Miami Dolphins

Dolphins' top draft objective: Build a defense for the new NFL. Here's how they fared

Miami Dolphins fans cheer during the second round of the draft Friday night.
Miami Dolphins fans cheer during the second round of the draft Friday night. AP Photo

Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was more than the highlight of the Dolphins' 2018 draft.

He was the template.

"Fast and smart," said linebacker Quentin Poling, the Ohio linebacker the Dolphins took in Round 7. "Intelligent and speed. ... It's kind of what the direction of the game is going."

Poling was talking about himself, shortly after the Dolphins made him the draft's 227th pick.

But he could have been talking about nearly his entire class.

The Dolphins set the tone Thursday with Fitzpatrick, the "Swiss Army knife" defensive back selected by Miami in Round 1.

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier would go on to make seven more picks over the weekend — four on defense, three on offense and New Mexico kicker Jason Sanders with Miami's final selection — but when the picking was done late Saturday, he was still fired up that Fitzpatrick fell to the 11th pick.

"I didn’t expect Minkah to be there, honestly, with the first pick," Grier said, when asked about his No. 1 coup. "For me, he was probably, however you put it, probably one of the top five or six players in this draft. As we got calls after the pick, teams kept calling us saying, ‘Oh, he was one of the top 5 players in the draft.’ For us, the value at that point, it was surprising he was there."

Fitzpatrick will play free safety and can cover the slot plus tight ends. He runs like a corner, clocking at 4.46 at the Combine.

He immediately improved the Dolphins' team speed on defense. But Grier knew more was needed.

Which is why the Dolphins went with Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker in Round 3. And then he stuck to script on Saturday, using the 209th pick on Southern Miss defensive back Cornell Armstrong and the 227th on Poling.

Baker ran a 4.53 40 in Indianapolis. Armstrong was clocked at 4.45 at his Pro Day. Poling was sub 4.6 at his.

"He's fast, he’s athletic," Grier said of Armstrong, who was honorable mention all-conference with the Golden Eagles. "We feel like he’s got great upside. Getting that point in the draft, we were very excited add him. … He has a chance to be a good player for us in the future."

The Dolphins entered the weekend without any great options to cover the tight end. With Fitzpatrick, Baker and Poling, they might now have three.

This is not to say the Dolphins ignored the offensive side of the ball. Adam Gase is still the coach, so he was going to get some playmakers. After taking Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki on Friday, the Dolphins doubled down on the position by selecting Notre Dame's Durham Smythe with their first of two fourths.

Smythe is the yin and Gesicki's yang. Gesicki struggles to block. Smythe, who stands 6-5, 253, loves to. Both should see the field this year.

As should Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage, who ran a 4.44 at his pro day despite carrying around a massive chip on his shoulder.

"In my opinion, I don’t believe there are 130 guys that are better than me," said Ballage, taken 131st by Miami, "and definitely not 11 other running backs. It’s fuel to the fire and motivation for me and I’m just excited about the opportunity."

All of these picks filled needs. So did their last, kicker Sanders, hand-picked by special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi even though Sanders missed 10 of his 35 career field goals at New Mexico.

A couple of Dolphins needs went unfilled this weekend, however. They did not take a defensive tackle or a quarterback. The former will probably be addressed in free agency in the days to come. The latter? Miami will probably roll with Brock Osweiler and David Fales.

Still, it was a productive three days, particularly when you add in defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Stephone Anthony, veteran defenders acquired by the Dolphins for mid-round picks over the past few months.

“I think it’s still a work in progress," football czar Mike Tannenbaum said. "I think Adam, Chris and I sat down with Steve [Ross] after the season and talked about a lot of things. I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. We really like the group as a whole.

"I’m sure between now and opening day there will be some other changes," Tannenbaum continued. "There always are. That’s what our charge is, and that’s the fun part about our job, now that this is over. Maybe the media spotlight isn’t as bright, but there will be opportunities to improve. I feel like we’re going in the right direction but still a lot of work to be done."

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