What you heard during last week's draft was the sound of the Miami Dolphins' front office taking back their own credibility, which had been stretched perilously thin over the past few offseasons. What just about everyone, including much of the Dolphins' fan base, whether they want to admit it or not, knows, is that Miami's scouting department for the past few years has approached the college draft as an opportunity to shore up the quarterback position by showering it with offensive players and generally ignoring the defense until the later rounds. In addition to their ongoing NFL record in the first round (eight of twelve first round picks used on offense, 2005-2016), Miami also expended fewer picks on the defensive side of the ball during the first three rounds in 2014-16 than any other NFL team.
This lopsided approach to the draft came to a screeching halt, beginning on Thursday night and I, for one, am very pleased with this development. Not just because the Dolphins finally drafted defense but because Miami is now running their football team the way other, successful franchises do: drafting for need rather than just wants. When you go to the grocery store, you buy what you need; in the same way, you draft for need -- don't let anybody tell you differently. The problem for the Dolphins has been that since Nick Saban bolted for Tuscaloosa following the 2006 season, every single head coach hired by the Dolphins has come from an offensive background. Offensive minded coaches are naturally predisposed to selecting offensive players in the draft, leaving the defense as an afterthought. In 2007, Cam Cameron took WR Ted Ginn and QB John Beck in the first two rounds, bypassing future Pro Bowlers Darrelle Revis and Patrick Willis in the process. When Cameron's draft picks led to a 1-15 season, former offensive line coach Tony Sparano's regime shockingly selected an offensive lineman with the first overall pick the following year. In 2011, Sparano and Co. expended four of six picks on offensive players, waiting until the seventh round to select two defenders. In 2012, the only defensive player drafted who was a difference maker was third rounder Olivier Vernon, who left in free agency a year ago. Add a first round QB who was a wide receiver in college before starting at the quarterback position and you end up with a front office which feels more and more compelled with each passing year to give him 'just a little bit more' talent, to help him take that next step.
Like many fans, I'm sure, I suddenly like Ryan Tannehill a whole lot more today than I did a week ago, simply because the draft pick coddling has stopped. Former Eagles, Rams and Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil once said, of first round running my back Larry Johnson, "It's time to take the diapers off." The same could be said of Tannehill, and with the team re-signing WR Kenny Stills, bringing in TE Julius Thomas and with a second season in Adam Gase's offense, I think our quarterback could be poised for a breakout year.
Since about 90% of the mock drafts, this Spring had the Dolphins taking either OG Forrest Lamp or safety Jabrill Peppers in the first round, I was pleased when Miami instead chose Charles Harris. Harris has a first step that is one of the quickest you'll ever see from a defensive lineman; the team apparently had the 'One Thing Well' approach in mind when they selected him: just do one thing extremely well, and you can help us win games. And let's get this out of the way now: Harris played defensive end in college, he was drafted as a defensive end and he's going to play defensive end for the Dolphins. If he doesn't light it up his first year or make the All-Rookie team, let's not all start insisting that team needs to move him to linebacker. It ain't happenin'. You need a linebacker, you go out and get a linebacker; you don't move a defensive lineman out there. Now, on third and long, he may line up outside, to enable the team to get its three best pass rushers on the field, but he was drafted as a DE and that's where they're going to play him.
Second round pick Raekwon McMillan, almost certainly named for rapper 'Raekwon', of 'Only Built 4 Cuban Linx' fame (1995), was a much-needed addition at linebacker. Although I probably would have gone with Temple's Zach Cunningham, who went three spots later to the Houston Texans, if Tannenbaum and Grier felt McMillan was the pick, we've got to give them the benefit of the doubt. With the 97th overall pick, which is much closer to a fourth rounder than a third, the Dolphins stole CB Cordrea Tankersley, who, as several of our readers have pointed out, was actually rated higher (5.71 to 5.60) than least year's second round corner, Xavien Howard, by NFL.com. And the Dolphins still managed to add a solid OG prospect, selecting Isaac Asiata, as the Fins transition their offensive line from the tap dancing teddy bears of yesteryear to today's maulers, brawlers, and Maytag installers.
Dolphin fans the world over should be excited about the team's prospects for the next few seasons, and yes, that includes being excited about Ryan Tannehill and the offense. It's amazing what one good, defense heavy draft can do for a fan base. It's an exciting time to be a Miami Dolphins fan.