|Thomas' (No. 71) versatility could put a smile on the face of Miami Dolphins' fans. (USATSI)|
During the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2013 NFL Draft in a series called "Finding the Fits." The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.
Miami Dolphins Best Fit: OL Dallas Thomas, Tennessee, 3rd Round, No. 77 overall.
It is perhaps appropriate that the Miami Dolphins used the 77th pick on highly versatile offensive lineman Dallas Thomas.
The former University of Tennessee standout could wind up replacing departed free agent left tackle Jake Long, who wore No. 77 during his five seasons with the club after earning the No. 1 overall selection of the 2008 draft.
With 25 starts at the all-important left tackle position already on his resume, Thomas gives the Dolphins a quality contingency plan should 2012 second round pick, Jonathan Martin, struggle as Long's likely replacement protecting Ryan Tannehill's blindside.
The Dolphins know what they have in Martin, who started all 16 games at tackle for the team as a rookie, including the final four on the left side when Long was sidelined with injury (triceps). Martin was solid but far from spectacular in his first season in the NFL and there was plenty of pre-draft speculation that general manager Jeff Ireland would continue his aggressive offseason by trading up to secure one of the top tackles in the 2013 draft. The Dolphins pursued a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for left tackle Branden Albert and continue to tinker with their offense after the draft, signing veteran Tyson Clabo to a one-year deal on May 5.
While the majority of Thomas' experience was at left tackle, he was moved inside to left guard as a senior, starting all 12 games there. This move, according to sources close to the Vols, was in part due to Thomas' strength and versatility and because the young man who replaced him Antonio Richardson, a 6-6, 332-pound junior, is viewed as a potential blue-chip talent.
Whether at left tackle or as an upgrade to the tenacious (but athletically-limited) Richie Incognito at left guard, Thomas projects as a quality NFL starter.
"We like [Thomas'] versatility," head coach Joe Philbin said when asked about the only offensive lineman the Dolphins selected in the 2013 draft. "We liked his athleticism. We thought he had a pretty good technique and I think he has a bright future. He's a fluid athlete. We like his size and we thought he was well-coached at Tennessee. So we'll see. We're going to start him on the left side. I'm not sure where yet. We've got to see how the weekend unfolds and take a look at things, but we're excited about him."
Miami Musings (Other thoughts on the Dolphins' 2013 draft class): In doling out millions in free agency to nab wide receiver Mike Wallace as well as linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, Ireland set the stage for an aggressive draft. He accomplished as much with the bold move up nine spots to land pass-rusher Dion Jordan at No. 3 overall.
Jordan has the athleticism to be a star and operating with a strong defensive line in front of him and a productive outside linebacker in Cameron Wake on the opposite side, the former Oregon Duck could emerge as a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
To do so, he'll have to get healthy and remain so. Jordan, like Thomas, missed Miami's rookie minicamp while rehabbing surgery to repair a torn labrum.
While Jordan ranks as one of the boom-or-bust gambles of the 2013 draft, the Dolphins nabbed a solid all-around defender in Jamar Taylor with their second selection. Athletic, instinctive and among the more physical tacklers in a solid class of corners, Taylor will ascend into Miami's starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Tight end Dion Sims, selected with the Dolphins' second pick in the fourth round, also is in good position for immediate and substantial playing time. While the Dolphins significantly improved their playmaking ability at tight end by adding former Jets' first round pick Dustin Keller in free agency, the club hadn't addressed the drop-off in run-blocking they'd see after allowing Anthony Fasano to leave. Sims, 6 feet 5, 262, shows good strength and tenacity as a run blocker, as well as surprising overall athleticism and soft hands. He struggled with durability and immaturity at Michigan State but if he remains committed to the game, could prove a steal at No. 106 overall. He's a much better blocker than anyone else currently on Miami's roster, which could put him in position for significant action.
-- The Dolphins' 2013 draft class:
1st Round - No. 3 overall - OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
2nd Round - No. 54 overall - CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State
3rd Round - No. 77 overall - OT Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
3rd Round - No. 93 overall - CB Will Davis, Utah State
4th Round - No. 104 overall - OLB Jelani Jenkins, Florida
4th Round - No. 106 overall - TE Dion Sims, Michigan State
5th Round - No. 164 overall - RB Mike Gillislee, Florida
5th Round - No. 166 overall - K Caleb Sturgis, Florida
7th Round - No. 250 overall - DB Don Jones, Arkansas State
-- Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:
WR Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State
OLB Michael Clay, Oregon
RB Cameron Marshall, Arizona State
Read more about all of the Dolphins' picks here.