Is quick improvement possible?
Last season, the Miami Dolphins went 6-3 after October, one of the best finishing stretches in football. You can grab a section of an NFL season and make a case that a lot of teams were better than their entire record shows, but Miami probably led the way in 2011. Even before their great finish, the Dolphins blew leads in nearly every loss and famously lost games they should have won against Cleveland, Denver and the New York Giants. This offseason brought change, starting with the head coach. It also brought a sense that Miami was somehow starting over.
I don't think that's really true.
The Dolphins have a tough pick at No. 8 because if they take Ryan Tannehill they are taking a player who needs some developmental time and isn't likely to help the team in 2012. He's a risk by himself. But taking Tannehill also means that Miami risks taking a step back because it won't benefit much in the short term from a high pick, and it also lost a key player in the passing game -- Brandon Marshall. If Miami takes a top wide receiver (Michael Floyd could be available) it could help the passing game immediately. If it takes a top offensive tackle to put on the right side (Riley Reiff could be there), it potentially could improve the pass and the run games. Either pick would generate some early return, most likely.
But Miami also has a new coach, Joe Philbin, with a track record for developing quarterbacks. It has offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who is familiar with Tannehill from his time at Texas A&M. Of every team in the draft, in fact, I've said there's probably not a better developmental situation.
But there's no way around it: If Miami goes with Tannehill, it is sacrificing some early returns for long-term gain. That might not feel like a step back in the eyes of a coach just beginning his tenure. But for fans -- and me -- who think the Dolphins aren't far from being a good team, it's not such an easy call.
Mel Kiper has been the premier name in NFL draft prospect evaluations for more than three decades. He started putting out his annual draft guides in 1978, and began contributing to ESPN as an analyst in 1984. For more from Mel, check out his annual draft publications or his ESPN home page. He can also be found on Twitter here.
Browns have a lot to consider
The Cleveland Browns have reportedly settled on the player they'd like to take with the No. 4 overall pick, but with needs at quarterback, running back and wide receiver -- in any order you like -- the process of arriving at that decision was the toughest of any team in the top 10.
The Browns had to self-evaluate at quarterback, the toughest position of all to assess. Current starter Colt McCoy has size and arm-strength limitations, and there are concerns about his durability after concussion issues last season.
He has shown promise, though, and although Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill has the potential to be a major upgrade, Tannehill is raw and won't be of any help until a couple years down the road.
What makes that choice even harder is that having a quality quarterback is the surest way to beat the system in today's NFL. The spending limits imposed by the salary cap mean teams have more holes than ever, and no player on the field can exploit more of an opponent's weaknesses than the quarterback.
If a quarterback isn't the pick, the Browns still face a dilemma in terms of adding weapons around McCoy.
Most NFL people I talk to grade Richardson as a better overall prospect, but Cleveland might not, given how much it values receivers in its West Coast offense.
So while I place five prospects -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Richardson, Morris Claiborne -- in the elite category, Blackmon likely makes that group six deep for the Browns and adds to their options.
Luck and RG3 will be long gone, though, while the Browns aren't likely to add a left tackle such as Kalil with Joe Thomas already in place, and Claiborne would be a luxury pick.
With Tannehill being a project, it would seem to come down to two players, and I think Richardson will be the pick.
Choosing between two elite prospects might not seem like a tough call, but how the Browns got there is what makes it so difficult.
Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Follow McShay on Twitter: @McShay13