Winners and Losers: Eight Dolphins Players Significantly Affected by the 2017 Draft
While the draft is exciting for prospects, coaches, scouts, and fans alike it is important to recognize that there are players whose lives became harder as a result of the 2017 NFL Draft. In regard to the Dolphins’ draft selections, there weren’t any that gave me much indication of being anyone’s specific replacement, but I’d be remiss not to speculate anyway. After all, the Dolphins’ front office did select defensive players with their first three picks for a reason. Regardless, the odds are overwhelmingly likely that at least one of them replaces a veteran in the near future. Additionally, there are some veterans who received a vote of confidence after the team decided not to draft any prospects at their respective positions. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the speculation. How does that sound, Greg?
Benefited: Reshad Jones
Before he went down with a shoulder injury, Reshad Jones was the Dolphins’ best linebacker, safety, and overall player. He still figures to be the dominant defensive back he has been over the last several seasons, only without so much weight on his shoulders this time around. After signing linebacker Lawrence Timmons to patrol the middle of the field, the Miami Dolphins used their 2nd round pick to acquire talented linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Considering Kiko Alonso was brought back on extension, the Dolphins could actually field a linebacker unit that fans can be excited about – a statement I never thought possible just a few months ago. Fielding a more competent linebacker corps could pay dividends for Reshad Jones, who should be able to be a more aggressive playmaker as a result. Assuming the acquisitions improve the on-field play in any regard, Reshad Jones may not have to tackle every running back that escapes Ndamukong Suh.
Suffered: Tony Lippett
All things considered, Tony Lippett is a good cornerback. He has athletic talent and a penchant for playmaking that consistently reminds me of his past as a wide receiver. Though he has grown much over the last few seasons, particularly last season, the cornerback room is becoming a little bit claustrophobic. Byron Maxwell will be the number one cornerback, but the starters beyond him are somewhat murky. Between 2016 2nd round pick Xavien Howard and 2017 3rd round pick Cordrea Tankersley, the Dolphins have invested a significant amount of draft capital into their laggard secondary. Xavien Howard is the presumptive starter across from Byron Maxwell, but can Lippett stave off Tankersley for the nickel spot? That remains to be seen. The cornerback unit’s well documented injury issues will leave the door open for Lippett to start throughout this season. However, I’m not confident in his ability to remain in the Dolphins’ plans in further campaigns.
Benefited: Cameron Wake
The Dolphins just drafted a pass-rusher in the first round, Charles Harris, who is widely seen as Cam Wake’s eventual replacement. So, how did Wake benefit exactly? Well Greg, I’m going to give you three reasons why:
- Cameron Wake is among the three best defensive players the Dolphins have on their roster (Reshad Jones and Ndamukong Suh are the others). There isn’t a rookie in the league (outside of maybe Myles Garrett) that can even hope to seize Wake’s starting job.
- Charles Harris is a long-term prospect and will need time to build muscle mass and adjust to the NFL. The only player whose starting job he is even remotely threatening is Andre Branch. This gives both Wake and the franchise time for Harris to grow into Wake’s role. Harris won’t be knocking down any doors in the immediate future, and the team can bring him along at a reasonable pace.
- Cameron Wake is 35 years old. He’s still a top-tier talent that verges on superhuman ability, but even he has his limits. Harris gives the team a legitimate option as a situational rusher a few snaps a game in order to keep Wake fresh for playoff time.
Suffered: Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi
No, Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi will not be losing their jobs anytime soon. However, their lives did become more difficult as a result of the Dolphins’ defensive focus in the 2017 draft. While pass-rusher, cornerback, and linebacker were among the team’s greatest needs, the greatest offensive need – the interior offensive line – was not addressed until the 5th round. While Isaac Asiata has the look of a diamond in the rough and should contend for a starting job, the team could have done better to address the talent deficit on the interior. Ryan Tannehill’s development has already been damaged nearly irreversibly due to poor offensive line performance. Jay Ajayi needed to become a tackle-breaking machine just to move the ball forward in 2016 (just watch the Ravens, 49ers, and Playoff game against the Steelers if you don’t believe me). After veering away from big names in free agency, many expected the Dolphins to address the interior line sooner rather than later in the draft. With Laremy Tunsil on the outside and no suitable replacement on the interior, the interior offensive line will be perhaps the biggest question mark ahead of training camp.
Benefited: Jermon Bushrod and Anthony Steen
Tannehill and Ajayi’s loss is Bushrod and Steen’s gain. Though Isaac Asiata could very well win the starting job (or recent free agent acquisition Ted Larsen for that matter), I view Bushrod and Steen as the favorites. Both started along the offensive line last season to mixed results, but they proved to be capable stop-gap options at the very least. Though they were both competent last year and have value as versatile backups, they are far from ideal on an NFL offensive line. However, they have to be feeling confident after the team declined to sign a surefire starting guard in either free agency or the draft. The left guard and right guard positions are theirs to lose at this point.
Suffered: Koa Misi
Koa Misi has had a rough time staying healthy in his seven-year career. His last two seasons have been downright plagued, as he was placed on injured reserve for a back and neck injury in 2015 and 2016 respectively. After restructuring his contract in the offseason to remain in Miami, it seemed as though he would get a fair shake at a starting job. Unfortunately for Misi, the arrival of Lawrence Timmons and Raekwon McMillan cast serious doubt on that idea. For the first time in years, Misi won’t just have to battle his own body to play football. Between Kiko Alonso, Lawrence Timmons, and Raekwon McMillan, Misi definitely has the look of odd-man-out. The team may not even keep him past training camp if they favor special teams aces Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt. Like many other ailing veterans around the NFL, Koa Misi definitely has an uphill battle to keep his NFL dream alive another season longer.