Draft Holds Promise As Team Focus Shifts

The Miami Dolphins have been a team without an identity for over 6 years.  7 years ago they made the playoffs, they had a slim identity then.  In that time, we as fans have seen 5 head coaches and 5 general managers.  The hiring of Bill Parcells has changed the image of this team.  Although they have yet to set foot on a field, show one ounce of progression from the 1-15 club of last year, the shift in focus as witnessed by this past weekends draft is the beginning of a new attitude and new image.  If this draft is any indication, it’s tough and mean.  Here is the 2008 Miami Dolphins draft, and my draft grades for each.

Jake Long – OT:  Perhaps the only thing disappointing about the Jake Long pick is the fact that on Saturday we all already knew who the pick was going to be.  Signed, sealed, and now officially delivered.  There will be no guessing when he will report.  He is under contract.  Long is a mean offensive tackle that immediately allows the Miami coaches to begin focusing on how best to mold the line. 

At 6’7″ the towering 315 pounder will anchor the left side of the line while Vernon Carey moves back to RT.  Long is a 4 year letterman.  His ability to anchor that left side will bring much scrutiny in his first season as many scouts viewed him more as a right tackle. 

Long however fills one of the biggest needs on the Miami team.  The offensive line has gone relatively untouched for years and the Dolphins will likely become a power running team behind a bruising line that already features FA guard Justin Smiley.  The pick of Long at number 1 may not be the glory jersey selling brand of a Chris Long, but it was the right pick.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade:  A+

Phillip Merling – DE/OLB:  At 6’5 272 pounds, Merling is considered very good value at the 32nd pick.  Many draft scouts, mockers, and “experts” projected Merling as a top 25 and in some cases a top 15 selection who dropped because of a surgery that prohibited him from doing many of the “This is me” workouts.  His surgery was for a sports hernia.

Merling led the Clemson Tigers in tackles and in Miami may become an outside LB in the 34 or the heir apparent to Jason Taylor.  Merling’s pick is considered to be a good one even though some other names were still on the board.  What Merling does in practice and mini camps will determine where he lines up.

The Merling pick is solid in the sense that the Dolphins have been over hauling a unit that was one of the worst in the NFL last year.  A mix of aging veterans and poor free agent choices, the Dolphins front 7 also suffered from poor coaching. 

NFL.com scouting report

Grade:  B+

Chad Henne – QB:  The late 2nd round selection of Chad Henne raised no eyebrows, although some felt as though he would be available at the top of round 3 on day 2.  The Dolphins smartly took no chances.  With QB Brian Brohm leaving the boards for GB the pick before, Henne was the only choice Miami had if they indeed intended to draft a QB as the quality slipped beyond Henne.

Henne was a 4 year starter at Michigan and reunites in the NFL with Jake Long his blindside protector.  Smart and in possession of good arm strength, Henne will have to learn the NFL ropes, but some already believe that the QB race is a two man show between last years 2nd rounder John Beck and Chad Henne, with Josh McCown the veteran in the wings.

Henne’s ability to learn and the fact that he played 4 years for a big school makes his stock a little higher.  Small school QB’s and one year wonders get the accolades, it’s the guys who work that end up having a better chance at success in the NFL.  David Lee, a very well respected QB coach, now has 3 QB’s who all are in need of development.

Henne will provide the Dolphins with a real QB competition and although he will not be penciled in as a starter now, he will compete for it all year.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade – B+

Kendall Langford – DT:  If you were on the “live chat” yesterday you could sense a frustration and disappointment in this pick.  After the day wore on, the surprise wore off and you began to feel a sense of reason to why the Dolphins made this kid their 1st pick on day 2.

Langford is a big kid, 6’6 295 pounds.  While many were hoping to hear the name Dan Connor, a small framed LB like Zach Thomas, Langford is the big wide body defenseman that Bill Parcells and company likes.  He fills gaps and at his best will take on two blockers.  He can play DE and the Dolphins may in fact try him at that spot instead of sitting him early behind Jason Ferguson. 

Langford will be a fresh body in the 34 rotation in whatever position he ultimately plays in Miami.  A dominant run stuffer, some scouts compare him to NE’s Richard Seymour while others figure he will in fact be moved outside in the 34.  The biggest knock on Langford is that he lacks an explosiveness off the ball, which is hard to teach as that is more a natural ability.  Still, his ability to handle blockers and stop the run, is the reason that Miami valued him here.  While some think that he could have been drafted as late as round 5, the Dolphins value on him was much higher.

