As the excitement of the NFL draft settles, fans must now navigate the comical and infuriating draft grades written by “experts”-a term ESPN likes to throw around quite a bit-in the draft process and talent evaluation. Often times, these experts postulate what could have been done better, presumably if they were running a draft room, what was done poorly, or what was done well. While hindsight may always be 20-20, you may not be looking at things in the same light as those gentlemen calling the shots on draft day. NFL General Managers enter a draft with certain goals and priorities. They do not just take the highest player on their draft board. There is just as much strategy involved in the draft process as there is on the gridiron. The major issue with this post-draft rating process is that those that provide these grades often lack something quite important: Perspective.
These experts fail to understand the goals and objectives of a team’s respective front office. Rather than doing the responsible, or dare I say journalistically responsible, thing and attempt to understand what a team was trying to accomplish, they lazily substitute their own judgment. This is akin to reading John Steinbeck and thinking that you would have made a much happier ending if you were the writer. Simply put, if you don’t try to look at it from another perspective, you just aren’t going to get the point.
From amateur observations of the Dolphins organization under Philbin and Ireland a few foundational themes seem to emerge. One would say the organization values obedience, loyalty, dedication, and hard-work. However, every organization values these things. What Philbin and Ireland truly value is versatility.
Now, I do not pretend to be an expert in drafting or player evaluation. I can say that I do attempt to see what a team was trying to accomplish it and how they executed that plan. One of the things that has been rather annoying in reading a few of these draft grades has been the concerns or confusion in how Dion Jordan will fit in the Dolphins’ defensive scheme. Interestingly, while everyone is quick to compare Jordan to former Dolphin standout Jason Taylor, they fail to acknowledge that Taylor was successful in both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme. These experts, while acknowledging Jordan’s tremendous athletic ability and potential, question how he will fit into the defense. These questions are a clear indication that these experts failed to acknowledge that Ireland and Philbin want versatility.
These questions are just lazy on the part of beat writers and NFL journalists. There are clear indications that the organization wants versatile players. Take a look at the Dolphins WR corps. Philbin has admitted to wanting receivers that can play anywhere on the field. These antiquated labels of wide-out and slot receiver do not apply to this offense. It was a shame to see fan-favorite Davone Bess go, but the fact of the matter is that he was best suited to play the slot. His time last season at the X or Z positions was underwhelming at best. Philbin wants versatile WRs.
Nate Garner has been with the team for quite a while now. His several All-Pro and Pro-Bowl selections withstanding, he has been around because he can play both OG and OT. He is a versatile offensive lineman.
Now perhaps these writers are not familiar with the day to day operations of the Dolphins. Maybe we would be inclined to overlook their faults in the criticism of a draft plan that they clearly lacked the perspective to understand. Although it may seem reasonable to be lenient, they do go get paid to write this stuff so their incompetence is no excuse. The theme of versatility was clear throughout the Dolphins 2013 draft class. As people that hold themselves out as experts, they should have seen the writing that was clearly on the wall through the entire draft. As we are discussing Dion Jordan, let’s look at the draft class in reverse and work our way up to him.
In the seventh round, the Dolphins selected safety Don Jones from Arkansas State. A safety that can play cornerback. Need we say more?
In the fifth round, the Dolphins selected kicker Caleb Sturgis and running back Mike Gillislee both from the University of Florida. A kicker is a kicker, but Sturgis is an admittedly good one. Gillislee is the more intriguing pick. Gillislee is a running back that produced good numbers his one year starting for the Gators against SEC defenses. He has good speed, vision, and cutting ability. He is also a great pass blocker/protector and an adequate receiver out of the backfield. He is a three-down back. Doesn’t get much more versatile than that from the running back position. Maybe he can throw like Ronnie?
