Monday, June 24, 2019

Dolphins Draft 2019: Fighting For The Future, One Painstaking Move At A Time

In what turned out to be a fatal blow for owner-of-pictures-of-Stephen-Ross-with-a-goat (for lack of a cogent official title) Mike Tannenbaum and head bro coach Adam Gase, the 'Fins clearly went for need over best player available in last year's draft. After the operation went tits up and Tannenbaum and Gase were mercifully jettisoned after the 2018 regular season, Miami hired Brian Flores from New England and then mind-bogglingly promoted Chris Grier to general manager. This new braintrust then set about gutting the entire roster, leaving the Dolphins as perhaps the least-talented team in the NFL. That context is useful when evaluating the team's efforts in the 2019 NFL Draft, since Miami needs EVERYTHING and could legitimately claim they were going best player available while filling needs at the same time.

While the hope is that a competent coaching staff and a year of maturity can help some of Miami's younger players turn into legit contributors, it is clear that the Dolphins also need to start nailing picks at a much higher rate. Keeping that in mind, Miami seemed to approach this draft with logic and caution, sprinkled in with a low-risk, high-reward move that represented an opportunity that the 'Fins couldn't really afford to pass up.

All that being said, here's what Miami came up with during this year's draft ...

1st round, 13th Overall: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

An experienced, proven linemen with leadership traits, Wilkins felt like one of the safest picks in this year's NFL Draft. But was he the best? That remains to be seen, but for a franchise like Miami that is in dire need of building blocks, the front office simply had to eliminate as much bust potential as possible. Wilkins has flexibility and personality to spare, and he could become a fan favorite at a time when the franchise needs to curry favor and patience with the fanbase. The big tackle will be measured against Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, but we had that disclaimer last year with Josh Rosen, and look what happened with the next pick ...

2nd round, 62nd Overall: [TRADE] Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals

After shrewdly trading back from No. 48, the Dolphins flipped their 62nd overall pick (and a fifth-rounder) to Arizona for ... Rosen. This move endeared me to Grier & Co., especially after so many years of outright ignoring the quarterback position. The reality is that the Patriots staff had a much higher opinion of Rosen than Miami's fired staff did, and well, the results seem to slightly lean toward the Cheatriots in such comparisons. Even if Rosen doesn't pan out as a franchise guy, this was too good a deal to pass up, and he at least fortifies a position that has been woefully thin on talent for close to a quarter-century. The front office gets credit for manipulating the draft to accrue a huge second-rounder next year while still ending up with Rosen at a spot that was more palatable to their value board. Even the Dolphins' crotchety and out-of-touch beat writers seemed to come around on this steal after some initial hand-wringing and illogical criticism.

3rd round, 78th Overall: Michael Deiter, G, Wisconsin

In a bit of a gut punch, the Patsies snared versatile defensive lineman Chase Winovich one pick ahead of Miami. In many years, it seemed like a surprise like this one would have led to panic in the 'Fins draft room, but Miami seemed to recover nicely by grabbing Deiter, a huge lineman with the flexibility to play a number of spots on a woeful offensive line. When in doubt, you can never go wrong selecting an offensive lineman from Wisconsin, and this Badger projects to be a starter along Miami's retooled front. Draft analysts seemed to be lukewarm on Deiter's pick in this spot, but the Dolphins were in desperate need of talent (and hell, warm bodies) in the trenches, and the franchise will know whether it has something in Deiter relatively quickly.

5th round, 151st Overall: Andrew Van Ginkel, LB, Wisconsin

Van Ginkel's selection seemed to be a bit of a response to Winovich being lifted out from under Miami's noses -- always a dangerous way to conduct a draft. The 'Fins lost their fourth-rounder in the deal with the Saints that netted picks No. 62 and 202 this year and a second-rounder next year, leaving the Dolphins as bystanders during the selections of some of the draft's most fertile ground. On the plus side, Van Ginkel does seem to be a scheme fit and could fill a key pass-rushing role in the modified 3-4 that the 'Fins are expected to run. If you can unearth a situational contributor in the fifth round, you have done well, and that's the hope the Dolphins have for Van Ginkel.

