All the Dolphins want in first round is a rookie Pro Bowl corner like Marcus Peters

 

How does a team like the Miami Dolphins get its hands on an NFL-ready cornerback?

It’s a desperate question in this time of specific need. With the 13th overall pick in the draft, the Dolphins really ought to be looking at corner first, but it’s a quirky position.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 3:  Marcus Peters #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after defending against a pass at Arrowhead Stadium during the second quarter of the game agains the Oakland Raiders on January 3, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO – Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after defending against a pass at Arrowhead Stadium during a game against the Oakland Raiders on January 3, 2016. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Four cornerbacks were drafted in the first round last year. The first one taken, Trae Waynes at No. 11 overall, started just one game as a rookie for Minnesota. He may be good in time.

Two others, Kevin Johnson (No. 16 overall to Houston) and Byron Jones (No. 27 to Dallas) started 11 games each and did just fine in on-the-job training at a very scary spot on the field.

The best of them all, however, was the one with the most red flags.

Marcus Peters, drafted 18th overall by Kansas City, picked up an interception on the first snap of his first NFL regular-season game. In his second game he picked off a Peyton Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown. And so it continued all season long.

Peters intercepted eight passes, tying Reggie Nelson for the league lead, and returned two of them for scores. His reward was a trip to the Pro Bowl as the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Who knew to expect all of that from a guy who got kicked off his college team at Washington for repeatedly clashing with coaches? In a pre-draft scouting report on NFL.com, one unidentified NFC personnel director was quoted as saying “I wouldn’t take him inside the first two rounds. He’s good, but he’s not that good that I would be willing to deal with his emotional issues.”

Hey, sometimes they get it wrong. The point is, cornerback is a very nervous place to be spending your first-round pick, even when it is absolutely necessary.

The Dolphins got immediate starters out of first-round corners Don McNeal (1980), Troy Vincent (1992) and Vontae Davis (2009) and earned a real bonus by taking Sean Smith in the second round of that same 2009 draft.

Jamar Fletcher is the flip side of the coin from 2001, but that’s when the Dolphins were good and picked near the end of the first round. The more certain stuff is usually gobbled up by then.

[10 years after first Heat title team, the Trusted Two drive on]

[NFL draft is rarely enough to instantly transform a team like Miami]

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th pick and they’re feeling lucky again]

Picking at No. 13 means you better get somebody you can use right now. It’s more pressure than Miami or any other team needs because cornerbacks and their potential are so difficult to read.

Pro Bowl corner Brent Grimes, now in Tampa Bay, did enough in just a few seasons at Miami to get voted onto the Dolphins’ 50 greatest players list for 50 years of franchise history.

He originally went undrafted out of Shippensburg in 2006 and had to play a year for the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europa before getting his first real NFL shot.

 

NFL draft is rarely enough to immediately transform a team like Miami

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?

Coach Tony Sparano jumps up and bumps Jake Long after the game with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders at Sun Life Stadium on December,4 2011.
Former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano jumps up and bumps Jake Long after the game between Miami and the Oakland Raiders at Sun Life Stadium on December,4 2011. (Palm Beach Post photo by Allen Eyestone)

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.

[Most Heat teams with 50 wins or fewer have bombed in first round]

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th pick and they’re feeling lucky again]

[If North Carolina can excel in both major sports, why shouldn’t UM?]

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.