Best/Worst Case Scenarios: How Will the Dolphins’ Draftees Perform as Rookies?

Laremy Tunsil

Best Case Scenario:

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(Brett Davis – USA TODAY Sports)

Tunsil’s off-the-field issues and his corresponding draft day fall to Miami have been well documented, but every step he has since taken to repair his image has inspired optimism for his future. Tunsil’s handling of the negative publicity continues to impress well into the offseason. With every question about the gas mask video, receiving benefits from boosters or altercations with his stepfather, Tunsil takes accountability but impressively refocuses the attention back to his performance on the field.

By training camp, it is clear that Tunsil will be playing at left tackle, his natural position, in order to maximize the performance of the entire offensive line. 32-year old Brandon Albert shifts to guard, masking the inevitable decline of his athleticism, while the Dolphins’ young prodigy is able to display the talents that had him in discussion for the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Tunsil starts from day one, immediately becoming the anchor for a position group that has desperately needed stability over the past few years. He quickly becomes the best friend of head coach Adam Gase. The Ole Miss standout protects the blindside of developing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, while acting as a weapon in the run game despite the lack of a standout at the running back position. He even gets his wish and records a receiving touchdown when lining up as a tight end against the Pittsburgh Steelers. By midseason, it is clear that the selection of Tunsil was one of the best in the entire draft.

Worst Case Scenario:

Despite the progress that Tunsil has seemingly made, his prior behavioral issues catch up to him much sooner than expected. He gradually seems to become distracted and unable to cope with the typical pressure of being a rookie in the NFL. Additionally the stress of consistently being evaluated under a microscope by the league, the franchise, and the public only makes it more difficult for him to adjust. To make matters worse, the pre-arthritic ankle injury that supposedly contributed to his draft day fall leaves him on the sideline for part of his rookie season as the team attempts to sustain his health long-term.

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(Justin Ford – USA TODAY Sports)

Although Tunsil’s future is undoubtedly at tackle, the coaching staff is unwilling to move Albert to guard after his Pro Bowl season in 2015. The former Rebel’s play remains solid, if not unspectacular, at his new position. His athletic abilities are evidently up to par, but he struggles at times as he learns the intricacies of the guard position. While his upside remains, he does not yet show the potential that had scouts considering him the top overall prospect throughout much of the draft process. Tunsil evidently must wait until his sophomore season to play at his natural position in order to ultimately provide the fan base the excitement that has been expected since his named was called in Chicago.

Xavien Howard

Best Case Scenario:

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(Jamie Squire – Getty Images)

Xavien Howard immediately starts across from Byron Maxwell in the Dolphins’ secondary. He shows exactly why Miami chose him in the second round and warrants claims about his fit in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme. He experiences the inevitable growing pains of a rookie cornerback, but follows every mistake with some obvious growth.

Despite a weak start to the season against the Patriots and Seahawks, he breaks out against Robert Griffin III and the Browns in Week 3. In addition to two passes defended, Howard gets his first interception since the preseason and returns it for 30 yards to set up his offense in the red zone.

He adds necessary weight to his frame, which assists him in his attempts to match up against the game’s biggest receivers and hold his own in run support. Additionally, with the help of the defensive backs’ guru Joseph and the constant support given by a deep safety, he shows clear improvements in technique, and is able to cut down on the penalties that plagued him throughout his time at Baylor.

Teams quickly realize that Howard is a force to be reckoned with and make him a bigger part of their game plan. By the end of the season, Howard has totaled 12 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 50 combined tackles, and a sack.

Worst Case Scenario:

The former Baylor standout fails to claim the starting job across from Maxwell. He shows potential, but isn’t nearly as ready to contribute as the team expected when they spent their second round selection on him. Veteran receivers take advantage of his tendency to grab in coverage, and he remains a liability in run support, making it difficult for Joseph to keep him on the field.

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(Ronald Martinez – Getty Images)

His ball skills are still obvious, but he can’t seem to put himself in the right situations to display them. In turn, Howard totals just one interception in the entire season. Faster receivers consistently victimize him, and the concerns regarding his ability to track the ball in the air are obvious from the first snap of his NFL career. Joseph often successfully employs a deep safety to help offset these weaknesses, but this move takes away from some of his play calling flexibility and creativity.

Howard has his bright spots, particularly against the Dolphins’ weaker competition, but struggles with consistency throughout the season and surrenders far too many big plays. Even fellow rookie Corey Coleman of the Cleveland Browns beats Howard for a touchdown, and he predictably didn’t fare any better against the receiver corps in Pittsburgh and Arizona. Overall, Howard’s first season didn’t inspire much confidence in his ability to develop into a number one corner.

