2018 NFL Draft Grades: Miami Dolphins are quietly making strides

Miami Dolphins 2018 Draft Grade: A-9
9

The Miami Dolphins quietly had one of their better drafts in years. Seeing all the analysts’ breakdown or reading social media group posts you’d think they took a step back. Between not getting a quarterback to back up or replace Ryan Tannehill and not replacing Ndamukong Suh fans are about as happy as someone who was asked to put their dog down. Even pre-draft power rankings had the Dolphins near the bottom of the league.

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I do have one question, why the pessimism?

When you look at the Miami Dolphins and the way they’ve lost games, they all have a couple of key elements in common. The first thing that stands out in every game is the inability to stop the short to mid range passing game. Insert their defensive picks:

Minkah Fitzpatrick (S)

If the Miami Dolphins were looking for someone who loves football they found it in Fitzpatrick. He shows up in big games, can step up and cover tight ends, and limits big plays. Pair him with a Pro-Bowl S like Reshad Jones and it could be a tough duo to face. 

Jerome Baker (LB)

Another cover player who can get all over the field. Baker will quickly close gaps as well as chase down running backs and receivers looking to break away. Sure his size might bring up some red flags but since when did that stop Zack Thomas? Miami will need to work on strength and conditioning but he could be an instant upgrade at LB.

Cornell Armstrong (DB)

Dolphins need depth and they got it in late rounds of this draft. Once cornerbacks started getting injured last season, the strength of the passing game was weakened. Another guy who likes to work for his meal and could get his chance to eat. He could end up being a special teams contributor as well as a situational role player.

Quentin Poling (LB)

For a late-round draft pick, the Dolphins might have found a small gem. While looking like a depth pick, if the team can develop his game he could be a contributor down the stretch. He’ll need to work on his physicality, but his football IQ will balance his play. Another guy who can cover receivers and make calls out on the field. 

On offense, they’ve lacked just as much. Say what you will about Ryan Tannehill but he has had those moments where he’s marched the team down the field. Unfortunately, each time the team has stalled out with an inability to find open receivers in the red zone. Insert offensive picks:

Mike Gesicki (TE)

How long have the Miami Dolphins needed a true starting Tight End? Okay, he can’t block very well, but neither could Jimmy Graham coming out of college. Big bodied tight ends don’t develop in college. Their main function is to catch touchdowns. Gesicki has size and speed to achieve just that. Besides learning the playbook his sole offseason program will revolve around blocking and developing chemistry with Ryan Tannehill.

Durham Smythe (TE)

If the Miami Dolphins were looking for a polar opposite to Gesicki, they found it in Smythe. He’s physical blocker with limited catches. Even though he’ll primarily be involved in the run game he might be a surprising decoy. Even though he has a small sample size, Smythe has the ability to stretch the field and make big plays when needed. The Dolphins tried this combination last year with Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano but the two are in the tail end of their careers. 

Kalen Ballage (RB)

Remember when the Miami Dolphins stole Jay Ajayi in the 5th round. They seem to have found his replacement again in later rounds. Where Ajayi did great in the open field, Ballage is a goal-line powerhouse. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his play-making ability in the open field, but the Dolphins have lacked a red zone presence and Ballage will fill that need. He might be buried on the depth chart this year, but he’ll slide into the third-and-short/red zone running back before you know it. Ballage could easily be the steal of this year’s draft.

Jason Sanders (K)

Another year, another kicker replacement. The Dolphins are struggling to find a solid kicker and didn’t exactly hit a home run with this one. His career longest stands at 53 yards. Again that’s his longest. Miami had better hope they can move the ball this season as that’s only 20 yards more than an extra point. Teams might not ask a kicker to hit one from that distance often, but on 4th down with the game on the line, the situation could come up. Sanders has struggled with consistency and better dig deep for some power. Miami could find themselves in a lot of close divisional games after this year’s draft. 

Sure, not drafting a quarterback is risky. However, maybe we focus too much on the quarterback. Take a look at the powerhouse teams that barrel through opponents. Sure New England has Tom Brady, but when he’s out an average backup steps in and looks like Brady. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is a journeyman backup who stepped in and kept the motor running. The Vikings had 3 quarterbacks at the end of the season all who did well enough to start. All three teams played with their backup at some point and still won football games because they surrounded their guy with enough talent to win. Did the Miami Dolphins do the same?

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