Like the Merling selection, Langford is yet another front 7 defensemen who was brought in to change the porous play of last year.  His selection could mean the departure of one or two veteran defensive guys in training camp.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade – C+

Shawn Murphy – OG:  The selection of Shawn Murphy raised quite of few eyebrows considering the names still on the board at the position.  Guys with 2nd round grades who had fallen into through the 3rd and into the 4th rounds.  Murphy who’s current claim to fame is as the son of former Atlanta Braves stellar outfielder Dale Murphy, is a 320 pound 6’4″ lineman out of Utah.

Murphy is considered a project by some but he has very good natural strength and good foot work.  He was unable to play tackle, something he wont be asked to do in Miami, many compare him to current Miami guard Justin Smiley without the attitude.  Murphy is a workout beast in the weight room, and can add more muscle weight without hurting his ability to play.

Good hands and intelligence makes him a Parcells guy and Tony Sparano will likely have fun working with this kid who loves to learn and knows how to put that knowledge into practice.  At 26 already, Murphy is a bit older than most of the incoming rookie class and even last years class as well.  He has some learning to do, but he is in the right place with the right coaches to get the most out of himself.

With the guard being another need position, the drafting of Murphy makes sense from a position standpoint, however, the Dolphins will likely look at veteran cuts to find this years immediate starter.  Currently Drew Mormino is the penciled in guy and he is coming off injury.  Murphy is not a bad player, but when you consider Miami moved up in the draft to get him, paying the first pick in round 7, you might have expected a tad bit more.  This is not a bad pick, but only time will tell if it is a very good pick when compared to the guards that were on the board with him.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade – C+

Jalen Parmale – RB:  The Dolphins have another RB pronounced Parmale(e).  This one is a little different.  With the trade of Lorenzo Booker, many felt that the Dolphins would address the RB position on day 2.  They did twice.  Parmale is more of a full-back type runner but his intelligence is the key. 

He leads by example and is one of those players who can pick up complicated coverage schemes and play designs according to NFL.com.  Although some say that his straight forward running style and inability to make quick cuts is a negative, as a full-back it is a positive.  Jared is a downhill runner, nothing fancy.  With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams leaning more to quick finesse style guys, Parmale will help as a change of pace.

Good hands and blocking mechanics, Jared is not likely a 3rd down only back like Booker.  If he makes the transition to full-back, Parmale could be on the field as much as the starters in two back sets.  He will likely be more of a blocker.  Parmale however does not seem to be very good at pushing the pile but is very good at one on one contact and breaking tackles.  A value pick in round 6, Parmale should make the roster as many teams passed on him for more featured runners.

The drafting of Parmale makes some question the future of Reagan Mauia who was drafted last year.  Mauia did not have a stellar season last year and although he appeared at times to be improving, the new coaching staff may not have the patience to wait.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade – B (for value)

Donald Thomas – OG:  Thomas is a project in every way imaginable.  A practice squad player.  However, of all the guys drafted on day 2, not just for the Dolphins, Thomas may have some of the best untapped talent in the rookie class.  A late bloomer, Thomas was a Connecticut walk on when he was discovered lifting weights in a gym.  Natural ability of athleticism and speed, Thomas has an underdeveloped lower body which will be fixed by the training staff in Miami, he will then learn to use it.

Thomas has one thing going for him, natural raw ability.  That is something you don’t get in the weight room and coaches can not teach.  You have it or you don’t.  His intelligence allows him to learn and his desire to be good allows him to digest the information.  Walking on the field in 2003, Thomas did not suit up until 2005 and by his last year he had taken away the starting guard spot on the team.

While Thomas will likely be signed to the practice squad eventually, his attitude and desire makes him a very good value pick in the middle of round 6 at a position that needs bodies that have a potential to become solid contributors in the NFL and for the Dolphins.  Thomas is 6-4 and 303 pounds. 

NFL.com scouting report

Grade – C+: Could have been a higher grade for Miami, as this grade represents the Dolphins selection in Thomas and not Thomas.  Miami did not address the defensive secondary or the WR position.

