Barry Jackson

Analysts sharply divided on how Dolphins did in this draft

Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Florida after an interception during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship in 2016. The Dolphins used their first-round pick on Fitzpatrick.
Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Florida after an interception during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship in 2016. The Dolphins used their first-round pick on Fitzpatrick. AP

The Dolphins draft generated a wide range of opinion among draftniks, with one prominent analyst raving about it and two others ranking it worst (or tied for worst) among all teams.

ESPN’s Todd McShay loved it:

“The Dolphins have been getting killed for years in middle of the field, teams picking on them, whether it’s athletic tight ends, Gronk [Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski], skilled receivers. Now they are bringing guys [who can solve that]. Jerome Baker is not a great run defender. He’s not going to take on many people. What he can do is he is going to give you range sideline to sideline, He can cover slot receivers, can cover tight ends and is great at covering running backs. Two areas they needed, tight end and underneath coverage, they really addressed that with high-end players. I really like their draft.”

McShay calls Baker the Dolphins’ best pick: “Instead of giving up picks, the Dolphins were patient and got a player in the third round who could've gone in the second. Baker is today's NFL linebacker (4.53 40-yard dash at combine). He's not going to take on blocks, but he can cover running backs and tight ends, and work sideline to sideline. Great pick for Miami.”

On the other end of the spectrum is NFL Draftbite’s Chad Forbes, who gave Miami an F in his final draft grades.

“Dolphins [worse] football team today than 3 months ago,” he ranted on Twitter. “All while hitching wagon to QB [who's] expensive and oft injured? Safeties don’t move the needle. Top 12 Picks should. And Gesicki runs completely contrary to commitment [to] run game. Two best adds were [guard Josh] Sitton/[center Daniel] Kilgore.”

Some others weighed in:

ESPN’s Louis Riddick, who has been justifiably critical of the Dolphins in the past, took a measured approach: “They need to be able to defend tight ends. They got bludgeoned in the middle of the field. They picked players who play between the numbers. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a star position player. He will take your best tight end and he will blanket him. If he doesn’t do it, Jerome Baker is one of those guys who is a fast flow linebacker. These are very strategic picks by the Dolphins. I hope to see if they can utilize them correctly.”

Mel Kiper gave the Dolphins a C plus, tied with five others for his lowest grade.

Kiper’s comment on “This has been an interesting offseason of change for the Dolphins, who have parted ways with several important players, including Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey, Jarvis Landry, Jay Cutler and Julius Thomas. Yes, they've added Robert Quinn, Josh Sitton, Danny Amendola, and Albert Wilson. But there are still some sizable holes on the roster. I hear "culture" blamed, but at some point you have to be accountable for what's on the field. I put the entire offensive line on my list of questions because no spot outside left tackle Laremy Tunsil should be set, and they needed depth at several other positions. Snagging Minkah Fitzpatrick at No. 11 is a great value. I thought he was a top-five player in this class, but teams got a little scared because he doesn't have a true position. He's a little bit of a tweener who doesn't have true safety measurables. The Dolphins just need to get him on the field. This is one of Nick Saban's favorite players ever. Mike Gesicki (pick 42) is going to slot straight into Thomas' spot, but he's not going to block anybody. He's a slot receiver with a big -- and super athletic -- frame, and he has good body control. Jerome Baker (73) is a true cover linebacker with range who will be a core special-teamer and help out on third downs. As McShay pointed out, the defense has been shredded by tight ends, and Fitzpatrick and Baker help. Durham Smythe (123) is a better blocker than receiver. Kalen Ballage (131) is the guy to watch in this class. Surely Adam Gase doesn't expect to play Gore on every down, and Ballage caught 82 passes in his career. The one big question coming out of this draft: Where was the quarterback? Miami is really going to go into the 2018 season with Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler as its top two QBs. I can't give a "B" here.”

Here’s how Pro Football Focus rated the draft:

Day 1: Minkah Fitzpatrick is a fantastic fit for any defense, but perhaps even more crucial for the Dolphins in the AFC East as they look to eventually overtake the Patriots. Fitzpatrick excelled in Alabama’s “star” role where he covered well from the slot, played the run as well as any corner, and showed well as a blitzer. Covering tight ends and slot receivers is as valuable as ever in today's NFL and Fitzpatrick is one of the few players in the draft who has already shown that skillset in college. His three-year production was consistent, as he graded between 81.8 and 88.4, doing his best work in 2016 when he picked off six passes and broke up eight more on only 61 targets.

Day 2: Miami continued their theme of winning in between the numbers with the additions of Mike Gesicki and Jerome Baker. Gesicki crushed the NFL combine and he adds a long, athletic option at tight end. He’s not much of a blocker (50.5 run-block grade in 2017 was career-high), but he had the highest contested-catch rate in the nation among tight ends (75.0 percent) and his long frame allows him to make spectacular catches. Baker adds a much-needed athletic linebacker to the mix though he did his best work in 2016 with an 87.7 overall grade that dropped to 80.9 last season. He’s strong in man-coverage looks, but must improve when playing zone.

Day 3: Durham Smythe showed promise as a run-blocker with an 80.2 grade in 2016, but he regressed back to 54.3 last season. Kalen Ballage could become a pass-game weapon as he has good size and athleticism, and his 86.6 receiving grade from 2016 is the number that gives hope that he can become a better pro than college player. He struggled as a runner in college, grading at only 69.2 last season while averaging just 2.8 yards after contact per rush during his career. Quentin Poling graded between 83.0 and 86.8 in all four years of his career and his run-stop percentage of 10.8 ranked 23rdamong linebackers in the draft class in 2017.”

And there was this from’s Chad Rueter: “I can't blame them for taking Fitzpatrick, though, as he will push Miami's defense -- not just secondary -- to another level. With Julius Thomas no longer on the team, the Dolphins needed to find a tight end. Gesicki is a phenomenal athlete, like Thomas, but scouts were concerned about his long strides preventing him from winning against veteran defenders. He'll be tough to defend against on jump balls, though. Miami needed a linebacker, and Baker can move. They met their top defensive need with that pick. Miami got another tight end in the fourth round, landing a solid blocker/receiver in Smythe. Ballage was a steal in the fourth round, as well, for a team that needed a good, young player at the position behind Frank Gore. They decided not to address the QB position, which may or may not be a good strategy given Ryan Tannehill’s injury history. Offensive and defensive tackle should be high on the priority list when signing undrafted free agents.”

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