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(Andy Cohen In the Morning – AC in the AM – will appear on Dolphins.com during the offseason as events warrant. You can also follow AC in the AM by twitter at @acohenfins).
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There are never any guarantees when it comes to the NFL draft. Only time and production will tell us how successful the Dolphins truly were as they pieced together their seven-man Class of 2017.
But if you are judging on first impressions, if you are evaluating these newcomers based on positions of need, based on the upgrades necessary to continue what Adam Gase started a season ago, then just about everything the Dolphins did made perfect sense.
They needed defense. They got it. Plenty of it. Five of the seven picks to be exact. They needed better depth, more competition and, generally speaking, an influx of young, promising talent for the long-term far more than merely a quick fix for the 2017 season. Sure looks like they accomplished that as well.
“It’s up to them to prove that we were right,” said General Manager Chris Grier.
That’s the unknown. That’s why it is so difficult analyzing a draft a couple of days later. You just never know how one level will transfer to the next. You never know if the stage is too big or the challenges too imposing. What we have right now is a list of seven names, seven resumes and seven dreams.
But aren’t they intriguing? Didn’t they fill just about every glaring need? Didn’t you get the feeling there was a well-calculated plan that seemed to fall into place with each round? Almost every pick filled a void. There was not a single scratch-your-head moment and that says plenty about the job done by Grier, VP Mike Tannenbaum and their staffs.
Think about it. A pass rusher in the first round? A tackle-devouring inside linebacker in the second? A productive cornerback? A big, powerful offensive guard? A pair of defensive tackles? A wide receiver just for good measure?
A year ago, it was the offense getting six of the eight picks. Now it was the defense’s turn. The confidence Gase obviously has in his returning offense is an underlying theme that should not go unnoticed. It afforded the Dolphins the luxury of focusing primarily on the defensive side, clearly the area of the greatest needs.
Get out your list of draft objectives. I’m pretty sure the Dolphins checked just about every box. Combine that with what they accomplished in free agency, including re-signing some of their own players, and it’s hard – at least at this point — not to paint these past few months as an overwhelming success.
Let’s take a closer look at these seven draft choices, how they fit in and what I expect from them in their rookie season, in the order they were selected
• Defensive end Charles Harris: The Dolphins did not expect him to be there and were ecstatic he was. Harris was an elite pass rusher in college. He will compete to be part of a four-man rotation with Cameron Wake, Andre Branch and William Hayes. I expect we will see a lot of Harris this season, certainly in pass rushing situations lined up in all sorts of places. From everything I’ve heard and seen on tape, he is a top-tier talent and has the chance to be special on this level.
• Linebacker Raekwon McMillan: Really like this player. Comes with a great pedigree as captain of the Ohio State defense, and leading tackler, for the past two seasons. His expertise is devouring the run, which is exactly what the Dolphins needed after finishing 30th in run defense a season ago. Kiko Alonso and free agent addition Lawrence Timmons appear solidly entrenched in the lineup. But there is an opening for a third starting linebacker and McMillian should get plenty of chances to earn that spot.
• Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley: You can never have too many quality cornerbacks. I’m told the Dolphins circled Tankersley’s name early in the scouting process. He has nice size (6-1, 199) for a corner and started two seasons on a pretty good Clemson defense. Veteran Byron Maxwell and second-year player Xavien Howard appear to be the starters, but the third and fourth corners see plenty of action and Tankersley will be in that mix. At the very least, I expect him to contribute on special teams.
• Guard Issac Asiata: “I believe an offensive lineman needs to play with intellectuality and brutality,” Asiata said after being selected. I’ve never quite heard it explained that way, but I absolutely love the premise. Asiata appears to have both the smarts and physicality he was talking about. He will battle Jermon Bushrod and free agent acquisition Ted Larsen for a starting spot. Even if he doesn’t start right away, he provides the depth the Dolphins needed at that position.
• Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux: The Dolphins went into the draft thin at defensive tackle with Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips the starters and not a whole lot of depth behind them. That was taken care with Godchaux and, right after, the selection of Vincent Taylor. Godchaux was a productive player at LSU. Had 145 tackles and 12 ½ sacks in his three seasons there. I expect him to push Phillips for playing time and provide much needed depth. “The Dolphins got them a steal,” Godchaux said after being draft. We should find out this season if his words ring true.
• Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor: What gets your attention right away is the five blocked kicks he accumulated at Oklahoma State. “I never take a play off,” he says, which in many ways explains the blocked kicks. I look for Taylor to get the same opportunities as Godchaux. His seven sacks last season is impressive coming from an interior lineman. But even if he doesn’t get extensive playing time with the base defense, you just know he’ll be a factor on special teams.
• Wide receiver Isaiah Ford: Back to back 1,000-yard receiving seasons at Virginia Teach left Grier somewhat elated that he was still there in the seventh round. The Dolphins are loaded at receiver and Ford’s best shot appears to be winning the fifth receiver spot on the roster. His play on special teams will have a lot to do with that.
How will the Class of 2017 ultimately be defined? Like Grier said, it’s now up to them. And that should make this a very interesting summer.