Lex Hilliard – RB:  The Dolphins selected 2 running backs in this years draft, Parmale translates more to a full-back while Hilliard is a pure runner.  With Ricky Williams one failed test away from suspension, the Dolphins needed another running back in case that happens.  Hilliard suffered an Achilles rupture and missed his 2006 season, although during his rehabilitation he added bulk, strength, and oddly enough speed.

Hilliard also suffered a knee injury, which injury history now becomes a concern, that dropped his draft value from what many thought should have and could have been higher. 

Hilliard has little explosiveness out of the line and can be caught from behind because he has not developed a second gear or speed burst.  However, he is a very good receiver with good hands and is smart enough to learn the more complicated play books easily.  NFL.com compares him to another Bill Parcells drafted running back, Marion Barber III.

Although Hilliard has some learning to do, it is likely that he lands on the roster because of his desire to learn and ability to pick up schemes.  With the questions surrounding Ricky Williams’ ability to stay clean and Ronnie Browns recovery from his ACL injury, the Hilliard pick looks like it could be very good for the Dolphins.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade: B-

Lionel Dotson – DE:  The 6’4 300 pound DE is a project as 98 percent of 7th rounders are.  Dotson has a non-stop motor which has earned the nickname “L-Train” by his Arizona teammates. 

Dotson has a long way to go before he makes an impact on the team or makes the team for that matter.  With all the defensive front 7 changes this year in the draft and free agency, the real question is whether there is room for him on the roster at all.  He needs to bulk up as he has a frame that could use 20 more pounds without loss of speed.  His wingspan however allows him to shed off would be blockers from his chest and knock down passes at the line.

Despite that, the Dolphins decided it was more important to take a guy who at best will be on the practice squad rather than a corner, safety, or WR in the round.  With only one pick in round 7, the Dolphins wrapped up the draft on the same note as many of their free agent signings and draft picks.  Along the front 7 of the defensive line.

NFL.com scouting report

Grade: C-

Overall Grade:  While the Dolphins started off the draft on day 1 with no head scratchers, the same can not be said about day 2.  While Long and Merling should be solid contributing starters and Chad Henne should be the push behind the QB’s competition, day 2 has as many questions as it does answers. 

It is apparent that the Dolphins want this team fixed now in the area a Bill Parcells team has prided itself in, stopping the run, and running the ball.  They managed to concentrate on both areas heavily. 

Ignoring the WR and secondary positions did not win over many fans as most expected more “names” to be drafted.  More disappoint came in the manner of which the team traded it’s picks, or in reality the lack of trading their picks.  Either by design or by compensation offers, the Dolphins only made two real moves.  Moving down 2 spots in the 3rd and up 5 in the 4th.  Gaining a 6th and losing a 7th.  Neither move is considered good or bad.  Compared to the reputation of Bill Parcells and his draft history, I for one expected more although now that the draft is over, I can not say I am 100 percent disappointed.

Unlike the drafts of the last 5 years, this draft had a sense of planning to it.  A focus rather than scattered draftings.  This year brought no “Ted Ginn” exclamations or Jason Allen rants.  Every draft leaves fans feeling slighted at some position and this one was no different.

All in all the Phins addressed some areas of serious needs while allowing the team to show where their focus remains for the 2009 draft.  Knowing you can not fix a problem in one year, the Dolphins at least attempted to fix a couple of areas, leaving more to be done in the next year or two.

While the draft itself was not outright disappointing, one subject remained at the top of the conversation, Jason Taylor.  Taylor perhaps is more disappointed than the Dolphins fans although he likely will not say so publicly.  Taylor entered the weekend possibly hoping that he would leave it as a member of a championship competing team, instead, he leaves the weekend with more questions surrounding him than when he entered.  What exactly is the future of Jason Taylor.  While many fans, including myself, hung on the edge of every Tampa, Washington, Philly, and Jacksonville pick, it quickly became apparent that despite the internet rumors, Jason wasn’t going anywhere.

The draft could have been graded out as a “B” but I upgraded my grade to an “A-” after realizing that the draft was not just who was drafted with each pick, but who was also drafted with a pick Miami never had.  Akin Oyodele, the LB who should immediately start in Miami, and my favorite, TE Anthony Fasano, who should immediately start at the TE spot were both traded for with the Dolphins first pick in round 4.  Two starters for a pick that often yields potential starters should be added to the draft list.

Overall Grade - (A-) 

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