Miami is convinced that Kiko Alonso is a long-term answer, but little else is concrete. Newly acquired Lawrence Timmons is heading into his 11th season, and the third starting spot would currently be decided by a competition between Koa Misi coming off a major injury and unproven backup Neville Hewitt.
Those circumstances make linebacker a high priority, and the Dolphins would be smart to look at University of Florida’s Jarrad Davis in the first round. Miami picks No. 22 overall, and most mock drafts have him going in the mid-20s. At last month’s NFL Combine, Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum were part of the group that sat down with Davis for a formal interview.
“Everybody was in there,” Davis said. “They didn’t tell me much, man, but they really wanted to see how I thought as a player. I was able to break down the film and give them a good presentation.”
That’s big for Davis, who hasn’t been able to show teams the full range of his ability since suffering a Grade 2 ankle sprain in his senior season. He missed five games and the Senior Bowl, plus he wasn’t able to work out at the Combine.
Despite those setbacks, as well as the knee injury he sustained as a sophomore, Davis stands as one of the elite prospects at his position. ESPN grades him as the third-best linebacker in his class behind Reuben Foster and Haason Reddick, both of whom are likely out of the Dolphins’ reach unless they trade up.
Davis said he expected to be “ready to rock and roll” shortly after the Combine, and that appears to be the case. He ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash at UF’s Pro Day, which would have been the second-fastest linebacker time at the Combine. He also posted a 10-foot-9 broad jump and a 38.5-inch vertical leap, better than any of his peers did in Indianapolis.
“When healthy, he was a tackling machine,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said coming off Davis’ senior season. “In Miami, he would fill a big need. The back seven needs help and it starts at linebacker. Davis would be a good starting point.”
If the Dolphins opt to take a safety or defensive end in the first round, they’d have to shift their focus to a lower-tier linebacker in the second or third round with pick No. 54 or 97.
With his speed and a 6-foot-1, 238-pound frame, Davis believes he can play inside or outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s about the same size as Alonso, whom Miami views as a hybrid linebacker. The Gators played mostly 4-3 defense with Davis, same as the Dolphins.
“I’m more than confident in my ability to step out and cover a receiver no matter what down it is and to stop the run on first down,” he said. “I’m ready for the challenge.
“The biggest thing is just technique. You’ve gotta work that every day in practice. You’re not gonna be able to go out and just cover a receiver or a tight end, especially in the NFL. You’ve gotta work on that, work on that, work on that and constantly beat yourself up about everything you do because it has to be perfect.”
Davis was mostly healthy as a junior in 2015, when he vaulted himself into draft consideration. He had 94 tackles, including 11 for lost yardage, and an interception. He was on pace for similar numbers last season if not for hurting his ankle.
While he described the injuries as “a rough process,” they never derailed his goal of making it to the draft as a top prospect. Davis dealt with his issues matter-of-factly and believes his aggressive training schedule will put himself in position to hold his spot as a projected first rounder.
“A lot of teams tell me that I built a good résumé for myself with my film,” he said. “I played hard, I did a lot to make myself a standout player in my time at Florida and I helped myself out in that sense.
“I feel like this year we have a great class, a great group of (linebackers), to really push us. We’re not just competing against the guys that we’re working with at our training facilities; we’re competing with guys all across the nation. That’s how it’s been all four years of college and that’s not gonna change.”