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The OL Debate: Draft High, Low Or FA?

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Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As we edge ever closer to free agency and the draft, a hot topic of discussion here on the Phinsider is how to shore up the Dolphins’ offensive line, to try and get it to a level that is at or near the league average, instead of one of the worst. Since we have widely diverging opinions on this subject, I think it’s always helpful to take a look at the starters of the two most recent Super Bowl participants, in this case, the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, to see how those linemen originally arrived in the NFL. Eight of the ten combined starters in Super Bowl LII for both teams were comprised of an undrafted free agent, a sixth-round pick, a fifth-round pick, two fourth rounders, two third rounders and a second rounder. Of the ten offensive linemen who started in last month’s Super Bowl, only two players, tackles Lane Johnson and Nate Solder, are former first-round picks, and fully fifty percent of the linemen from the biggest game in all of sports were selected after the third round and in one case, not even drafted at all.

In case you think this is an isolated case, of the ten combined starters from Super Bowl LI, thirteen months ago, just three of ten players who started in that game were former first-round picks. So, what can we glean from all of this? Before we get to answering that question, I have to admit that I may have been overly harsh on Miami’s starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. What if all the high draft picks the Dolphins have made over the past few years weren’t made solely for the purpose of propping up Miami’s QB? While I think we can be reasonably sure that was part of the plan, could it be that the seemingly endless slew of high draft picks on offense were also made for the expressed purpose of covering up for crappy coaching? With three straight Dolphins coaching staffs coming from offensive backgrounds, high draft picks on that side of the ball gave those staffs two valuable commodities: better athletes (in theory, at least) to run their schemes, and time to develop them.

As I’ve opined here recently, winning football programs are generally built with well-coached players on offense and stud athletes on defense. Since the Dolphins have opted to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction, using most of their premium draft picks on the offensive side of the ball, while relying on late round picks, undrafted free agents and castoffs from other teams to man most of the positions on defense, one has to question the motivation behind this strategy, since the team continues to employ it, despite not getting much in the way of results.

As the 2018 offseason progresses, the Dolphins once again find themselves with a subpar OL, despite having invested three first-round picks, a second rounder, two third rounders and a fourth rounder in the unit the past few years. What remedial measures do you think the team should take to try and upgrade the Dolphins’ offensive line this year? Should they do whatever it takes to try and get Notre Dame guard Quinton Nelson, take a guard later in the first or second round or draft several linemen, from the third round on, in the hopes that at least one of them will develop into a solid starter? Should Miami enter the Andrew Norwell sweepstakes in free agency? Before you answer that question, keep in mind that Norwell was himself an undrafted free agent when he arrived in the NFL a few years ago.