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Dolphins 2018 Rookie Draft Class Guide

Travis Wingfield

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Savor the outpouring of news and acquisitions from the last three days – it will have to hold us over till August. Till then, it’s an endless debate on how the Dolphins will trim the roster from 90 to 53 players in preparation for the 2018 season.

The Miami Dolphins added eight players to the roster during the NFL Draft, with plenty more to come in the UDFA-frenzy that begins now. Holding the cards close to the vest throughout the whole process, the Dolphins plan for the 2018 season was laid out on the table over the course of the weekend.

It began in free agency. Robert Quinn coming up on a contract, Josh Sitton a one or two-year band aid, Miami are opting for a year-by-year roster-construction strategy. The Draft only serves as confirmation of that approach.

Miami entered the weekend with a handful of needs:

– Supplementing the match-up pieces and coverage ability on defense
– Remake the tight end room
– Adding speed to the defense
– Finding a long-term running-mate to pair with Kenyan Drake
– An interior pass-rush presence
– Upgrading the backup quarterback position

Most of those boxes were checked over the course of a three-day, 256-pick extravaganza that is the NFL Draft. This is an examination of the newest Miami Dolphins, and the roles they will fill in their rookie seasons.

The pre-UDFA updated Miami roster with projected snap-counts and depth-chart.

  1. (11) SAF Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama –

Reshad Jones has been a premier safety for a half-decade. Miami has struggled to find a complementary piece capable of playing the free to Jones’ strong safety position. The Dolphins tried to make the safeties interchangeable with T.J. McDonald in 2018, and a litany of failed experiments before him.Enter Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The coach on the field at Alabama, “Coach Saban’s Son,” Fitzpatrick is a temperature changer for any defense he plays in. Manning the star position in Nick Saban’s defense in 2017, Fitzpatrick is capable of wearing any hat his coach asks of him. In Miami, Fitzpatrick will use his jack-of-all-trades skill set to play every rep. Slot corner, big nickel, single-high center field, Fitzpatrick can erase the tight ends that have plagued the middle of the Dolphins defense for a long time.

Depth Chart Projection: Starting safety
Biggest Competition: T.J. McDonald
Snap Count Projection: 100%
Role: Every package in the playbook

  1. (42) TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State –

The second tight end off the board, Gesicki’s selection tips the Dolphins hand for the direction of the offense. Throughout his career, Adam Gase has coached a bevy of pro-bowl tight ends. Marcus Pollard, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller became focal points of Gase’s obsession with the Y-iso mis-match piece.

Jordan Cameron, and a well-passed his prime Julius Thomas, handcuffed Gase’s ability to fully utilize his playbook in Miami. Now, with Gesicki, the backside safety or linebacker tasked with covering the Dolphins’ tight end will have a tall order – literally.

Gesicki won’t be asked to do much more than get in the way, or seal off the back-side edge in the running game, but his addition to an offense that struggles in the red zone is a major boon. He’s a leaper with strong hands at the catch point and knack for creating separation with quickness.

Depth Chart Projection: Starting tight end
Biggest Competition: None
Snap Count Projection: 80+%
Role: Primary TE in 11-personnel and 12-personnel, detached TE, red-zone

  1. (73) OLB Jerome Baker, Ohio State –

For far too long, the Dolphins have lacked speed and coverage-ability at the linebacker position. Kiko Alonso was often asked to spot-drop 10-15 yards down the field and find pass-catchers in space – a botched plan. With Baker, that defensive scheme is no more.

Baker won’t take on blocks, he won’t disengage in between the b-gaps and improve the run-defense, but he can defend the edge running game and add a dynamic option to the nickel defense. Miami has struggled with running quarterbacks for as long as they have been destroyed by tight ends, Baker helps in both of those areas.

