New Strategy, New Success: Grading the Miami Dolphins’ 2016 Draft Class
Three things in life are certain. Death, taxes, and draft grades.
While it is unfair to evaluate a class of players before they have begun their professional careers, these report cards have become methods of delivering analysis and evaluation preferred by fans. So, here we are, rolling the dice on grades for the Dolphins’ eight picks in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The team entered this year’s draft with a new plan, coveting players who fit their specific team instead of drafting the best available prospects on the board. Many will criticize this, but it produced a class that shows some cohesion and gives us a sense of where the team is headed in their rebuilding process.
Round 1 (13th overall): Laremy Tunsil, OT Ole Miss
The Miami Dolphins could not have had a better first round. The team traded down from their original pick, acquired two starters in that move, and still managed to get a player who they should have had to trade up for.
Laremy Tunsil was the best prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft, and being able to grab him with the 13th overall pick is a godsend that cannot be passed on due to a two-year old video. Yes, there is a risk with Tunsil off of the field. However, does that risk make it a valid decision to overlook the best player in the class? No it does not.
This pick will fortify the Dolphins’ offensive line for years to come. If Branden Albert moves inside to guard for 2016 and Tunsil takes over as the blindside protector, the team’s greatest weakness in 2015 instantly becomes a strength for next season. It is hard to be as confident in the on-field ability of a prospect as experts are with Tunsil, and this consensus evaluation shows just how lucky the Miami Dolphins were on draft night.
For Laremy Tunsil, it was a very unfortunate turn of events. For the Miami Dolphins, it was as lucky as you could get during the draft. The team was able to secure information through Tunsil’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, who also represents Mike Tannenbaum and Adam Gase, and stop the slide for one of 2016’s most dominant prospects.
If Tunsil were completely clean off of the field, this pick would have been an A+. However, an A is pretty damn good.
Round 2 (38th overall): Xavien Howard, CB Baylor
This pick was one of the tougher to evaluate among those made by the Dolphins last weekend in Chicago. Unlike some of the other defensive backs in this year’s class, Howard fits Vance Joseph’s mold for the cornerback position flawlessly. He is a long, aggressive corner with good ball skills and a the correct abilities for zone coverage. Howard’s instinctiveness will go a long way towards helping him find success in the NFL.
Xavien Howard does have some deficiencies in his game. The most notable of these is speed. He struggles to stick with receivers deep, which means he will need safety help over the top. The problem is that the Dolphins usually play Reshad Jones in the box, which means Xavien Howard would have to hold his own for periods of time down the field. This is often a problem with zone cornerbacks, but Howard will need to improve his technique if he wants to avoid being victimized early in the NFL.
The Dolphins clearly saw a perfect scheme fit with Howard on the board, understanding that his instincts and ability to play in zone made him a prime candidate to develop and succeed under Vance Joseph. However, the team had to pay a steep price to make this pick happen. Clearly under the impression that the Bears would have taken Howard ahead of them, Tannenbaum and company sent a 2016 4th round pick to the Ravens in order to move up just four spots. This is a steep price to pay to cover a small amount of ground.
As a player, Xavien Howard is going to help the team, probably serving as a starter in 2016. Despite this, it is hard to not feel that there was better value later at cornerback, and that there could have been another player to fill an area of need available in their original spot that wouldn’t have required a trade.
However, I can’t fault the team for honing in on a player and committing to grabbing them. Howard might not have been the optimal pick, but he will be a definite improvement over the corners that the Dolphins currently have on their depth chart behind Byron Maxwell. Howard’s scheme fit and upside should satisfy Dolphins fans that hoped for help in the secondary during the draft.
Round 3 (73rd overall): Kenyan Drake, RB Alabama
Most knew that the Dolphins would select a running back at some point during the 2016 NFL Draft. However, most did not expect Drake to be the player whose name was called.
In retrospect, more analysts (myself included) should have honed in on pass catching back as a fit for the Dolphins. Adam Gase utilizes his running backs heavily out of the backfield, and Kenyan Drake is known to be a very good option in that area of the game. Drake was used often as Alabama’s slot receiver, showing how versatile he can be for the Dolphins on game-day.
Drake is a speedy player who will compliment the forceful running style of Jay Ajayi well. The Dolphins lost a homerun threat when Lamar Miller signed with the Houston Texans, and they needed to replace his explosiveness in the backfield. The team did so by drafting Drake, who served as the change of pace option when Alabama needed a runner whose style contrasted the power of Derrick Henry’s.
