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Miami Dolphins

Combine Notebook: Growth and Development

Sustained success in the NFL doesn't happen by accident. A 53-man roster is a carefully curated group of individuals with vastly different paths to their position on the team. Managing that roster in a salary capped sport, with the resources allocated to each of the 32 clubs around the league, creates parity. That parity is the enemy of consistency. It's the teams that can utilize each avenue of roster-building successfully who tend to stand out above the rest.

The Dolphins, over the last four years, have seen their approach to team-building adapt. Yet, the results have been much of the same – four winning seasons and on the periphery of the breakthrough.

The core of the team that achieved four consecutive seasons over .500 began with a youth infusion. It then pivoted to aggressive veteran acquisitions the last two years. Remaining flexible is always at the forefront, so what's next is anybody's guess. What we know for sure is this: The Dolphins will expect another step from their current crop of youngsters.

"We're going to have some guys that are going to be in Year 3, some guys in Year 2 and some new guys," Head Coach Mike McDaniel said. "Ultimately, what's the best thing to serve them? And that's naturally evolving. There will be exciting things that we do different. There's going to be exciting things that we will evolve from, and there's exciting things that we will build upon on the success of the first two years."

Over the last half-decade, player development has been at the core of Miami's success. It starts at the top with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who's seen steady progress each of his first four years. Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Durham Smythe – players with similar linear progress have seen their game go to another level at various stages of their careers.

For the Dolphins in 2024, there are a handful of extremely talented players hoping to enjoy the same trajectory, like 2023 second-round pick Cam Smith.

"We're very excited about Cam," General Manager Chris Grier said. "He played very well in the preseason. He got banged up at the end and then came back. Talking to Jalen Ramsey the other day, he was saying how he loves Cam's game and thinks he's going to be a good player. We're very strong in our belief in him."

The Dolphins are scheduled to pick 21st and 55th in next month's draft. Those players will join a crop of youngsters looking to make their impact – some of which have already flashed.

Before rookie running back De’Von Achane burst onto the scene, it was second-year wide receiver Erik Ezukanma getting run in the backfield and on situation-specific looks. Between Achane, Ezukanma, Smith, and a host of others, the Dolphins' ability to develop young talent could be the key to keeping the train rolling and the wins stacking. At minimum, it gives Grier the freedom of flexibility, something that's valuable to any team.

"I thought Butch (Barry) and Mike (McDaniel) and Frank (Smith) did a great job developing those guys," Grier said of Miami's 2023 offensive line. "Some of the younger guys that we have on the roster are guys we are excited for seeing them in another year here going. Those guys made a great leap this year, and they're excited for some of the guys and what they can be in the future."

While the incumbents have the benefit of experience in the system, in the building, and with their teammates, another rookie class will look to close that gap once they hear their name called on draft night.

For the Dolphins, and the perceived needs of the team, this year's class affords plenty of opportunity for immediate upgrades to the roster.

Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy broke the Combine record with his 4.21 40-yard dash time. He was one of nine receivers to clip the 4.4 barrier – and we've seen how speed wins in the NFL in recent years. Conversely, the guys covering those wide outs – the cornerbacks – saw eight players come in under 4.4.

If it's the offensive line ones desires, six players hit a specific threshold that has a long track record of translating to professional success.

Miami can turn picks 21 and 55 into the commissioner and import two incredibly talented players to the program. They could also move back and collect more picks, or maybe ship off the selections for more proven talent. Everything is on the table. But if there's anything we've learned about the McDaniel-led Dolphins, it's that an investment in players and their improvement is a focal point.

"The good teams have figured out they got to develop your own guys," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said on the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield. "It's just cost effective. It's going out and hiring not just scheme coaches but going out and hiring guys to develop players. It's that versus what you don't have to pay on the open market."

Here's what some of the experts think Miami could do with those two premium draft picks:

Daniel Jeremiah: "Interior offensive line is probably the first place you got to start just knowing what the free agent situation is right now. If you wanted to take an interior offensive lineman picking it 21 you probably get the best one in the draft whether you want to go power with Jackson Powers-Johnson whether you think that's Graham Barton or Zach Frazier. There's any number of those guys you'll have your pick of the litter there."

Matt Miller: "Amarius Mims from Georgia is that guy. He played right tackle but he has the athleticism to play left. He's a fit for Miami. Guys like him and J.C. Latham at Alabama. They're like bulldozers. He's just putting people in the dirt but does that fit the scheme where you do need your tackles to be out in front, blocking on wide receiver screens at times? I think Mims fits that mold.

Jordan Reid: I would love to see them get a dynamic tight end. I think that's another area that can unlock Mike McDaniel's offense just because we know they'd like to flood the middle of the field. So, Ja'Tavion Sanders of Texas is one that I think they could have a lot of interest in just because he's a player that's highly productive. He can play inside and outside and then with them stressing the middle of the field so much his game in between the college has just has been so productive for him. He might be more in that second round range, but I like that fit."

For more analysis on the Dolphins draft and offseason, download the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield.