As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, it is interesting to look back over the last decade or so of Dolphins' drafts to get an overall picture of how well the team has done in drafting and developing players. After spending a few hours looking at drafts from 2000 to 2012 (the post Marino era), the results are disheartening to say the least. In summary, the Dolphins have consistently failed to draft enough starter-level players, impact players, and lost much of their developing talent to other teams.
All Draft Picks Since 2000
The first look at the information is a round-by-round quantity of the players drafted, broken into 5 categories: total players drafted in round, starters, back-ups, busts, and Pro Bowl players. I've defined starters as players either starting 48 games or more than half of their games played in their career. Busts are players who have played less than 16 games total in their career (less than one year in the NFL).
- 1st Round: 10 players 7 starters 3 back-ups 0 busts 2 PB Player (Long, Brown)
- 2nd Round: 13 players 8 starters 4 back-ups 1 busts 1 PB Player (Chambers)
- 3rd Round: 14 players 5 starters 7 back-ups 2 busts 1 PB Player (Smith)
- 4th Round: 10 players 3 starters 4 back-ups 3 busts 1 PB Player (Soliei)
- 5th Round: 13 players 3 starters 5 back-ups 5 busts 0 PB Player
- 6th Round: 17 players 2 starters 10 back-ups 5 busts 1 PB Player (Bell)
- 7th Round: 20 players 1 starters 11 back-ups 8 busts 0 PB Player
So what can be learned from this information? Before anything can be learned, it must be mentioned that the years covered by these drafts encompass many different GM's and coaching staffs, so anything positive or negative is shared by a large group of people and not just the current administrative group the Dolphins have. Ireland figures into 5 years of these drafts (2 out from the shadow of Parcells) and Philbin 1 year. I'll look more into the last 3 years separately later on in the posting. Here are some general thoughts about the above information:
- In 12 years of drafting, the Dolphins have only picked 6 Pro Bowl players (and only one All-Pro player) with only Long going multiple years (4 years). There have been other PB Dolphins - Williams, Wake, Starks, Incognito - but these were through a trade, undrafted FA, and FA. Long was the last PB player picked (in 2008). This shows clearly the unbelievable lack of impact players the Dolphins have had on the team over the last decade.
- Of the 29 starters drafted, 7 of them have gone on to start for other teams more than with the Dolphins. Over half the back-ups have done most of their work for other teams as well (including 9 of the 14 back-ups in the first three rounds). That is a lot of talent leaving the Dolphins. Some of this may be the nature of free agency, but if you take only the 22 players who started for the Dolphins - that is less than 2 a draft - over a period of 12 years! Yikes!
- The Dolphins don't find a lot of hidden gems in the later rounds. Only Brandon Fields has been a 7th Round starter. And only two starters from the 6th round.
Top Players in Each Round Since 2000
Here is a list of the top 5 players in each Round to show the quality of the players selected per round. I've excluded the 2012 picks because of their short amount of playing time (so Tannehill, Martin, and Miller do not qualify, although could be included if they play well this upcoming year).
- 1st Round: Jake Long, Mike Pouncey, Ronnie Brown, Vernon Carey, Vontae Davis
- 2nd Round: Chris Chambers, Todd Wade, Sean Smith, Samson Satele, Chad Henne
- 3rd Round: Kendall Langford, Wade Smith, Channing Crowder, Morlon Greenwood, Seth McKinney
- 4th Round: Paul Soliei, Randy McMichael, Brian Hartline, Travis Daniels, Deon Dyer
- 5th Round: Rashad Jones, Donald Lee, Chris Clemons, Arturo Freeman, Nolan Carroll
- 6th Round: Yerimiah Bell, Rex Hadnot, Donald Thomas, Lex Hilliard, Charles Clay
- 7th Round: Brandon Fields, Kevin Vickerson, Derrick Pope, Devin Aromashou, Fred Evans
There were some struggles in some of those rounds to come up with 5 worthy players! More thoughts:
- When Vontae Davis is the 5th best 1st rounder of the last 12 years, you know you are in trouble. The fall-off after him is even more depressing - either Ted Ginn or Jared Odrick (who can still turn out to be a very good player).
