So, Jeff Ireland a couple of months ago finished a pretty good draft.
Now, I thought his draft in 2011 was pretty good at the time. Since then, all the players he selected ended up making an active roster, which justifies my optimism.
1st round pick C Mike Pouncey was a Pro-Bowl alternate and is a perfect fit for our new zone blocking scheme
2nd round pick RB Daniel Thomas notched a couple of 100 yard rushing games before being slowed by injury and the emergence of Reggie Bush (acquired for only a swap of 6th round draft picks and Jonathan Amaya)
4th round pick WR/KR Edmund "Clyde" Gates finished top 5 in kickoff return average and could be big in 2012 at WR with his speed if he improves his recognition of the defense and route adjustments
6th round pick FB/TE Charles Clay made key catches his first year, improved as a blocker throughout the year, and is already a favorite of Joe Philbin due to his versatility
7th round pick DB Jimmy Wilson overachieved despite no OTAs by being excellent on special teams and by providing valuable depth at CB, and he is considered a favorite to land a backup safety role
Even fellow 7th round pick DT Frank Kearse, who was placed on our practice squad, made an active roster after he was signed by the Carolina Panthers and started several games for them.
Going 6 for 6 in a draft? Not bad.
This year, even the Dolphin-hating national media felt like Ireland's draft was solid. It was ranked top 5 by Todd McShay, and I wrote a long Fanshot the next day detailing why it deserved praise.
In short, Ireland systematically addressed all of the team's needs, getting good to great value out of all of his picks except for maybe Tannehill, who may or may not live up to being drafted 8th overall. I think Tanenhill will, but we'll have to wait until 2013 to see if Tannehill will be ready to contribute within 2 years of being drafted (the sign of a good first round pick).That being said - just because Ireland addressed all of the team's needs in 2011 and 2012 doesn't mean that the team's needs were all fulfilled. This team will likely have a wishlist for 2013 for a 2 reasons.
1. To replace veterans: Players retire, get injured, get traded, leave in free agency, or their skills and abilities decay.
2. To compete with drafted players: Not all of the draft picks will work out long-term (looking at you, Clyde Gates), so even needs that have been addressed recently in the draft might have to be re-addressed if those acquired players fail to fulfill those needs.
So while this is ridiculously early, I'm bored with nothing going on in sports right now, so I'm going to try to predict how we approach the draft and free agency in 2013.
Even though we'll have a very healthy amount of cap room next year, I suspect we'll continue to try to build primarily through the draft and use our cap room to reward players on our team set to become veteran free agents - for example, Jake Long and Reggie Bush will be due for nice contracts if they stay healthy throughout this year, maybe even Matt Moore as well (but only if he has a Pro Bowl-caliber season this year), etc.
We have a top 10 kicker in Dan Carpenter, top 10 punter in Brandon Fields, and a Pro-Bowl longsnapper in John Denney. I don't see us investing an early draft pick in any positions on special teams in the immediate future, so I won't bother talking about it...
Front 7: Defensive line and Linebacker (both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts)
At DT in 4-3, we have Tony McDaniel
At ILB in 3-4/MLB in 4-3, we have Karlos Dansby
At ILB in 3-4/OLB in 4-3, we have Kevin Burnett
At OLB in 3-4/OLB in 4-3, we have Koa Misi
With recent deals for Soliai and Wake, the only guy we're at risk losing at the end of 2012 is Randy Starks, whom I expect to be re-signed given his steady performance and team-first attitude, both of which Philbin values.
By team-first attitude, I'm referring to the fact that Starks was willing to become a NT in 2010 even after he had a great season at DE in 2009. Starks was willing to risk playing out of his comfort zone for the sake of the team, but Soliai emerged in time to lock down the NT position.
The defensive line looks reasonably stacked, which is probably why Ireland let a very good player like Kendall Langford leave in free agency.
At LB, we should probably draft a true MLB (Dansby has never played the position before but will hopefully play well there given his skillset) to act as a backup and maybe successor. I'm concerned about having Koa Misi learn another new linebacker position. However, everybody else is being played at a position they're comfortable in, and we have a nice mix of veterans and young up-and-comers.
Vontae Davis is an above average #1 CB who at times looks like a dominant CB but missed 4 games last year.
Sean Smith had a good first 2 years in the league before regressing last year, and he's entering the last year of his contract. I'm expecting him to do well this year based on reports from OTAs, but I expected him to do well last year and was incredibly disappointed.
Richard Marshall has been merely average as a cornerback throughout his career (according to ProFootballFocus.com). He excelled last year as a FS in the Arizona defense, so I'm hopeful but not confident about him as a nickel corner.