There are three main problems with this pick. The first is that the Dolphins selected Kenyan Drake very early. Yes, he is a perfect fit for Adam Gase’s system, but there were several running backs available in later rounds that also could have succeeded under the Dolphins’ new offensive mindset. C.J. Prosise is an example of a prospect who might develop into a better player in the NFL, showing a great deal of promise despite his inexperience at the position last year. The second issue is that Drake was not Alabama’s starter. As a the backup to Hesiman winner Derrick Henry, Drake was never able to show us what he can do when in the flow of a game. The third issue is medical. Kenyan Drake struggled with injuries in college, having multiple surgeries before even entering the NFL.
Between the medical flags and the very real possibility that they over drafted Drake, it shows the value that Grier and Tannenbaum placed on making sure that Coach Gase has the players he needs to successfully lead the Dolphins to victories. Kenyan Drake’s upside is clear, but there is a very real risk to selecting a player who not only played a limited role in college, but also struggled to stay healthy.
Scheme fit once again saves the grade of a pick.
Round 3 (86th overall): Leonte Carroo, WR Rutgers
Most believed that wide receiver was not a true position of need for the Dolphins in the draft. While they are in great shape at the top of the depth chart, beyond Kenny Stills the unit was barren. They also have multiple impending free agents, with Kenny Stills’ contract up next year and Jarvis Landry’s expiring the year after. Between that and DeVante Parker’s injury history, the Dolphins needed insurance at the position.
Their need for another receiver paired perfectly with the draft board, as Miami started to see a player who they had ranked very high start to fall. Chris Grier and Mike Tannenbuam watched Leonte Carroo drop until they could not wait any longer.
This is the perfect situation for a team to trade up. When your board lines up favorably with player availability, it is an opportunity for you to strike on a prospect that other teams could be undervaluing.
Leonte Carroo is a tough receiver who uses his strong hands and route running to fight for contested passes. He plays with tenacity, attacking every catch as if it were a game-winning touchdown. Carroo exhibits a skill set similar to Jarvis Landry’s and will be another strong addition in the intermediate passing game. Expect Carroo to make an instant impact in Miami, and to become another reliable weapon to add to the team’s offensive stable.
The Dolphins’ trade up here was very costly, but they should be receiving a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2017 in wake of the Olivier Vernon departure, which will negate what they gave up to the Vikings to move up for Carroo. Miami’s 3rd round and 4th round picks in 2017 (as well as a 6th in 2016) were required to get back into the 3rd round for Carroo.
The only other downside of drafting the Rutgers star exists off of the field. He was charged with domestic assault, but later had the charges dropped. Carroo was also suspended for a curfew violation in college.
All in all, the Dolphins managed to move back up the board to secure a player they felt could add depth and provide instant impact for their offense. The front office paid a high cost, but brought in another weapon for Ryan Tannehill.
Round 6 (186th overall): Jakeem Grant, WR Texas Tech
This could be the most interesting decision made by the Dolphins in this year’s draft. A full 100 picks since their last selection, the Dolphins pulled the trigger on the ultimate wildcard: wide receiver Jakeem Grant.
Grant was a star for Texas Tech, posting very impressive numbers at the collegiate level. As part of their high-powered offense, he stretched defenses and hauled in passes en-route to 90 catches for 1,268 yards, and 10 TDs during his final year with the Red Raiders. Grant did so with blazing speed, displaying this ability again during his 40-yard dash at his pro day. For a brief moment, a 4.12 second hand time had scouts believing that Grant had broken the all time record. Digital clocking had him at a 4.31, while hand times put him in the high 4.2s. However, after watching Grant’s tape, I believe he could have set the record in the 40-yard dash on his best day.
So, you might be asking yourself why Grant wasn’t drafted on Days 1-2 given this ability and production. The answer is very simple.
This height is obviously a tough pill to swallow, but Grant’s game really doesn’t rely heavily on his size. He burns defenders deep, or takes short passes and creates big gains by making people miss on screens. He isn’t going to win contested passes or catch a fade in the end zone, but he can be a dynamic weapon.
Many felt that Kenyan Drake would be a special teams weapon for Miami, reliving Jarvis Landry of those duties. However Drake’s own injury concerns made that a tough ask. So, Jakeem Grant will most likely be the Dolphins’ primary returner in 2016. After a two TD returning season in 2015, in which he averaged 26.1 yards per attempt, Grant showed that he is up to the task.
Grant comes with a very specific niche as he escalates to the pros, and the chip he carries on his shoulder should have him working harder than anyone to make an impact in 2016. Hard work and perseverance go a long way towards making or breaking a career. Just ask Jarvis Landry or Mike Wallace for contrasting experiences.
If Grant can stay on the field, Adam Gase will be able to utilize him in a very exciting way on this Dolphins team. Selecting the speedster is interesting in its own right, but doing so in the 6th round, costing just a 7th round pick to move up 10 spots, is a great value. This pick should make the Dolphins’ offense very interesting in 2016 and give a huge boost to the special teams unit.
