My biggest fear entering this season was that we'd be dead in the water early on, underachieving week in and week out while quietly emerging as the frontrunner in the "Your franchise is unwatchable; you deserve Andrew Luck" sweepstakes.
Less than four weeks into the season, and we are so at that point already.
Don't get me wrong, I want a new quarterback in Miami. And the chances of the next regime coming in and saying, "Hey, we're putting the hopes and dreams of this front office on that robot-looking fellow" is so unbelievably unlikely, it almost seems pointless to man-crush on any 2012 draft prospects who A) Don't throw the ball, and B) Don't have a sweet name like "Luck," "Landry" or "Barkley." Seems cruel, since Henne has made some very big strides this season, but this is what happens when one regime epically fails. Often times, the quarterback also goes down with the ship.
Fear not, however--I am going to take this series as far as it can possibly go before I have to breakdown the "Big Three" QBs in the 2012 Draft. Call it delaying the inevitable, but we've got some other major positional holes to tend to, as well. And if the Dolphins continue to play this poorly, our second- and third-round picks are going to be the first or second picks of each round, respectively, which means we'll likely get a crack at some outstanding talent next April. Hooray, silver lining!
And with that, I'd like to continue looking at ways to rectify/rebuild our super-duper-underachiever secondary, which has plenty of speed, range and size, but cannot seem to do that one thing where the player puts his hands around the ball and then actually keeps it from touching the ground. Catching the ball is tricky, I know, but the Dolphins' secondary drops passes almost as much as the 2004 Seattle Seahawks (believe me, that's not a good thing).
We previewed Oklahoma State powerhouse safety Markelle Martin last week, so let's shift focus to the cornerback position and take a look at a player that has become a bona-fide turnover machine over the last two seasons.
Cliff Harris, CB/PR Oregon
Why would we draft a corner when we already have a solidified CB tandem!?
Because that tandem is playing like hot, wet garbage--that's why! I spent the entire offseason after the 2008 season researching the college corners that would be available in the 2009 Draft, and I am not joking when I say that the two guys I decided were most ideal for the Dolphins were Vontae Davis of Illinois and Sean Smith of Utah. Davis was the No.2 college prospect in the country in October 2008; Smith was a fringe first-round pick with good speed and crazy size/length for the cornerback position. Our Front Office's decision to draft both corners should have been enough to lock up our secondary for years to come, but that hasn't been the case. Smith has difficulty tracking the ball, struggles against run, and cannot hold on to an interception to save his life (it's been all downhill for Smith since he made that monstrous one-handed interception in the preseason finale against the Saints two years ago); Davis is the epitome of a physical corner with excellent speed and size, but he doesn't get his hands on throws too often, either, and his instincts and awareness both need sharpening. Simply put, we need an explosive playmaker (preferably two, actually) in the secondary--a guy who wants to go get the ball instead of waiting for throws to come his way.
Cliff Harris might be that playmaker.
Harris, a first-round talent, has been nothing short of studly in his time playing for the Ducks. He's definitely undersized (5'11" 170) for the corner position, but Harris has the instincts and raw speed to make opposing offenses pay if they don't account for him at all times. Harris can also turn and run with any receiver he lines up against (good luck finding a corner who flips their hips in coverage faster than this guy), and has the ability to stay in the receiver's pocket from snap to whistle. Harris is also a strong technician who consistently knows what to look for while in coverage.
We're going to use a second-round pick on a dude the size of Webster?
Well, no, not necessarily. But if we want to add an element of explosiveness to the secondary, Harris is one of the few defensive back prospects who will come in and immediately get his hands on some throws. He was tied for fifth in the nation with six picks (including two off of Andrew Luck) last season, and returned one of those picks for a score.
What Harris lacks in size, he makes up for with an NBA rebound-like approach to going up and getting the football. Harris is surprisingly good at getting his body between the receiver and the ball, and he's got the hops to elevate and bring down interceptions that would be uncatchable for most defensive backs. Yes, he will still give up catches to bigger receivers, but not as many as you'd assume. Like fellow 2012 corner prospect Janoris Jenkins, Harris uses solid technique and athleticism to level the playing field against bigger, stronger wideouts.
Harris will gamble at times, though, and occasionally trail a receiver in order to bait the quarterback (ala Deion Sanders). However, Harris is much more effective and consistent in coverage when he's gluing himself to receivers.
Well, what else can he do?
Oh, Harris is an absolute weapon in the return game, too--averaging 16.1 yards per punt return last season, and tallying four scores. Compare those numbers to LSU's Patrick Peterson, who averaged 11 yards per punt return and notched two scores in 2010). This isn't to say Harris is a better punt returner than Peterson, but he's certainly cut from the same cloth as the former Tigers standout who is now making some noise as a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals.
Verdict: There's no denying that we have talented corners already on the roster, and while I'd much rather use our second-round pick on a beast tight end like Dwayne Allen or a left guard like David DeCastro, it'd be interesting to see how a player of Harris' caliber would change the dynamic of a Dolphins secondary that really struggles to create big plays and turnovers.
I also want to give shout-outs to Kdog92, FishNFinz, DolphinNation, dolphinfan4lyfe, Chupathingy, eshawiii, DolfanVince86, sonnycrockett, SMALL BALLS, AcolyteofRa and metalhead86 for what were my favorite responses to the "Let's Pretend We're the Dolphins' Front Office" post. I actually enjoyed every response on the post, but some of you really went above and beyond with your strategy, reasoning and research. Very cool. 21Dave gets a very special mention for his suggestion that an inebriated J-Lo (sans clothes) accompany him during all games (Marc Anthony will love that). And some of you just made me laugh with your suggestions to keep Jets fans in cages during home games. Genius.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to reply to the Front Office post. I really appreciate your effort.