In the wake of a bold and shocking early season purge of many of its best players, the Miami Dolphins approached the 2018 NFL Draft with an opportunity to further shift the fortunes of a flagging franchise.
At the forefront of pre-draft discussions was the prime question of what to do at the quarterback position. Had the time come to begin grooming the replacement for 30-year-old Ryan Tannehill, an average QB with limited upside coming off a serious knee injury? Or, was it wiser to continue to bet on Tannehill and instead focus on rebuilding a depleted roster?
The first approach was a risky path, likely involving multiple picks and/or players to get to the QB they had conviction on. There was no guarantee the player they coveted would even help the team win this season or in the future. It would, however, align with the rebuild that the team has been committed to and provide a path forward if the Tannehill double-down didn’t work out.
The second approach was a safer path, a surer path to try and make immediate progress. It was not a bold course of action and likely wouldn’t result in a playoff caliber roster, but would reflect the realities of their standing as a team with needs at every positional grouping. The risk here is that the team would have no strategic fallback at the QB position.
The Dolphins elected to travel the safer path.
Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum and General Manager Chris Grier stayed conservative, didn’t make any trades, and just let the players come to them. By sticking to their board in the early rounds and then selectively addressing needs in latter rounds, the Dolphins made some solid incremental roster improvements. And while they didn’t offset the massive loss of talent they suffered because of the earlier purges, they did find four new potential starters with their first three picks.
The team’s top selection, Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, is an outstanding talent. GM Chris Grier called him a top five or six talent whom he thought wouldn’t be available at No. 11. Former Dolphins coach Nick Saban said he was the best player he’d ever coached at Alabama. Many feel he will better compliment Reshad Jones and give Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke greater flexibility with his game planning. The only concern is with his size: at 6-0, 205lbs can he handle the bigger Gronk-sized NFL TEs the Dolphins have struggled with in past years? Would FSU’s Derwin James (6-3, 215) been a better choice? Or how about LB Tremaine Edmunds, who possesses the size, athleticism and speed to do that job well? It is inevitable that we’ll see ongoing comparisons to James and Edmunds as their respective careers evolve.
Second round TE Mike Gesicki of Penn State is a terrific pass catcher with height and speed advantages that will cause match up issues for opponents almost every week. But his lack of blocking ability, at the present, probably makes him better suited as a #2 option in 2018. Urgency, however, will likely thrust him into a starting role. It will be up to Gesicki to prove he can handle the rigors of guarding an NFL DE or OLB. Expect Cam Wake and other Dolphin vets to school him early and often.
Third round OLB Jerome Baker is undersized but adds desperately needed quickness and speed to the defensive front seven. His measurables are very similar to former Dolphins LB Derrick Rodgers (1997-2002); the team should be pleased if Baker enjoys similar success.
The rest of the draft haul are hardly household names but will fortify overall depth: TE Durham Smythe (likely a 3rd TE), RB Kalen Ballage (3rd RB candidate), CB Cornell Armstrong, and LB Quentin Poling (special teams contributors). K Jason Sanders is a strong candidate as the fourth potential starter.
So how does this draft rate? Depending on who you choose to believe, the Dolphins earned an “A” or an “F”. Of course these grades mean nothing at this point, but it’s fun to read flash takes. Just take them with a grain of salt.
As for me, I’ll stick to my own personal belief that we can’t judge a draft until three years have passed. What we can say is that the Dolphins had needs and they addressed some of those needs. Whether or not they picked the right players is a matter yet to be determined.
I won’t get into exhaustive analysis here of the players selected; there’s enough of that readily available from the so-called draft gurus. I prefer to trust my eyes once they put the aqua and orange on. For now, it seems clear that this regime has decided to bet their future on Ryan Tannehill and a slow, steady reconstruction of the roster that is intended to create a culture of winning.
I’m all for having a culture of winning, and am on the record as saying this should be Adam Gase’s top priority. The rub here is that this is Year Three of his tenure and he still doesn’t have it. One could further argue that Tannenbaum and Grier haven’t made net improvements to the roster in that time and seem to have actually diminished the overall talent level since taking the helm in 2016.
Could the 2018 Dolphins defeat the 2016 edition? That’s questionable, and it shouldn’t be in Year Three.