Nolan Carroll showed promise at first but has been shaky since his rookie year in his limited opportunities as a dime CB
I'm hopeful at least 1 cornerback not named Vontae Davis plays well this year, but it's hard to believe that everybody on that list is going to do great given the question marks about each, so I predict cornerback will be a top need given the necessity of having 3 solid corners in today's NFL.
I'm reasonably hopeful that with a Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons tandem, we'll get slightly above average safety play. Each guy has had more or less a full season of starting experience under his belt, they're both young, athletic, and can show improvement. Jones will gamble to make big plays, and Clemons will (hopefully) clean up his messes if he screws up. Jones reportedly has had an excellent offseason.
Culver will be a savvy and steady backup, and while I like Jimmy Wilson, I have severe doubts about his ability to hold up as a safety given his size. I think the second-line should be Culver plus either Tyrell Johnson (FA from Minnesota Vikings) or Kelcie McCray (UDFA from Arkansas), with Jimmy Wilson used to bolster our rotation at cornerback, but the coaching staff disagrees with me and sees Wilson as a safety.
Regardless, I'm predicting safety will be classified as a luxury need - a position that *could* use an upgrade, but won't dominate our list of needs.
Offensive line: I'm expecting Jake Long to be dominant at LT given that he shows no sign of injuries at OTAs. I also think Incognito will transition *reasonably* well to a new blocking scheme (no reports of him having problems so far) as LG, Mike Pouncey to excel at Center, and John Jerry or Artis Hicks to provide mediocre play at RG, and Jonathan Martin to do well as RT with perhaps some early struggles, with Lydon Murtha ready to fill in as needed.
I see us drafting a lineman with a mid-round pick to provide depth and push for a starter's spot on the right side of the offensive line, which will likely be improved but not dominant.
The wildcard here is former Titans RG Jake Scott, who has visited the Dolphins twice and could be signed to play right guard for the next 3-4 years. If Scott is signed, I expect Nate Garner, who is earning $1.4 million a year as a veteran backup compared to Jerry's $540,000 rookie-deal salary, to be released. Otherwise, I expect Garner to be a backup, and 2012 to be a make or break year for Jerry.
QB: I predict Tannehill takes over in 2013 unless Matt Moore plays like a Pro Bowler in 2012, in which case we re-sign Moore using our cap room, and have Tannehill spend another year or 2 on the bench as the backup. David Garrard, at his advanced age and serious back injury history, would have to have an All-Pro year to earn a contract.
Otherwise, Tannehill starts in 2013, and a veteran is signed as a long-term backup. I don't think Moore will be content with being a long-term backup unless he plays horribly this year - otherwise, he'd prefer to go to a team where he'd have a shot at starting. Garrard also reportedly is still interested in starting for a team. In any case - no need to draft or make big acquisitions at this position. (Hooray!).
2013 might see us re-signing Reggie Bush, but even without signing Bush, I don't see us using a draft pick on this position for awhile with Miller waiting in the wings to take over for Bush if need be and the well known fact that quality RBs for depth can be found as UDFA.
TE: Anthony Fasano is entering the last year of his contract, but I expect to see him be signed to a long term deal, unless Clay and Egnew both emerge this season and make him expendable.
Regardless, with a group including Clay, Egnew, Les Brown, Will Yeatman, and (possibly) Fasano, the Dolphins would have a pretty nice mix of TE's who are mainly blockers, mainly pass catchers, or can do both. TE shouldn't be a need for a couple of years.
WR: I'm hoping Hartline and Bess step up this year, plus one of our draft picks and/or Nanee and/or Chad Johnson and/or an UDFA like Fuller and/or an unproven guy like Marlon Moore or Roberto Wallace who has had years to improve his abilities since signing as UDFAs.
Being realistic, we'll probably need another WR with the raw physical talent to create problems for the defense, and until I see one of the young guys we have right now step up (Roberto Wallace?), I'm not willing to say WR is settled for the next 2 years, so I predict using a high draft pick on WR next year.
Verdict: Our likely needs entering the 2013 draft will be the following, assuming no outside free agents like Jake Scott are acquired before or during the 2012 season,
Round 1: CB
Round 2: WR
Round 3, pick 1: RG
Round 3, pick 2 (from Brandon Marshall trade): MLB/ILB
Round 4: DB (safety or corner, depending on what's the greater need)*
Round 5: MLB/ILB*
No round 6 pick due to our trade with San Francisco to move up to get Lamar Miller in fourth round in 2012
Round 7: RG/RT*
*Ireland likes to invest 2 picks in any given need (Davis and Smith in 2009, Vernon and Kaddu in 2012, etc.), which I like since the team doesn't have to pin all of its hopes on one draft pick to fill a need.
This time next year, I plan on looking at this list and seeing how close I was...