I know we need to see how this plays out over time. Any draft evaluation has to begin with that qualifier. But, even after saying that, it's hard not to be impressed with what the Miami Dolphins accomplished in a draft that was so important to the development and direction of this team.
Put simply, they are better team right now, a deeper team and a more complete team, than they were when the NFL draft began last Thursday night. They filled some glaring needs. They added speed and production. They drafted players in the first two days all from powerhouse programs, players who each know about playing under the pressure of a blinding spotlight. Every pick made sense. Every pick had a purpose. They put together an eight-man draft class that is filled with enticing possibilities.
What's not to like? They began things by drafting one of the most dynamic, if not the most dynamic, defensive player in the draft. They reloaded the tight end position. They added an outside linebacker to fill an important need. They got a running back with size and speed, a cornerback who once ran a sizzling 4.38 in 40 yard dash, an inside linebacker with get-your-attention statistics and a kicker because they absolutely needed one.
Go through the list. You can check off so many of the boxes. The only omissions in the areas thought of as pre-draft needs were a defensive tackle and a quarterback to challenge as Ryan Tannehill's back up. But the offseason still has plenty of life left in it. There will be undrafted rookies signed over the next few days – and each year at least a couple make the team – and there are still free agents to consider.
At defensive tackle, the Dolphins are obviously comfortable with using William Hayes some inside, though I expect them to bring in at least one undrafted rookie. At back-up quarterback, it is apparent that Adam Gase has considerable faith in veteran Brock Osweiler, who he has worked with in the past, and David Fales. The Dolphins were in position several times to draft a quarterback, but their conviction, or lack of, and timing just steered them in different directions.
"We weren't going to reach for any player," said General Manager Chris Grier.
Summed up Executive VP Mike Tannenbaum, "I feel we're headed in the right direction."
I'd be disappointed if at least a half dozen of these players do not contribute right away, in some cases as a starter. I understand there is optimism after every draft, and rightfully so. But this one, at least on paper, has the potential to be special, certainly beginning at the top.
Let's take a closer look, breaking down these eight players based on the potential impact they could have this season.
• DB Minkah Fitzpatrick: He was 14 years old back at home in New Jersey and he was already working out with 19 year olds. He was a freshman at Alabama and did things no freshman defender there had ever done. This is a player who has spent a lifetime making strong first impressions. I expect no less with the Dolphins. Bottom Line: There is absolutely nothing not to like about this pick, a downright steal for the Dolphins to get him at No. 11. I anticipate he'll be an every down player on this defense early on.
• TE Mike Gesicki: I've been waiting for this type of player for far too long, a big, strong, fast, pass-catching tight end that can surely add a different dimension to this offense. Gesicki is a one-man mismatch. Try covering him with a safety. Or an outside linebacker. He's just too big, too physical, too everything. Bottom Line: The starting tight end job is wide open and there's no reason to believe that it won't go to Gesicki. Adam Gase has long talked about how the type of offense he likes to run depends so much on a productive tight end. He's got the player now to make that work.
• OLB Jerome Baker: Another area of major need. This is an outside linebacker who can downright fly, who led a pretty good Ohio State defense in tackles last season and who figures to help the Dolphins both as a pass rusher and in coverage. Another example, like with Fitzpatrick, of improving the overall speed of this defense. Bottom Line: Just like at tight end, there is a starting job to be won. Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan seem set as two of the three starters. Baker will get every opportunity to become the third and he comes in a with a level of confidence that seems to shout, "I'm ready for this challenge."
• TE Durham Smythe: While Gesicki is more known for his receiving skills, Smythe is the better blocker and, in fact, may have been the best blocking tight end in this draft. This has a chance to be a one-two punch for years to come. I like how the Dolphins didn't stop with one tight end. I like how they didn't hesitate building with numbers. Bottom Line: You're going to see Smythe in a lot of two tight end formations and, based on the video I've seen, his receiving skills are underrated. He should fill the role manned last season by Anthony Fasano, ironically like Smythe a former Notre Dame player.
• RB Kalen Ballage: Yet another example of speed, production and versatility. An impressive physical specimen at 6-2, 229-pounds, Ballage was best known in college at Arizona State for scoring an NCAA record eight touchdowns in a game two seasons ago against Texas Tech. Interestingly seven of those touchdowns came as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation, a great indicator of his versatility. But he also caught 44 passes as a junior and was his team's go-to kick returner, as a freshman returning a kick 96 yards. Bottom Line: He is expected to come in as the third running back behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore and will certainly benefit from Gore's wealth of experience. There's a big upside with this player and, at the very least, I expect him to be a core special teams player.
• CB Cornell Armstrong: So you thought Fitzpatrick, Baker and Ballage are fast, Armstrong just may be the fastest of this class, that 4.38 time almost reaching Mark Duper territory. A four-year starter at Southern Miss, Baker finished his career with five interceptions, one returned for a score, and likens his skills to Brent Grimes. I'd take that type of career in a minute. Bottom Line: You can never have enough quality cornerbacks and Armstrong will certainly get a long look. His ability to play on special teams will be a factor early on.
• ILB Quentin Poling: Quick and very productive. Had this Ohio Bobcat been a few inches taller – he's listed at 6-feet – his resume justifies a first or second day selection. Look at the numbers across the board. He's a stat machine: 373 career tackles, 43.5 tackles for losses, 18 sacks, seven interceptions and five forced fumbles.
• Bottom Line: The Dolphins need depth at linebacker. They also need more talent. Poling proves both. He'll be an excellent special teams player, but I've got a hunch he's going to evolve into much more than that.