Another NFL draft has come and gone for the Miami Dolphins and it could not have come soon enough.
A turbulent 2017 saw franchise quarterback Ryan Tannerhill be sidelined for the season with a torn ACL in training camp & the then-retired Jay Cutler be enlisted as his replacement only to finish the year with a 6-10 record. The team also traded running back Jay Ajayi to the eventual Super Bowl LII champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The 2018 off season has been just as eventful with the Dolphins releasing center Mike Pouncey at his request and trading a 2018 seventh round draft to the San Francisco 49ers to get Pouncey’s replacement in Daniel Kilgore. Miami also released defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Julius Thomas. In the biggest move the team traded their best offensive weapon in tight end Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns for two draft picks after a very tense contract standoff.
These moves along with the signings of running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Danny Amendola signal a desire by the Dolphins to change the locker room culture but it left many position of need to be filled. Here is a look at how Miami fared in addressing those needs in the 2018 NFL Draft:
First Round (#11): Minkah Fitzpatrick (Defensive Tackle, Alabama)
After a very public flirtation with quarterback prospects (particularly with eventual #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield) that even caused the Arizona Cardinals to trade up one spot higher that Miami to get Josh Rosen, the Dolphins went with filling a need in Fitzpatrick. His ability to play both safety and cornerback should help immediately with a back end defense that gave up a NFL leading 94 passes to tight ends. Being the 2017 Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe award winner shows the pedigree of player Miami was able to get in Fitzpatrick at the #11 pick which might turn out to be a steal.
Second Round (#42): Mike Gesicki (Tight End, Penn State)
With Thomas and especially Landry gone it was essential for the Dolphins to shore up their tight end depth and Gesicki is a good way to do just that. In his four years at Penn State University Gesicki became the most prolific player at his position with his junior year being his best overall with the exception of receptions and touchdowns. That shows he can be a big target for Tannerhill in the slot. The main area that needs improving for Gesicki is his blocking but just as he was able to overcome dropping passes early in college he will hopefully in that in training camp.
Third Round (#73): Jerome Baker ( Linebacker, Ohio State)
Much like with Fitzpatrick, Baker has the speed to help the Dolphins in shoring up the aforementioned issues with covering tight ends. He also fills a hole at linebacker with Miami letting go of Koa Misi. Baker won’t have to go into the deep end right away as the team still has players like Kiko Alonso that can help him in adjusting to the NFL game. He and Fitzpatrick can become a tandem in the Dolphins back end that will be key as the NFL game has become more about speed.
Fourth Round (#123): Durham Smythe (Tight End, Notre Dame)
While not as good as Gesicki when it comes to catches Smythe does do the one thing that his fellow rookie doesn’t, block. He can provide protection for Gesicki when he’s put in as a slot receiver and is a decent third or fourth option for Tannerhill downfield.
Fourth Round (#131): Kalen Ballage (Running Back, Arizona State)
With Ajayi gone and Gore not likely to be used by the Dolphins as an every-down back, Ballage will be competing with third year back Kenyan Drake for the majority of carries. Sharing full time duties is nothing new to Ballage as he was used like this in his college career. He and Drake will greatly benefit from the mentorship that Gore, arguably a Hall of Famer, will provide.
Sixth Round (#209): Cornell Armstrong (Cornerback, Southern Mississippi)
Further adding to the depth already acquired in Fitzpartick and Baker on defense, Armstrong will use his speed in the nickel and outside to help Miami on defense. In the eyes of the Dolphins fan base he will likely be tied to wide receiver Braxton Berrios, the University of Miami (FL)product who was drafted (predictably in a hilarious way) by the New England Patriots with the very next pick.
Seventh Round (#227) Quentin Poling (Linebacker, Ohio)
Poling has solid numbers when it comes to the 40-yard dash (4.58 seconds) and vertical jump (38 inches) but at this point of the draft will likely not be seen as a starter in Miami. He can be immediately plugged in to special teams while he is evaluated.
Seventh Round (#229) Jason Sanders (Kicker, New Mexico)
Taking a kicker this low in draft doesn’t really hurt, particularly as the Dolphins did not have one on the roster prior to this pick. Sanders has a powerful leg but is coming off a down season in college.
Rather than go with the ‘taking the best player available’ approach, the Dolphins went and addressed specific needs in this draft. The focus on shoring up the back end defense was evident throughout but some holes are not filled yet. Even though Miami signed Brock Osweiller to be Tannerhill’s backup not trading up to draft a quarterback might be seen as a miss. Not taking a defensive tackle after letting Suh go can also be seen as a miss but the hole will be addressed in free agency. The choice of taking Armstrong over Berrios will likely be a decision that the Dolphins fan base will obsess over in the coming years.
This draft for Miami should be graded on two criteria: Were players picked with specific team needs in mind and did this draft get the Dolphins closer to overtaking the Patriots in the division.
As far as surpassing New England no one draft short of picking the next Dan Marino will make a serious dent on the lead the Patriots have as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around.
As far as needs go the Dolphins did enough to make sure they can at least have a foundation to build a modern NFL defense with speed emphasized and helped shore up a hole the team created in the Landry trade.
Overall for the 2018 NFL Draft the Dolphins get a grade of B-