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Dolphins say no guarantee they’ll lean defensively in draft

It seems like the most obvious thing about the Dolphins’ plans for the upcoming NFL Draft is that they need a lot of help defensively. Not only is that the consensus media opinion, but the team’s numbers on defense last year were highly concerning as well.

Miami was one of the bottom four teams in the league in terms of yardage allowed, thanks largely to the worst run defense numbers in franchise history, and was 18th in opponent scoring. The team ranked 23rd in sacks and a respectable 11th in takeaways. That took place prior to an offseason in which Miami lost starting safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and tried to retool their linebacker corps, which still looks like a work in progress.

With all of those factors lining up in favor of loading up on defensive talent in a draft that’s been widely praised for being heavily stocked with defenders, Miami insists it’d be pure conjecture to predict it’ll lean that direction next week.

“We’ve tried to address some of those areas of concern on defense before the draft and we’ll see what happens,” vice president Mike Tannenbaum said. “But to go in and say, ‘This is just going to be a draft defense,’ we’ve just been around it too long to say that, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The cynic will write that off as typical pre-draft gamesmanship, especially considering it could only hurt the Dolphins to give any indication of their intentions. Throughout a half-hour press conference with Tannenbaum and General Manager Chris Grier on Wednesday, they were careful not to say anything revealing.

One of the most interesting points of the conversation was Grier, the organization’s point man for the draft, saying the deepest positions are running back, safety and defensive end.

“I think this year is probably a rare year for safeties,” he said. “There’s many good players.”

He added that the Dolphins will stick to their board of prospect rankings and take the best available talent — obviously that doesn’t apply to certain positions where there’s absolutely no need — regardless of the perceived holes on their roster.

“You get in trouble when you start drafting for need and reaching around your board, so we try to stick with that,” Grier said. “You try and stay as disciplined as you can to your board.

“There are always times late in the draft where maybe you say, ‘Hey, this and that,’ but for the most part, we’ll always stick to the board. We’ve done too much work over the last eight months of this to just throw that out… For us, it will always be the board over need.”

It’s clear the biggest needs are on defense. Practically anyone’s assessment of Miami’s roster shows that it needs a linebacker, safety, defensive end and cornerback.

The Dolphins have seven picks in the draft, but they aren’t evenly spread across the seven rounds. After they choose 22nd and 54th, their next pick is a third-round compensatory selection at No. 97 overall.

There should be ample talent for Miami to get quality defensive contributors with each of their first two picks before it even considers addressing guard or tight end on offense. Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton and Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers are all likely to be around when the Dolphins come up at No. 22.

There’s another gap after the first three choices, as Miami has no original picks in the fourth or fifth round. The Dolphins have their own pick and two compensatory spots at the end of the fifth — Nos. 166, 178 and 184 — and a seventh-rounder at 223rd overall.

Any of that could change, of course, if the Dolphins make a trade. They were slotted eighth last year before making a trade in March to swap with the Eagles and move to No. 13. That deal brought in starters Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso, and Miami caught a big break by landing Laremy Tunsil with Philadelphia’s pick.

That was a year in which many believed the Dolphins needed help defensively, but six of their eight picks were offensive players. The only defensive additions were cornerback Xavien Howard in the second round and defensive back Jordan Lucas in the sixth. The Dolphins took running back Kenyan Drake at No. 73 and traded up to get receiver Leonte Carroo in the third round as well.

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