Kenyan Drake

Best Case Scenario:

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(Marvin Gentry – USA TODAY Sports)

By midseason, former Alabama afterthought Kenyan Drake finds himself in a full-on committee in the Miami backfield. He plays in nearly all third down and obvious passing situations, while also relieving starter Jay Ajayi on early downs at times as well.

Drake amazes Dolphins fans with his first-class explosiveness, consistently breaking off big plays in the run game and through the air. Gase takes advantage of his versatility by lining him up all over the field: in the backfield, out wide and in the slot. With a series of reverses, screen passes, and double moves, Gase makes sure to utilize Drake in ways that take advantage of his speed and play making ability.

He scores his first touchdown of his young career in Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans… on a kick return. This gives him momentum as the team enters a pivotal stretch against the Steelers, Jets, and Bills. While he doesn’t seem to have a fantastic statistical season, he impacts the game in so many different ways that the numbers are deceiving. He accumulates close to 1,500 total all-purpose yards and takes an immeasurable amount of pressure off of Ryan Tannehill, Jay Ajayi, and even Jarvis Landry. For these reasons alone, Miami’s biggest surprise pick of the 2016 NFL Draft immediately pays dividends.

Worst Case Scenario:

The Kenyan Drake experiment fails miserably. As predicted, his patience and vision are subpar at best. He relies on his speed far-too-often, bouncing his runs to the outside on the majority of his carries and failing to prove that he can make teams pay in between the tackles. This leaves Ajayi as the only Dolphins’ back capable of making a true impact on the early downs.

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(Matthews Emmons – USA TODAY Sports)

Unfortunately, Drake doesn’t transition into his role as third-down back as seamlessly as hoped either. He struggles with drops as he attempts to pick up Gase’s advanced offensive schemes and largely disappoints in pass blocking as well. While his few inevitable home run carries allow him to continue receiving opportunities in Miami’s offense, his inconsistency in an area that was supposed to be his strongest attribute leaves a lot to be desired out of a third round pick. Plus, while the team rewards him with kick off return duties early in his rookie season, he eventually loses the job after a series of returns that failed to reach the 20-yard line.

Additionally, he deals with multiple nagging injuries to his lower body throughout his rookie season. Not only does this stunt his early development, but it also has the team worrying that his legs may not hold up later on into his career. For a player that relies so much on his explosiveness, multiple leg injuries this early on can be extremely detrimental to his chances at success in this league.

Leonte Carroo

Best Case Scenario:

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(Jim O’Connor – USA TODAY Sports)

Fans understandably questioned the selection of Leonte Carroo due to the depth that the Dolphins seemed to have at wide receiver and the supposed weaknesses at other position groups (specifically guard and linebacker). Yet by the end of the season, Carroo verifies why the front office finally resorted to the “best player available” strategy with his selection. He beats out Matt Hazel for the fourth receiver spot and impresses even in his somewhat limited action.

He shows the smarts and necessary skillset to gain separation both from the slot and on the outside, which obviously helps him get onto the field, especially in obvious passing situations. He spends the first half of his rookie season gaining the trust of the coaching staff, utilizing his impressive hands to move the chains on a few key third downs against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football as well as against the Bills a few weeks later.

When Devante Parker once again falls victim to his own feet, Carroo finally moves into three-receiver sets. He scores his first touchdown in his second career start (against the 49ers in Week 12) and continues his strong play until Parker returns in Week 14. His performance to end the season inspires confidence in the coaching staff, allowing them to let Kenny Stills walk in 2017. Leonte Carroo spends his first year learning about the intricacies of the position, and what it takes to stay out of trouble off the field, from Jarvis Landry; the dividends are obvious as he progresses through his career.

Worst Case Scenario:

The top three wide receiver slots were quite obviously filled heading into the new season, but many expected Carroo to at least supplant Hazel for the fourth receiver spot. Instead, he remains stationary at five on the depth chart. His average explosiveness leaves him struggling to find ways to beat NFL-caliber defensive backs and, while he was able to outsmart college corners in order to gain separation in his routes, he doesn’t exhibit the same success in his rookie season at the next level.

