As we watched the NFL Draft unfold, it seemed clear that the Miami Dolphins were comfortable that this year’s haul of fresh talent would not be of the flashy variety. This was going to be a workman-like draft, a dirty draft, a needful draft.
They were prepared to pass on playmaking talents like RB Dalvin Cook and TE David Njoku. They were committed to address a shallow and woeful defensive unit. They were even prepared for an outcome whereby none of their picks might be opening day starters this upcoming season.
In a way, it was yet another attempt to correct egregious personnel errors of the recent past. It was a further commitment of resource to address the shortsighted loss of DE Olivier Vernon and the biggest draft blunder in team history, the selection of DE/OLB Dion Jordan with the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 draft. It was an effort to address the overall lack of defensive depth due to draft failures and free agency fiascos that exposed this defense last year when injuries claimed or limited key contributors such as Reshad Jones, Koa Misi, Xavien Howard, Jelani Jenkins, and Isa Abdul-Quddus.
It would be the first time in team history the Dolphins spent their first three picks on defense, the first time in three years they drafted a linebacker and the first time in seven years they spent a high pick on one. If last year was about re-tooling the offense, this year was about doing the same for the defense.
Top choice Charles Harris, a defense end from Missouri, a school that has become something of a pass rush powerhouse in recent years, brings that skill set to a defensive front that needs to plan for a future after Cam Wake. Harris will factor into the rotation this season, but is unlikely to start opposite Wake as a rookie. Nevertheless, the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business is an ideal situation for Harris.
“It means everything, to be able to come in and learn from (Wake)”, Harris said. “I’m just coming in with a humble attitude, willing to work, willing to take coaching from any and everybody. It’s everything. He’s a great player, and I’m going to learn. At the end of the day, I’m hungry for knowledge. I’m hungry to get better at the end of the day.”
And get better he must. At just 260lbs., Harris will need a couple of seasons in the team’s training program to add the size and strength he will need in order to be able to stand up to an NFL-caliber ground game. Expect him to be a situational contributor this season, especially on 3rd down as well as obvious passing downs.
Second rounder Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State’s leading tackler the past two seasons, will also have a chance to learn from a well-respected and accomplished player, the new signed Lawrence Timmons (PIT) as it seems clear MLB is McMillan’s destiny. And while the team will certainly give McMillan a chance to compete with OLB Koa Misi, it is difficult to see how the rookie would be able to supplant the veteran (if healthy). For now, expect him to be active on special teams and do whatever the team needs him to do during this developmental season. His flexibility will be an asset should injury be an issue again.
“They said I can play any linebacker position”, McMillan told the media. “Wherever they need me to play, I can play it.”
A semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and Bednarik Award, third round CB Cordrea Tankersley will be another welcomed addition to the secondary. Don Shula once said, “You can never have enough CBs” and the Dolphins have taken this advice to heart in recent years; this was the fifth consecutive draft (2013-17) the Dolphins have selected a cornerback. Tankersley was very dependable and productive at Clemson, and has the size and length to play press coverage, which the Dolphins figure to do more of in order to disrupt the quick passing attack the Patriots employ.
“(The Dolphins) run a lot of man”, noted Tankersley. “They want to match up. I feel like I fit their team. Also, they want to do some zone and mix it up. I feel like I fit that scheme, as well. I feel like they do an aggressive style, which I had at Clemson, so I think I fit that mold pretty well.”
For now, expect Tankersley to make most of his contributions on special teams where he had extensive experience in college, even as a starter.
“I played a little bit of everything. I was a gunner on kickoffs. I also was a gunner on punt, as well. I also did some blocking on punts. I’m quite familiar with special teams. I played special teams all four years of my career.”
The Dolphins finally did draft an offensive player when they selected C/OG Isaac Asiata (Utah) with their first of two 5th rounders. He and 7th round WR Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech) were the only two offensive players selected. Asiata will get a chance to compete for a starting job and might have the best chance of all the rookies in accomplishing this.
“I am a real, real hard-nosed football player”, explained Asiata. “I believe that an offensive lineman needs to play with intellectuality and brutality. He needs to be smart and he also needs to put guys in the dirt. That is the kind of style of play that I bring to the table, and I am ready to bring that down to Miami.”
The Dolphins also added DT depth with two selections: Davon Godchaux (5th round, LSU) and Vincent Taylor (6th round, Oklahoma State). Both will press incumbent Jordan Phillips who has been inconsistent in his two seasons as a Dolphin. This will be a battle to watch once full contact begins as there is a pressing need to solidify the interior of the defensive line next to Ndamukong Suh.
One common thread across all of the above draftees is that they fit the “New Miami” culture head coach Adam Gase seeks to continue to build. They all profess to love football and to work tirelessly at perfecting their craft. This should inject more goodness into the chemistry of the team, even if it doesn’t mean flashy touchdown runs or catches. It’s an intangible that was lacking in the failed teams of the recent past.
Three years from now is when we will be able to fully judge the merits of this draft class. It might not be in the number of Pro Bowls or other accolades, but rather in team accomplishments. Those that know football will quickly identify the contributions, or lack thereof; they are likely to be found away from the ball, where so much of winning happens.