11 picks give Dolphins flexibility in draft
The Miami Dolphins go into the draft with enough picks to field a team. Now the goal is to field a winning team.
After many months of patient maneuvering, the Dolphins accumulated 11 picks, beginning with the 12th overall selection Thursday. They have five of the first 82 selections, the most in the NFL.
So they should come out of the weekend with a bounty of new talent, a foundation for the future, and a new direction after four consecutive losing seasons - the franchise's longest such stretch since the 1960s.
General manager Jeff Ireland, much-maligned for decisions in previous drafts, swung several deals to put Miami in such a favorable position. He knows the Dolphins can't botch it.
''A lot of thinking and a lot of planning went into this,'' Ireland said. ''The fact that we do have 11 draft picks, and five in the top three rounds, that's important. It doesn't come around very often that you have that kind of clout in the draft. We need to take advantage of it.''
The abundance of early picks affords the Dolphins considerable leverage in trade talks. There has been speculation they'll move up in the first round, but with myriad needs, it's also possible they'll trade the No. 12 selection for multiple lower choices.
''Obviously you have options - I like to use the word `ammunition' - to go up if you wanted to,'' Ireland said. ''Certainly there are opportunities to do that, and there are also opportunities to move back and move around.
''I've got enough ammunition to get to the first pick if I wanted to,'' Ireland said, smiling slightly. ''But I don't see myself doing that.''
Whatever the moves, they could prove pivotal for the Dolphins' GM, a Bill Parcells protege preparing for his 15th draft and his sixth in Miami. Fans mindful of so-so draft results in recent years have clamored for Ireland's firing.
Not one player remains with the team from Ireland's first season with Miami in 2008, and the 2011 draft netted only one starter - center Mike Pouncey. Second- and third-round picks have been especially disappointing.
''I am aware of it,'' Ireland recently told reporters. ''You guys keep me aware of it quite often.''
Now that second-year coach Joe Philbin and his staff have settled into their jobs, they'll likely have more input in the Dolphins' draft room this time around. But Ireland said his approach remains the same.
''Obviously you are trying to upgrade the room and the dynamics of the room,'' he said. ''Certainly I haven't changed too much in regard to picking players. I have been doing it a long time now.''
The biggest need is a replacement for left tackle Jake Long, who departed to the Rams in free agency. Miami would likely need to trade up to select Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan or Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, but D.J. Fluker of Alabama is expected to be available at No. 12.
Fluker is a right tackle, which would mean moving Jonathan Martin - a second-round pick last year - from the right side to left tackle.
''It would be a great bet at right tackle if Jonathan Martin can get it done at left tackle,'' draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. ''It will help your running game as the best running blocking right tackle to come out in years."
But will Ireland use such a high choice on a player perceived as the fourth-best tackle available? And will he devote yet another first-round pick to an offensive lineman?
Miami took Long as the first overall pick in 2008 and Pouncey as the 15th overall choice last year.
''If I get another Pouncey and another Jake Long, I would do it every draft,'' Ireland said. ''Those kinds of guys are pretty darn good. I wish I had a whole team full of Mike Pounceys and Jake Longs.''
But in the next breath he added, ''I'm not going to pigeonhole myself just to take an offensive lineman. I think we have a couple other positions that we might go after.''
A defensive back or defensive lineman are other possibilities with the first pick. Less pressing needs include guard, running back, outside linebacker and tight end.
Whatever the position, the Dolphins seek playmakers who can change the course of a game in one snap. Miami ranked 27th in yards in 2012, when the wideouts caught only three touchdown passes, and the defense tied for fourth-worst in takeaways - statistics that underscore the lack of a big-play capability.
With the team in the market for so many upgrades, perhaps Miami will keep all 11 picks. Quantity is important to Philbin.
''Ideally we'd add 11 excellent football players to the roster, and create an even more competitive atmosphere than we have right now,'' the coach said. ''We all know the draft, and free agency for that matter, are not necessarily exact sciences. But I'd rather have 11 than five. So I'm excited about it.''