In the fourth round, the Dolphins selected linebacker Jelani Jenkins from the University of Florida and tight end Dion Sims from Michigan State. Jenkins is an athletic, albeit undersized linebacker. His speed and agility make him a pretty good coverage linebacker and he projects to make an impact on special teams. Sims is a massive tight end with soft hands, deceptive ability as a receiver, and effective as an in-line blocker. So the fourth round saw a linebacker that can make an impact in two of the three phases of the game, and a relatively complete tight end on paper. I am going to go ahead and check the box for versatile on both these players.
In the third round, the Dolphins selected offensive lineman Dallas Thomas and defensive back Will Davis, Tennessee and Utah State, respectively. I will discuss Davis with second round selection Jamar Taylor, so let’s move directly to Thomas. Thomas played left offensive tackle for the Vols prior to being moved to left offensive guard his senior year. He preformed pretty well at both positions, particularly guard. A lineman that can play both tackle and guard, going to have to go with versatility.
In the second round, the Dolphins selected cornerback Jamar Taylor from Boise State. Together with Will Davis, this makes two corners selected in this draft. This is not very surprising considering the carousel of injuries and subpar corner play that haunted the Dolphins last year. Free Agent acquisition Richard Marshall, a player that can play boundary corner and the nickel position by the way, was injured early in the season and Sean Smith’s play declined as the year progressed. Davis projects best as a boundary corner. Taylor is the more interesting pick as he has the ability to play both the boundary and nickel or dime corner positions. His incredible speed, athleticism, and ball-hawking ability makes him a dangerous player on the defensive side.
Finally, we turn to Dion Jordan. A physical freak at as-near-as-makes-no-difference six feet seven inches. Recruited as a tight end and converted to DE/OLB in Oregon’s 3-4 defensive scheme, Jordan was asked to play with his hand on the ground, stand-up linebacker, and even nickel corner. I’m going to go ahead and state that this is versatility that would leave the manufacturers of the Swiss Army knife awestruck. Despite all this, our experts, like a child eating glue and attempting to hammer the square peg into a round hole, tell us that he doesn’t fit.
Just by sitting and watching the draft it is plainly clear that when seven of nine draft picks are arguably versatile players it must be more than coincidence.
What can we deduce? The experts just missed the point.
While they want to try and peg Jordan down as either a DE in a 4-3, an OLB in a 4-3, or an OLB in a 3-4, they miss the point that his value, the reason he was drafted, is that he can play all those positions. The question is not “how does Dion Jordan fit the scheme?” The question is “how does Dion Jordan change the scheme?”
These graders get caught up in placing him into a defensive position in Miami’s 4-3 scheme rather than seeing the variety of positions he can play along that scheme. If used correctly, Jordan can be that joker on the defense that can move around and keep a QB guessing. Also, attempting to place him in a 4-3 scheme may be inappropriate. Miami’s transition into a 4-3 scheme from a 3-4 scheme was a hot topic going into last season. The way I see it now, with the selection of Dion Jordan, Miami can now run base personnel in either scheme. This is highly advantageous as Miami ran both schemes effectively. In the current 4-3, Jordan can play DE or OLB. However, Miami could utilize a 3-4 scheme with Odrick, Soliai, and Stark as the down linemen, Wake and Jordan at the OLB spots, and Wheeler and Ellerbe at ILB (maybe not perfect fits at ILB). It is also worth noting that Olivier Vernon can, and has, played DE and OLB. Now this all may seem a bit farfetched as Coyle doesn’t really have much experience with the 3-4, but the point is that versatility gives the Dolphins options.
In this ever competitive and evolving league, teams must adapt or perish. Traditional schemes and prototypes do not have much of a purpose anymore. The Dolphins have shown a clear theme of valuing versatile players that allow the respective coordinators to do a variety things with them. I am not concerned with how people try to peg Dion Jordan’s position, I am only concerned with the results. It is unfortunate that experts and insiders fail to see what fans can so plainly observe. We can attempt to rank a team’s draft, but until we see what a team’s goals were we can never truly understand what they were trying to accomplish.