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When They Don’t Take The Guy You Wanted

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The last two high first-round picks made by the Miami Dolphins are a study in contrasts, and vividly illustrates how subjective we — ‘we’ being both the fans and the national media — can be in terms of assessing a team’s draft picks.

Yeah, I’m going there yet again. Now that the draft is over with and we still have another two months before training camp opens, what else are we going to talk about? We’ve covered all of the Dolphins’ position groups several times over by this point. One of the pitfalls of drafting in the top ten is that most fans have a pretty good idea of who they would like to see their favorite team select. Since two to four players in the top half of the first round are often quarterbacks, if we’re looking at position players only, and we can safely rule out punters, placekickers, and long snappers (unless it’s John Denney, of course), everyone who follows a given NFL team usually has a guy, or any one of several guys, who they would like to see their team’s GM take in round one. When a team is drafting in the teens or twenties, fans usually don’t have this dilemma.

When we compare the selection of Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick in 2020, versus the selection of Jaylen Waddle with the sixth overall pick in 2021, the difference in how those two picks are perceived by the fans and the national press has been, in my opinion, absolutely staggering. I know what you’re thinking: ‘But Cranehead, we’ve already seen Tua play. He played in nine games last season, and he wasn’t very impressive’. But... if we can disapprove of selecting a guy who we view as little more than a game manager, in other words, a guy you can win with but won’t carry a team on his own, then how can we approve of a guy picked in almost the exact same spot a year later, who is little more than a speedy, undersized receiver/returner/gadget player? If we’re going to lament giving up so much draft capital for Tagovailoa, shouldn’t we apply that same standard to his former college teammate, Waddle, whom we gave up even more draft capital for by trading one of our first-round picks next year to move up for?

You see, from my perspective, we already pretty much know what Waddle’s ceiling is as an NFL player. He’s a fast, elusive receiver who the defense will have to respect if they want to avoid being burned for a big play. My problem with the selection is threefold: first, there were two or three similar players already on the Dolphins’ roster when the pick was made, second, fast, shifty receivers can be found up and down the draft every year, and most importantly, there were two or three other players the Dolphins left on the board who arguably could have helped the team substantially more than the guy they picked. A week or so after the draft, word got out that the Detroit Lions were frantically working the phones, trying to move ahead of Miami to take offensive tackle Penei Sewell, believing that there was no way that the Dolphins could select anyone other than Sewell. That’s what I thought, too. Ah, but the Miami Dolphins have a history of wasting draft capital and free-agent dollars on receivers that goes back decades. With the possible exception of O.J. McDuffie, selected 25th overall in 1993, who amassed just over 7000 combined receiving and punt/kickoff return yards in nine seasons in Miami, Dolphin fans have ultimately been disappointed with a first-round pick at receiver every time the team has gone that way in the draft, and it says here that they’ll be disappointed this time, too. Again, not because Waddle is a bad player, but because the three guys Miami left for the teams picking behind them to take will probably go to, I’m guessing, upwards of eight to twelve Pro Bowls between them over the next ten years or so. Other than as an injury replacement, will Waddle go to any Pro Bowls? Maybe, I guess it’s possible. In baseball parlance, this is known as an unforced error. As tempting as it is to just say, ‘Aw, man... come on, does Cranehead think he knows more than Chris Grier?’, that’s not really the question we should be asking, although, unlike Grier, my father didn’t work as a personnel man for an NFL team. The question we should be asking is, do well-run, successful NFL teams trade up to the top of the draft to select wide receivers? No, they don’t, otherwise, we wouldn’t have been on here the day after the first round, conducting group therapy sessions with one another, trying to convince ourselves that the pick somehow was a good one.

So, maybe this is karma. In last year’s draft, the Dolphins picked the guy I’d been wanting for more than a year, but never really thought we’d actually be able to get. This year, they made another pick in almost the exact same spot on the board that I believe has a real chance of costing them a possible future Super Bowl berth. I’m equally sure that there are probably a lot of other folks who feel exactly the opposite, that we shouldn’t have drafted Tagovailoa, and that the Waddle pick was awesome. I’d love to hear what picks our readers would have liked to have seen the Dolphins make in past years, versus the guys they actually picked. Two of the easiest ones are Drew Brees in round one, instead of CB Jamar Fletcher, in 2001, and Matt Ryan over Jake Long in 2007. And you don’t have to say, ‘Herbert over Tagovailoa, last year. Number one, I think we’ve said that enough times already, and two, it’s hard to justify taking a guy at six who was rated the twentieth-something prospect in the draft last year. I think it’s very possible that if both Herbert and Tagovailoa had been available a year ago, maybe the Chargers would have taken Tua. He was rated as being a substantially better prospect than Herbert. Southern California also has a fairly large Pacific Islander population, and the selection of Herbert over Tagovailoa likely wouldn’t have gone over very well. Herbert also isn’t the fourth most popular player in the entire NFL; that distinction belongs to our quarterback.

In closing, since this is the slowest time of the year in the NFL, I’m going to leave you with a couple of book recommendations, to help pass the time before training camp starts. The first one is called ‘The Brethren’, written by John Grisham and published in 2000. Yeah, I know it’s Grisham, and believe me — I’ve never been a big fan of his. I read somewhere that they had to change some of the international banking laws because of his books. Until I read ‘The Brethren’, I was convinced that Grisham was the most overrated author of the past fifty years or so and maybe he still is, but this is a really good book. Maybe it was by accident, I don’t know. This next one may just be the best book I’ve ever read, which is saying something. It’s called ‘The Memory Of Eva Ryker’. Written by California-born author Donald A. Stanwood, it was published in 1978 but takes place over a fifty-year period between the early 1910s and the early sixties. You can get either book from Amazon for as little as a dollar, plus five bucks or so for shipping. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.