In 1997 Jimmy Johnson’s drafting wizardry was on full display with the Miami Dolphins. Yes, the team’s No. 1 pick that year was ill-fated. Receiver Yatil Green, of the Miami Hurricanes, suffered an ACL knee injury on the first day of training camp, endured 10 surgeries on that right knee in three years, and soon faded from the league as damaged goods. Yet it was still a great draft.
That’s because the second round that year delivered a premier cornerback in Sam Madison, and the third round brought a future Hall of Famer in defensive end/sack machine Jason Taylor.
Those two formed the fresh nucleus that led to seven consecutive winning seasons, five straight playoff appearances and, in 2000, the last Dolphins team to win a postseason game.
This franchise has done precious little winning since, fading entirely from national relevance.
I revisit this bit of Dolphins history for context. Because I believe what we have just seen the past few days has the potential to have been Miami’s most important and impactful NFL Draft in more than 20 years, since Taylor/Madison.
Three primary reasons:
1. Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, taken 13th overall, shows every indication of being a star, a fixture on the D-line for many years. And his lockerroom presence is just as good. He will be a culture cornerstone, an instant leader.
2. I believe in Josh Rosen’s continuing potential to be a franchise quarterback, and it was a steal of a deal to get him for a low second-round pick and a fifth-rounder. It is a low-risk, high-reward situation. If he blossoms, great. If he doesn’t, there’s still Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm in 2020. Meantime, in Rosen, you have a safety net, a potential elite QB just in case the whole “Tank for Tua” thing doesn’t pan out.
3. The stockpiling of additional draft picks for next year. Miami has 12 as of now. That could grow to 14 with expected compensatory picks for losing Ja’Wuan James and Cam Wake in free agency. So the Fins in 2020 figure to have a very high No. 1 pick, then at least two picks in every other round. That’s a ton of ammunition to fill needs.
This isn’t to suggest Miami’s draft was perfect. There were too many needs and too few picks for it to be. The need for an edge rusher, someone to scare opposing quarterbacks, went unmet, for example.
But Rosen is the unexpected wild-card in all this. The bonus. A potential huge prize at a buyer’s price.
He has developed a reputation for a prickly personality. He is very smart and doesn’t mind you knowing it. An infamous quote while at UCLA has dogged him: “I don’t need football.”
Rosen clarified Monday during a 10-minute introductory news conference, saying he simply meant, “If football is taken away from me, I don’t need to go to the streets and start selling drugs.”
Rosen hit all the rights notes.
Said, “I couldn’t be more excited to be here. It’s very rare you get a second chance to make a first impression.”
And said, “Yes,” and quickly, when asked if he think he can be this team’s franchise quarterback.
Rosen also displayed humility.
“It’s my job every day, every hour, every minute, to prove that I’m the guy,” he said.
He referred to Dan Marino as “Mr. Marino.” Which was cute. ”Hopefully I can follow in some semblance of his massive footsteps.,” he said.
For the Dolphins this offseason and this draft have been about kick-starting the roster reboot, and I believe new coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier are doing it right.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. graded Miami’s draft a ‘B,’ above average, and said the deal for Rosen made “a lot of sense,” calling him a “super-talented signal-caller” and noting “he’s on a cheap deal for the next few years with his signing bonus already paid, so even if he’s not the long-term answer, it will be easy to move on.”
Rosen, by the way, had a draft grade of 92 last year. The top-graded QBs in this draft (Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins) were both at 90. Do not place too much weight on Rosen’s rocky rookie year for Arizona. Plenty of QBs blossom after rough career starts. Jared Goff comes to mind.
Todd McShay, ESPN’s other draft expert, loved Miami’s third round pick, too, versatile offensive lineman Michael Deiter from Wisconsin. He said Deiter “could be the answer at guard or center, both of which are big needs,“ adding, “He gets a good push in run blocking and can anchor well in pass protection.”
Christian Wilkins looks like a great selection. Miami is loaded up for picks in 2020. And as for the polarizing debate on Rosen, I call it no-lose for Miami.
Rosen may very well live up to potential and become the star quarterback Miami has longed for ever since Mr. Marino retired.
If not, there’s always the fallback of the QB-rich 2020 draft.
The Dolphins will have their franchise quarterback.
I have a hunch maybe they just got him.