Ranking the Priorities

There are a couple of reasons why it's such a mystery what the Dolphins will do with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft, and one of them obviously is the lack of a franchise player among the pool of prospects. Another is that the Dolphins have so many needs, they could fill one of them with a player at one of several positions. But what exactly is the most pressing need?

Quarterback would seem to jump out because it's the most important position on the team and because the current guys on the roster are Josh McCown, John Beck, Casey Bramlet and Matt Baker.

But what about offensive tackle, where there's Vernon Carey and little else? Or cornerback, where the Dolphins have decent players in Will Allen, Andre' Goodman and Michael Lehan, but no shut-down guy? Or even wide receiver?

Here's our ranking of the Dolphins' top priorities three weeks before the draft:

1. Quarterback: There's no way around it. It always comes back to the quarterback. McCown has potential but he's been error-prone in his six NFL seasons; Beck might or might not develop into a starting-caliber quarterback; and Bramlet and Baker are camp bodies. The Dolphins simply are looking at another very long year unless they get better quarterback play.

2. Offensive tackle: The plan at this point appears to be to keep Carey at left tackle, even though he might be a better fit at right tackle. But there's nobody on the roster right now who's an NFL-caliber right tackle. So the Dolphins simply have to get a tackle sooner or later in the draft because the pickings are slim in free agency.

3. Tight end: The Dolphins have four veterans on the roster in David Martin, Justin Peelle, Aaron Halterman and Sean Ryan, but there's not a starting-caliber tight end in the bunch. Martin was a major disappointment last season after coming to Miami as a free agent from Green Bay, failing badly in his first season as a full-time starter.

4. Cornerback: A shut-down corner can make a big difference for a defense, and the Dolphins were lucky enough to have two when Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain were at their best. The closest thing the Dolphins have to that is Will Allen, but his ball skills just aren't anywhere near Pro Bowl material.

5. Wide receiver: The signing of Ernest Wilford from Jacksonville was a good move, but he's more of a No. 2 or even No. 3 guy. Ted Ginn Jr. might develop into a No. 1 wide receiver at some point, but that's no certainty and he's clearly not close to that yet. Derek Hagan and Greg Camarillo are the next two wideouts on the roster. The offense needs a big-play wideout badly.

6. Guard: Justin Smiley was another good signing, but the Dolphins need to replace both of last year's starting guards, Rex Hadnot and Chris Liwienski. It's not a premium position like tackle, but the Dolphins also can't rely on Drew Mormino, who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.

7. Inside linebacker: We're again assuming the Dolphins will be playing a 3-4, and that means two inside linebackers will be needed. Channing Crowder figures to have one of the two jobs, but he needs to really step up his game after three OK-but-nothing-more seasons. The other spot right now probably would be occupied by free agent pick-up Reggie Torbor, but he was more of an outside linebacker with the New York Giants. So an addition here still would be welcome.

8. Defensive end: Yep, the Dolphins still need a defensive end even if they do hang on to Jason Taylor. For one thing, Taylor will be an outside linebacker in the 3-4, lining up opposite Joey Porter. Vonnie Holliday figures to have one of the starting defensive end jobs in the 3-4, but we don't like any of the other options. Matt Roth, as stated many times, simply is too small to play DE in a 3-4 and Randy Starks' experience has been as a DT in a 4-3. Having quality defensive ends is vital in a 3-4, and that's what the Dolphins had when Kevin Carter was in town. A player like him would be a great addition.

Yes, it's quite a list. Then again, the Dolphins didn't get to 1-15 by accident.

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