Winners & Losers: Seven Dolphins Players Significantly Affected by the 2016 Draft
The NFL Draft is the premiere medium for football teams to accrue new and exciting talent. A “good draft” can make or break an organization’s fortunes as they try to find the future superstars of the sport. However, the influx of low-cost talent doesn’t necessarily impact all parties positively. Veteran players are often cast away or relegated to a lesser role in order to make way for their younger counterparts. Conversely, many veteran players benefit immensely from the new blood coming in to fill glaring roster holes and provide healthy competition at other positions. The Miami Dolphins’ veteran players are certainly not exempt from this rule, and we’re sure to have a better idea of who’s benefiting in the coming weeks now that training camp is officially underway. In the meantime, here are both the players that we believe benefited from the team’s draft class and the players that may have suffered.
Benefited: Jay Ajayi
When the Dolphins selected Kenyan Drake in the third round, their confidence in Jay Ajayi instantly became clear. Many analysts believed that the team would draft an all-purpose running back who would push Ajayi as the starter, but they opted for scatback Kenyan Drake instead. Drake’s skillset is a perfect complement to Ajayi’s, and it seems as though Drake will assume a third-down/receiving role behind Ajayi on the depth chart. The team’s lack of alternate between-the-tackles competition is enough to pencil in Ajayi as the team’s presumptive starter. However, this is not the only reason that the fifth round pick out of Boise State looks like the team’s starter ahead of this season. He showed some promise in limited snaps behind Lamar Miller last season, and it has even since been rumored that the coaching staff under Dan Campbell preferred Ajayi to Miller down the stretch. Unfortunately, the young talent was limited by broken ribs and lingering issues with his elbow and shoulder. Had Ajayi not been in and out of the trainers’ room throughout last season, we may have seen what he could do in a featured role much sooner.
Suffered: Kenny Stills
With their early third round pick of Kenyan Drake, the Dolphins showed the utmost confidence in Jay Ajayi. Their selection of Leonte Carroo just a few picks later was a mirror image for their lack of confidence in Kenny Stills. Make no mistake, Stills remains the presumptive 3rd receiver in Adam Gase’s offense and he should still see his fair share of snaps this upcoming season. However, the decision to use another third round pick on a wide receiver is indicative that the new coaching staff is not totally convinced that Stills is their guy. Since the organization traded a third round pick and Dannell Ellerbe to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for Kenny Stills, there has been quite a bit of chicanery going on in Miami’s wide receiver room. First, the team drafted DeVante Parker to assume the starting role opposite Jarvis Landry. Then, Joe Philbin’s staff buried Kenny Stills on the depth chart below Rishard Matthews and Greg Jennings. While Stills’ sheer talent and Dan Campbell’s competence led to more playing time late in the season, the new staff’s decision to draft Carroo should be concerning to Stills enthusiasts. Kenny Stills will most likely be pushed for playing time and may even lose his role if Leonte Carroo impresses.
Benefited: Ryan Tannehill
When Laremy Tunsil fell to the Dolphins with the 13th overall pick, I imagine that nobody was more thrilled than Ryan Tannehill. The 5th year quarterback has been cursed with an offensive line that has been inconsistent at best and an absolute dumpster fire at worst since he won the starting job in 2011. Pro Bowlers Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey are often injured, and the team’s lack of offensive line depth has allowed Tannehill to be sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL over the past three seasons. Bringing in a top-tier talent like Laremy Tunsil should stabilize the offensive line almost instantaneously. He will compete for a starting position as the team’s left tackle this season and has a floor as a starting guard over Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, Jamil Douglas, and Jermon Bushrod. Whether he beats out Branden Albert or not will be a huge storyline through training camp, and there are many that think he will do so sooner rather than later. Whatever happens this season, Tunsil projects as the franchise cornerstone left tackle of the future, and his presence in Miami could turn the team’s Achilles heel into a legitimate strength down the line.
Suffered: Branden Albert
Miami’s selection of Laremy Tunsil has made Branden Albert much less valuable going forward. Albert, while still talented in his own right, has been rendered ineffective at times due to his rather extensive injury history. He’s also 31 years old. So, when you factor his injuries, age, and bloated salary it’s not difficult to visualize the team cutting ties with him in the near future. Albert may be able to stave off the rookie from assuming his starting tackle role, but it is more likely that Albert is forced to move to left guard at some point in the season. Most tackles are able to play as effective interior O-lineman, and there’s reason to believe that Branden Albert can do the same. He actually played left guard for most of his college career at the University of Virginia, while future NFL Pro Bowlers D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Eugene Monroe were starting left tackles. Even in the event that Albert becomes an effective starter at left guard this year, the front office will not pay the aging veteran to continue to perform at his current salary past this season. If Albert wants to be a starting tackle in the NFL, he may have to look elsewhere in 2017.
Benefited: Jelani Jenkins
One position that the Dolphins did not address during the draft was their thin linebacker corps. Miami’s linebacker corps was among the least effective in the league against both the run and passing situations. The team added Kiko Alonso in their trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, but have done little else in the offseason to bolster the ailing unit. Enter Jelani Jenkins, who was arguably the most impressive of Miami’s poor linebacker unit in 2015. With little competition for the spot opposite Kiko Alonso, it is the former Florida Gator’s job to lose. While Koa Misi and Zach Vigil should push him for snaps, I think that Jelani Jenkins’ flashes over the last few seasons gave the team enough confidence to address other areas of concern ahead of their weak linebacker corps.
Suffered: Cameron Wake
I believe that just about every position group on Miami’s defense improved in the offseason. Well, every position but the defensive line anyway. The starting lineup on the defensive line should still be fierce with Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, Cameron Wake, and All-Pro Mario Williams as the starters. But the defensive line has a glaring lack of depth behind these four, particularly on the edges, now that Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby are gone. Williams and Wake are both over 30, and Wake is coming off of an Achilles tear. At this point, the sackmaster would be best suited to a more rotational role, as Achilles injuries are notoriously difficult to return from. Because the team elected to leave the defensive line without new blue chip talent, Wake will have to produce early and often. If anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Cameron Wake. However, I’m not totally comfortable putting him at risk of reinjuring his Achilles before he’s 100%. Wake definitely would have benefited from a young defensive end to split snaps with while he works his way back from injury.
Benefited: Jarvis Landry
The team drafted “offensive weapon” Jakeem Grant with the first of their third round picks. Grant was nothing short of prolific as a wide receiver throughout his career at Texas Tech, but he does not project as a receiving talent at the next level. However, he should immediately assume the majority of the Dolphins’ returning duties from Jarvis Landry. This is perfect timing, as Landry should not be risking injury quite so often given that the offense relies so heavily on his services as the team’s best wide receiver. Now that Landry has a Pro Bowl pedigree and has earned his status as Ryan Tannehill’s security blanket, there is no reason to continue to risk his health for the sake of the special teams’ performance. The presence of Jakeem Grant, who had four return touchdowns in his college career, should allow them a seamless transition as Jarvis Landry continues to prove that he is a rising star at in the NFL.