6th round, 202nd Overall: Isaiah Prince, T, Ohio State

A common refrain in draft circles is that when you are picking late, pinpoint dudes with "plus" assets. Prince has two of these: his size (6-6, 305+) and his status as a three-year starter in the Big Ten. He's seen as a project, but there are tools to work with here, and at some point, the Dolphins are going to have to come to terms with the idea that offensive linemen don't come fully formed, and that coaching actually has to play a role. Ostensibly, not having an offensive line coach who does bumps of coke and chases hookers in the team facility will help with that. 

7th round, 233rd Overall: Chandler Cox, RB, Auburn

One of the last of a dying breed, Cox was seen as the draft's best fullback (fill in your own tallest-midget joke here). Of course, the New England offense features this position and hybrid players, and Cox will be asked to fill that role while adding a toughness element to Miami's offense -- something that has been missing for years. If Cox can impress, he could appear in some sub-packages as well as impacting most, if not all, of the Dolphins' special teams units.

7th round, 234th Overall: Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

One pick after taking Cox, Miami added a potential backfield mate in Gaskin, the first back to surpass 1,000 yards in four different seasons in Pac-12 history. He's obviously durable, but how much will he have left in the tank after so many carries in college? He also doesn't possess the size or speed of most pro backs, but he has produced on a high level and done so consistently, which likely drew the eye of the Dolphins scouts at this stage of the draft. With Frank Gore off again on his never-ending journey and Kenyan Drake far from cemented as Miami's lead back, Gaskin should get plenty of opportunities to seize a role in training camp.


Considering how bereft of talent the depth chart is, we'd be remiss not to mention the undrafted free agents that the Dolphins landed, for they will have a better chance to stick in Miami than any other team in the league. Two players (linebacker Terrill Hanks of New Mexico and defense end Jonathan Ledbetter of Georgia) actually had fifth-round grades from analyst Dane Brugler, while a handful of others should get legit shots, including UTEP CB Nik Needham, Northwestern CB Montre Hartage, and Mississippi State OG Shaq Calhoun. Big, fast receiver Preston Williams got the most pub among Miami's beat writers, but there are reasons he went undrafted, so he'll have an uphill climb as well.

Overall, the Dolphins focused on big programs, drafting only players from Power 5 conferences -- a departure from previous drafts like 2014, of which exactly zero players still remain with the team. Miami didn't take any traditional pass rushers or defensive backs, and those remain massive holes for the team. However, the 'Fins knew there was only so much they could do in a single draft and they did a good job of stockpiling picks for the 2020 NFL Draft. So while a couple of decades of bad football and worse management have given fans PTSD (Pretty Terrible and Stupid Draft), for the first time in a while, it does feel like the 'Fins have a plan. Whether Grier and Flores be around to see the strategy to fruition is the ultimate question arising from this and subsequent drafts. My worst-case scenario from last year ended up hitting way too close to home, so let's hope this season's version edges closer to best-case territory.

Best-case scenario: Rosen becomes "the dude" Miami has been wishing for (instead of chasing) for two decades, cementing the most important position in a franchise and setting the course for pursuit of the Cheatriots. Wilkins and Deiter become instant starters, lending needed physicality as tone-setters for a team trying to find an identity. Van Ginkel develops into a viable situational pass-rusher, while Cox and Gaskin impact as special-teamers as they carve out reserve roles in the backfield. The Prince lottery ticket pays off as a team in desperate need of lucky breaks gets one as the big man flashes enough potential to carve out a development plan that eventually leads to him becoming a starting right tackle.

Worst-case scenario: Rosen identifies himself as only a passable signal-caller, and Miami finds itself back in the same boat in the 2020 draft, having to pony up precious resources on another quarterback with question marks. Wilkins becomes merely a rotational defensive lineman, while Deiter struggles to pin down his best spot on the offensive front. Van Ginkel is overmatched and undersized for a leading role, Prince continues to be a guy whose output doesn't mesh with his ability, Gaskin is too worn down and ordinary to earn carries, and Cox doesn't do enough in the third phase to merit carrying an obsolete position.