The NFL Draft begins Thursday. After making a splash by selecting QB Ryan Tannehill with the 8th pick in the first round last year, Miami will likely go with a less splashy pick when they make the 12th selection on Thursday night.
Finding themselves in a familiar position - the middle-third of the first round - the Dolphins could conceivably trade up or down in the draft to make a reach on a player the team really loves or accumulate extra picks, respectively. "I've got enough ammunition to get to the first pick if I wanted to," Ireland said Tuesday, smiling slightly. "But I don't see myself doing that."
Dolphins general manager Jeff has never traded up in the first round during his tenure (though he did trade down from 10 to 28 in 2010 to pick Jared Odrick). But Ireland has purposefully accumulated extra picks (Miami will have 11 in total), something which could give him maneuverability if he does want to make a deal.
"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."
What Miami needs: After rebuilding the linebacker corps and adding wide receiver Mike Wallace (while also resigning Brian Hartline), the Dolphins' biggest areas of need are offensive line and cornerback. Losing LT Jake Long created a hole at right tackle, as Jonathan Martin will move to the left side to replace Long.
Cornerback was one of the weakest groups on the Dolphins in 2012, and that was before Sean Smith left via free agency. The Dolphins will also likely try to add depth at running back and defensive end.
While some teams head approach the first round of the draft by taking the best player available, Ireland has said he will consider Miami's needs heavily. With that in mind, here are three players who could be taken with Miami's twelfth pick on Thursday night.
DJ Fluker, tackle, Alabama: The Dolphins have been in trade talks with the Kansas City Chiefs concerning LT Branden Albert. If Miami can make a deal, then Ireland will probably pass on any offensive linemen in the first round (since Martin can stay at right tackle with Albert on board).
But if not, Fluker seems like the most likely pick out of a number of linemen who could go in the first round (Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma will likely all be gone by the twelfth pick.) "If I get another [Mike] Pouncey and another Jake Long, I would do it every draft," Ireland said, referring to the last two lineman selected by Miami in the first round.
Fluker stands 6'4" and weighs 340 pounds, a monstrous build for a player who helped the Crimson Tide completely run over opponents in 2011 and 2012. He is powerful and smart, displaying patience on game tape as well as an understanding of leverage. He could still use some fine-tuning, but that can be said for almost any lineman in the draft.
Dee Milliner, cornerback, Alabama: If the Albert deal happens, then Ireland could very well go for a defensive back in the first round. Miami has had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL for two seasons, even before the departures of Smith and Vontae Davis (traded to Indianapolis during 2012 training camp).
Milliner was a star at Alabama, recording 34 solo tackles, 2 interceptions, 22 passes defended, and 1.5 sacks in 2012. He is very fast, running a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and at 6 feet he is taller than most cornerbacks.
But Milliner has health concerns surrounding him, which is crucial considering his physical style of play. He does not have a good backpedal, which is a very necessary skill in the NFL, and his recovery speed has been questioned by scouts.
Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, FSU: Rhodes is even bigger and more physical than Milliner, standing 6'2" and weighing 210 pounds. The Miami Norland High product intercepted 3 passes in 2012 and defended another 10, adding 27 solo tackles.
He excels at press coverage, something the Dolphins have needed. He is also a good tackler, even with large, physical wide receivers. His technique leaves something to be desired, especially in backpedal situations. Scouts also worry that he freelances too often, taking chances that can leave him out of position.
The Dolphins could also go with UNC guard Jonathan Cooper, Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, or Utah DT Star Lotulelei. At cornerback, DJ Hayden of Houston is a possibility, but he might not be on the board when the Dolphins make their pick.
The draft starts at 8pm on Thursday, with coverage on ESPN and the NFL Network.