Previewing the Dolphins' Big Day

Miami has a few needs to fill in the the NFL Draft - which position will go first?

No pressure, Dolphins! 

The upcoming NFL Draft was high-stakes enough for Miami's management when they just had to fill three crucial spots in the hopes of sticking to the trajectory that propelled them from bargain basement bin to AFC East Champs in one season.  

But now the entire world (okay, maybe not Luxembourg - those people are downright un-American!) will see them in four prime-time slots in 2009 -- proving that the NFL and ESPN expect the Dolphins will be able to prove 2008 wasn't a fluke.

That doesn't leave much room for error. The 'Phins aren't about the business of just bolstering the roster - they need at least three starting positions out of the first few rounds. It's an unusual place to find a team who was able to improve by nine wins and clinch a division, but the Dolphins are in as good a position as possible with Bill Parcells behind their selections.

But which first?

Despite a pressing need at wide receiver, the man behind the curtain isn't likely to use his first-day picks at numbers 25, 44 and 56 on a position he feels can be adequately filled in lower rounds.  In his 22-year draft record, he's only used a first round pick on a wideout twice, and this year's crop of prospects has a lot of promising receivers popping up in later rounds.  It's too bad, really - we like UNC's Hakeem Nicks, with whom Hurricanes fans are sadly familiar.

So we can reasonably expect Miami to fill slots at cornerback and linebacker on day one.

In our dreams, the 'Phins throw picks to the wind and trade up to acquire USC's inside linebacker Rey Maualuga, who is the sort of dynamic playmaker franchises are built around. He's also young, and the 'Phins are building up. But Parcells has stated that he wants about a dozen picks in the draft, and since he only has nine, Maualuga appears too costly.

Additionally, experts expect Aaron Curry, Everette Brown, Brian Orakpo, Aaron Maybin, and maybe even Robert Ayers and Brian Cushing to be gone by the no. 25 rolls around. The 'Phins could take Ayers or Cushing -- but they could also get a decent linebacker like Virginia's Clint Sintim with no. 44, and get a little more value out of the gate. 

That leaves cornerback, where we expect Parcells to use his first pick. With Terrell Owens in Buffalo, Tom Brady returning to New England, and a limited number of starting-quality corners in this year's draft, it's imperative Miami takes a solid, ready cover corner.  Ohio State's Malcom Jenkins will likely be taken already, along with Illinois' Vontae Davis.  If neither are available, we think the Dolphins might make a beeline for Connecticut's Darius Butler.

Butler is the #3-ranked corner in the draft, with a projected high of nos. 10-20 and a low of top second round.  That's perfect for the Dolphins, along with his experience starting all three years at UConn and his two-year captaincy.  NFL Draft Scout says Butler has athleticism to spare, and is "everything the NFL wants in a cornerback" -- with the only concern being a lack of interceptions in his senior season (well, and the whole UConn thing - when did they start playing football?). The Dolphins likely feel that can be addressed on the practice field.

"Miami would be a dream," said Butler last month after confirming Miami has expressed interest in his services. He's certainly got the pedigree for local hero-hood: he graduated from high school in Coral Springs, is a cousin to UM and Baltimore Ravens star Willis McGahee, and his uncle, Gene Atkins, is a former Dolphins defensive back.

Bonus: if the Heat's next draft doesn't work out for them, the Dolphins just might be willing to lease out his services. Butler's got ups.

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