AC In The AM: And With The 11th Overall Pick…

It sure seems like it took a long time to get to today. But here we are, the most impactful three days of the NFL's offseason, finally at our doorstep with the Miami Dolphins facing some critical decisions that could have plenty to do with the success of this year's team.

It begins with the 11th overall pick unless, of course, the Dolphins play let's make a deal and that could mean moving up to get a specific player they covet or moving down to acquire additional selections. All options are on the table. As of this precise moment, the Dolphins have eight picks over these three days. My gut feeling is that they'll end up with more.

Certainly the focus right now is on the first round, specifically on what name Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce when he steps to the podium probably sometime after 9 p.m. tonight with the Dolphins pick. That will be the headline. Always is. The reaction will come swift and strong. Always does.

But in truth, you don't finish 6-10 because of one missing piece. It's never that easy. So while it's important that the Dolphins make the right selection with that 11th overall pick, it's equally important that it doesn't stop there, that they bring in at least three or four players that can make a difference on a team that needs more difference-makers.

That's the urgency of these three days. Get it right. Then get it right again. And again. Free agency certainly filled some holes. Important holes. But it is the draft that remains the true barometer for overall success. Look at this roster, the way it is comprised right now, and you see the benefit of three straight productive drafts.

Now it's time to add to that, to find some answers in areas of need and to upgrade the overall talent level on this team. At this precise moment, I feel pretty good about the offensive line, the receivers, the defensive ends and the cornerbacks. There is depth there and some young, promising alternatives. Doesn't mean the Dolphins won't add to those positions; it simply gives them the luxury to know that it isn't mandatory.

I would like to be able to tell you with some certainty what the Dolphins will do when their number is called later tonight. But I'm truly not sure whether the Dolphins know what they'll do. They know what they'd like to do, but there is just so much uncertainty, so many smokescreens to try and decipher, it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. I'm tired of mock drafts. I'm ready for the real deal. Until then, who really knows?

With that foremost in mind, what I can tell you is this: Based on the strengths of this draft and the needs of this team, these are my five most likely positions to generate strong first round consideration:

• Linebacker: The Dolphins need a starter, a player versatile enough to rush the passer, stuff the run or drop into coverage. A tough find? This draft, especially the first round, is filled with some enticing options. Three names keep coming up: Georgia's Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds and Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch. All fit the above-mentioned requirements.

• Tight end: It's time this stopped being an every year need. It's time for the Dolphins to secure the present and the future at a position that is so integral to what Adam Gase is trying to accomplish on offense. They could probably trade out of the No. 11 spot, moving later in the round, and still get one of the top tight ends. Taking one in the second or third round is also a possibility. Four players, at least as an early round pick, are generating the most attention:  Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State), Mike Gesicki (Penn State), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina) and Mark Andrews (Oklahoma). Any of them would look real nice in a Dolphins' uniform.

• Back-up QB: Ryan Tannehill is the starter. Write that down in ink. It's not open for debate. But the back-up job is wide open and as we learned last season, you can never have too many quality quarterbacks. Will one of the four top-rated quarterbacks drop into the Dolphins' lap at No. 11? Is there a fifth to consider? Maybe someone like Lamar Jackson? Will they consider moving up to get one? That's the real drama of this first round. I fully anticipate that the Dolphins will draft a quarterback over the next three days. The unknown: Which one and when?

• Defensive tackle: The departure of Ndamukong Suh has created a hole that needs filling. The Dolphins have Jordan Phillips. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, the latter two entering just their second season. But they need a fourth defensive tackle they can rely on or potentially even challenge for a starting job, a people mover you might say. There are some good ones out there. Many of the mocks have Washington's Vita Vea available at No. 11, certainly a real possibility.

• Safety: This is one of the deepest areas of the draft and while the Dolphins have two solid alternatives in Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald, it's easy to envision McDonald being moved to a more nickel/outside linebacker role. That would open up a spot next to Jones and the two players I keep hearing about as a worthy No. 11 overall pick are FSU's Derwin James and Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick. Each has a chance to be special.

Press me hard and I'll go with a linebacker or a quarterback as the likely first round pick. Got a feeling, though, things are going to get crazy as that first round unfolds.

Yes, today is finally here. The guessing can stop. We're about to get some answers.

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