Dolphins Draft Targets: Inside Linebackers

The linebacker position has been a bit of a nightmare for a number of years. From the failures of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to the head scratching performance of Jelani Jenkins and health of Koa Misi, Miami needs to put an end to a perpetually terrible position group. The free agent class is light, but the draft is packed full of options both in the first round and in the middle rounds.

Linebackers:

Day 1 Options –

Jarrad Davis – Florida

Games: Alabama and Vanderbilt

2016 volume stats: 60 tackles, 2 sacks, 0 FF, 6 TFL, 4 passes defensed, 5 games missed, 0 INT

Florida was led by its defensive unit and, more specifically, by the speed on all levels. The speed of Davis allowed the Gators to mix its coverage and blitz looks invariably. Whether it’s dropping into his backpedal, shuffling laterally, flipping his hips or attacking downhill, Davis has speed to burn.

davis-1
Trailing the play with no angle, he has the speed to bring down a back that runs around a 4.5.

 

When he gets it right, it looks flawless in terms initiating contact, of exploding through the block and tracking down the ball carrier. He made some mistakes early in games and was faced with a similar situation later in the afternoon and corrected the error.

davis-2
Lines up over the strong side, destroys the guard and blows up the play.

 

His work in the passing game fills an immediate need for the Dolphins. He understands route concepts, passing lanes and how to work his way into them anticipating the play like a quarterback. His work against Vanderbilt in coverage – whether it was rerouting and chasing a tight end up the seam or taking a back in one-on-one out of the backfield, he’s usually in the right place.

davis-3
Takes a tight end in a nasty split and runs in his hip pocket up the seam.

 

He is guilty of some false keys and struggles to get off blocks when he’s working laterally, but these are coachable traits that you pay an assistant to get corrected.

Fit: If he were drafted here, you’d plug him into the middle and get three downs out of him from day one. That’s a large selling point to a team that might feel like they are on the cusp of competing as soon as this year. Natural talent, speed and clear passing game recognition all make him a favorite of mine.

Reuben Foster – Alabama

Games: USC, Texas A&M, Auburn

2016 volume stats: 115 tackles, 5 sacks, 0 FF, 13 TFL, 2 passes defensed, 0 INT

Reuben Foster is a sheer play maker, don’t get it twisted, the kid is a freak. It can be difficult to tell how great he is because of how many players there are around him at Alabama. His preparation is sound, he makes correct keys often and he doesn’t miss tackles. He can get little stiff in change of direction in coverage but moves laterally as well as some guys do downhill.

foster-diagnose
Correctly reads the flow of the play and comes in clean for the TFL.

 

You’ll never mistake him for a natural pass rusher. As part of that studious style, he blitzes to open areas well. He will probably come off the field on third downs early in his career.

The next block he fights off en route to a ball-carrier will be his first. He doesn’t create any takeaways (his next interception of forced fumble will be his first) and there is legitimate concern that he was made to look better by his surrounding cast.

foster-false-key
Here’s an option keeper that Foster mis-keys and then shows the heavy feet unable to breakdown and change direction.

Foster jumps off the screen from an athletic and big play stand point living in the opposition’s backfield, but I would hold off on that top 10 grade purely out of a desire to see more.

It’s too bad we can’t see him in any of the all-star competitions.

Fit: He would be a MIKE backer in this scheme but I’m not entirely sure that he is what Miami are looking for. He isn’t quick enough in short areas to deal with the complex short passing game of the Patriots, but he can punish teams in the running game. He can outflank any offensive linemen but I don’t know that he works through enough trash to work here. Would I take him at 22? Absolutely. But he’s not my first choice at the position.

Zac Cunningham – Vanderbilt

Games: Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee

2016 volume stats: 125 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 FF, 16.5 TFL, 3 passes defensed, 0 INT

Players like Zac Cunningham are why you watch multiple games of eligible prospects. Against Georgia, he was a one man wrecking crew disrupting the timing of plays and the blocking assignments he faced all game. He’s a game changer and a big hitter. He struggles with consistency in form tackling and will get shaken off by smaller backs.

Alvin Kamara ate his lunch in the Tennessee tape causing poor angles and missed tackles up around the shoulder pad shelf area. I think there’s a lot of fine tuning to be done here to hone in on that freak athleticism but, like Davis, that’s why you hire a linebacker’s coach.

cunningham-missed-tackle
Cunningham has a chance to make a play in the open field but takes a poor angle and tackles Kamara too high.

 

He looks slower to react that the previous two prospects (Davis and Foster) and it will cause him to be late to his assignment at times.

He does play with tremendous leverage and can attach and disengage to blocks extremely well. He blocked a field goal much like Kam Chancellor with the Seahawks does jumping clean over the line so you see the power in his truck on multiple levels.

cunningham-diag
Diagnoses the play, ducks under the block and stuffs the run.

 

Fit: I actually see him as a better fit than Foster for his ability to move in all directions and play three downs. Miami needs to hit on a linebacker that has the potential to excel in base as well as sub-packages. If he’s the pick at 22, I don’t think Dolphins fans should complain.

 

Author’s note: Any of the scouting reports listed are built entirely on my own personal film study. This will never be a final admission, but rather a growing library that takes on new content as I absorb more game tape, personal workouts, all-star game performances and anything that affects draft stock. I will use links, videos and various scouting reports from the scouts I trust and respect. I will clearly state when someone else’s work is being distributed.

I’ve chosen linebackers as my first position of interest because as we sit here in late January, that seems to be the logical route for the Dolphins to take. I’m sure that will change through the next three months or could entirely blow up when someone unexpected like Laremy Tunsil falls to our pick.

That said, over the next three months I will add to this library digging deeper and deeper into the draft. Team visits, YouTube clips, personal observations, Perfectville has you covered every which way on the Miami Dolphins 2017 draft. These videos are not my own.

They are available for use on YouTube as shared by Draftbreakdown.com

This list will grow as I get further into the process. These are the only linebackers that would make sense at pick 22 for the Dolphins. Check back in from now up until draft day to see day 2 and day 3 prospects added.

Phins up!

@travis_writes

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