Greg Cote

All eyes will be on Dolphins' top pick at minicamp, but the pressure will be elsewhere


The Miami Dolphins' rookie minicamp this week, Friday and Saturday on the team's Davie campus, will find most eyeballs riveted on top pick Minkah Fitzpatrick. Most of the pressure won't be on the player, though. No, the onus is squarely on the team to have made the right choice with a draft selection so high.

That would be unusual, based on this franchise's recent track record, and this is the fundamental reason — the starting point — for the Dolphins' decades-long malaise.

Miami for the most just hasn't done really well with really high draft picks.

Fitzpatrick is the 15th player selected 11th overall (his slot) or higher, and the 14 previous are a wildly uneven mishmash of notable early-era successes and monumental misfires.

To get to Fitzpatrick, the Alabama free safety of such potential, yet a flawed diamond, we follow a chronological trail of the team's highest draft picks:

Spectacular failure birthed this whole thing.

The Miami Dolphins selected Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with the draft's 11th pick, adding a dynamic defensive back who can play all five positions.

The newborn Dolphins had the first and second overall picks in the 1966 AFL expansion draft, and also the ninth overall pick. Whiff, whiff, whiff. All strikeouts. Running back Jim Grabowski, the No. 1 pick, spurned Miami to sign with the NFL Green Bay Packers and had a less-than-middling career. No. 2 Rick Norton, the "bonus baby" quarterback, flopped with seven TD passes and 30 interceptions in four seasons before flaming out. No. 9 Frank Emanuel was an OK linebacker for a few years.

Spectacular success followed those first misfires.

In consecutive drafts the Dolphins hit big with QB Bob Griese (fourth overall) in 1967, RB Larry Csonka (eighth) in 1968 and defensive end Bill Stanfill (11th) in 1969. This was among the trove of treasure soon inherited by Don Shula thanks to the craftwork draft work of then-personnel guru Joe Thomas. It was no coincidence Super Bowls soon followed.

With the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama. Adam Beasley grades the Dolphins on the pick.

Miami would never again hit so big with a top-11 draft pick, and it would be two decades before the chance even availed itself.

RB Sammie Smith (ninth overall in 1989) proved a colossal disappointment who quite literally got booed out of town after three seasons.

Left tackle Richmond Webb (ninth, 1990) was an A grade stalwart who made seven Pro Bowls.

Cornerback Troy Vincent (seventh, 1992) was a very solid starter for four seasons;' unfortunately, Miami let him go in free agency and all of his best years (and five Pro Bowls) came as a Philadelphia Eagle.

After a long gap the Fins finally had another top-11 pick in 2005 in RB Ronnie Brown, but he proved an OK-but-underwhelming selection for a No. 2 overall. He missed 20 games injured in six seasons, topped out at 1,008 yards rushing in 2006 and made one Pro Bowl before being let go.

Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier talks about their selection of Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with the draft's 11th pick, adding a dynamic defensive back who can play all five positions.

Dolfans booed when receiver/return man Ted Ginn was chosen ninth in 2007, and booed further when coach Cam Cameron bragged what a great family he had. But here's the thing. In retrospect Miami gave up on him too soon. Ginn remains in the league, at 33 with the Saints, as a productive complementary speed receiver.

Tackle Jake Long arrived first in the whole draft overall in 2008, and four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons followed before the injuries also did. He was gone after five seasons in Miami — not much for a No. 1 overall. (Especially when they could have drafted QB Matt Ryan).

Next: QB Ryan Tannehill, eighth in 2012, and six years later we're still debating if he's good enough, the question now compounded by a couple of knee injuries.

Of course Tannehill was a home run relative to the nightmare of '13: Defensive end Dion Jordan, third overall, and after a major trade up no less. High among all-time Dolphin draft failures.

Now comes Fitzpatrick, tied for the fourth-highest defensive player ever drafted by Miami, embossed with the Nick Saban/Alabama seal of approval, but also arriving as an undersized, too-slow-for-the-NFL cornerback now being called a free safety even though he has barely played the position.

Fitzpatrick is the 15th player drafted this high in 53 franchise years, and he had better be great.

More than that, the Dolphins had better be right.

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