Dolphins trade up to draft DE Dion Jordan, plus more draft thoughts

by Andrew Bailey

In what’s difficult to call anything other than a complete surprise, the Dolphins traded up nine picks with the Oakland Raiders last night to select Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan with the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. For the right to move up, the Dolphins swapped their 12th overall pick and the higher of their two second round picks (42nd) this year.

My knee-jerk reaction to the deal was one of jubilance, if only because it’s a lot more fun picking third than twelfth, especially when you didn’t have to suffer through the agony of a 4-12 season to get there. Some of the scuttlebutt I’ve seen suggests the Dolphins made a mistake by not grabbing offensive tackle Lane Johnson to fill the void left by the departed Jake Long, but I disagree. In fact, I’m still not entirely convinced that left tackle is a pressing need.

If you consider that a year ago Jonathan Martin, who was drafted in the second round out of Stanford in 2012, not only moved over from the right side and sufficiently substituted for Long when he was out with injury, but actually functioned as an upgrade, then it stands to reason the team could slide him over to the left tackle position permanently in 2013 and instead seek a right tackle. They could sign someone like Eric Winston, who could function as an inexpensive stopgap, or use one of their remaining middle round picks to fill that hole. Premiere left tackles are drafted early, but right tackles can be found later.

But even if you take the question marks at tackle out of consideration, it’s hard not to like the Jordan pick and, maybe even more so, the aggressiveness behind it. You can argue that Jeff Ireland’s track record prior to this off-season speaks for itself and speculate that all of this year’s maneuvers are solely to pass a new stadium deal. That’s not a debate I’m willing to dive into at the moment. But even a devil’s advocate should be excited about the team’s “go big or go home” approach, and no move screams that sentiment louder than climbing to the top of the draft and staking claim to one of this class’ premiere pass rushers.

Look at the blueprint of the New York Giants’ two recent Super Bowl-winning teams. Neither squad had a particularly dominant offensive line or elite cornerbacks. They rode a good (and at times scary) offense and a menacing pass rush to a pair of Lombardi trophies. Adding Jordan, who could be a Jason Taylor clone with a bit of added bulk, helps create the same type of aesthetic on the defensive side. Opposite all-world sack artist Cameron Wake, Jordan should ease into the NFL without having to face double teams or the elite tackle of opposing teams. And while Jordan creates a daunting tandem aside Wake, that pair makes up just the front line of what could be a formidable stable.

Olivier Vernon, the team’s third round pick a year ago, had a marvelous rookie season on special teams and added in 3.5 sacks in limited pass rush duty. Koa Misi, drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, has mostly been a low impact player, but he’ll now be in a position to rotate in and out of the game, meaning less will be asked of him at large and I think the opportunity to tap into some of his unseen potential is ripe. When Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler were signed to replace Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, one of the reasons cited was their collective ability to be disruptive presences, which Dansby and Burnett weren’t. In short: if the Dolphins get from Jordan what they expect to get, which is a young, studly pass rusher in the vein of Aldon Smith or Jason Pierre-Paul, it’s going to make this entire fleet of players better. The front seven on the defensive side was the team’s biggest strength a year ago, and now they’ve added a complementary pass rush unlike anything I can remember seeing from this team before (or at least not since the Taylor/Adewale Ogunleye days of 2002-03. Getting to Tom Brady is no longer solely on the shoulders of Wake.

The other thing to consider is that the compensation to move up was fairly low. All it cost was a second-round pick, which isn’t as much as you’d expect for a team moving into the top tier of the draft. It might sting if the Dolphins decide they prefer Branden Albert to Martin on the left side and the Kansas City Chiefs hold out for a second-round pick, but otherwise it’s only a minor dent in the armor. They still cling to the 54th overall pick and two third-round selections, so the cabinet wasn’t raided to jump after Jordan.

Obviously, with two days of drafting left to be done, it’s too early to see the whole picture. But the early returns are favorable and, in a single night, the Dolphins defense appears to have gone from upgraded and overhauled to the brink of being flat out dangerous.

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• I didn’t do so hot on my mock draft, but I was able to nail a few picks and, even if a couple of draft slots changed, match the correct player with the correct team in a couple instances. The only team, pick, and player I connected on at the appropriate slot was defensive tackle Sylvester Williams to the Denver Broncos with the 28th overall pick. But I also successfully paired Tavon Austin with the St. Louis Rams and Eric Reid with the San Francisco 49ers. The only other thing I can hang my hat on is putting quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round, though I never would have pegged him for the Bills.