Round 6 (204th overall): Jordan Lucas, DB Penn State
We now go from the most interesting pick in the Dolphins’ draft to what is by far the least exciting. Lucas was a starter for multiple seasons at Penn State, contributing both as a safety and a corner. His athleticism is not overly impressive, but he is a willing tackler whose motor helps him make plays.
The Dolphins simply need bodies at defensive back. This pick is just a matter of getting someone onto the roster who can fill in at safety and cornerback. On game days, with a limited number of players who are allowed to dress, Lucas could be useful as the 5th corner and 4th safety on the depth chart.
After picking offense for the first five rounds, the Dolphins needed to get Vance Joseph some help eventually. Lucas should be an average contributor early and could become a solid option for the Dolphins to rotate in at safety and, if need be, cornerback.
Yes, the perfectly average grade for the perfectly average pick.
Round 7 (223rd overall): Brandon Doughty, QB Western Kentucky
This is the only pick that I truly hated during the Dolphins’ draft. Matt Moore was just signed to a contract and Zac Dysert was brought in as a camp arm. So, the Dolphins should not have felt the need to draft a quarterback after trading away resources in earlier rounds. I have no issue with moving up the board to get a player you value, but it means you need to be smart in your allocation of resources later.
The Dolphins did not address defensive backs heavily in the draft, and will need bodies at cornerback in 2016. Jamar Taylor, who was traded to the Browns with a 7th round pick to move up for Doughty, improved somewhat at the end of 2015 and could have been the 4th/5th corner in Miami during 2016. However, the team decided to trade up for a quarterback, netting them one lost defensive back and one camp arm who might not even make the roster.
This pick makes the least sense to me of any made by the Dolphins. I can’t fail it because I actually like Doughty as a player due to his accuracy and starting experience, but I cannot wrap my head around ignoring defensive needs to make this selection.
Taking a quarterback every year is good practice if you have a surplus of picks, but the Dolphins certainly did not in this year’s draft. Doughty could be a successful backup in the NFL, but the Dolphins needed defensive line, cornerback, and linebacker help much more than they needed another passer.
Round 7 (231st overall): Thomas Duarte, TE UCLA
Anyone who watched the Miami Dolphins’ Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants in 2015 knows that Dion Sims is not the answer at tight end in the long run. The team clearly needs to add a pass-catching option to compliment Sims’ ability as a run blocker.
That is where Thomas Duarte comes in.
The UCLA tight end, who also played wide receiver at times, will be a weapon for the Dolphins in the passing game. Last season, Jake Stoneburner was the third tight end and was used in place of Dion Sims in many pure passing situations. However, Stoneburner is not a dynamic offensive weapon.
Duarte will not be asked to run block excessively in Miami. On downs when the team knows they need a push for a first down, or a short gain, they will be able to bring in Dion Sims. When they go into 12 personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1 RB), they will be able to bring Duarte in to compliment Jordan Cameron. The two will be able to exploit linebackers in coverage and bully safeties due to size.
I was incredibly surprised that Duarte fell into the 7th round. He was a favorite of several analysts throughout the process and many believe he could develop into a player similar to the current tight end he compares well to: Jordan Reed. If Duarte can improve his blocking, he will be a very capable cog in the Dolphins’ offense. Even if he doesn’t, he will be able to have an impact in the passing game.
Adam Gase loves players who fill a specific role on the team and he now has a true pass-catching tight end in Thomas Duarte to pair with Jordan Cameron on passing downs. The team stole Duarte with their final selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Miami Dolphins went into the 2016 NFL Draft with a fresh approach. The team was clearly hell-bent on adding players who fit the schemes of Vance Joseph and Adam Gase, giving up several picks to manipulate the board and acquire players they placed a high value on. Many will criticize this approach, but it is far better than missing out on valuable pieces.
It could be argued that the Dolphins overvalued some of the aforementioned players, but they clearly are playing for upside with their picks in this year’s draft. Laremy Tunsil and Xavien Howard will be Day 1 starters. Kenyan Drake, Leonte Carroo, and Thomas Duarte will all be solid contributors as rookies. Jordan Lucas is a pure safe pick. However, nobody knows if Jakeem Grant will see the field beyond special teams, and Brandon Doughty might not even make the 53-man roster.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with it, the Dolphins clearly have a plan. Rebuilding the offense in 2016 will allow them to focus their attention to the defensive side of the ball in 2017, using free agents and the draft to add talent there next offseason. After watching the team fail miserably in previous drafts due to a lack of cohesiveness, it seems that the front office is finally in tune with the coaching staff, putting together a path that actually makes sense when attempting to rebuild the roster.
Final Grade: B+