- The Dolphins have been much better at finding and developing offensive lineman in the first couple of rounds more than other positions. So many more misses on skilled positions (QB, RB, WR, CB) than the grunt positions.
- Where the Dolphins have failed most is in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Truly a barren wasteland of picks. Out of 27 opportunities (not including all the 2nd Round picks traded away) in these two rounds, having Seth McKinney as your 10th best player - uggghhhh. Or possibly even worse, Kendall Langford as the second best player!! Only Chambers was a playmaker from these two rounds over this period. A bunch of defensive "solid" players, lineman, and a QB that didn't step up.
- 4th round has been a boom or bust round. Three really good starters and then a huge fall-off.
- Did you know that Travis Daniels (Chiefs), Kevin Vickerson (starting for the Broncos), and Devin Aromashou (Vikings) are still playing? So are Fred Evans (Vikings) and Rex Hadnot (Chargers). And Jason Allen (Bengals), Randy McMichael (Chargers), and Derrick Hagen (Raiders) also played last year as well and still have jobs. Who knew?
Overall, this has been a fairly depressing study of the Dolphins' history of drafting. After looking at this information it is so clear why the Dolphins have only been to the playoffs once in the last 10 years. Teams really are built through the draft and the Dolphins have not only drafted poorly, but maybe more importantly, have not been able to find impact or Pro Bowl caliber players either. Even many of the developmental players the Dolphins have drafted seem to have blossomed on other teams after being cut or let loose in free agency. Most without any return compensation to the Dolphins. The Patriots for one have always signed Dolphins cast-offs and turned them into productive players (Ninkovich, Thomas, and Welker last year, but easily over 10 players total since 2000).
The Dolphins have found some good players in the undrafted free agency pool (Wake, Bess, Carpenter) and with players cut by other teams (Welker), but these players don't fill in nearly enough for the lack of quality players missing from the draft. The quantity of busts as I defined them don't seem too out of proportion, but going beyond that definition to expectations and potential you find a lot of other disappointments even in players that have become back-ups in the NFL for their careers (Jamar Fletcher, Jason Allen, Ted Ginn, Eddie Moore, John Beck, Philip Merling, Patrick Turner, Derrick Hagen, Lorenzo Booker, Taylor Whitley, Travis Minor, Shawn Murphy). All these players had much higher ceilings and for whatever reason never fulfilled them with the Dolphins or other teams. Throw in the multiple lost picks for Ricky Williams (2 1st Round picks), Brandon Marshall (2 2nd Round picks), AJ Feely (2nd Round pick), and Dante Culpepper (2nd Round pick), and you are left with a wasted decade of finding and developing talent for the Dolphins.
The Ireland Years and his "3-Year Plan"
The last three years have had mixed results so far. 2012 gave the Dolphins 2 starters (Tannehill, Martin), and four back-ups (Miller, Randall, Matthews, Kaddu). Miller is set to start this year, the other back-ups will be fighting to make the team (can't even list Egnew as a back-up at this point). 2011 gave the Dolphins 1 starter (Pouncey) and three back-ups (Thomas, Clay, Wilson). None of the back-ups are potential starters at this point. 2010 gave the Dolphins four starters (Odrick, Misi, Jerry, Jones) and two back-ups (Carroll, Spitler). Carroll and Jerry will be fighting for starting jobs this coming year.
So that is 8-9 starters potentially out of the last three drafts, which is a full player per year better than the average of the last 12 drafts average. At this point, you can say that Ireland is doing better than his predecessors. He'll have to get 3 starters and maybe more importantly some impact players in the 2013 draft to keep the slight positive momentum he's created the past few years.