Depth Chart Projection: 2ndor 3rd linebacker
Biggest Competition: Kiko Alonso
Snap Count Projection: 50%
Role: Nickel linebacker

  1. (123) TE Durham Symthe, Notre Dame –

Every area Mike Gesicki struggles with, Smythe excels in. Primarily an in-line blocker that can seal the edge in the inside and outside zone schemes, Smythe is a throwback tight end. He averaged 16 yards-per-catch, albeit on just 15 receptions in college.

Smythe provides the Dolphins with another option in the red zone and allows for deception near the goal line. The Dolphins have used a third offensive lineman occasionally under Gase, Smythe has served as a “heavy” package piece as the outside man. Using a tight end, opposed to a tackle, in that role allows the Dolphins play action game to have more options throwing the football on the most crucial part of the field.

Depth Chart Projection: #2 Tight End
Biggest Competition: Marqueis Gray
Snap Count Projection: 40%
Role: 12 personnel, short-yardage and red-zone

  1. (131) RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State –

This was my favorite pick in the draft. Outside of Saquon Barkley, Ballage is the most athletically gifted back in this class. Breakaway speed, quick-twitch, soft hands, Ballage gives Gase another back capable of playing three downs.

A grounded, cerebral kid, Ballage prides himself on preparation. “I want to take responsibility and take care of the things I have to do before anyone has to ask me to do something. Rather than bringing in a slot receiver, just flex me out and I’ll fill that role.”

Another match-up piece, Ballage allows the Dolphins to disguise their intentions in terms of running or throwing the football on any given down.

Depth Chart Projection: #2 Running back
Biggest Competition: Frank Gore
Snap Count Projection: 50%
Role: Scheme diverse, the “2” in the 1-2 punch of Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage

  1. (209) CB Cornell Armstrong, Southern Miss –

The Dolphins have depth at the perimeter cornerback position, but the slot is a one-man band. Based purely on the merits of Miami’s defensive back prototype, Armstrong should compete to backup Bobby McCain. He’s a physical, competitive corner that loves to hit and tackle.

In his career at Southern Miss, Armstrong picked off five passes and registered 29 PBUs.

Depth Chart Projection: Last CB or practice squad
Biggest Competition: Torry McTyer
Snap Count Projection: 0%
Role: Nickel corner competing for a roster stop. Special teams

  1. (227) ILB Quentin Poling, Ohio –

The theme to get more athletic players that crave football continues for the Dolphins. Poling ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, leaped 10 feet, 7 inches on the broad-jump and is more of a coverage specialist than a downhill thumper. He registered 43.5 tackles-for-loss, 18 sacks and seven interceptions in his college career.

Depth Chart Projection: Last LB or practice squad
Biggest Competition: Terence Garvin and Chase Allen
Snap Count Projection: 0%
Role: Backup nickel linebacker

  1. (229) K Jason Sanders, New Mexico –

Sanders was 10 for 15 last year for the Lobos with a long of 53. He will be the Dolphins kicker in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest take away is the absence of a quarterback in the class. Ryan Tannehill has been receiving verbal endorsements from Gase and company all off-season. This weekend, the Dolphins backed-up their comments with an emphatic statement that Tannehill is the man.

Miami turns its focus now to the undrafted free agents. With only four defensive tackles on the roster, that position figures to get an infusion of UDFAs.

The Kenny Vaccaro and C.J. Anderson links to Miami were broken with the Fitzpatrick and Ballage picks. Jonathan Hankins is the big name on the free agent market, Miami could pursue the big DT post-June 1.

This roster underwent an overhaul and a philosophical shift. The offense is going to be an aerial assault (pass protecting offensive line, Mike Gesicki, Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola all added and versatile pass catching backs).

Updating to a current model of an NFL defense, Miami now has match-up pieces and more speed. The days of Kiko Alonso running down the field in coverage are over.

This Dolphins team is much closer to a return to the post-season than the cellar dweller the national media makes it out to be.

@WingfieldNFL

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mikey Moore

    April 29, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Great Article

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