The Miami Dolphins have told you they always want to pick the best player available in the draft.
And you believed it? Just like that?
The truth is the Dolphins might pick the best player available when they are on the clock during the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday. But that player will almost definitely meet a need.
Because in ranking the players to determine which is best, the Dolphins move up players that meet needs.
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So this team will draft the best player, but depending on need.
“Well, when you build your board, you’re always building it for the Miami Dolphins, for your team," general manager Chris Grier said last week.
"When you build your rosters, when we say best player available, you’re still looking at your roster because we’re building it for the Dolphins.
"We’re not just saying ‘Hey, the NFL says this guy is the best player so we’re going to put him up at No. 1.’ There may be … I’m not just saying us but you may have a team that has four quarterbacks and they feel good about their starter and the backup. The quarterbacks here in this draft are good players but they may not have them ranked that high in the draft because they’re building their board for their team needs.”
In other words, need plays a huge part in how the Dolphins rank their players to determine the almighty BPA.
“Yes," Grier said, "because you’re always building for your roster."
So it is pretty clear that the Dolphins will prioritize meeting needs throughout this draft and that tells you a couple of things about the first two or three rounds:
Because the Dolphins need starters — not just players who might add depth but actual starters — at strong-side linebacker (or some combination of outside linebacker) and at tight end — the team will definitely move up players in those positions to value them as best players available.
What does that mean tangibly?
Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia's Roquan Smith are going to be very high on the Miami draft board. Boise State's Leighton Vander-Esch, more likely a middle of the first-round pick based on talent alone, might get bumped up to a position where the Dolphins might pick him at No. 11 based on their need.
And Alabama's Rashaan Evans, perhaps a late first-round or early second-round talent, becomes a serious factor in a first-round trade-down scenario for the Dolphins to meet their linebacker need.
Again ... need.
Need, by the way, comes in levels.
Former Dolphins general manager Rick Spielman, executive vice president Bill Parcells and then general manager Jeff Ireland would have lists of needs as follows ...
Must have: This is about getting a player at a position where there is not much (or anyone) on the roster capable of filling the spot. This year, the Dolphins lack a starting outside linebacker. They must have one in this draft.
Need: This is about getting a player at a position that is seriously lacking. The team can probably get by if you don't fill the need, but you're much better off if you fill the need. This year, the Dolphins need a tight end.
They have A.J. Derby, MarQueis Gray, Gavin Escobar and Thomas Duarte. They also have Anthony Fasano waiting in the wings as a possible free agent addition if Miami doesn't find someone else. So the Dolphins have some options but none are optimal. This is a need.
Want: This is about getting a player at a position where you want to upgrade the team but you can reasonably get by if it is not addressed. For the Dolphins, the release of Ndamukong Suh created a desire to add talent at defensive tackle. Jordan Phillips and Davon Godchaux seem poised to start, with Vincent Taylor in reserve.
But these are all solid players, not blue-chippers. And Phillips is in the final year of his contract. So the Dolphins want to upgrade here. This adds value to a possible Vita Vea selection. But if the Dolphins don't address the position early in the draft, that's acceptable.
The Dolphins also want to pick a quarterback who can, at the very least, be a viable backup quarterback and at best can be the starter in the future. It would be great to find that guy. But as Miami has a starter in Ryan Tannehill and a backup in Brock Osweiler, this is more a want than a must have or pressing need.
Would like: This is considered something of a luxury, and most Dolphins fans worth their aqua and orange would tell you this category includes a long list — coverage safety, running back, offensive lineman at both guard and tackle, perhaps even a cornerback because you can never have enough good cornerbacks.
The truth of the matter, however, is the priority level the Dolphins put on these positions won't be as great as the "must have" or "need." It would take a generational type talent being available here for Miami to pick a player at positions categorized as "would like."
By the way, the positions slipped into the different categories above can be subjective.
Maybe the Dolphins think quarterback is a more pressing problem than someone else and so they see it as a need rather than a want. Or perhaps the team's focus on receivers this offseason — they added Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson and got Isaiah Ford back from a knee injury — decreases the urgency on adding a tight end.
The opinion of the team's brain trust is what matters in setting position groups into the different categories.