Armando Salguero

Past performance a sign of future success? An in-depth look at Miami Dolphins drafts since 2016

The bye week is a time for NFL teams to evaluate and reflect, and the Miami Dolphins will spend the next couple of days doing that -- in the hope they can find some wins in the season’s final 12 games.

And because this is a time for evaluation, it’s fair to do that with an area of the franchise that will be at the center of the coming rebuild: The personnel department.

No, there is no draft in the coming weeks. But an evaluation of the front office now in this time of evaluation could offer hints how things will go in future drafts, which is the hope Miami is clinging to as the reason for 2019’s demolition and eventual rebuild.

There’s hope among fans that Miami’s front office, armed with five first-round draft picks the next two seasons, can bring championship football to Miami.

But we all know it’s not just about having high picks. It’s about making the right picks and then developing those players into stars.

Example:

The most dynamic quarterback in the NFL now is Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. He was picked with the No. 10 overall selection in 2017 by a Chiefs front office that found itself with the 27th pick of the first round the morning of the draft. But the Chiefs traded No. 27 and a third round pick (No. 191) plus a 2018 first-round selection, to vault 16 teams, including the Dolphins -- several of which needed a quarterback -- to land Mahomes.

The Dolphins that year? They picked defensive end Charles Harris at No. 22 overall.

It wasn’t that the Dolphins (and others) did anything wrong by not recognizing Mahomes and his amazing potential. It was just that the Dolphins (and others) did nothing right in not recognizing and then chasing that amazing potential.

(By the way, the argument the Dolphins didn’t chase Mahomes because they had Ryan Tannehill as their starter does not work. The Chiefs had Alex Smith, who is like Tannehill except better, and they went after Mahomes.)

Anyway, as the Dolphins continue their work toward their multiple top pick, including perhaps the first pick in the 2020 NFL draft, it makes sense to look at how the personnel department has done in the drafts since 2016.

Because general manager Chris Grier headed every Dolphins draft since 2016. And he’ll head the 2020 draft.

And one way to predict the likelihood of future success is to measure past performance. To that end, Miami’s last four drafts and their results...

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2016

Round 1: LT Laremy Tunsil. Comment: Tunsil is a very good player who started at left guard his rookie year and moved to left tackle afterward. He was considered a conerstone player until Grier traded him and Kenny Stills for two first-round picks, a second-round pick and other considerations. It was a mega-trade in which Grier yielded perhaps his second-best pick ever for an enormous draft haul and the promise of something much better in 2020 and beyond.

Round 2: CB Xavien Howard. Comment: This pick was a home run. Howard is a Pro Bowl cornerback and Miami’s best player right now. Period.

Round 3: RB Kenyan Drake. Comment: The running back has delivered some great moments, such as last season’s Miami Miracle. His 4.3 speed is elite. But his ball security is inconsistent, especially lately, and for whatever reasons two coaching staffs have resisted trusting him. Still not a solid pick, although the New England Patriots picked guard Joe Thuney five picks later and he’s started every game the team has played since.

Round 3: WR Leonte Carroo. Comment: A significant bust, not only because Carroo never contributed significantly but also because the Dolphins gave up a third- and fourth-round pick in 2017 to trade up to select Carroo.

Round 6: WR/PR Jakeem Grant. Comment: This was a good pick in that Grant adds speed to the Miami special teams and can occasionally factor on offense. Sixth-round picks rarely contribute for a long time and Grant has done that, although he has also struggled at times with inconsistent hands.

Round 6: DB Jordan Lucas. Comment: He stuck around for a couple of years but was not developed before he moved on to Kansas City where he’s a backup. Nothing wrong here. Nothing right, but nothing wrong.

Round 7: QB Brandon Doughty. Comment: At least the Dolphins picked one in this draft. Not a good one, but the seventh round is the NFL equivalent to a dice table in Las Vegas.

Round 7: TE Thomas Duarte. Comment: He stuck around a couple of years before being released. Nothing to see here.

OVERALL: Very good draft in that it brought two excellent starters at cornerstone positions (LT and CB). The Dolphins also developed those two players. Amazingly, everything was done right with those two players and yet the team is not fully enjoying the fruits of that now.

