Want a realistic look at where the Miami Dolphins stand right now and the general quality of players they can expect to get out of this weekend’s NFL draft?
Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons one year ago.
Admittedly, it’s not a perfect template. Such things don’t exist when every pool of talent varies so greatly in overall depth and specific strengths.
Consider the similarities, though.
When the 2015 draft came around, the Falcons were coming off a 6-10 season in which they got fed up the team’s slow progress and fired the coach. (Miami is coming off a 6-10 season now and said goodbye to Joe Philbin in October.)
Atlanta had the No. 8 overall pick in the draft and took outside linebacker Vic Beasley, a Clemson star who became an immediate starter and collected four sacks as a rookie. (Miami had the No. 8 overall pick but traded down to No. 13 in exchange for a couple of defensive starters from Philadelphia, cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso.)
The next three picks, incredibly, fall in exactly the same spots where Miami will be drafting in 2016.
With the 11th pick of the second round, Atlanta took a cornerback, Jalen Collins, who wound up starting two games with no interceptions. (Miami wants a corner wherever it can get one)
With the 10th pick in the third round, the Falcons took running back Tevin Coleman, who started three games as a rookie and scored one touchdown. (The Dolphins got a little less than that from rookie Jay Ajayi last year.)
With the ninth pick of the fourth round, Atlanta got wide receiver Justin Hardy, who did not score a touchdown and started one game. (That’s about what Miami or anybody else would expect from a fourth-rounder.)
Overall, the Falcons’ 2015 draft class was judged to be among the league’s best. In combination with a new head coach, Dan Quinn, who was prized for his defensive leadership of a Super Bowl title team in Seattle, the result was a one-year improvement from 6-10 to 8-8.
Not bad, but Atlanta is stuck in a tough division with Carolina, which almost ran the table in the regular season last year. It seems like a franchise still working on a slow and steady climb toward playoff contention but not much more at the moment.
I’ll apply that same description to Miami, stuck as always behind New England, especially if Executive VP Mike Tannenbaum sticks to his stated philosophy of “trying to build something long-term and sustainable.”
Maybe General Manager Chris Grier, conducting his first draft with the Dolphins, will do a little better with the draft picks available to him than Atlanta did last year selecting in the same spots. Another starter to add to Maxwell and Alonso, for instance, would mean three new impact players from the first round alone.
Maybe, too, Adam Gase will have a greater impact transforming his team than Quinn did as a rookie head coach with the Falcons.
There’s so much still to be determined, and an entire wacky draft cycle of picks and trades and waiver pickups to come. What’s more, offseason gains like Mario Williams must be measured against offseason losses like Brent Grimes.
At this point, it just makes sense to look to Atlanta, which got a sure starter out of the first round last year but otherwise could have gotten more out of what was generally graded as an A or A-minus draft class.
If I was making projections right now for the 2016 season, it would be 8-8 for Miami, right in range with the draft gains and extra wins that the Falcons earned from basically the same starting position.
Now we look to the draft to see if there’s reason to step it up a notch.