There was a time that the Miami Dolphins were known for their linebackers. From Nick Buoniconti to John Offerdahl, from AJ Duhe to Brian Cox, most recently were twelve incredible season with Zach Thomas. Miami had been spoiled, linebacker had been a position of strength. Not anymore.
Last offseason the team parted ways with Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in favor of free agents Dannell Ellerbee and Philip Wheeler. It was thought that they were getting younger and faster, the new linebackers were expected to be better in coverage and blitzing. No such luck. While Dansby had a very successful year, Ellerbee and Wheeler were among the worst at the position last season. They had success previously but last season was ripe with bad angles, ineffective tackling and frankly poor effort. Outside linebacker Koa Misi performed much better, contributing as a run stopper. Even rookie Jelani Jenkins from Florida showed promise. Of course, Ellerbee and Wheeler could improve with another offseason in the Dolphins defense, but can they afford to take that chance.
Too much money is going to Ellerbee and Wheeler to address this need in free agency, so that brings us to the upcoming NFL Draft. There are several promising linebackers in this deep draft. I have chosen three who I believe would make an immediate impact in Miami.
C.J. Mosley, Alabama: 6’2″, 230 lbs
Mosley is the consensus number one inside linebacker in this draft. As the leader of Alabama’s defense he showed off great instincts and range. The 2013 Butkus award winner has a high football IQ, he easily runs with tight ends while picking through the trash to make plays in the running game. Mosley will walk onto any team as an instant starter and possible superstar.
This former Badger is a ferocious tackling machine. Often compared to Zach Thomas, he is a little undersized. The biggest issues are his short arms and his 4.83 40-time. As a player he is always around the ball, making plays in the run and pass game. He possesses incredible instincts and a very high motor. If he can overcome his physical limitations he could be the steal of the draft.
I first noticed Zumwalt during this years Sun Bowl, where he would eventually win the co-MVP. Watching him all I saw was a player who clearly loved the game, playing down hill all game long making play after play. While overshadowed by teammate Anthony Barr, Zumwalt is a passionate player and an explosive hitter. He can play inside or outside and is a disruptive blitzer. It is easy to see him as a starting middle linebacker at the next level.
Each of these players would make an immediate impact for the Dolphins defense. The only question is which one do you choose. Much of that will be determined by when General Manager Dennis Hickey decides to address the linebacker position. Mosley will most likely cost a first round pick, while Borland and Zumwalt should be available in the later rounds.
No matter when they look to the middle of the defense, for the defense to improve the Dolphins must make some kind of move this May.