The Miami Dolphins will have the No. 8 overall pick in this year's NFL draft. This is the highest selection Miami has had in four seasons and a very important way to get the new regime started under first-year head coach Adam Gase.
It is no secret that linebacker is Miami's biggest need coming off a 6-10 season. The Dolphins were ranked 25th in total defense and 28th against the run. All three starting linebackers – Kelvin Sheppard, Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins – were inconsistent at different points last season.
This year’s draft has quality options at the position. Here are the pros and cons for the three top-rated linebackers:
Player: Alabama’s Reggie Ragland
2015 stats: 102 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Pros: I got an up-close look at Ragland at the Senior Bowl last week and now have a stronger feel for his game entering the draft. He is a physical presence who consistently hustles and has good instincts. Unlike other top linebacker prospects, Ragland also has no injury concerns. He is probably the safest pick at linebacker from that perspective. The Dolphins recently drafted injured players -- DeVante Parker, Dion Jordan, Jamar Taylor – and each time it has come back to haunt them during their rookie seasons.
Cons: Ragland didn’t convince me during Senior Bowl week that he can play outside linebacker full time at the NFL level. He was a step slow in coverage at times and NFL teams will quickly pick up on that and expose Ragland if that doesn’t improve. Ragland is a natural middle linebacker and should stay there if he’s Miami’s pick. He’s not as fluid, especially in pass coverage, as other top linebacker prospects. The No. 8 overall pick may be a little high for Ragland, but he’s a good choice if Miami decides to trade down in the first round to acquire more picks.
Walker’s fit rating for Dolphins: 7.5
Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith
2015 stats: 115 tackles, one sack
Pros: Smith has all the tools you look for in a linebacker. He’s fast, physical, has good size and can cover ground against the pass. He was considered a “can’t-miss” prospect and perhaps a top 5-7 pick until blowing out his knee on Jan. 1 against Ohio State. That hurt Smith’s stock, but his game tape is strong. He had six games with double-digit tackles for Notre Dame this past season.
Cons: Smith is one of the biggest injury risks in this draft. His knee will not be 100 percent when teams have to make a decision in April. Smith has a long rehab ahead and it’s unknown if he will be ready by Week 1 of the regular season. As we mentioned earlier, the Dolphins have had enough experience drafting injury risks in recent seasons.
Walker’s fit rating for Dolphins: 8.0
UCLA’s Myles Jack
2015 stats: 15 tackles, one interception
Pros: Jack is a very intriguing prospect and may be one of the best overall athletes in this draft. He’s constantly around the football and covers a lot of ground against both the run and pass, which the Dolphins desperately need. How good of an athlete is Jack? He was a two-way player at UCLA at both linebacker and running back. Jack rushed for 387 yards on 68 carries. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry with 11 rushing touchdowns.
Cons: Jack suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of his junior season. So most of what's on tape is Jack as a freshman and sophomore. That is a lot of projecting, especially for a Miami team picking in the top 10. The Dolphins must be thorough when doing their homework on Jack. But from what I’ve seen, he has most of the attributes the Dolphins need at the linebacker position.
Fit rating for Dolphins: 8.5
As you can see, there are pros and cons for each top linebacker prospect. It will up to the Dolphins to decide in April if any of these three players can help the defense or go in another direction in the first round.