The Miami Dolphins‘ most pressing need is unquestionably right tackle. After the club’s offensive line allowed a whopping 58 sacks — the most in the NFL and a club record — in 2013, including 12 after lapses at right tackle, it’s imperative that the Dolphins emerge from May’s draft with a reliable starter opposite blindside protector Branden Albert.
Given the uncertainties that come with handing a rookie a starting gig and how crucial GM Dennis Hickey‘s rebuild of the line will be to the team’s overall success in 2014, the Dolphins would be wise to target a right tackle early in the draft in order to equip their offensive line with the most dependable first-year player possible.
The first round, more specifically the No. 19 overall pick, is where Miami is expected to at least consider snagging a tackle. However, there is a potential roadblock to that scenario.
There’s no guarantee Notre Dame‘s Zack Martin, who has been the most frequently mocked player to the Dolphins, will still be on the board. The same can be said for Michigan‘s Taylor Lewan, whose superb athletic ability is expected to entice a team within the top 18 picks.
Tackle-needy teams like the St. Louis Rams, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, who all select before the Dolphins in the first round, make Martin and Lewan surviving the first 18 picks far from a certainty and perhaps even an unlikelihood.
If Martin and Lewan are both off the board, the Dolphins will be left with options like Virginia‘s Morgan Moses, Tennessee‘s Antonio Richardson and Ja’Wuan James and Alabama‘s Cyrus Kouandjio to either wait or reach for.
So, given that possible pitfall to the Dolphins’ potential objective to draft Martin or Lewan in the first round, should Hickey consider trading up for one of the two? Doing so would likely cost the Dolphins their third-round pick if not more.
For the answer to be “yes”, the Dolphins must deem Martin or Lewan a talented enough right tackle to be worth a first and a third-round choice. With several quality options slotted behind the two in most draft rankings, the Dolphins also must determine that their trade up target is substantially better than every tackle who would still be available with the No. 19 overall pick — an only marginally better prospect likely wouldn’t be worth the price to move up.
Beginning with Martin, the Dolphins could land one of the class’ most versatile players by trading up for the Notre Dame standout. But is Martin a surefire starting right tackle? Many scouts believe he’s capable of playing on the outside effectively at the next level, but his ceiling is considered higher on the inside at guard.
Martin hasn’t played right tackle since 2010, when he started two games on the right side for the Irish. He’s no certainty to be the instant quality starter Miami desperately needs. Sure, his versatility strengthens his candidacy, but ideally, he’ll only play one position at the next level. And when evaluating the right tackle spot exclusively, there are prospects who have the prototypical measurables and much more experience at the position.
As for Lewan, measurables aren’t an issue. At 6-foot-7, Lewan has the ideal size and athleticism to be a potentially elite tackle in the NFL. Unfortunately, his timed speed and imposing stature haven’t translated into a well-polished game on the field.
Lewan often struggles with technique issues, commits too many penalties and lacks the physicality to become the paving run blocker the Dolphins would likely prefer on the right side. Experience isn’t in Lewan’s favor either considering he played his entire career at left tackle for the Wolverines.
If Lewan can be had with the No. 19 overall pick, the Dolphins will at least consider making him their top choice. But taking into account the unknown factor in regards to Lewan’s ability to play right tackle to go along with some of the red flags he put on tape at Michigan, he doesn’t appear worthy of trading up for either.
Martin possesses the athleticism and run blocking prowess to become a solid tackle or perennial Pro Bowler on the interior. Lewan, meanwhile, has the physical attributes scouts drool over. Both are worthy candidates for the No. 19 overall pick; just not two high draft choices, which would likely be the requirement in any trade-up scenario.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.