In 2012, the Miami Dolphins selected Missouri tight end Michael Egnew with their second pick in the third round. Coming out of college, Egnew was projected to be a seam stretching threat for the Dolphins. Instead, he ended up being inactive for nearly the entire season, and when he did finally play at the end of the year, Egnew recorded no catches, and basically was a non-factor in the Dolphins offense.
Today, the next draft class of tight ends hit the field at the NFL Scouting Combine, looking to improve their draft stock ahead of April's selection meeting. Watching them on the field brought back the disappointment for Dolphins fans in the performance of Egnew this season.
Earlier this week, Dolphins general manager Jeff ireland was asked by WQAM's Joe Rose about Egnew, and what he sees in the disappointing rookie. "I see a 6-4, 260-pound guy who runs a 4.65," Ireland responded. "I see a guy having vertical speed down the middle of the field. I see a big guy that moves well. I see a developing player with his hand in the dirt.
"I see a competitive guy. I can name several players at that position that did very little in their first year and became big time playmakers. That's a position that develops differently. Other than quarterback, that position is the most mentally and physically demanding."
Despite Egnew only playing 25 snaps this season, the Dolphins seem to not have given up hope on him developing for 2013. However, reports from anonymous Dolphins players continue to leak out, expressing just how bad a year Egnew had last year. This week, a Miami Herald report stated Egnew was still having problems in Week 17 learning and remembering the team's game plan and play book.
Personally, I have defended Egnew because I feel that, as Dolphins fans, we have gotten way to quick to declare someone a bust, never allowing a player time to adjust to the NFL. Tight ends do develop slowly sometimes, including a player like Jermichael Finley, who many Dolphins fans want to acquire this offseason. Finley only caught six passes his rookie season. Egnew has talent, and could become a weapon for the Dolphins. While at Missouri, Egnew was used more like a slot receiver than as a true, in line tight end; Egnew had to learn how to play with his hand in the dirt and, essentially, how to block.
However, if after a full offseason, training camp, and regular season, Egnew still cannot remember the game plan or the playbook, his problems are a little more serious than just trying to learn to block. While this is again an "anonymous" player, and could be just one player's perspective, if it is true, Egnew better make a huge step this offseason, coming into minicamps and training camp way above where he was at the end of the season.
Otherwise, the Dolphins really need to be looking at some of the tight ends in this draft. Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti told the Herald this week that he sees the Dolphins' answer at tight end in 6',6" Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. "If he stays healthy," Buoniconti said, "he will re-write the tight end record books. He's that good. If the Dolphins had any sense of wanting to improve the team down the middle and open it up for other receivers, this is the guy. He's a gem. I'm sure he doesn't fit the mold for the Dolphins. He's too good."
Eifert ran a 4.68 second 40-yard dash today, the fourth best among tight ends. He also was near the top of the leader board in the bench press (22 reps, tied for third at the position), vertical jump (35.5", 3rd), and broad jump (119.0", 3rd).
Of course, Eifert also looked miserable during Alabama's decimation of the Fighting Irish during the National Championship game in January. Eifert's strong day today will result in a lot of people jumping on a draft bandwagon, but this was also a set performance without pads. The film from the Alabama game could point to weaknesses in his game, and could keep the Dolphins from making the move - no matter how good Buoniconti thinks he is, and how much he wants to insult his former team.
The Dolphins have to consider a tight end in this year's draft (or free agency) if they feel Egnew cannot develop into something they can use as a weapon around quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Ireland could simply be playing the general manager game of not tipping his hands, if Miami have already determined Egnew is not the answer, or they could really feel like this year could be the second year player's coming out. The thing to remember, when it comes to Ireland, he is not one to hold on to a player once it's determined he's not what the Dolphins hoped. He will cut a player and continue looking for the right answer, rather than be tied to a player who clearly is not performing.
For Egnew, this week's combine could be the window shopping Ireland, along with the other 54 members of the Miami coaching and scouting staff in Indianapolis for the Combine, could be the end of his time with the team. Or, it could be the final confirmation that drafting a tight end this year won't change anything.
Maybe the 2013 tight end draft class will only add more questions for the Dolphins heading into the Draft.