We're about a day and a half away from the 2013 NFL Draft, which means we're in the midst of thick smokescreens, rampant over-analysis from the football media, and the sheer madness that comes with trying to suss out and identify the prospects the Dolphins will target beginning Thursday night. Why do we look forward to this time of year again? Oh, right--it's thrilling; perhaps even intoxicating to some of you. That's all well and good, but I like to temper my draft analysis with an occasional look at past Dolphins selections--sometimes for encouragement, other times because I just want to feel something ... even if it's pain.
Simply put, referencing past drafts allows me to get away from the draft crazy, even for a short time. And it also helps me keep everything in perspective. You think this year's draft class lacks star power and is essentially a crap shoot? Go look up how the first round of the 2006 draft played out. If the sight of Vince Young, A.J. Hawk, Michael Huff, Ernie Sims and Matt Leinart in the top 10 picks of a single draft doesn't make you feel better about this year's class, seek medical attention immediately. Your heart has stopped.
Of course, ruminating past drafts is far from a painless endeavor, especially if your favorite team happens to wear aqua and orange. For every great draft selection the Dolphins have made during their 47-year history, there are two draft picks we, as fans, wish they hadn't made. Honestly, if given the choice to either watch the team's selection of Ted Ginn Jr. in 2007, or witness the clubbing of a baby seal, I might choose the seal (and I love animals).
Nevertheless, when it comes to analyzing NFL draft history, no pain, no gain. That's why the following list will include the best and draft selections in team history. And no, I won't be gentle.
Also, why a list of seven best and worst picks? Why not 10? Glad you asked. I originally wanted to do five each, but soon discovered that I needed seven spots to include all of the players who I felt belonged on the best-of list. Got it?
Let's kick things off with a little bit of the obvious ...
The seven greatest draft selections in Miami Dolphins history
1) Dan Marino, QB Pittsburgh (first round, 27th overall, 1983)
There's an old adage that says a truly great quarterback selection will change the entire course of a franchise. Peyton Manning did it for the Colts in 1998. Dan Marino did it for the Dolphins 15 years earlier. But while Manning was a No. 1 overall pick, Marino was selected by the Dolphins with the second-to-last pick in the first round of the 1983 draft. Discussion about why Marino fell to No. 27 overall continues to this day, and the theories are wide-ranging: some think the allegation that Marino used cocaine at Pitt fueled his draft slide; others believe there was significant doubt that Marino had the mind to play quarterback at the NFL level. Regardless of what cause Marino's draft stock to tumble, one thing is certain: he made the rest of the league pay, and in a hurry. Suddenly, the once-plodding Dolphins were an offensive juggernaut, capable of smoking the scoreboard every time they stepped on the field. And it was No. 13 leading the way, rifling throws downfield with uncanny accuracy, and boasting a quick release that simply put the rest of the NFL world on its ear.
Marino was like the Steven Spielberg of quarterbacks--anything that was thought to be impossible, he did. And in 1984, Marino existed on a different plane from the rest of the NFL, blasting the record book to bits with a 48 touchdown, 5,084 yards passing performance that, when compared to today's league rules, should stand as the greatest season a quarterback has ever played. To this day, no quarterback has matched Marino's release speed or his ability to throw downfield with the perfect mix of ferocity and grace. He remains the greatest Dolphin of all time, and that's why he's tops on this list. Any questions?
2) Larry Csonka, FB Syracuse (first round, eighth overall, 1968)
Csonka was the quintessential battering ram for an offense that prided itself on stamina, physicality and sheer power, and it's impossible to imagine the Dolphins winning (or even getting to) Super Bowl VII and VIII without his vast contributions. Boasting incredible size (6-foot-3, 237) and a degree of toughness that was, by the account of several former Miami players, incredibly infectious, Csonka was the engine that made the Dolphins' offense go. Quarterback Bob Griese threw the ball just seven times in Miami's victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII. Csonka's stat line that afternoon? Thirty-three carries, 145 yards rushing. Minnesota simply had no answer for No. 39 in aqua during that game. Come to think of it, few teams had an answer for Csonka during the peak of his career.
A no-nonsense bulldozer who was arguably the toughest player during what many consider to be the league's most brutal era, Csonka is perhaps the best pure fullback to ever play the game.
