Although he hasn’t coached a game for the Dolphins since January of 2000, make no mistake: Jimmy Johnson, to this day, still casts a long shadow over Miami. Not because of anything he did for the offense -- passing up an opportunity to add Ernie Zampese in favor of making Kippy Brown your OC is hardly the stuff of legends -- but because of his defensive acumen. No coach or general manager has ever been better than Johnson at building a defensive unit predicated on speed and quickness, or at stocking that unit with draft picks and free agents who often became all-pro players under his tutelage.
Johnson won two championships in Dallas, with players like DE Tony Tolbert (4th round, ‘89), LB Vinson Smith (UDFA, Atlanta, 1988, signed by the Cowboys in ‘90), and FS Thomas Everett (4th round pick by the Steelers in ‘87, traded for by the Cowboys in ‘92), and he saved enough of his draft day wizardry to bring players like LB Zach Thomas (5th round, ‘96), DE Jason Taylor (3rd round, ‘97), CB Sam Madison (2nd round, ‘97) and CB Patrick Surtain (2nd round, ‘98) to Miami during his time here. Johnson’s approach to defense was very simple: ‘If my guy is faster and quicker than your guy, my guy will beat your guy’. The success the Seattle Seahawks have had on defense the past few seasons owes more than a passing glance to the philosophy that Jimmy Johnson developed and implemented more than a quarter-century ago.
For those of you who believe that Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds should have been Miami’s first-round pick, that’s why he wasn’t. Edmunds may well turn out to be a fine player, but a six foot five guy isn’t going to have the most dynamic stop and start ability or change of direction on a football field; that’s why Edmunds didn’t participate in the 20 yard split, 20 yard shuttle or 3 cone drill at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this past February. The Dolphins’ arch rivals in the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills, came away with two pretty good players from the first round of this year’s draft, in Edmunds and former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, but both of them come with question marks. The same cannot be said of Miami’s number one pick, Alabama free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. There’s no use looking for any holes in him; you won’t find any. This is a guy I’ve wanted the Dolphins to acquire for months now, and I’m ecstatic that he’s coming to Miami. Will the Dolphins have the NFL’s best secondary in a year or two? If SS Reshad Jones continues to play at a high level, I wouldn’t dismiss it. Throwing the ball down the field against Miami just got a whole lot tougher. The ‘Mink Master’ will provide the Dolphins’ defensive backfield with a new fur coat, galvanizing a beleaguered unit that has been left out in the cold far too often in recent seasons.
Then there is Miami’s third-round pick, former Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker. A linebacker with a 36 1/2” vertical leap? Come on. That’s downright redneckulous. I look for Baker to play in 3rd and long situations this season and eventually contend for a starting spot on the weak side. The Dolphins also signed former Michigan MLB Mike McCray as an undrafted free agent. Fly really likes this guy, and if he says he can play, I believe him. Just to demonstrate what a roll of the dice the entire scouting process is, McCray, an undrafted free agent, was graded at 5.36 by NFL.com, while Baker, Miami’s third-round pick, was graded at 5.65. Talk about a game of inches. Just for good measure, the Dolphins added to what is now an embarrassment of riches in the secondary, selecting former Southern Mississippi CB Cornell Armstrong in the sixth round. Like virtually every other player Miami selected this past weekend, Armstrong has blazing speed.
The other thing to come out of this draft is that the narrative that Miami only wants to use its high draft picks on offense is now dead. Win or lose, I won’t be able to complain about that anymore. After using nearly all their picks in 2017 on defense, as well as two of their first three draft choices this year, including their first rounder, I’m confident that this team is emphatically heading in the right direction. If they can get something out of their second and fourth round choices, former Penn State TE Mike Gesicki and ASU power running back Kalen Ballage, the Dolphins should be able to field a very competitive team this season. It’s an exciting time to be a Dolphin fan.