There are two prerequisites for developing a long standing reign of dominance in the National Football League. Option number one: employing the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Since those two men exist only once in this incarnation, the Miami Dolphins must attack the second plausibility: Drafting and developing players year after year.
For the better part of two decades, the Dolphins have treated the NFL player selection process like a perpetual search for something better. Rather than rounding out a roster competent enough to consistently battle for playoff positioning, Miami drafts for needs and swings and misses through the curveball that is the NFL draft.
While the first round is the barometer for which the general public grades a draft, it’s the middle rounds that allows a team to part ways with high priced free agents that under-perform their price tag and create a constant influx on young, cheap talent.
Dion Jordan headlines a class of first round draft fails. Aside from the Oregon alum, Ted Ginn and Jason Allen in back to back years, the Dolphins have actually been formidable in the first round.
Ja’Wuan James, Ryan Tannehill, Mike Pouncey, Jared Odrick, Vontae Davis and Jake Long all contributed to this team for at least a couple of years as viable starters.
The rounds beyond that are where the legs were really cut off from the depth of the Dolphins. Injuries happen to every year to every team and if the draft picks from rounds two through five are consistently being shown the door, the only means to acquire talent is free agency – where 90% of the players on the market get paid a level not commensurate with their performance.
The 2015 Dolphins bottomed out. Six wins may seem like a relatively competitive year, but the Dolphins were never going to threaten a playoff run.
The entire premise of this post is to highlight how exceptional the 2015 and 2016 draft classes appear to be. But when an incompetent coaching staff unwilling to play and develop young players relies on a roster built on over-priced veterans and draft busts, you will wind up with a product like the ’15 Dolphins.
2013 Draft Class:
1. Dion Jordan
2. Jamar Taylor
3. Dallas Thomas
3. Will Davis
4. Jelani Jenkins
4. Dion Sims
5. Mike Gillislee
5. Caleb Sturgis
7. Don Jones
2014 Draft Class:
1. Ja’Wuan James
2. Jarvis Landry
3. Billy Turner
4. Walt Aikens
5. Arthur Lynch
5. Jordan Tripp
6. Matt Hazel
7. Terrance Fede
Pairing those two lists, you have one cornerstone piece to your franchise Jarvis Landry. Every class needs to provide one such player to build a powerhouse in this league. The 2013 class is a complete wash. Jelani Jenkins is a starter, but he’s not any good and Dion Sims is a 50% snaps type of guy. Everyone else is gone or currently milking the NFI list (yeah, you’re not fooling anyone, Dion.)
Ja’Wuan James is a starter but has had an extremely up and down career, Walt Aikens is a special teams ace and the rest, well, they’re gone too (sans Fede who probably won’t be back next year.)
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get to be consistently a six or seven win team in this league.
Now, things are looking up. The 2015 and 2016 draft classes, to this point, appear to be home runs. Sprinkle in a more conservative effort in signing bargain free agents like Isa Abdul-Quddus, Jermon Bushrod and Andre Branch, and the Dolphins are finally on to something.
Head lining the 2015 class is Jay Ajayi who has taken the league by storm. The Dolphins have lacked identity since Ricky Williams retired and the Britain born ball carrier has invigorated a franchise desperately seeking direction.
Two of the Dolphins top three current corners came from this draft class and each is contributing heavily to the three game winning streak. Bobby McCain, a feisty ball hawk from Memphis selected in the fifth round and Tony Lippett, a converted wide receiver from Michigan State taken in the seventh, have turned the secondary from a question mark to a known commodity.
Second round pick, Jordan Phillips, needed some work in regards to his ability to anchor, but he’s showing flashes of pro-bowl worthy talent this season playing alongside Ndamukong Suh.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is first round pick Devante Parker. He’s struggling to separate and dealing with lingering hamstring issues, but the game-breaking ability was on display at the end of his 2015 rookie season.
Add quality special teamer Mike Hull and punter Matt Darr as undrafted free agents and you cultivated seven contributors from one draft class.
The draft provided two misses in Jamil Douglass and Cedric Thompson (both cut.) But finding a pro-bowl caliber tail back, a plus starter on the interior of the defensive line, and two contributors to the secondary is a turning point type of draft.
And the 2016 class might be even better.
This one actually does start at the top with first round pick Laremy Tunsil being everything the Dolphins had hoped and more. What’s more, the Dolphins acquired Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell in accordance with the trade that ultimately landed the team Tunsil. Tunsil repaired the biggest weakness on the team last season (the guard play, along with Jermon Bushrod) and turned it into a strength.
Second round corner Xavien Howard has dealt with a knee injury all season, but he looked like an absolute find while he was healthy. Adam Gase went as far as to say he’s one of the two or three best players on this defense. Anything he (Gase) says is as good as gospel to me.
Kenyan Drake hasn’t seen a lot of playing time, but he just channeled his inner-Ted Ginn beating the Jets by returning a kickoff for a touchdown and you can see the explosion he has in his limited playing time.
Jakeem Grant has the look of a special team ace for years to come and the coaching staff is slowly putting him in offensive packages more and more each week.
Leonte Carroo hasn’t had a lot of playing time either, but there are obviously some people in the building that love this guy according to what they gave up to get him.
If the Dolphins have another off-season like they did last year, this team isn’t just thinking about a playoff push, but could be a serious threat to make some noise once there.
Challenging the Patriots remains to seem an unobtainable goal with the dominance of Brady appearing never-ending, but there’s no question that this Dolphins team is on the right track to claim that throne once his reign is over.
A roster that was once festered with bad football players (Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, and Jamil Douglass) now has a young nucleus built around a central theme of guys that love being around one another.
Happy times in Dolphin land.
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