Miami Dolphins

Exploring the bell that didn’t ring: Why the Dolphins passed on safeties in the draft

Defensive back Marcus Maye runs through a drill during Florida's NFL Pro Day in late March.
Defensive back Marcus Maye runs through a drill during Florida's NFL Pro Day in late March. AP

Matt Burke is going to get every opportunity to succeed in his new job.

Just check the Dolphins’ 2017 draft class.

The linebackers coach-turned-defensive coordinator, who took over after Vance Joseph bolted to Denver, had a dream weekend.

Five of Miami’s seven picks were on his side of the ball, including the first three.

“He became a permanent member of the personnel department,” Mike Tannenbaum joked late Saturday. “I think we saw on TV that we were the last team to take an offensive player. I think Matt sees that as the start of something, not an aberration.”

But if you could allow Burke one quibble, it would probably be this:

Their secondary remained largely unchanged. Yes, the Dolphins added cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in Round 3, but he would need to leap-frog at least two players who started games in 2016 to see the field this year.

And despite using at least six of their 30 on-campus visits on safeties, the Dolphins didn’t take one all weekend.

“For us, it was how the board fell,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier explained. “We had the opportunity to take the players we liked. ... We are always looking to add and upgrade the speed, the size and the athletic ability on the defensive side, so we felt that at that point, it wasn’t anything that we planned not to take any. It’s just the way the board fell.”

Perhaps. But they also made conscious decisions to take players of more pressing need when safeties who visited were available.


▪  Pick 22: Hard to fault the Dolphins here. They were stunned that Missouri pass rusher Charles Harris fell to them in the first round, and didn’t think twice about turning in the card. But in the weeks leading up the draft, they gave at least some consideration to taking Florida safety Marcus Maye, whom the Jets selected early in the second round.

▪  Pick 54: Grier phoned in the name Raekwon McMillan, a linebacker from Ohio State, who could beat out Koa Misi for the starting SAM linebacker spot. Two picks later, the Raiders took Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu. And N.C. State defensive back Josh Jones — who, like Melinfonwu, visited Davie in recent weeks — came off the board later in the second round.

▪  Pick 97: If the Dolphins truly loved hybrid defensive back Shaquill Griffin, who went 90th to Seattle, they could have traded up to get him. Instead, Grier stayed put and took Tankeresley, a gifted but still raw corner out of Central Florida. A group of scouts caught University of Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins at his pro day, but passed up on him, too. Jenkins went early in Round 4.

▪  The Dolphins also could have had BYU’s Kai Nacua, another visitor to Davie, in any round, but passed each time. Nacua ultimately signed a rookie free agent contract with the Browns.

“Sometimes with the 30-visits, it’s a way for us to eliminate a player as well,” Tannenbaum explained. “Just because they’re in the building doesn’t mean … Sometimes that’s just going to solidify a position or a concern that we have. Sometimes it’s a positive, sometimes it’s ‘Hey, this isn’t going to be a good fit,’ and we’re going to move on. Sometimes we bring a guy in, we think he may be a free agent and we want to start recruiting him. Sometimes these 30-visits serve more than one purpose.”

The Dolphins did add at least one safety over the weekend: Georgia’s Maurice Smith, who signed as a rookie free agent.

But to think he’ll unseat Nate Allen, or eventually T.J. McDonald, in the starting lineup is a stretch.

Short of a trade or a picking up a starting safety via the waiver wire — both unlikely at this point — Burke will have to work with what he has in 2017.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley