Greg Cote

Dolphins see in Charles Harris their best defensive No. 1 draft pick in more than 20 years

Miami Dolphins first round draft pick Charles Harris, 90, runs with kids during a flag football game at the Fins training camp, May 16, 2017. Members of the Miami Dolphins rookie class host Special Olympics Florida athletes from Broward and Miami-Dade counties to promote physical fitness in the South Florida community. Dolphins rookies will play flag football games and referee games with Special Olympics Florida athletes in grades 6th-12th.
Miami Dolphins first round draft pick Charles Harris, 90, runs with kids during a flag football game at the Fins training camp, May 16, 2017. Members of the Miami Dolphins rookie class host Special Olympics Florida athletes from Broward and Miami-Dade counties to promote physical fitness in the South Florida community. Dolphins rookies will play flag football games and referee games with Special Olympics Florida athletes in grades 6th-12th. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

We heard quarterback Ryan Tannehill creatively come up with a dozen or so ways on Thursday to say his left knee – the one that kept him from the playoff game last season and now bears a precautionary black brace – is swell, fine and perfect, so quit worrying.

Who's worrying? Tannehill and this Dolphins offense are going to be solid. Too many weapons not to be.

It is the other side of the scrimmage line where doubts about Miami reside. Defense is why the Vegas over/under on Fins wins this season is a mere 7 ½, an unequivocal slap of an insult to a team coming off its first 10-victory season in eight years.

For this reason, while all other media eyeballs were trained on Tannehill's every move Thursday, I was watching recent first-round draft pick Charles Harris, the defensive end out of Missouri who was on the practice field for the first time as a Dolphin.

Wednesday he signed a four-year, $10.9 million contract. The next day, he was out there starting to earn it.

Miami Dolphins beat reporter Adam Beasley assesses the Dolphins' first-round pick, Charles Harris out of Missouri.

The defense is what must hugely improve if Miami is make a habit of this playoff stuff, and a good starting point would be big and immediate impact from the No. 1 draft pick.

Harris is off to a great start, if first impressions matter. I liked the pick from the start. Now his new teammates are seeing for themselves.

“Explosive,” was veteran pass rusher Andre Branch's word for Harris. “Very explosive and he's willing to learn. He doesn't think he's bigger than the D-line or bigger than the team.”

Left tackle Laremy Tunsil dueled directly with Harris several times during the two-hour indoor practice.

“Nice. Nice,” Tunsil began his description of the rookie. “He knows how to turn his hips, use his hands. He's quick off the ball.”

The Dolphins need those two to be across-the-line mirrors of each other. Cornerstones. Tunsil figures to be a fixture as the blindside blocker for many years, with greatness seen for him. Harris needs to be the same in terms of getting to the other team's quarterback – the heir to Cam Wake.

Harris' attitude is a desirable mix of humble and cocky.

“I feel like another rookie that just came in, working my way up from the bottom,” he said after being the draft's 22nd overall pick.

But he also said this in describing his propulsive first step after the snap, a flash-of-a-move that leaves tackles watching in the rear-view mirror as he engulfs their QB: “One of the best you'll see, for sure. I'm blessed with a mindset to try to be the best.”

People always ask a No. 1 draft pick about feeling pressure, but there is little on Harris. He comes into an ideal situation, off the bench, in an end rotation with veterans Wake, Branch and William Hayes.

0103 DOLPHINS MINICAMP 050517
The Dolphins' Charles Harris speaks to the media at Miami Dolphins minicamp at the Dolphins training facility in Davie on Fri., May 5, 2017. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

There is pressure surrounding Harris, though. It is squarely on Dolphins personnel bosses Mike Tannebaum and Chris Grier, who made Harris the team's top pick and need to be right – need him to blossom into a long-term defensive star.

That would be a revelation.

Few teams in recent NFL history have neglected defense with the No. 1 draft pick more than Miami, or fared more poorly when defense was prioritized.

Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener in 1996 was the last No. 1 pick on defense who unequivocally succeeded in fulfilling that top billing. Miami has spent its No. 1 pick on defense only six times in the 21 years since.

I cannot call cornerback Vontae Davis, the 2009 top pick, an unqualified success, because he spent only three seasons with Miami and didn't start making Pro Bowls until his trade to Indianapolis. (Bad trade, too. Not only did the Fins give up on a budding talent. They got a second-round pick for Davis and wasted it on bust-corner Jamar Taylor).

Now fathom this: Not since defensive tackle Tim Bowens in 1994 has Miami drafted a defensive player No. 1 who went on to make the Pro Bowl in a Dolphins uniform. Only one other NFL team (Cincinnati) has as long a drought in that category.

Miami Dolphins first-round pick Charles Harris talks to the media on May 5, 2017.

That is why Tannenbaum and Grier need to be bull's-eye right on Harris.

So is this: Miami's previous No. 1 pick used on defense, in 2013, was Dion Jordan, a monumental bust further accentuated by the fact the team traded up to get him. Google the phrase “epic failure” and up should pop a photo of Jordan.

On a franchise pass-rush scale that runs the gamut from Hall of Famer Jason Taylor at the pinnacle to Jordan in the gutter, Charles Harris needn't be Taylor in terms of career accomplishment, or even Wake.

How about closer to Wake than to Jordan, though? That would seem to set the expectations bar pretty reasonably.

That also would be enough to give the Dolphins something elusive, dearly needed and long-missed: Their most successful defensive No. 1 draft pick in more than 20 years.

Fins first round draft pick Charles Harris, and other Miami Dolphins rookie class host Special Olympics Florida athletes from Broward and Miami-Dade counties to promote physical fitness in the South Florida community. Dolphins rookies will play fl

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