Dolphin Draft process: Yahoo dives into Miami’s scouting


Yahoo surprisingly released a 10 part piece on the Miami Dolphins scouting process. This story is immensely interesting to statistic fans who believe all sports are evaluated on numbers and championships are won by metrics. Let’s take a look inside the Dolphins scouting article and see if there are more than meets the eye.

Part 1-5: Part one provides a cold hearted narrative that centers on the heart of the scouting soul: “Scouting is a bitch.” This is true to any sport. Scouting is grueling for little pay and even less recognition. I applaud the Dolphins front office for shining light on our scouts and the work they do. But with this recognition, Grier is quick to point out that there is a love/hate relationship with scouts and coaches.

The alignment of scouting/coaching/front office are not equal partners. The scouting reports are used as resources to the GM and head coach decisions. However, the scouts aren’t completely abstract from their utilized resources. Although Miami’s scouts are spread across the nation, they are all invited to training camp and assigned a position group. “It’s good because they spend time, to go to meetings, listen to coaches.” Grier told Yahoo.

This is unique to the NFL for a couple of reason. The NFL is much more specialized than your standard sports. Other sports require universal skills. Basketball and baseball will require all players to bat, field, shoot, and box out. Soccer requires ball handling and working in space. In football you have some players throwing, others blocking, tackling, or kicking. Scouts need to have a good grasp of specialty skills and they aren’t found in metrics.

Requiring scouts to understand the coaching staff’s philosophy and desired skillsets is shockingly evident in regards to draft day moves. This is what makes the NFL’s draft strategic. The Dolphins will target prototype players for their system, while also being ultra-aware of other team’s prototypes.

Zone blocking, 3-4, 4-3, west coast, double TE, ground and pound, are all systems that will require specific prototypes in regard to physical ability and skill. You will see the Chiefs targeting fast and small playmakers, the Cowboys adding blockers and y backs, and the Dolphins adding pass catching tight ends and running backs. With this meta knowledge, teams will predict teams moves and trade down or up accordingly.

A simple way to look at a team’s draft strategy is to look at three things. 1. Area of need. 2. Best available on the draft board. 3. System prototype of that need. Let’s look at how this may have affected the first round Dolphins and Cardinals.

The Dolphins formula of draft went like this:

1. Area of need: DT, OG, LB, QB.

2. Best available: Top ten rated picks in our area of needs were Mayfield (QB), Darnold (QB), Nelson (OG), Allen (QB), Smith (LB), Rosen (QB), Vae (DT), Edmonds (LB).

3. System prototype fit: The Dolphins value athletic players with good size that love football and can lead. This formula is not secret, Gase has laid it out to the media. Since most of our front office are Saban or Parcells disciples, our ideal players are big and athletic. The Dolphins run a 4-3 base defense with value on being strong in holding gaps. Suh was the ideal prototype for this. This allows the athletic linebackers to read the play and get to the ball. On offense, we need a reliable run blocker who is physical as well as a QB that excels in the west coast style offense with good mobility and an ability to improvise.

How it played out: I hate to ruin this for fin fans, but Rosen is NOT the prototype player Gase wants. He does not have a love for football, is not a leader, is a pocket passer, and is inconsistent in production. Rosen is not getting drafted by Miami at 11, however, we want Buffalo and Arizona to think we are. So we invite him for workouts, dinners, and let info leak to the media, all the while knowing that the players we want are getting no public attention.

If you don’t believe me, keep reading Yahoo: “The three biggest questions Dolphins scouts must answer about prospects: Do they love football? What’s the player’s work ethic like? How do they learn?” Rosen failed all three of these, and did so publically.

Luckily for us, it works. The Raiders, who possibly could have drafted Fitzgerald, trade down and Arizona picks Rosen. Out of the list of needs we have Edmonds (LB) and Vae (DT). However, we stray from our designated “position of need” and draft a “skill of need.” We nail our desired prototype and draft a player that doesn’t fit a position label. He is a natural fit in many positions.

Yahoo further compliments my rhetoric. “This vision includes Grier, Tannenbaum, and Gase, sitting down, discussing and adjusting the prototypes they prefer for players . . . we are never going to take a player we like and the coaches hate.” Miami found a player that both coaches and scouts like.

This is just a review of the first part of the Yahoo series on scouting. However, it is important to understand investment. The NFL is a business first and a sport second. How Miami evaluates and invests their resources into production is very important to understand.

There are four areas that make an investment a producer. Talent/skill, standard deviation of consistency, risk of injury, and schematic fit. Scouts are in charge of evaluating all of this while encouraging the team to invest their cap space and draft picks with certain players. This Yahoo article is a wonderful place to start.