2014 NFL Draft: Must Miami Dolphins Select RT in First or Second Round?

By Cody Strahm
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The majority of draft analysts look at the Miami Dolphins, a team that allowed a club record 58 sacks in 2013 and desperately needs to solidify its offensive line in order to discover Ryan Tannehill’s true identity as a starting quarterback, and confidently predict that rookie GM Dennis Hickey will nab a right tackle during the first or second round of May’s draft.

Branden Albert was signed during the opening hour of free agency to provide Tannehill with quality blindside protection, but the right tackle spot, a position that was to blame for 12 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 34 pressures last season, remains void of a starter. Thus, tackles like Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Michigan’s Talyor Lewan, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James have been frequently linked to Miami.

Nobody would blame the Dolphins for selecting a right tackle, even with superior talents at higher impact positions still on the board, with their first or second choice. Simply too much is riding on Tannehill’s development and safety to neglect the right tackle position in the upcoming draft, especially considering the open market is essentially bare of surefire veteran starters to fall back on.

Is it really mandatory that the Dolphins snag a right tackle during the first or second round, though? Let’s take a look at some metrics, utilizing Pro Football Focus’ database, to formulate a theory.

How essential is a dependable right tackle to the overall success of a football team? It’s nearly impossible to know for sure, but among the 12 teams that qualified for the postseason in 2013, only the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers employed a starting right tackle who graded outside the top 40 of Pro Football Focus’ rankings at the position. The average ranking for a right tackle on a playoff team was 35th among the 76 tackles who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps a season ago.

Judging by those statistics, it’s not necessarily imperative that the Dolphins find an above average or elite right tackle to meet the playoff standard. Simply acquiring an average starter could do the trick. But does Miami need to burn a first or second-round selection in order to do so?

Every situation and prospect is different. Identifying where some of the league’s current top right tackles were chosen during the draft, though, could help shed some light on how patient the Dolphins can afford to be.

Surprisingly, among those right tackles who ranked in the top six of Pro Football Focus’ overall efficiency ratings in 2013, none were former first-round picks. In fact, two undrafted players — Demar Dotson and Tyler Polumbus — and a seventh-round pick — Zach Strief — made up half of the top six.

Two former second-round choices made the cut, and when the rankings are expanded to the top 10, two former first-round picks qualified. But it’s still apparent that landing a starting-caliber right tackle in the middle-to-later rounds is quite plausible.

That doesn’t mean it would be wise of Hickey to wait until the draft’s third day to select a right tackle. That would be a huge gamble, especially given how blatantly obvious it was that Tyson Clabo’s early-season struggles at the position held the Dolphins’ offense back last year. And is there really any third-day tackle who can be trusted when lined up against an explosive pass rusher like Mario Williams, who the Dolphins face twice in 2014 and who frequently tees off against the right tackle, as a rookie?

Still, Pro Football Focus’ metrics show that the Dolphins don’t necessarily need an elite right tackle, nor must they select a right tackle with one of their top two picks in order to find an average or better answer. The need for a new right tackle, as pressing as it may be, arguably shouldn’t force the Dolphins’ hand in the first or second round.

If the top remaining prospect on the board in either round is a tackle capable of stepping in on the right side, so be it. Otherwise, nabbing a higher impact player in at least the draft’s first round should be Hickey and the Dolphins’ objective.

Cody Strahm is an NFL author for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.

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