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(Andrew Mills – NJ Advance Media)

More significantly, however, off-the-field concerns create worry about his ability to handle an NFL career. While Carroo seemed to have a skillset similar to that of Landry’s coming out of the draft process, the biggest difference was in their demeanor. Both are undoubtedly competitive, yet Landry has a desire to be great that is unmatched. Miami drafted Carroo knowing that for someone who had his fair share of suspensions in college, even the slightest loss of focus could’ve sent Carroo into a downward spiral. In this case, the decision backfired.

Jakeem Grant

Best Case Scenario:

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(John Weast – Getty Images)

Gase gets creative in order to make use of sixth round pick Jakeem Grant. With Landry, Parker, Stills, Hazel, and Carroo all ahead of Grant on the depth chart, there isn’t much playing time to be had. That doesn’t prevent him from making an impact, however. He gets his first real game action in sub packages when Parker deals with his inevitable foot injuries. Even when the entire receiver corps is healthy, Gase makes it a priority to at least occasionally get Grant into space to take advantage of his electrifying talent.

With a series of reverses, screens, swing passes, and routes out of the backfield, Grant has multiple opportunities to display his incredible shiftiness. While he doesn’t always take advantage of these chances, he shows enough to warrant consideration for a bigger offensive role in 2017. He accumulates a couple of plays for 20+ yards, in addition to a seven-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the fourth quarter of a blowout game against the Cardinals in Week 14.

Grant’s most significant contributions come on special teams. He takes over for Landry in the punt return game and beats out fellow rookie Drake for kick return duties as well. While he puts the team in bad field position a few times on kick returns as he attempts to make the big play, he more than makes up for it each time his ambition pays off. He brings much of the same excitement that Landry was able to bring, but helps Miami take their star player out of unnecessary harm’s way. In other words, Grant turned out to be exactly what the team hoped for when they spent their first sixth round pick on him.

Worst Case Scenario:

Gase attempts to get Grant involved as much as possible despite the depth at the position. However, for the most part, these attempts fail. Grant struggles to adapt to the speed of the NFL game. The “you can’t hit what you can’t catch” mantra remains, but avoiding defenders proves to be much more difficult at the next level. He runs around the field like a chicken with his head cut off, only to lose yards on the majority of his limited possessions.

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(Sue Ogrocki – AP Photo)

From the moment he was drafted, Grant was in the thick of punt/kick return competitions. However, those hopes quickly deteriorate. He struggles throughout training camp and fails to prove himself during the preseason. The former Red Raider consistently gets stopped prior to the 20-yard line on his preseason kick returns, and he even fumbles on a punt return against the Falcons in the third preseason game. He seems as if he is trying to do too much, and the coaching staff becomes worried that his size may result in future troubles holding onto the ball as well.

Despite how exciting he can be with the ball in his hands, his future seems bleak after his rookie season. He unfortunately reminds teams of the undersized former third round pick and new Buffalo Bill Dri Archer, who has failed to make an impact in the NFL despite his unbelievable speed. The overly optimistic hopes that he could eventually develop into a reliable slot receiver seems ridiculous at this point, and he may never make an impact on the Dolphins’ special teams. The franchise moves on from their 2016 sixth round pick much sooner than expected.

Jordan Lucas

Best Case Scenario:

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(Joe Hermitt – PennLive)

Jordan Lucas becomes an instant favorite of Joseph’s due to his obvious versatility and leadership skills. He spends time at both cornerback and safety throughout the season, putting his experience to good use all over the defensive backfield to fight his way onto the field as a rookie. Despite only being provided limited opportunities, he remains in the good grace of the coaching staff because of his reliability. This sets him up for more work down the road, which is all you can really ask from a sixth round pick.

Lucas becomes a valuable contributor on special teams as well. He excels in both kick and punt return coverage, and he even blocks a field goal. While he continues to develop his defensive game, his performance on special teams is his most significant contribution and maintains his standing as an option further down the road.

Nonetheless, he seems to pick up Joseph’s defensive schemes relatively well in the action that he was given, and he adds strength to his thin frame throughout the season. This assists him greatly in his ability to stick with bigger receivers as well as in run support. Evidently, by the conclusion of the 2016 season, Lucas seems ready to increase his role in 2017.

