he 2017 NFL Draft is brimming with defensive talent, and nowhere is this more evident than in the bumper crop of defensive backs preparing to make their presence known this fall. With all of the attention being paid, and rightly so, to the tattered state of the Miami Dolphins' front seven, the best blue chip talent and greatest depth in this draft may well be its corners and safeties.
In a recent The Phinsider poll, our readers chose offensive guard as the team's top need going into the draft, which should be no surprise, given the emphasis on offense in the Fantasy Football obsessed environment in which we find ourselves nowadays. Sorry to disappoint you, but Miami isn't going to take Forrest Gump, or Forrest Lamp with the 22nd overall pick. About the only offensive player I could see them taking at that spot would be TE David Njoku, but with his ridiculous size/speed ratio, someone figures to make a run at him earlier.
Miami's recent signings of free agent safeties Nate Allen and T.J. McDonald show just how far they've fallen at the position in recent years. Both of these guys would be sitting home on the couch, playing Nintendo, if the Dolphins hadn't called. Allen has been so mediocre in recent seasons that even the Raiders, usually a reliable source of employment for middling players, had seen enough of him in 2015 and '16 to know that they didn't want him back this year. Allen has never lived up to his draft status as the 37th overall pick out of the University of South Florida in 2010.
McDonald is at least a better player than Allen, but unfortunately, that's a pretty low bar to clear. Whereas Allen failed to live up to expectations, McDonald has never been able to live up to his impressive bloodlines. His father, Tim McDonald, was one of the top players in the league during a star studded career that spanned thirteen seasons (1987-99) and saw him make six Pro Bowls. He was on the San Francisco 49ers squad that nuked the Chargers in the Super Bowl, in January 1995. Despite being the exact same height and weight as his father (6'2", 215/217), son T.J. appears to be 'higher cut' (long legs, short torso) than his dad, and has some stiffness in his hips, often causing him to struggle to break down in the open field to make the tackle. After watching former safeties Louis Delmas and Isa Abdul Quddus miss numerous games the past two seasons, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier must have figured that at least with McDonald, they know ahead of time which games he'll miss (due to suspension) and can therefore plan accordingly.
Both of these guys are the personification of the term 'stopgap' and the Dolphins know they must do much, much better. This year's draft gives them ample opportunity to do just that. While the top two guys at safety, Ohio State's Malik Hooker and LSU's Jamal Adams, will both be long gone by the time pick number 22 rolls around, there are plenty of other options available for the Dolphins, such as Utah's Marcus Williams, Texas A&M's Justin Evans and North Carolina State's Josh Jones, the latter two of whom have already met with Tannenbaum and Grier.
The team's situation at corner isn't much better. Right now, the Dolphins have an enigmatic, hot and cold player in Byron Maxwell who will turn 30 next year, a bewitching age for a cornerback, a promising up and coming player in Xavien Howard and a glue fingered but gangly Tony Lippett as their top three guys. The team would be better served having Lippett go into the game in nickel and dime situations, or late in games when the other team is behind and has to throw downfield, rather than as a starter. Know, too, that other teams have taken notice of the ease with which both New England and Pittsburgh were able to effectively make Lippett a non factor, by repeatedly hitting him with vicious blocks and wearing him down. Expect to see more of that this season, if the team leaves him out there. His long, lanky frame makes an inviting target for opposing offenses on sweeps and misdirection plays.
Whenever the subject of the New England Patriots, and the success they continue to have, comes up among Dolphin fans, we have a ready made excuse for why they keep winning: "They've got Tom Brady." But, do you know who had the top ranked secondary in football a season ago, according to Pro Football Focus ? That's right, the Patriots. Teams that draft defense, go to the playoffs and win championships. Those who don't, do not. In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks had the number one pass defense in the NFL; they won the Super Bowl that season. They had the overall number one defense in 2014, and would have won a second title, if head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had not run an exceedingly stupid play down on the goal line at the end, effectively handing the Pats the first of their two recent megabunk titles. That loss by the Seahawks, in February 2015 was the first time in more than thirty years that the team with the number one defense advanced to the Super Bowl and failed to win. Think about that.