Plenty of Miami Dolphins fans were frustrated after the 51st pick of the NFL draft was read this past Friday evening. I’m here to tell you that this wasn’t just an important pick, it was the best pick they’ve made since the 2021 draft where they added Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland (what a class!).
An elite tight end or offensive tackle may have made more sense for the 2023 season, but Chris Grier had no control over how the board fell. In reality, the Dolphins were lucky that a player with the production and physical profile of Cam Smith was even available at that point on day two.
What’s all the fuss about?
I get why folks were frustrated by the selection. Even if he disappeared from the offense for much of last season, we’ve all seen how impactful Mike Gesicki can be. While his blocking never improved enough for him to be a legitimate in-line player, and he struggled to make things happen after the catch, his ability to get down the seam and make tough contested catches is about as good as it gets in the NFL. The Dolphins haven’t taken honest steps to replace Gesicki.
There’s also the concern about the offensive line-specifically the tackle position. The Dolphins are hoping for Austin Jackson to develop further, but they still don’t have a solid backup plan if he doesn’t. There’s also the reality that Terron Armstead could miss several games in 2023. Depth at the tackle position is going to be crucial and outside of picking up Kendall Lamm, they’ve been quiet.
How did the board shake out?
Well for anyone who wasn’t watching each pick with anticipation, the run on high-level tight ends went right before the Dolphins selected in the 2nd round (pick #51). At the beginning of the second round, Sam LaPorta, Michael Mayer, and Luke Musgrave were all on the board. They were selected at 34, 35, and 42.
This left Miami to either take Darnell Washington (who apparently had major medical red flags after the physical) or one of the second-tier tight-end prospects. Over-drafting players never works out in a team’s favor... as Dolphins fans we should be familiar with this.
As far as adding to the offensive line with this selection is concerned, the tackle position was picked dry. They could have looked for some interior players at this spot, but that really isn’t the main concern. Connor Williams and Robert Hunt are two of the better players at their given positions. Maybe Liam Eichenberg could use some more competition, but it’s not that challenging to hide a struggling guard (given that the rest of your line is solid).
We really shouldn’t fault them for passing on these positions here. If there was no avenue to fill a clear need, what should a team do? Well, you go with the best player on the board at a high-value position...
Why Cam Smith was the smart pick
Before we get into why the pick makes sense for the Dolphins, let me emphatically say that corner is one of the most important positions on your football team. They’re highly paid, they make an enormous impact on your defense, and you NEED three quality players at the position for 17 games. This is a position you should be drafting year in and year-out.
So why is this pick particularly important for the Miami Dolphins? Well, to put it mildly, the Dolphins’ corners struggled in 2022. The team had the second-lowest coverage grade of any team in the NFL (per PFF) and they allowed the 6th most passing yards per game in the NFL. If that doesn’t convince you, take a look at the stat line Miami corners gave up last year.
QB Rating: 94.92
Their most successful corner last year was Kader Kohou. If you take his stats out of the equation, their QB rating allowed jumps up to 101.86, which would rank as the 4th best QB rating in the league last year. For a reference point, the New York Jets corners allowed a QB rating of 75.12 for the 2023 season.
A lot of chunk plays tend to come from blown coverages, or when offenses are able to pick on linebackers or safeties that struggle in coverage. Your corners aren’t meant to give up this many yards and touchdowns while they’re engaged in coverage.
Before someone comments, I know I know... they dealt with a staggering amount of injuries. Byron Jones didn’t play a down, Nik Needham was lost with an Achilles injury, Trill Williams went down in camp, and Xavien Howard had lingering injury problems throughout the season.
Well, Byron won’t be back, Achilles injuries can be unpredictable and take a while to get back from, Trill is still working to establish himself in the NFL, and Xavien won’t be any younger in 2023. Adding Jalen Ramsey is a huge boost for this group, but he just takes up one slot.
What Cam brings to the table
His scouting reports reads essentially the opposite of Noah Igbinoghene’s. While he tested much better than expected at the combine, his game isn’t built around elite physical traits. He’s tall enough and can stick with receivers outside or in the slot, but what has made him special at South Carolina is his instincts and ball skills. 22 of his 94 career targets were either broken up or intercepted (per PFF).
So the Dolphins added Vic Fangio who brings a new scheme that should help out Miami’s corners considerably. They also added Jalen Ramsey via trade and drafted Cam Smith. While the offensive line still has question marks and the Dolphins may be lacking a true number-one tight end, we can emphatically say they’ve overhauled one of the most important position groups on the team.
When teams are struggling to move the ball through the air against Miami this year, you’ll forget all about them passing on Darnell Washington.