The 2016 Miami Dolphins were flying high even after a 30-12 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs. After 1-4 start to the year, the Dolphins would go on to win the next 9 of 11 games and things were looking good for new head coach Adam Gase.
For everything the 2016 season was, the 2017 season was not.
Despite losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to season ending injury late in the preseason, the Dolphins began 4-2 -- including a win over the reigning first half Super Bowl champs Atlanta Falcons. The team would go on to lose the next 8 of 10 games and jettison last year’s breakout star, Jay Ajayi, to the eventual Super Bowl champs.
This offseason, the Dolphins have continued to remake the roster through trades and cuts, but questions still remain surrounding the identity of the team. The draft will go a long way to establishing an on-field brand seemingly missing from what seems like a rudderless ship.
The Dolphins have been one of the more active teams in the offseason during the tenure of G.M. Chris Grier, and 2018 has proven no different.
At this point, Ryan Tannehill is scheduled to be the unquestioned starter heading into the 2018 season, but the team’s outward interest in former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield seems to undermine Tannehill’s security. Still, the team must consider how reliable Tannehill has been when healthy. The 5-year on field veteran has performed with surprising predictability since his sophomore season. Tannehill has throw 24 touchdowns twice since 2013 and 12 interceptions three times. Any new signal caller brought in would have to be able to outproduce Tannehill in the short term and outproduce him in the long term.
The offense around the signal caller has continued to make marginal improvements since Tannehill was drafted in 2012. The offensive line is bookended by two reliable starting tackles in Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James, both first round picks. The team swapped long time starting center Mike Pouncey for 49ers center Daniel Kilgore in what appears to be a cash saving move. Left guard is secured by veteran Josh Sitton, while right guard will likely be decided via training camp competition.
Behind the offensive line is a backfield likely led by 2016 3rd round pick Kenyan Drake, who had a stellar end to the 2017 season after Jay Ajayi was traded. The Dolphins also added Frank Gore with a veteran minimum contract. The team will likely look to bolster the backfield at some point during the draft, but not likely in round one.
On the outside, the departure of receiver Jarvis Landry has mostly been filled by reliable veteran placeholders in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. Meanwhile, perimeter players DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills remain bedrocks at X and Y, respectively.
Tight end is a position the Dolphins will likely look to upgrade early in the draft considering the emphasis Adam Gase’s offense has put on the position in the past. Considering where the Dolphins are picking and the available prospects, expect tight end to be a favorite position of the team early in round 2.
Defensively, the Dolphins have a transformed front seven with the departure of Ndamukong Suh and the acquisition of Robert Quinn from the Los Angeles Rams. It is the second level, though, that appears to stand the most to gain from a talent perspective. The Dolphins will look to last year’s 2nd round pick in Raekwon McMillan to man the middle, but at least one high pick should be invested in the position early in the draft.
The secondary will lean heavily on the young, emerging talents Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley. Both players only have a combined three seasons of NFL experience with Howard only playing sparingly in his first year. The team may look to upgrade their slot position depending on their confidence in Bobby McCain, who graded out positively in coverage by Pro Football Focus.
On the back end, both Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald are on long-term deals with Jones being locked in until at least 2020. Unless the team views a game changing talent at 11, it is unlikely a safety will be taken early this year in Miami.
Prospects to look out for
Had Ryan Tannehill played in 2017, it seems unlikely the team would have thrown their hat in the quarterback ring as aggressively as they have this offseason. It seems unlikely the team is just doing their due diligence on the position and there seems little doubt the team will strongly consider taking an heir to Tannehill if one makes it to 11. Still, the Dolphins might find it more prudent to continue to improve the roster and build around Tannehill, who has proven to be a reliable player since 2013. Below are some players the Dolphins should consider throughout the draft this weekend.
1) Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia
Outside linebacker is perhaps the team’s most pressing need and Smith profiles near the top at the position. His ability to diagnose plays and chase after runners is not dissimilar to some Pro Bowl veterans already in the league.
2) Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech
Smith and Edmunds will likely be tied at the hip based on how closely they’ve been rated by the draft media. While Smith is the polished, ready-made playmaker, Edmunds has something players just can’t learn: Size and length with speed.
3) Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Washington
It’s likely the Dolphins can survive just fine without Suh with the players currently on the roster, but Vea has similar strong-man ability to open things up for defenders around him and a significantly lower per year cost.
4) Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State
Possible medical red flags notwithstanding, Leighton Vander Esch’s stock has been on meteoric rise since the combine. If Edmunds is the consolation prize for not landing Smith, then Vander Esch is the consolation prize for not landing Edmunds.
5) Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Georgia
Speaking of consolation prizes, Evans has been roundly considered the fourth best linebacker prospect is a loaded first round group. He’s a pure outside linebacker with perhaps the best ability of the bunch to also rush the passer in a pinch.
6) Derrius Guice, Runningback, LSU
The book on Guice in 2016 was he was every bit the runner Leonard Fournette was if not better. An injury plagued 2017 season has cooled the sentiment on Guice, but if his final game against Notre Dame was any indication, Guice might be exactly who some thought he was at the end of 2016.
7) Derwin James, Safety, FSU
Although James is primarily viewed as a safety by most draft analysts, he does provide intriguing upside as an outside linebacker. As offenses continue to look for unfavorable matchups in the second level, James would provide defensive back level coverage against tight ends, running backs, and some slot receivers.
8) Minkah Fitzpatrick, Safety, Alabama
Similarly to Derwin James, Fitzpatrick offers defenses flexibility at multiple positions. In the Dolphins’ setting Fitzpatrick could feasibly start at either outside corner or slot corner and multiply the depth at both positions.