The Miami Dolphins have a long way to go from 6-10 to the playoffs.
Accordingly they’re back in the weight room a little early. They’ve got a new head coach in Adam Gase. Now, if only the NFL draft brings them a ton of new talent, they’ve got a fighting chance, right?
Funny thing about that. As much attention is paid to evaluating and drafting college players, and as entertaining as it is to follow along with the process, the whole crazy carnival doesn’t always do as much quick fixing for a team as it seems.
Consider the Miami team that made the progress in franchise history from one season to the next. The 2008 Dolphins also started over with a new coach that year (Tony Sparano) and a mission to rid the place of the stench of that 1-15 Cam Cameron disaster from the previous season.
Well, it worked. With improvements all around and with the coincidental loss of New England quarterback Tom Brady to injury, the Dolphins won the AFC East at 11-5. Here, though, is the part that the draft played in all of that.
Left tackle Jake Long came to Miami with the first overall pick and became an instant Pro Bowler. Hugely important.
Kendall Langford stepped right into the starting lineup at defensive end and stayed there for four seasons. Important.
After that it really drops off.
Second-round pick Phillip Merling, a defensive end, started two games as a rookie and never became a regular in four Miami seasons.
Chad Henne eventually was forced into the lineup but not until his second season, and with a 13-18 record as a starter he provided no long-term answers.
Guard Shawn Murphy and running back Jalen Parmalee never played a down for the Dolphins.
Donald Thomas became a starter at guard but not until his second season and he didn’t last long.
Late-round draft picks Lex Hilliard and Lionel Dotson made the team but contributed primarily on special teams.
That’s it. Two immediate starters from the 2008 draft, which almost comes out as a wash, since the Dolphins also got rid of two of their all-time greats that offseason, releasing Zach Thomas and trading Jason Taylor.
Turns out the most important addition in the transformation of that team didn’t come until three weeks before the regular season opener, when the New York Jets cut quarterback Chad Pennington and the Dolphins picked him up.
The point is, remaking an entire organization involves so much more than the drafting of rookie players. The Dolphins even traded away draft picks in 2008 to add veteran starters Jason Ferguson at nose tackle and Anthony Fasano at tight end.
Just for kicks, I checked to see what Washington did to improve last year from 4-12 to a 9-7 playoff team.
The 2015 draft brought them an instant starter in guard Brandon Scherff and a promising potential starter in running back Matt Jones but the other rookies from the draft combined for just a dozen starts. Most of this stuff is about development down the road, as in the case of quarterback Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick of the Redskins in 2012 and last year came suddenly came into his own.
Not saying that the draft is a drag or that it won’t be important for Gase and chief executive Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier to hit a home run on that high-profile weekend in April. So much important work has already been down, however, like the maneuvers to add veteran starter Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxell, and there will be other vital evaluation and acquisition moves to come, also, right until the season opener.
The NFL draft just seems to be the part we all latch onto the tightest, as if getting a whiz kid like Dion Jordan is going to work out every time.