Greg Cote

Dolphins roll dice in first round on off-field baggage at a position that wasn’t a pressing need

The draft-night photo of Dolphins No. 1 pick Laremy Tunsil that probably will stick in America’s mind wasn’t the picture of the Ole Miss offensive tackle posing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on that stage in Chicago.

More likely it was the photo of Tunsil appearing to be smoking pot from a bong, a shot someone apparently hacked into his Twitter account to post, before the photo and the account both quickly were deleted.

Tunsil’s college coach explained that the photo was from a few years ago. The player himself was asked about it on ESPN on Thursday night after being selected by Miami 13th overall and dodged the question with, “I’m blessed.”

There were rumors someone was trying to blackmail Tunsil before making public the incriminating image.

Give Miami credit. The franchise that has been flying under the national radar, mostly not winning and largely uninteresting since around 2000 managed to get itself some attention Thursday night, for better or worse.

Then again, in an ideal circumstance, this is not the clean entrance to the NFL most teams including Miami would craft for their new first-round draft pick.

If only this were the only baggage attached to Tunsil.

He has been dogged by ankle and leg injuries.

He was charged with domestic assault against his stepfather.

He served a seven-game NCAA suspension for accepting impermissible benefits including vehicle loans without payment and free airline ticket and rental car.

“You go through adversity in life,” the newest Dolphin said. “It’s what you overcome.”

Oh, does Miami need him to overcome!

Tunsil was among 2016 draft leaders in red flags, which is why he tumbled to Miami midround despite the raw talent and potential that had some projecting he might have been as high as the third overall pick if not for all of the off-field issues.

There seems to be a free-falling player in every draft, one dropping like someone plummeting past a high-rise window in a cartoon. This time Tunsil was that guy until Miami decided to catch him before he went splat

A risk pick is what this is. Not a safe one. And not even one that targets a particular need area on a team with many, many more pressing need areas.

Somewhat stupefying, is what this is.

Miami held to its pledge to select the highest-rated player left on its draft board, but in this case it is rolling dice on a major gamble.

It is an all-or-nothing selection for a franchise that cannot afford a first-round misfire.

Tunsil could prove himself a Pro Bowl talent, but he tumbled in the draft because his off-field issues also make him, more than most, a potential bust.

Good teams that have few pressing needs and can afford to gamble usually make picks like this one. New England comes to mind.

Teams that have greater needs to fill typically don’t assume such a risk.

If Tunsil were a cornerback with the same huge potential but high-risk baggage, I could better see it.

But Miami is set solidly for starting tackles with Branden Albert and Ja’Waun James.

Have the Dolphins deluded themselves to believe they are good enough to have the luxury to spend a first-round pick on the future rather than the present?

This is a bold pick. I give the Dolphins that. But it is a smart one? The right one?

The NFL Draft is America’s biggest sporting event that doesn’t involve two teams playing for a championship because of the intrigue of questions like this. And also of course because this draft is the grand intersection of pro football and college football, perhaps our two most passionately held interests.

Every draft is full of mysteries and doubts. At the top of this draft one team had to choose between quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, praying more than knowing that one might be Peyton Manning and not Ryan Leaf.

And what of Miami’s controversial 13th pick?

There are three No. 13 picks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Kellen Winslow (selected in 1979), Franco Harris (1972) and Bob Lilly (1961). There will be a fourth: Tony Gonzalez (1997).

Two Miami Hurricanes chosen 13th — Eddie Brown (1985) and Burgess Owens (1973) — both had solid NFL careers.

But of course there are also dozens of others 13s who mirrored the unlucky side of that number and fizzled to oblivion, their names unremembered.

What’s funny is the disproportionate interest paid the first round. This is where the talent pool is so abundant it is hard (theoretically) to not select someone who helps your team.

It is in the subsequent rounds, though, when smart teams feather their rosters by mining hidden gems.

Even the Dolphins found Jarvis Landry in the second round, Olivier Vernon in the third, Lamar Miller in the fourth, Reshad Jones in the fifth and Charles Clay in the sixth — all just since 2010.

Lest we forget the Patriots made the some guy named Tom Brady the 199th player chosen in 2000?

Yet it is only the First Rounder who enters the NFL stamped with the imprimatur of future star.

In judging Miami’s first round it is fair to include the earlier trade-down with Philadelphia from the eighth to the 13th pick — which brought cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso, both presumptive starters, to Miami.

So, in effect, the Fins got two defensive starters in the first round along with whatever Tunsil is to become.

That’s a windfall if each pans out.

But if, of course, is the huge variable hanging heavy over every team’s first round.

And Miami just drafted the biggest if of them all.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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