Worst Case Scenario:

The former Nittay Lion’s athletic weaknesses are evident from the start of training camp. He has subpar strength and speed, which severely hamper his ability in coverage. While Miami has seemed to favor him as a corner, he still needs a ton of development in this regard. This takes him out of consideration for cornerback and leaves safety as his only path to playing time on defense, at least in his rookie season. Unfortunately, there doesn’t expect to be many opportunities at safety behind incumbent starters Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

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(Joe Hermitt – PennLive)

Lucas struggles with Tony Lippett and Michael Thomas for playing time throughout the season, but fails to separate himself from either. He is weak when mirroring receivers, which is an obvious setback for defensive backs. Additionally, he has average-at-best ball skills and is a liability in run support despite his obvious desire to excel in this area. These two aspects make it nearly impossible for Joseph to confidently employ Lucas in his zone heavy defense.

Fortunately, he manages to stick on special teams, but doesn’t stand out in any one area and remains a question mark heading into the next season. With the pass defense still struggling, Miami chooses to address the cornerback position with a high pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, sending Lucas even further down on the depth chart. While the franchise clearly approves of his work ethic and value in the locker room, it is difficult for them to hold onto a player that has no clear future with the team.

Brandon Doughty

Best Case Scenario:

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USA TODAY Sports

Many questioned the decision to draft a quarterback when some of their biggest and most apparent needs had gone unaddressed up to that point in the draft. Nonetheless, they added Western Kentucky star Brandon Doughty to the mix, and in this scenario the move plays big dividends.

Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback of both the present and the future for the Miami Dolphins; this much can’t be denied. However, current backup Matt Moore, while reliable for the time being, is getting up there in age and won’t be able to maintain a high enough level of play forever. Doughty’s production in college is almost unheard of and seemed to warrant taking the chance.

Doughty easily beats out Logan Thomas for the third quarterback slot on the depth chart along with a spot on the 53-man roster. Gase recognizes the weaknesses in arm strength and athleticism but values his game management skills and football smarts. These traits alone make it likely that he can develop into the reliable backup quarterback that every team needs for their roster a few years down the road. In 2020, Doughty takes over for an injured Tannehill and makes a huge impact on the team in relief, much like AJ McCarron did for the Bengals this past year.

Worst Case Scenario:

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(Raymond Carlin III – USA TODAY Sports)

Doughty receives every opportunity to beat out Thomas and make their active roster but crashes and burns in the preseason. He throws multiple interceptions while attempting to make passes that his arm strength clearly won’t allow, and he seems overwhelmed by the level of competition that he is now facing. He also gets sacked a few times, as he lacks the athleticism and quick decision making needed to avoid the loss of yards. The team seems to quickly realize, due to his performance in primetime and on the practice squad, that Doughty’s college production isn’t going to translate to the next level.

Linebacker Stephen Weatherly, selected just a few picks after Doughty, finally realizes his amazing potential for the Minnesota Vikings and makes the Miami Dolphins what they could have been had they held out on drafting the small school quarterback. Plus, they have to spend yet another pick on a quarterback within the next couple of years as they hope to find and develop their future number two.

Thomas Duarte

Best Case Scenario:

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(Kelvin Kuo – USA TODAY Sports)

Gase spends his first season as head coach experimenting with some of the new tools at his disposal, Thomas Duarte included. The UCLA standout lasted until the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but always seemed to have a lot to offer a team, especially one with an offensive minded head coach. Gase recognizes that Duarte, despite an obvious position, can be used as a mismatch: a player that is bigger than most cornerbacks but faster than most linebackers and safeties.

The path to playing time is understandably difficult as a late round pick that will be forced to play behind Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron, and Dion Sims regardless of what position group Thomas Duatre is officially a part of. Nonetheless, he shows glimpses during the preseason and impresses enough at practice, earning him some playing time in sub packages later on in the season. He proves that he can be a vertical threat as well as a safety blanket for Tannehill if and when he is finally given his first true opportunity.

The addition of Duarte puts an exclamation point on a draft class that seemed focused on adding weapons to the offense’s arsenal.

Worst Case Scenario:

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(Joe Robbins – Getty Images)

Duarte injures himself prior to his first preseason game, leaving him unable to display a versatile skillset that had scouts comparing him to Jordan Reed while costing him valuable practice time. Gase appreciates what he has to offer, but struggles to find a place for him at the beginning of his career.

There is a ton of talent in front of him already, and the cards are stacked against him as a seventh round pick. His weakness as a blocker makes it extremely difficult for Gase to employ Duarte in a game setting. With Cameron and Sims in the mix, two tight end sets were never truly a possibility for Duarte in his rookie season. Cameron and Sims get through the 2016 season mostly unscathed, making the need for a third tight end minimal. By the end of his rookie year, Duarte seems destined for the practice squad, at least for the near future.

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