Every once in a while, there is a rising program in College Football that stays somewhat under the radar as that school ascends. Generall, that school has a handful of folks begin showing up earlier and earlier on draft day, but because they aren’t one of the “football factory” schools yet, they stay somewhat under the radar. The NFL teams that catch on to the ascending school first generally manage to come up with a few steals in the draft while other teams attentions are focused elsewhere.
If I were to tell you that there was a college team, with a top 10 defense in college football (they were even ranked #1 in the nation at one point), that had 4 defensive stars entering the NFL draft, amongst a group of other potential late round and undrafted free agent steals, would that school and it’s players begin to gain notice? Add to that fact, those four defensive stars attended the NFL combine and were all top performers at their respective positions, and no matter the school you have to stand up and take notice.
Such was the case with the UCONN Huskies players that attended the NFL combine. Add to that fact how they ALL play positions that match up well with the Dolphins needs, and are projected to go in areas that it would make sense for the Dolphins to select them, and the puzzle truly begins to look like a good fit for the Dolphins.
The following players were standouts at the NFL Combine:
OLB Sio Moore
High Level: Slightly undersized by NFL standards, Sio still has good size at 6’1″, 245 lbs. He plays faster than his 4.65 speed, and has exceptional coverage skills and plays stronger than his size. He plays downhill well, and makes a tremendous number of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Puts up solid numbers in the passing game, both in sacks and pass defenses. Secure tackler with the agility to play sideline to sideline. Hard worker who looks to improve the weaker areas of his game to become a more complete player, needs to work on better using his hands to beat blocks at the line of scrimmage. Sio made a lot of waves in both the East-West Shrine game, and then as a late addition to the Senior Bowl
At the Combine: Sio was amongst the top performers in the 40 yd dash (4.65), bench press (29 Reps), Vertical Jump (38 in) and Broad Jump (127 in).
How he fits with the Dolphins: For the Dolphins, this would complete the revamp of the starting linebacker corps, as Sio would represent a more versatile and complete player at the position than Koa Misi. While Misi performed admirably against the run, Sio has a knack for creating turnovers and is an exceptional improvement on pass plays without sacrificing much against the run.
Draft Projection: Predominantly projected in the second round, some resources project Sio to go in the 3rd. He’d be a steal with the either of the Dolphins picks in Round 2.
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
High Level: A tall physical corner at 6’1″, Blidi thrives even further in the zone coverage scheme the Fins appear to be implementing this season. At his height, he can serve to break up jump balls to the taller receivers in the NFL. He has a well rounded skill set, though his tackling in space could use some work.
At the Combine: .The only one of the four to not receive “top performer” status in any category amongst the four UCONN players invited to the combine, Blidi performed well in a deep cornerback class.
How he fits with the Dolphins: With the Dolphins switching to a zone based coverage scheme, Blidi would fit well as he thrives better in zone coverage than man to man, while being able to cover some of the bigger, more physical receivers at the pro level. Blidi could potentially compete for the starting job against Richard Matthews and Brent Grimes.
Draft Projection: Predominantly projected in the late second to early third round, some resources project Blidi to go as high as early in the second round. He’d be a steal with the Dolphins second pick in Round 2 or first pick of Round 3.
CB/S Dwayne Gratz
High Level: Gratz has the ability to play either corner or safety in the NFL, and put up multiple interceptions every year. Ran an interception back against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl as a sophmore, and plays extremely aggressive against the run. His aggression against the run will get him beat deep on occasion. A fierce tackler who can create turnovers in both run and pass defense.
At the Combine: Like Moore, Gratz earned top performer status in several categories. While not earning it in the 40 yard dash, Gratz put up a very respectable 4.47 speed. He received top performer status in the Bench Press (22 Reps), Vertical Jump (38 in) and 3-Cone Drill (6.70 seconds).
How he fits with the Dolphins: With Kevin Coyle coaching, could eventually take the starting safety role by the end of his first season and pair with Reshad Jones to create one of the better young safety tandems in the NFL over the next several years. If Richard Matthews and/or Brent Grimes are not ready to go, Gratz could initially begin his NFL career at corner for the Dolphins as well – giving the Dolphins a good player with solid flexibility where they sorely need it
Draft Projection: Based on current projections, Gratz will most likely hear his name called between the end of round 3 and the beginning of round 5.
DE/OLB Trevardo Williams
High Level: While not as complete of a linebacker as his teammate Sio, Trev is one of the more pure pass rushers you’ll see in this years draft class. An undersized defensive end (Dolphins fans should remember, several undersized defensive ends have worked out well for the fins in the past), Trev is in phenomenal shape with outstanding athletic ability for his size. As a former sprinter from Jamaica, he plays with both speed and power in the pass rushing game, posting double digit sacks in both his junior and senior campaigns, despite battling injuries towards the end of his senior season. Once he gets his hands on the ball carrier or quarterback, possess the strength and form to bring them to ground, while getting a good jump off the ball. The high ankle sprain made Trevardo a late scratch from the Senior Bowl.
At the Combine: This is where it gets interesting with Trevardo. Still battling a high ankle sprain, Trevardo was a top performer in the 40-yd Dash (4.57), Vertical Jump (38 In), Broad Jump (124.0 in) and while not qualifying as a top performer put up a respectable 30 reps on the bench press.
How he fits with the Dolphins: An immediate contributor on passing downs, Trevardo could pair with Cam Wake to strike fear into opposing quarterbacks as opposing bookends who can both be moved all over the field to rush the passer. Trevardo could also mask different coverage packages with the fact that he has moderate cover skills that would be more effective dropping back unexpectedly as part of a blitz package. Add Oliver Vernon to the mix, with Starks & Soliai pushing from the middle, and they make the back end of the defense better as they rush the offensive timing on pass plays.
Draft Projection: While some sites have Trev listed as high as round 3, the consesus appears to be that he will go in round 4-5.
Other UCONN Players that Could Help the Dolphins:
WR/KR/PR Nick Williams – An explosive player in both the return game, as a receiver, and running end around plays. Williams is an undersized receiver, but could make a splash as a late round selection or undrafted free agent. A disciplined route runner with solid hands and deceptive speed and quickness, while he may never match the level of productivity, Williams could be this years Wes Welker. Williams will be undervalued due to a lack of quality play from the quarterback position.
TE Ryan Griffin – An avid blocker, Griffin is also a deceptive receiver. While he does not possess elite speed for the position, excels at getting open and making the most of his receptions while providing a reliable safety valve at the position. Would pair well with Dustin Keller for the Dolphins, who are in need of a blocking tight end. Like Williams, Griffin was hurt by unreliable play at the quarterback position for the Huskies, but still put up impressive numbers in the receiving game over the past several seasons. Possesses good size at 6’6″ and 261 lbs. Despite lack of quality quarterback play, Griffin entered his senior year on the watch list for the Mackey Award, and many sites project him as potentially going undrafted, unless he is selected with a late round selection. He could provide an absolute steal.