Who do I look like? Mel Kiper?
Don’t answer that.
Let’s just proceed under the premise that projecting the NFL draft is a complex science, in the same way that tagging buffaloes and tracking their movements is science, and let’s agree that asking me to guess whom the Miami Dolphins will select in Thursday night’s first round is a cruel request made solely for the amusement of second-guessing readers.
Fine. It says here, then, that the Dolphins will trade up about five spots from their No. 12 position to take offensive tackle Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, unless Miami trades for expensive Kansas City tackle Branden Albert, in which case every priority changes.
Miami general manager Jeff Ireland has done so well in the offseason addressing team needs through free agency that there would be no need to boo the drafting of a first-round offensive lineman for the second time in three years.
That’s because quarterback, the position that draftniks have been targeting since Dan Marino and the 20th century simultaneously ran out of gas, is no longer a prime concern. It’s Ryan Tannehill’s job, the reward of a far riskier first-round choice by Ireland in 2012.
Now comes the luxury of a Thursday night in the Dolphins draft room with all of the usual heartburn but fewer of the monstrous palpitations.
The Dolphins could sit still and get a pretty good player at No. 12.
In a draft minus transformative stars like Andrew Luck, it’s almost better to be where Miami is than in the top two or three spots. A bad miss at the very top of the draft can set back a struggling franchise for a long time.
Don’t count Jake Long as a bust, though. He was a good call for Miami with the first overall pick in 2008 but slightly ahead of his time. The Dolphins didn’t have a quarterback yet so the cornerstone position of left tackle wasn’t nearly as valuable in terms of blind-side protection. Also, there’s no predicting the cumulative effect of injuries. In the end, that’s what kept Long from becoming another Richmond Webb.
Now, back to Lane Johnson, a left tackle who comes along at the right time.
Tannehill suddenly has a true deep threat in Mike Wallace, the best of what turned out to be an impressive free-agency haul for the Dolphins. Draft Johnson and you give those two touchdown-makers a better and broader opportunity to connect downfield.
Here’s another plus. Even if Johnson weren’t ready to start immediately, Miami probably wouldn’t have to worry about left tackle for many seasons. Jonathan Martin, last year’s second-round pick, could handle the left side pretty well at first. Then, when Johnson was up to speed, the Dolphins could slide Martin back over to the right and have two young bookends on the line to grow up right in step with Tannehill.
We’ve settled on Johnson here and not the more highly-rated tackles, Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher, because he’s the one who still might be around when the draft gets down to the seventh or eighth pick. Oh, and Johnson’s a particularly good fit for Miami’s West Coast offense, too. Last year at Oklahoma, he helped to execute a hurry-up playbook of short and varied passes that ranked No. 5 in the nation with 336 passing yards per game.
Hey, it’s one way to go.
Some of you are wild for Tavon Austin, a Maserati of a wide receiver and a dangerous return man, but that sounds a little bit too much like Ted Ginn Jr. for my tastes. Tyler Eifert is a solid option at tight end, but his value hinges on whether injury-prone Dustin Keller is due to be more than a stop-gap measure at the position. Cornerback Dee Milliner is a potential prize, too, at cornerback, but that’s what we thought about Vontae Davis when Miami spent a first-rounder on him in 2009.
One way or another, Mel Kiper will get it all straightened out for us Thursday night.
He never guesses, or at least he’ll never admit it.