2017

Round 1: DE Charles Harris. Comment: Hope that Harris won’t be a bust has all but faded now that he is failing to make plays under a second coaching staff and second defensive system. It won’t be long before Harris loses his job to Taco Charlton. Very disappointing.

Round 2: LB Raekwon McMillan. Comment: A colleague turned to me Sunday and made the point McMillan is having a great year. I asked how he can be having a great year when he lost his starting job in training camp and is a two-down linebacker when he was picked to be a three-down linebacker? McMillan is a solid player against the run. But make no mistake he has not fulfilled the vision the team had for him when he was selected. Also Alvin Kamara and Cooper Kupp, both of whom the Dolphins liked, were picked after him and both are outstanding.

Round 3: CB Cordrea Tankersley. Comment: The amazing thing is the Dolphins knew Tankersley had “tight hips,” meaning he took an extra moment to turn and redirect in coverage, and they took him anyway. And guess what? When he was healthy, Tankersley struggled on the field because he has tight hips. Tankersley endeared himself to the team on his pre-draft visit. But his post-draft production hasn’t lived up to the early love.

Round 5: OG Isaac Asiata. Comment: Great guy. But didn’t take well to zone blocking which was problematic because the Dolphins were a zone blocking team. He’s gone.

Round 5: DT Davon Godchaux. Comment: A late-round gem. Godchaux has started 25 of 35 games in his three seasons and it could be argued he’s the best pick of the 2017 Dolphins draft. A star? No. But certainly a good NFL player.

Round 6: DT Vincent Taylor. Comment: I cannot criticize this pick because it was made by a team looking to play a 4-3 front and the Dolphins are not that exclusively anymore, which led to his being cut this year.

Round 7: WR Isaiah Ford. Comment: Nothing wrong with this pick. The Dolphins rolled dice on a small bet. Nothing lost here.

OVERALL: This is significant reason Miami is a bad team. The Dolphins wanted to upgrade their defense with this draft and failed to do that at every turn except with Godchaux. Said another way, the Dolphins spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars scouting, investigating and pick this class to find a reserve linebacker and rotational interior defensive lineman.

2018

Round 1: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. Comment: The Dolphins could have picked better players, but they nonetheless picked a good player. The problem is the current coaching staff didn’t develop him and somehow all the amazing character traits the team believed made Fitzpatrick such a safe pick didn’t help when he wanted to be traded because he wasn’t getting his way. So did the Dolphins miss it here? Of course. Luckily for them, they get a re-do next year with the first-rounder they got from Pittsburgh in trade. But the point of any pick is to tangibly help the team on the field, and while that isn’t important in this tanking season, it becomes significantly important starting in next year’s draft.

Round 2: TE Mike Gesicki. Comment: The Dolphins picked Gesicki with the No. 42 overall selection. Philadelphia picked tight end Dallas Goedert with the No. 49 overall pick. Goedert is the better player. So is TE Mark Andrews, who Baltimore picked in the third round. So is TE Chris Herndon, who the Jets picked in the fourth round. And it’s not just that the other three are better tight ends than Gesicki, it’s that Gesicki is not a contributor of any consequence in Miami. He is not a good blocker, has not been a red zone threat, and otherwise has not developed into the mismatch problem for defenses the Dolphins hoped.

Round 3: LB Jerome Baker. Comment: He’s a net-plus for the team and that’s great for a third-round pick. But he’s still undersized (weight) and can get pushed around in the run game. Again, when the team’s third-round pick is helping the cause more than either the first- or second-round pick, that’s good news for that pick. But not necessarily good news for the team.

Round 4: TE Durham Smythe. Comment: Nothing wrong here. He’s a blocking tight end who occasionally produces in the passing game. That’s what the Dolphins drafted him to be and that’s what they got.

Round 4: RB Kalen Ballage. Comment: The Dolphins hoped Ballage could be a Jay Ajayi re-do without the drama. Well, no drama here that I know of. But no production, either. The troubling thing is the coaching staff looked at Ballage this year and saw a starting RB, a short-yardage and goal line beast, and a solid pass catcher out of the backfield. He has not been any of those things this season while given ample opportunities. And now, the expectation is the opportunities will begin to diminish.

