If only the Dolphins problems could be solved as easily as they are to identify. There are myriad reasons for this sustained mediocrity, this 68-96 record over the last decade, but start with this:
Before drafting promising Laremy Tunsil and Xavien Howard this past April, the Dolphins drafted 18 players in the first and second round between 2008 and 2015. Those players should be the experienced nucleus of your team, your high-end talent.
You know how many of those 18 are above-average players for the Dolphins today?
Two: Mike Pouncey (who missed the first four games with a hip injury) and Jarvis Landry. That’s dismal, a track record impossible to overcome. In fairness, DeVante Parker has a good chance to join that list.
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The others of those 18?
Ten are gone: Jake Long (while the player picked two spots after him, Matt Ryan, is scorching hot for Atlanta and an early-season MVP candidate), Vontae Davis, Jared Odrick and second-rounders Phillip Merling, Chad Henne, Pat White, Sean Smith, Daniel Thomas, Jonathan Martin and Jamar Taylor.
Another, Dion Jordan, is injured and has been a bust. Koa Misi – who missed three games last season and five the year before – will miss his second game of 2016, on Sunday, with a neck injury.
That brings us to the remaining three of the 18 --- Ryan Tannehill, Ja’Wuan James and Jordan Phillips - three the Dolphins were hoping would become high-end players.
Some buzz on each:
• Tannehill, as usual, is in the bottom half of NFL quarterbacks (25th) with an 87.3 passer rating, down a bit from last season, and on pace for a career-high 20 interceptions, and with a weak 74.3 passer rating on third downs (a problem throughout his career).
On Sunday, he begins perhaps the most significant stretch of his Dolphins career, with the clock ticking toward his $18 million a year contract kicking in next March.
If he can’t excel now --- with four upcoming winnable games in the NFL’s longest-ever 44-day homestand, in year five of his career and first under an offensive savant head coach --- then when will he ever succeed?
Longtime former Packers/Raiders/Falcons front-office executive Ken Herock, who now works with prospects before the NFL draft, told me two years ago that Tannehill would always be a seven- or eight-win quarterback. His view hasn’t changed.
“I've seen enough of Ryan to know he's not going to change,” Herock said last week. “Too many inappropriate times with turnovers, interceptions, strip sacks. He’s just not consistent. What you are doing is getting teased to think there’s more there. I've had guys like that. Bobby Hebert, guys that can get you to 9-7 sometimes.”
Like Jeff George? “But he was so much more talented than Tannehill.”
• James, the 2014 first-rounder, has regressed to the point where the Dolphins can’t even be sure he’s a long-term starter, let alone the elite right tackle that offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen insists they believe he can be.
Both his run blocking and pass protection have been subpar, and one Dolphins person questioned his fire, noting that he never had any real competition, no sense that he had to fight for a job he was gifted --- at least until Billy Turner replaced him in overtime against Cleveland. But James got the job back quickly because of injuries, even though he didn’t earn it.
“I told you I didn't like him when they drafted him,” Herock reminded me last week. “That was a wasted pick for a first rounder. He should have been a third or fourth rounder. I questioned his strength, his recovery ability. Those are things I didn't see” in college.
The Dolphins picked James one spot ahead of receiver Brandin Cooks, who has 155 catches and 14 touchdowns in 30 games for New Orleans.
• During the 2015 draft, Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum pushed to trade down from 47 to 52 (to pick up a couple later picks) and take Phillips, seeing a potentially elite defensive tackle. Others in the front office liked guard Mitch Morse, who went 49th. Denzel Perryman also had some internal support; he went 48th.
Fast forward. Phillips has shown flashes this season, enough to raise hopes, but he was Pro Football Focus’ second-lowest-rated defensive tackle against the run last season and is 103rd of 115 this season, one of many reasons Miami is 28th against the run again.
Perryman, a starter in San Diego, is Pro Football Focus’ 43rd ranked linebacker; he’s a starter and has 22 tackles and a sack. Morse, a center who Miami viewed as a guard, has started for the Chiefs since being drafted.
But the player the Dolphins probably should have drafted was the 50th pick, Buffalo and ex-FSU cornerback Ronald Darby, who had 21 passes two picks as a rookie and is rated 29th among all corners this season by PFF.
Miami is still waiting on a return from Jordan. Herock was sitting in the Raiders’ draft room in 2013 when then-Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland traded the 12th and 42nd picks to move up to No. 3 to draft Jordan.
“When they traded with Oakland to take him, I said, ‘You got to be kidding me.’”
Bottom line, Herock said, is “I don’t think the [front office] the Dolphins have know how to put together the right team. Look at [3-1] Oakland. The talent has been upgraded.” (Herock’s son, Shaun, is director of college scouting there.)
“The coaches the Dolphins have had to go through don’t have a chance because of [poor] player procurement,” Herock said. “They need somebody who really knows personnel and can build a team. With this group they have now, it will continue like it is. You might hit 9-7 sometimes, but I don’t know if even that will happen there.”