General manager Chris Grier and the Miami Dolphins kept it simple during the 2017 NFL draft. Concentrate on needs. Take players who have proven capable of competing at a high level. Stay away from mining for gold in unexpected places.
It’s that last point that makes the most sense when it comes to establishing a basic standard.
I like that Miami exclusively went with draftees from college football’s Power Five conference this time around. Doesn’t mean you can’t find top talent in other places, but the guys who played well in the big conferences did so against tougher competition on a more regular basis.
If they didn’t always break records, at least they were tested physically and mentally most weeks. There’s no accounting for the powder-puff games on every team’s schedule, of course, or the fact that having great talent around a certain player allows him to thrive in ways that might not have been possible on a lesser roster.
Look back, though, at Miami’s 2014 draft class. Former GM Dennis Hickey outsmarted himself in that one. Other than Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee) and Jarvis Landry (LSU), it was largely a case of trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Guard Billy Turner from North Dakota State. (Started some games for Dolphins but was released by Miami and then Baltimore and is trying to catch on with Denver).
Cornerback Walt Aikens from Liberty. (5 career starts and 1 career interception).
Tight end Arthur Lynch from Georgia (Exception to rule, never was healthy, never played a lick).
Linebacker Jordan Tripp from Montana (Special-teamer for Dolphins, now on his 3rd team since they cut him).
Wide receiver Matt Hazel from Coastal Carolina (Bouncing around league on practice squads).
Defensive end Terrence Fede from Marist (One epic punt block as rookie won’t keep him on roster much longer).
Taking the better players from programs in the SEC and the ACC and the Big Ten and the Pac 12 and the Big 12, that’s just common sense. They had to be great in high school to get there in the first place, and coachable in college in order to get playing time. So the Dolphins took draftees from Missouri and Ohio State and Clemson and Utah and LSU and Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech. Not a Marist in the bunch.
We’ll have to see if it works out, but the odds surely are better that a handful of players from that group will be up to NFL speed before long.
There have been quite a few small-school heroes in Dolphins history, so there’s no pretending that it’s not possible to find one in the draft. I’ll list some here, but with the same basic conclusion, that I would rather try to build on players with the fewest variables at the best-known programs.
I would rather do it Chris Grier’s way than Dennis Hickey’s.
Small-school products who were major or at least important contributors for Dolphins:
Jason Taylor, Akron
Mercury Morris, West Texas State
Vern Den Herder, Central Iowa
Mark Duper, Northwest Louisiana State
Doug Betters, Nevada
Freddie Solomon, Tampa
Patrick Surtain, Southern Mississippi
William Judson, South Carolina State
Samson Satele, Hawaii
James Pruitt, Fullerton State
Jim Jensen, Boston University
Leroy Harris, Arkansas State
That’s just a quick scan and probably you can add a few names to that list. Just remember we’re talking about a half century of Dolphin drafts. It’s really not that many either way