3) Dwight Stephenson, C Alabama (second round, 48th overall, 1980)
When Bear Bryant calls you the best player he's ever coached, regardless of position, you are something special. That was the case with Dwight Stephenson, and he absolutely lived up to the hype during his all-too-brief stay in Miami (thanks to a knee injury he suffered during his eight season). Stephenson was a prototype talent at the center position--tough and nasty, yet incredibly skilled and graceful. And he anchored a Dolphins offensive line that was as a dominant a pass-protection unit as there was in the 1980s. We always hear about defensive linemen who can absorb multiple blocks. Well, Stephenson routinely absorbed multiple defenders and kept the pocket in spotless shape. Others may argue, but I believe Stephenson was, pound for pound, the best center to ever play the game.
4) Jason Taylor, DE Akron (third round, 73rd overall, 1997)
Who knew that a lanky, underweight pass-rusher from Akron would become the best defensive end in Dolphins history? Taylor was an animal from the word "go," and terrorized quarterbacks with his blend of speed, bend and vastly underrated upper-body strength. JT was equally adept at going through or around opposing tackles, and he was a master of the stripping the quarterback of the ball while bringing him down with one arm. How good was Taylor? Tom Brady and his five layers of Visa protection in 2008 reportedly "cracked beers" after learning that Bill Parcells traded Taylor to the Washington Redskins. Now that's respect ... and another reason to hate Parcells. Moving along ...
5) Richmond Webb, OT Texas A&M (first round, ninth overall, 1990)
By the late 1980s, the great pass protection Dan Marino enjoyed through the early part of his career had begun to fall apart. A fix was needed, and the Dolphins found it in the form of long-limbed Texas A&M tackle Richmond Webb via the ninth pick of the 1990 draft. Webb was a powerhouse from the word "go," and he flat-out frustrated and nullified Bills all-world defensive end Bruce Smith during a game late in the '90 season. Webb would go on to become not only Marino's on-field bodyguard, but also the greatest left tackle in Dolphins history. And his initial punch and ability to ride pass-rushers past the pocket remain the stuff of legend in Miami.
6) Zach Thomas, MLB Texas Tech (fifth round, 154th overall, 1996)
To say that Thomas' professional football career started with a bang would be a gross understatement—all he did in his 1996 Dolphins debut was post nine tackles and a sack, single-handedly dismantling a New England Patriots offense that went on to make a Super Bowl appearance that season. Undersized and undervalued as a middle linebacker coming out Texas Tech, Thomas proved to be a pure wrecking ball in the NFL, combining top-notch instincts with an almost unheard-of level of tenacity and grit. He was a ferocious hitter, as well, and finished off ballcarriers with ease. Yet it was his leadership, drive and consistency that made him such a great, beloved player for the Dolphins. Living proof that you don't have to be athletically gifted to be a great football player.
7) Bob Griese, QB Purdue (first round, 4th overall, 1967)
Bob Griese might not have had to carry the Dolphins' offense the way Joe Namath carried the Jets', but no one will debate the fact that Griese was a prototypical leader and signal-caller when he was selected out of Purdue 46 years ago. Big, strong, smart and tough as nails, Griese's pocket presence was phenomenal, and he had the arm strength to take advantage of wide receiver Paul Warfield's ability to stretch the field. Griese's long absence during the '72 season (due to a lower leg injury), and the fact that he threw a combined 13 passes during the '73 AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl VIII, are why he's just No. 7 on this list. However, make no mistake that, while the running game and offensive line were the heart of Miami's offense, Griese was its brain.
And now for the not-so-pleasant material ...
The seven worst draft selections in Miami Dolphins history
1) Eric Kumerow, DE/OLB Ohio State (first round, 16th overall, 1988)
NFL.com recently published a Dolphins best/worst draft selection, and had Kumerow and John Bosa tied for the top spot. I get that line of thinking, but while Bosa was indeed a colossal waste of a pick, Kumerow was the more fatal selection. Why? Because the Dolphins drafted him over Oklahoma State running back Thurman Thomas. Can you even imagine what it would've been like for the Dolphins to have Thomas in its backfield during the '90s? Marino would be sporting more rings than Lil' Wayne. Alas, Miami did what they were really good at doing during the mid-to-late 1980s—they selected a player who played longer in college than in the pros. Kumerow was a mammoth (6-foot-7, 265) prospect in 1988, and he certainly looked the part of a bullish pass-rusher. Still, Thurman Thomas ...