• Am I the only Dolphin fan thrilled that the St. Louis Rams traded up with the Buffalo Bills to grab Tavon Austin? I’m still not 100% convinced that Austin is the second coming of Percy Harvin (and if he is, hopefully it’s only in regards to talent and not headcase-itude), but there are always a handful of players in the draft that I know I’ll want to root for, and Austin is one of those players. But clearly, I couldn’t root for a member of the New York Jets, which probably would have happened had the Rams not made the deal.

• Speaking of the Jets: my mock draft was published before they traded Darrelle Revis for an extra first-round pick, but one thing I was very clear about with regards to their draft strategy was that as long as Rex Ryan is head coach — even if he’s perceived to be a lame duck — they’re going to favor defense over offense. “As long as Rex Ryan has a say in the process, I’m convinced the Jets will use every possible pick on defense,” I wrote. And they did.

Adding cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson could end up being a boon for the Jets, but it certainly doesn’t have me stricken with fear this morning. The Jets essentially swapped one cornerback with injury concerns for another and upgraded the middle of their defensive line. That’s a net gain, but I’m still curious how they plan to score points.

• The New Orleans Saints selection of safety Kenny Vaccaro is one of my favorite moves of the first round. Getting him 15th overall is a good value slot and he fills a glaring need for a team that has needed help on defense for what seems like the entire Drew Brees era.

• The other move I love: tight end Tyler Eifert landing with the Cincinnati Bengals. A week or two ago I was trying to evaluate the ceilings of every team in the AFC and the Bengals were one of the teams who I felt might have reached theirs, even in spite of having a tremendous young wide receiver in AJ Green and upstart quarterback in Andy Dalton. It’s just hard to look at their roster, acknowledge that Marvin Lewis is still entrenched as head coach, and see them as anything other than a squad with an expiration date that falls somewhere between the wildcard and divisional rounds. But Eifert has altered my opinion a bit. Though Jermaine Gresham still projects as the Bengals’ starter, the addition on the offensive side is exactly what this team needed. Their defense is more or less good to go. But if they have any hope of beating the big boys come playoff time, they’re going to need to be able to score more points. In the past two seasons they’ve been disposed of in the playoffs by the Houston Texans while scoring a combined 23 points.

• I don’t have any personal investment in the Minnesota Vikings, but I’m glad they traded up for wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson and not linebacker Manti Te’o. For the purposes of my own entertainment, I like that Te’o is still on the board heading into the draft’s second day. And though he’s raw, I like Patterson’s upside. It’s conceivable their offense will actually be improved with Greg Jennings and Patterson rather than Harvin.

• The downside of that Vikings trade is that their trade partner came in the form of the New England Patriots, who had only five draft picks entering the day but have now accumulated three more to bring their total to eight. I’m mostly fond of Bill Belichick’s strategy of stockpiling picks and seeking value, but the act is starting to grow tired. As I mentioned in my mock, the Patriots will almost assuredly grab a defensive back or two with those picks, and if history maintains course, those two players will fail to develop and eventually disappear to another team’s roster. Having a lot of picks is great, but the real key is turning them into productive players (which, mind you, I’m not saying they haven’t ever done, because they obviously have). If I’m the Patriots, I might have preferred picking Patterson (or safety Matt Elam, who eventually landed on the Baltimore Ravens) for myself there.

• So, which quarterback will the Jacksonville Jaguars snatch up with the first pick of the second round: Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, or Matt Barkley?

• When the 49ers go on the clock with the second pick of the second round, keep in mind that they received the pick from the Chiefs in exchange for Alex Smith. My prediction for who they’ll take? Florida State defensive end Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, who would be the theoretical heir to Justin Smith.

• To close things out, here’s my mock (read: wild guesses) of the first ten picks of the second round:

Jacksonville Jaguars (33): QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
San Francisco 49ers (34): DE Tank Carradine, Florida State
Philadelphia Eagles (35): QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Detroit Lions (36): CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Cincinnati Bengals (37): RB Eddie Lacey, Alabama
Arizona Cardinals (38): OT Menelik Watson, Florida State
New York Jets (39): S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
Tennessee Titans (40): TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Buffalo Bills (41): WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Oakland Raiders (42): DT Jesse Williams, Alabama

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