The Dolphins have the 12th pick in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft, and their options are many.
They could select a left tackle to replace Jake Long or a cornerback to replace Sean Smith.
They might choose a pass rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake.
They could select a tight end to give Ryan Tannehill a big red-zone target. They also might trade up into the top 10, or trade down and acquire more picks.
Here’s a look at five players who make a lot of sense for the Dolphins and their first-round pick:
1. Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert
The Dolphins signed Dustin Keller this offseason, but Eifert, who is 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds, would look great in a Dolphins uniform for a couple of reasons.
One, Miami needs a big target for Tannehill — Keller and Brian Hartline are the Dolphins’ tallest receivers, and both are 6-2. Two, Keller signed for just one year, and Miami still needs a tight end of the future.
This year’s draft has several excellent tight end prospects — Stanford’s Zach Ertz, San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar and Florida’s Jordan Reed, among others — but “Eifert has clearly differentiated himself from the pack,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
“In order for me on the pass-catching side, it’s Eifert, Ertz and Escobar. And on the blocking side, I think Eifert is the best.”
2. Oklahoma LT Lane Johnson
If the Dolphins don’t trade for Kansas City’s Branden Albert, they could try to draft one of the three top left tackles. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel would be the best fit (he knows Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and Tannehill from their college days), but he is expected to go No. 1 overall and could cost too much in a trade. Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is also expected to go in the top four picks and would also probably cost Miami too much in a trade.
But Johnson, a former junior-college quarterback who outgrew the position and switched to left tackle at Oklahoma, could be a great fit.
Getting Johnson, 6-6 and 310 pounds, would likely also require a trade up into the top six or eight picks, but he is a tremendous athlete who would fit well in the Dolphins’ zone-blocking scheme.
“He’s right there with Joeckel and Fisher,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper said. “It’s really a three-way battle to see who is going to be the first tackle taken.”
3. West Virginia WR Tavon Austin
The Dolphins aren’t desperate for a first-round receiver after signing Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson in free agency. But the temptation to snag Austin, who won college football’s Hornung Award last year as its most versatile offensive player, might be too great to pass up.
Austin is just 5-8 and 175 pounds, but he’s a matchup nightmare for defenses. He had 1,289 receiving yards, 643 rushing yards, 978 kick-return yards and 17 total touchdowns last year for the Mountaineers, and can play running back or slot receiver.
Kiper called Austin a “spectacular” player who “changes the scoreboard.”
“Ten or 15 years ago, he would have been a third-round pick,” Kiper said. “Now he’s a top-16 pick because today’s NFL allows him to be successful.”
4. LSU DE Barkevious Mingo
Two pass rushers could gone by the 12th pick — Oregon’s Dion Jordan and BYU’s Ziggy Ansah — and Mingo might not make it past the New York Jets at No. 9, either. But if Mingo is still available, the Dolphins might want to take a hard look — Wake had 15 sacks last year, and the Dolphins’ other three defensive ends combined for 8.5.
Mingo (6-4, 240 pounds) needs to put on a little weight and refine his technique, but could be a perfect third-down pass-rushing specialist as a rookie.
“I like him a lot better than I like Damontre Moore (Texas A&M) or Bjoern Werner or any of those other guys that I thought would be top picks,” Mayock said.
5. Houston CB D.J. Hayden
Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes are the two cornerbacks getting most of the press, but Hayden is one to watch after spending a lot of time with the Dolphins’ coaching staff.
Hayden suffered a major scare last year when he collided with a teammate in practice and tore his inferior vena cava — the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.
But he has been cleared medically and could be a great value pick for the Dolphins in the first or second round.
“I’ve got him No. 14 on my board, which tells you how good I think he is,” Mayock said.
Kiper called Hayden “a real good cover guy, and in this league, that’s what you need.”