The Kumerow selection was, of course, the second of consecutive No. 16 picks the Dolphins blew on a less-than-marginal talent ...
2) John Bosa, DT Boston College (first round, 16th overall, 1987)
... And here's the first of those No. 16 picks. Unlike Kumerow, Bosa's draft class was nothing to write home about. Still, that doesn't excuse the Dolphins for wasting the No. 16 pick on a guy who was out of the league after two seasons. On the field, Bosa was a hot mess from the start, and it got progressively worse for the former Boston College defensive tackle. He did accumulate seven sacks over three years, but that's about it.
(Side note: In my hometown of St. Charles, Ill. is a donut shop called "BoSa Donuts." As a child, I wondered if BoSA Donuts was anywhere near as bad as John Bosa. According to my father, it's worse.)
3) Jamar Fletcher, CB Wisconsin (first round, 26th overall, 2001)
Dolphins fans really haven't done enough to point out the sheer idiocy and ineptitude that went into the Fletcher selection. Everyone knows that the Dolphins took the Wisconsin corner over Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, but what really sets this botched selection apart from others is the fact that several draft analysts came out at the time and said Fletcher wasn't worth a first-round pick. Interestingly, the Dolphins' second-round pick that year was also from the University of Wisconsin: wide receiver Chris Chambers.
4) Yatil Green, WR Miami (first round, 15th overall, 1997)
Oh boy, where to begin with this one ... On one hand, it's difficult to call Green an outright bust—the guy had so much talent, but couldn't even show up to training camp without tearing an ACL or quadricep (or both). On the other hand, Green was drafted because Marino, already in the twilight of his career in 1997, desperately needed a big-play guy on the perimeter. It's the latter fact that qualifies Green as a certifiable bust, though he's not alone when it comes to the list of Jimmy Johnson's failed first-round picks in Miami ...
5) John Avery, RB Ole Miss (first round, 29th overall, 1998)
Would someone please remind me why the Dolphins even bothered with Avery, an undersized, underskilled back out of Ole Miss? Avery had as many lost fumbles as rushing touchdowns (two) in his rookie season, and ran for 503 yards in his two years with the Dolphins. Several analysts have suggested that Johnson thought he could get Emmitt Smith production out of Avery. Smith in 2013 would be a more ideal prospect than Avery was 15 years ago.
Thankfully, the Dolphins followed up this selection with Southern Mississippi cornerback Patrick Surtain.
6) Ted Ginn Jr., WR Ohio State (first round, ninth overall, 2007)
No need to rehash this selection—you were all there, and you all probably felt the same "I am going to hurl until I can hurl no more!" feeling when Roger Goodell uttered Ginn's name while announcing the Dolphins' first-round selection. To this day, I compare how I felt upon hearing this selection to how Gary felt at the end of The Last American Virgin (minus the crying, of course).
In hindsight, it was probably a good thing Miami's idiot front office (headed up by the extremely oafish Randy Mueller) passed on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. However, it was most certainly not a good thing that the Dolphins A), took a freaking punt returner with the No. 9 overall selection, and B) took said punt returner over players such as Patrick Willis and Darrelle Revis.
The rest of Miami's 2007 draft wasn't much better. And people wondered why the team went 1-15 that year ...
7) The entire 1984 Dolphins draft class
Curious as to why Marino couldn't get back to the Super Bowl after Miami's shoot-'em-up 1984 season? A glimpse at what the team accomplished in the draft that year might give you a few hints. The Dolphins' first-round selection, Oklahoma linebacker Jackie Shipp, started 44 games over four seasons, and racked up a whopping stat line of one sack, one interception. The Dolphins took another linebacker, the University of Miami's Jay Brophy, in the second round. He lasted just two years with the team before playing a single campaign with the Jets in 1987. The Dolphins later drafted Bernard Carvalho, who turned out to be a much better politician than football player.
Here's my question: How can a team go from drafting Roy Foster, David Overstreet (a fantastic player who died in a freak accident during the summer of '84) and Dan Marino to guys like Shipp, Lorenzo Hampton (the Dolphins' '85 first-round selection), Bosa, Kumerow and Sammie Smith (the team's first-round choice in 1989)? Want to know why the Dolphins never got back to the big game following Super Bowl XIX? It's probably because they didn't hit right on a first-round selection during the remainder of the 1980s.