Mike Tannenbaum is fond of saying that it takes three years to fairly judge a draft class.
But life isn't fair.
The Dolphins simply can't wait that long.
They are in win-now mode. The Plan B signing of Jay Cutler is all the proof of that you need.
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But to make a deep playoff run, the Dolphins will need more than their high-priced veterans to perform.
They will need their Class of 2016 to play a year older than they are.
Are these second-year players up to the task? We might find out Thursday night, in Miami's exhibition finale against the Vikings.
“I feel like they didn't draft us for no reason, so we have to go out there and put it on [the] field that what they drafted us for is what we're going to come in and do,” said Dolphins kick returner Jakeem Grant, one of five players selected in 2016 expected to play meaningful snaps this year.
“We're going to make plays,” Grant continued. “It starts with us.”
The fourth preseason game is drudgery for most everyone, players included. But it also serves a purpose. For the Dolphins, it'll be one last chance to gauge the readiness of Grant, Kenyan Drake, Leonte Carroo and other key reserves.
None of the aforementioned sophomores is expected to start Week 1. But that's not the point. The NFL season is a war of attrition, and the difference between good teams and great ones is depth.
The Dolphins were a good team last year. But injuries sapped their strength down the stretch, and they flamed out of the playoffs in the first round because of it.
And yet, the biggest jump players make comes between Years 1 and 2, and these young Dolphins are right on track.
Xavien Howard, taken in Round 2, has been the Dolphins' best corner in camp. The knee injuries that derailed his rookie season look to be behind him, and with Byron Maxwell struggling, the Dolphins might even ask him to match up against teams' best receiver this year.
Laremy Tunsil, Miami's first-rounder in 2016, is back at his natural position: left tackle. And while he's missed much of the summer tending to a personal issue, Tunsil insists he's ready for the season.
“There's always room for improvement,” said Tunsil, who allowed a strip-sack against the Eagles last week. “That's how I always look at it. I'm always hard on myself. I'm looking for something to improve. I can't be comfortable in myself.”
The Dolphins need both to play well this year, because they really have no other good options.
But if they blossom into stars, 2016 has a chance of being the Dolphins' best draft in a decade.
Because Carroo, Drake and Grant all have the look of playmakers.
Carroo, a cut-up behind the scenes who Drake compares to “one of those fat, chubby kids that you can't take seriously,” is no longer overweight.
He sculpted his body after an invisible rookie season, and has earned a roster spot he was probably gifted a year ago. Carroo's highlight of the summer was a 33-yard touchdown catch against Atlanta.
Likewise, Grant answered his wake-up call. After a rookie season plagued by drops, he's handled every punt during the preseason without a miscue. And he played far bigger than his size (generously listed at 5-7, 169 pounds on Miami's roster) during a 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown a week ago.
“Lionhearted,” Tunsil said of his diminutive teammate. “A short guy, but lionhearted. He's fearless back there.”
As for Drake? He has been the Dolphins' most efficient runner this preseason. Drake has averaged 5.3 yards on his eight carries, and has out-performed Damien Williams in the battle to back up Jay Ajayi.
The question with Drake, a dangerous weapon on offense and in the return game, is the same as it has always been: Can he stay healthy?
His time at Alabama was plagued by injuries, and during training camp, he suffered his third concussion as a football player.
To his credit, Drake isn't one of those players who summarily dismisses any worries about the long-term effect of head trauma.
“Of course” the three concussions are a concern, Drake told the Miami Herald. “Health is always the No. 1 factor. I'm going to do my best to get myself the best chance to be on the field as possible -- whether it's change of helmets, just being more cautious in practice. Some things you can't control, but there are a lot of factors you can control.”
▪ The Dolphins had interest in free agent cornerback Joe Haden, cut by the Browns Wednesday, but lost out on him to the Steelers. Haden agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with Pittsburgh, ESPN first reported.