In 18 days the Miami Dolphins will select 22nd overall in the first round of the NFL Draft — the single biggest day of the year for King Sport and its fans.
You read that right. The biggest day isn’t Super Bowl Sunday, which everybody watches but only fans of two teams care about. No, it is the draft, which invites fans of all 32 teams to traffic in hope, a quick fix, that one magical pick that turns everything around and makes everything right.
The draft fascinates because it is the one intersection of the NFL and college football, our two national addictions, and also because it is maddeningly, delightfully unpredictable.
Sometimes you get crazy-lucky. The Dolphins did one year ago when elite blocker Laremy Tunsil still was available at the 13th pick after a draft-night photo and video of him smoking weed from a bizarre bong mask went viral and every team ran scared until Miami didn’t.
Tunsil figures to be the Fins’ fixture at the crucial left tackle position for the next 10-plus years. He’ll make Pro Bowls. Praise for him within the organization is uncommonly effusive publicly, and moreso privately. They think he has the potential to be Canton-great.
It may not be an exaggeration to say Tunsil was the first-round-luckiest Miami had been since 1983, when Dan Marino tumbled all the way to 27th amid murky whispers and speculation about drugs.
But sometimes you get brain-freeze stupid, too. The Dolphins effectively pleaded guilty there last week in finally releasing Dion Jordan, the pass rusher they traded way up to draft third overall in 2013.
He turned out to be the most embarrassing, highest-picked draft bust in franchise history — or at least the worst since the expansion 1966 Dolphins spent the second overall pick on Kentucky quarterback Rick Norton, who would start 11 games over four seasons and throw six touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Although the stupidity of the Jordan pick was compounded by the fact they traded up to make it, the dumbness of the Norton pick was compounded by the fact he stunk in college, too, completing 49.8 percent of his passes and throwing way more interceptions (44) than TDs (26).
Any draft’s Holy Grail is the Franchise Quarterback (there are none by any consensus in 2017), but history tells us smart teams generally do not target specific positions or needs as much as they simply emphasize acquiring exceptional talent. Draft quality first.
This is an area where the Dolphins have fallen short vs. their AFC East rivals this century, in our survey of the 17 drafts since 2000, a pretty fair sample size. The results:
▪ The New England Patriots have drafted 17 players who totaled 63 Pro Bowl seasons.
▪ The New York Jets have drafted 14 players who totaled 36 Pro Bowl years.
▪ The Buffalo Bills have drafted 13 players who totaled 30 Pro Bowl years.
▪ The Dolphins have drafted 12 players who totaled only 19 Pro Bowl years.
Pro Bowls are but one gauge, yes. Still, it is notable that it’s 63-19 favoring the Patriots over the Dolphin in drafting Pro Bowl-caliber talent since 2000.
Miami has been a bit better lately, though. The Pats have not drafted a player who made a Pro Bowl since Jamie Collins in 2013. Miami has had two since then in Jarvis Landry (2014 draft) and Jay Ajayi (2015) — two huge reasons why last season finally ended the Dolphins’ eight-year playoff drought.
That is why exceptional talent should be the target priority more than a specific position. Ideally, you get both: Special talent where help is most needed. With that in mind, here’s my first-round draft guide for the Dolphins:
Defense, defense, defense! Did I mention defense? Outside linebacker, cornerback, edge pass rusher, safety — Miami needs ’em all.
Here are defenders who should interest the Dolphins at No. 22, offered alphabetically:
▪ Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley: A 4.44 40 at the Scouting Combine elevated his stock to first round, maybe even pre-Miami. Fins need to be (much) better at this position, and the long-armed Conley had 26 college starts for a major, successful program.
▪ Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis: Mainly an inside guy but can also play outside. An interesting possibility if Dolphins decide that’s valuable versatility, not an in-betweener who never quite finds a niche.
▪ Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster: Slight chance he drops to 22nd. Pro-ready with that Bama pedigree.
▪ Missouri defensive end Charles Harris: Super-productive, with 18 sacks over past two seasons.
▪ Washington cornerback Kevin King: A 6-3 cover-corner with speed demands the notice of a team light on quality at the CB spot.
▪ Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell: Although I’d hesitate to spend my first pick on the interior line, where the need is mostly for depth.
▪ Michigan anything-man Jabrill Peppers: A bit of a reach/risk at 22 maybe, but Peppers has huge upside/potential. A linebacker who can rush, cover and play safety. Idolized Charles Woodson and has some of the same skill set.
▪ Temple linebacker Haasan Reddick: Doubt he’ll last, but grab him if he does. Another versatile inside/outside guy whose stock shot north with a great Senior Bowl and Combine. Height (6-1) isn’t ideal, but all of the other optics flash ‘n shine.
Only two offensive players should be considered by Miami in the first round:
1. Miami tight end David Njoku.
2. Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp.
I don’t care that the Fins bolstered at tight end by signing Julius Thomas and reacquiring Anthony Fasano. Njoku would be a dynamic pick, an offense-minded, down-the-field TE whose selection would convey the warning: “We want an offense that’s great, not just good.”
Lamp? He’s the only first-round-quality guard in this draft, and his selection would target a weak spot on the offensive line.
By the way, if anyone you know tells you Miami should draft a quarterback — slap them. Then tell the police it’s OK because I told you to.