Why trio of Clemson D-linemen are prime draft targets for Dolphins

Much of the attention about the Miami Dolphins in the pre-NFL draft process has focused on the quarterback position, and rightfully so, but there's a decent chance Miami seeks help on the defensive line first before selecting their franchise quarterback.

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said attacking both offensive and defensive lines is his preferred starting point to build a team, and the good news is that April's draft is overflowing with talented defensive linemen and edge players who can make an immediate and long-term impact.

Here is where new defensive line coach Marion Hobby comes into play. Miami's new hire helped recruit and coach defensive linemen -- Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence -- during his time as co-defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach at Clemson. All three prospects are potential first-round picks.

The Dolphins, who hold the No. 13 pick, are in prime position to make Ferrell, Wilkins or Lawrence the face of their draft class. Miami has interest in all three, and each checks boxes that Hobby looks for in defensive linemen.

"What kind of character do they have? What kind of self-discipline do they have? Mental toughness is probably one of the things and what people around them say about them," Hobby said. "You've identified this guy has big-time talent, but has he reached that talent level and does he still have room to grow? Then, it's whether he's ready to grow."

There is interest in players beyond the Clemson trio. Mississippi State edge rusher Montez Sweat and Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver, two players who could be within range of Miami's first-round pick if the board falls just right, also had formal interviews with Hobby and the Dolphins.

"We talked about a lot of things in there: pass rush, obviously, run fitting. The coach was definitely trying to grind my gears. It was a great meeting," Sweat said about Hobby. Oliver added that his formal interview with Miami was one of his hardest.

Here's a closer look at the Clemson trio for the Dolphins to consider at No. 13:

Ferrell (6-foot-4, 265 pounds)

He is the best of the three players and the best fit for the Dolphins, a team in desperate need of reliable edge rushers.

Ferrell has flashed on tape over other Clemson prospects since he was a freshman, and he's coming off back-to-back first-team All-ACC seasons with a combined 21 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss and 5 forced fumbles. He has a great first step, is tough, works hard and has ideal size for the edge position.

Ferrell also raved about Hobby, whom he interviewed with at the NFL scouting combine, and said he would love to reunite with him in Miami.

"That's been a hot question I've been getting all week: Who is one of the most influential coaches for me? Coach Hobby was somebody ... if it wasn't for him, I don't feel like I would have become the player that I am today. His coaching style and his caring about his players really changed my whole mindset toward the game. That was so huge, and I could never repay him for it," Ferrell said.

Ferrell has also overcome adversity. He's the youngest of nine kids, and his father -- his "rock" of his family -- died when Ferrell was a freshman in high school. He also had to redshirt his freshman year at Clemson because of a hand injury.

Some NFL scouts are worried about his lateral movement, athleticism and ability to stand up as an edge rusher, but players such as the Eagles' Brandon Graham, the Titans' Derrick Morgan and the Eagles' Derek Barnett all had some of those same question marks before entering the league. But you can't argue with production, power and consistency. Ferrell can take a similar track as those players -- becoming a complete three-down player against the run and pass and totaling a reliable 6-10 sacks per season.

Pass-rushers who can also stop the run might be the most valuable resource in the modern NFL outside of quarterback. Take a look at the pending free-agency spectrum in which players such as Trey Flowers and Preston Smith seem likely to approach or surpass low- to mid-tier starting QB money ($15 million per year). Neither Flowers nor Smith have had more than eight sacks in a season. It's easy to see Ferrell becoming the "Trey Flowers" of Brian Flores' defense.

Wilkins (6-foot-3, 315 pounds)

He would be a great fit as a three-technique on the Dolphins' defensive line, but he has the versatility to play several positions. Wilkins also has familiarity with Hobby from their time at Clemson, though it's unclear whether the two have formally interviewed for Miami.

He can stop the run and he was elite in that area in college, earning first-team All-American honors last season, all while finishing the season with six sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the interior of the defensive line.

He might never have eye-popping stats, but Wilkins is the type of player who will open up a lot more for other players because of his ability to penetrate the line.

It's easy to see teams falling in love with Wilkins in the interview room -- he exudes a big personality and confident leadership skills.

"I want a team to realize that if you get me, they're investing in so much more," Wilkins said. "Just the ability to not only dominate on the field, be effective on the field, but also to improve the culture, whether it's good, bad, ugly, different. ... I'm the kind of guy you want in the locker room, you want on your team, on the field with you. I'm someone who's just extremely committed and invested in my craft."

The Dolphins' 2018 first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick had similar characteristics and drive, and Miami is ecstatic to have him as a cornerstone of its defense going forward.

Lawrence (6-foot-4, 342 pounds)

He is the biggest of the group, but don't let his size fool you -- he is more than a two-down nose tackle. Lawrence has rare quickness and athleticism; he ran a 5.05-second 40-yard dash, just 1/100th second slower than Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

"I call myself a once-in-a-decade type of player," Lawrence said. "I feel like the way I try to master the game, the way I try to master my techniques, it's just different than a lot of guys."

Lawrence demanded double-teams on a regular basis, and he was effective at plugging holes in the run game and pressuring quarterbacks up the middle. He would fit in Miami's scheme well as a big read-and-react run-stuffer who could shift across the line.

There are many question marks surrounding Lawrence, and because of those, he might be a player whom the Dolphins can trade down and still pick up. Lawrence said every team he interviewed with, including the Dolphins, asked him about his failed performance-enhancing drug test that caused him to miss Clemson's final two games of the season. Also, he suffered a minor quad injury during the combine. Finally, there are questions why a top-five player coming out of high school at his size and skill set didn't produce more. Lawrence had seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He then combined for four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss over his final two seasons.

But teams also can't ignore the film, potential and size. They know -- as Lawrence has assured -- that he's an unusual talent.