Round 6: CB Cornell Armstrong. Comment: I liked this pick and this player. He was good on special teams, he was coming along learning to play his position. But this coaching staff didn’t see him as a good player so they went with more familiar defensive backs, who by the way, are not very good.

Round 7: LB Quentin Poling. Comment: Nothing to see here. The Dolphins liked his speed and the possibility he’d be a special teams contributor. He wasn’t.

Round 7: K Jason Sanders. Comment: This seemed like a dubious pick because Sanders had a poor field goal percentage in college but former special teams coach Darren Rizzi straightened that out in 2018 and Sanders was excellent as a rookie, connecting on 18 of 20 kicks (90 percent). Rizzi moved on to New Orleans. And now Sanders is 4 of 7 ( 57 percent) and 0-for-4 on kicks of 40 yards and beyond. This needs scrutiny the remainder of the season.

Overall: The Dolphins currently have one good starter on offense and defense to show for this draft. One.

2019

Round 1: DT Christian Wilkins. Comment: Nothing significantly wrong here so far. But nothing amazing, either. He’s learning and he’s trying to improve. He played well against San Diego (with the exception of a dumb penalty) after getting handled by Dallas. The team hopes Wilkins continues to grow and improve. Readers of this space know I liked Brian Burns for the Dolphins. He went to Carolina three picks after Miami selected Wilkins. Burns has 2.5 sacks in four games. The Dolphins have 5 sacks as a team.

Round 2: QB Josh Rosen. Comment: No, he wasn’t drafted again this year but everyone understands the Dolphins gave up a second- and fifth-rounder for Rosen in trade so here he is. He’s started two games and played in two others. Everyone says he’s good when he gets time to throw the football. Every professional quarterback is good when he gets time to throw the football. That is not a feat. What makes quarterbacks good is when they recognize coverage pre-snap, when they read defenses quickly once the ball is snapped, and when they deliver accurately even while under duress. Amid all those circumstances Rosen has completed 51.2 percent of his passes with 1 TD and 3 interceptions. Doesn’t mean he cannot become a good quarterback. It does mean he’s a developmental quarterback worth keeping even as the team explores multiple other contingencies at the position -- including picking one in the first round next year.

Round 3: LG Michael Deiter. Comment: He’s a starter, which is usually considered a plus for such a young player, but the truth is he’s probably not starting on a better team. Deiter struggled early this season but is improving lately. He was better this game than he was earlier so he’s definitely trending in the right direction.

Round 5: LB Andrew Van Ginkel. Comment: On injured reserve.

Round 6: RT Isaiah Prince. Comment: He looked horrible in training camp. But that was a month ago and he represented himself well on Sunday against the Chargers, considering he was playing very good ends in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, until he got hurt. It was a very pleasant surprise. It speaks to the coaching staff developing Prince. Does it mean he’s going to take off? No. But it is a fantastic first start, all things considered.

Round 7: RB Chandler Cox. Comment: He’s a special teams contributor so far. That’s fine.

Round 7: RB Myles Gaskin. Comment: Well, he’s been inactive every game and is behind Patrick Laird, Drake, Mark Walton and Ballage right now.

OVERALL: Four games is not the time to judge a draft. This draft is here to serve as a small piece of the greater whole.

And where does this all leave us?

Owner Stephen Ross looked at this work, in January of 2019, and thought it was pretty good.

I look at this work and it doesn’t speak to me as awesome. Grier has to do better. I believe he knows that.

Under normal circumstances where Tunsil and Fitzpatrick do not get traded while they’re still on their rookie contracts, these drafts (not considering 2019) have produced one Pro Bowl player (Howard), one very good player (Tunsil), one good player (Fitzpatrick), five solid players (Drake, Godchaux, Grant, McMillan, Baker) three significant busts (Harris, Gesicki, Carroo), and multiple disappointments.

The Dolphins must get better results the next three drafts. Because this is not good enough.

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