<
>

Dolphins' third linebacker remains a mystery

Will the Miami Dolphins' third starting linebacker please step forward?

Currently, that player is a complete mystery to the Dolphins team and coaching staff.

Miami did plenty this offseason to plug its holes following a successful, 10-6 season that ended in the wild-card round of the playoffs. But the Dolphins still have a weakness at outside linebacker beyond starters Lawrence Timmons and Kiko Alonso.

Here are the candidates and where things stand this week:

Candidate No. 1: Koa Misi

2016 stats: 22 tackles

Analysis: Misi currently has the inside track simply because he’s on the roster. The Dolphins reportedly worked out a pay cut to keep Misi for 2017 after he played only three games last season due to injury. Before that, Misi’s play was inconsistent, which is why the Dolphins are still searching for an upgrade. At a reduced rate, Misi is worth keeping around for depth purposes. He is mostly a two-down linebacker who is a liability in coverage and with durability concerns. It is risky if the Dolphins rely on Misi next season to be a full-time starter for 16 games.

Candidate No. 2: Zach Brown

2016 stats: 149 tackles, one interception

Analysis: The Dolphins expressed some interest in Brown, but not to the degree most expected. They hosted Brown for a visit in free agency and didn’t offer the 27-year-old the kind of contract he was looking for; he left Miami without an agreement and visited his most recent team, the Buffalo Bills, this week. Brown's market has been lukewarm, which is somewhat surprising considering the numbers he put up last season. Perhaps the Bills, Dolphins and other teams are aware of his limitations beyond the numbers. But Brown would be an upgrade over Misi.

Candidate No. 3: NFL draft

2016 stats: N/A

Analysis: Perhaps one reason why the Dolphins aren't going overboard in their pursuit of Brown in free agency is the NFL draft is loaded with talented linebacker prospects this year, particularly in the first two rounds. The Dolphins hold the No. 22 overall pick and Temple’s Haason Reddick, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham and Florida’s Jarrad Davis are possibilities and would be solid fits in Miami’s 4-3 scheme. All three are athletic playmakers with high ceilings. The potential trio of Timmons, Alonso and one of these three rookies is a nice upgrade from 2016 when Miami had the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense.