address the need. Ideally, Miami would nab Alabama product C.J. Mosley with its first-round pick. Mosley is the complete package with the ability to shed blocks or avoid them all together and possesses the movement aptness of an every-down player.
But there’s a strong chance Mosley will already be off the board when the Dolphins select, and even if he isn’t, rookie GM Dennis Hickey may waste no time grabbing a new right tackle considering, among many other things, the 58 sacks Miami allowed in 2013. As a result of either scenario, pick No. 50 overall in the second round could be where the Dolphins start thinking linebacker.
If that’s the case, there’s no doubt Wisconsin‘s Chris Borland will be a potential suitor. The Dolphins’ interest in Borland is rumored to be “significant,” according to a tweet by @NFLDraftBites, whose credentials for accuracy can only be seen in over 3,500 followers. Take that rumor with a grain of salt or completely disregard it — it would be wise to at least do the former.
Because of who some scouts compare his game to, Borland to the Dolphins would be fitting, though. “He reminds me of Zach Thomas, who had a great NFL career,” Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith said of Borland at the Senior Bowl.
Thomas, of course, was one the best defensive players in Dolphins’ history despite size limitations similar to Borland’s. While comparing Borland to Thomas might be a reach — perhaps, a significant reach at that — it’s fair to say that Borland, like Thomas, is much more effective than his size would indicate.
“There are certain times when a kid is just a football player, and I wouldn’t let (Borland) get out of the second round,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said during a telecast of Senior Bowl practice in January. “People are going to say ‘he’s only 5-foot-11, he’s got 28-inch arms.’ And I’m going to say ‘he’s quick enough, he’s instinctive enough and he’s tough enough to continue to make plays at the next level.'”
On film, Borland is many of the things the Dolphins were missing in 2013. He diagnoses plays almost simultaneously as they happen and seemingly always finds himself around the football thanks to a non-stop motor.
With that said, drafting Borland in the second round would certainly be a risk. His short arms, for example, could be problematic near the line of scrimmage when it comes to shedding blocks and getting a hand on the ball carrier. Although he plays much faster than he times, Borland may have difficulty matching up with shifty running backs and fast tight ends in coverage as well.
The Dolphins might not be in a position where they can take a significant risk at linebacker given the money invested in Ellerbe and Wheeler, which leaves little room for error.
Borland is far from a sure thing to become the instant upgrade Miami desperately needs. Then again, people said the same about Zach Thomas in 1996.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.