Dolphins DE Charles Harris is the ‘last man standing’ after an exodus of veteran defensive ends
Thursday morning’s announcement by the Miami Dolphins that they waived two players, placed one on injured reserve and signed three prospects was most meaningful in that it was another hit for the 2017 draft class.
The team signed young offensive linemen Kyle Fuller and Tony Adams, along with edge rusher Nate Orchard. In the corresponding moves, Miami waived center Kirk Barron, placed receiver Ricardo Louis on IR and waived injured guard Isaac Asiata.
And Asiata, a 2017 fifth-round pick, thus becomes the most obvious miss in a draft class that has so far had more misses than hits.
Asiata leaves the Dolphins after playing only two games — one in 2017 and one in 2018. On a team that is hungry for offensive line talent, Asiata was unable to find his footing. He spent much of his time on the practice squad in 2018 — even as injuries ravaged the line and the Dolphins had to bring in free agents to fill voids.
And the frustrating thing about this pick is that Asiata was drafted out of Utah with the 164th selection. And with the 190th selection the Los Angeles Chargers selected Sam Tevi, who was on the same offensive line as Asiata at Utah.
And Tevi was a backup as a rookie. And last year he started 15 games and won the starting right tackle job for the Chargers ahead of Joe Barksdale, who opened the door for Tevi when he got injured and then was cut when he got healthy because Tevi won the job outright.
Somebody in the Dolphins’ personnel department studied the same Utah offensive line and picked the wrong guy.
And that begs a look at the rest of that ‘17 draft class:
First-round pick Charles Harris has three career sacks. He collected two of those sacks as a rookie and last season seemingly regressed with fewer sacks, fewer solo tackles, fewer starts and fewer games played.
This season will be important for Harris because he’s getting a new opportunity to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker that is perhaps better suited to his 6-3 and 250-pound frame than 4-3 defensive end.
Harris actually will get that chance ahead of anyone else because, frankly, the Dolphins lack edge players, which is one reason the team added Orchard. (Orchard doesn’t fully solve the lack of quality pass rushers, either).
So Harris must do something he hasn’t done the past two years which is produce.
The third-round pick from the 2017 draft, Cordrea Tankersley, has been continuing his rehabilitation from knee surgery. He has missed all of the offseason conditioning program and the OTA sessions so far. He is not expected to be ready to compete any time this offseason, and the start of training camp remains in serious doubt.
This isn’t good news for a player who had a solid rookie season — starting 11 games when injuries and roster moves thrust him up the depth chart. But last season, after he entered training camp as the starter, Tankersley quickly lost the job even while the Dolphins were searching for a legitimate starter opposite Xavien Howard.
(Come to think of it, the team is still searching for a legitimate starter at the boundary corner opposite Howard).
Tankersley at times found himself behind undrafted free agent Torry McTyer and 2018 sixth-round pick Cornell Armstrong. Dolphins coaches at the time understood Tankersley was drafted despite being stiff in the hips — a trait that affected his ability to do what coaches needed on the field.
When the Dolphins were so depleted at cornerback they turned back to Tankersley as an option in late October 2018, he tore the ACL in one of his knees and was placed on the IR. I saw Tankersley around the team facility in recent weeks and he was still walking with a noticeable limp.
It would not shock if he starts training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
And none of that suggests Tankersley is going to come out of the gates roaring when the regular-season begins. His third NFL season is already looking like he’s going to have to rally — at least the second half of the year — to turn things around.
Luckily, not the entire 2017 draft class has been a bomb so far.
Second-round pick Raekwon McMillan missed his entire rookie season. Early last season, when the Dolphins put McMillan in the middle of their defense at MLB and asked him to be a three-down linebacker, the second-year player looked more like a two-down linebacker.
And not a good one, at that.
But McMillan got better as the season went on, and he was playing way better toward the end of the season. He collected his career-high number of tackles (10) in December against Jacksonville. He forced a fumble in late November. He finished with 105 total tackles.
So this is encouraging.
But this offseason McMillan is learning a new scheme that at times will make him one of two inside linebackers instead of the inside linebacker — so different assignments. And he’s going to have to do some catching up to factor when the Dolphins go to a 5-2 look because that will more likely keep Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker on the field as the two ‘backers.
Same for Miami’s nickel package. McMillan must improve to factor in sub packages and be a three-down linebacker, which is what general manager Chris Grier expected him to be when he was taken in the second round of 2017.
Amazingly, the most productive players of the 2017 draft class came at the end of the class.
Both Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, the team’s fifth- (second of two picks that round) and sixth-round picks in 2017, respectively, have been productive.
Godchaux has been a starter in 21 of his 31 career games. He has been productive and durable during that time.
Godchaux is one of only eight NFL DTs to miss one or fewer games since 2017. So, generally, on game day, this guy is ready to contribute. And he has definitely contributed.
He was third among all rookie defensive linemen with 40 tackles in 2017. The two guys ahead of him on that list — Dalvin Tomlinson for the Giants and Solomon Thomas for the 49’ers — were taken in the first two rounds of the draft.
The thing I like about both Godchaux and Taylor is they improved their second year. Godchaux had more tackles, more starts and was more prominent with his pass rush.
Taylor, who has been primarily a rotational player, last season had more tackles and more sacks in five fewer games than in 2017. Taylor played only eight games before being placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.
But Taylor was cleared from toe surgery earlier this offseason and has been taking part in the offseason program and OTAs. So the injury hasn’t been an issue.
Both Godchaux and Taylor will have to learn new techniques and be more versatile to factor in Miami’s defense when coaches go with a 3-4 look in 2019. But both will still be significant contributors in the 4-3 looks.
By the way, seventh-round pick Isaiah Ford has been practicing with the team and is battling for a roster spot but it’s going to be an uphill slog for him. Veteran receivers Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker and Brice Butler are seemingly entrenched so something significant would have to happen for Ford to crack that group.
So Miami’s 2017 draft class has so far yielded one player (Godchaux) who has been a consistent starter the past two seasons.
The first-round pick has so far disappointed, the second-round pick has to make a leap to stay on the field every down, the third-round pick regressed last season and is battling a tough injury situation now and the fifth-round pick just got cut.