After Nick Saban’s first season in Miami, the Dolphins were riding a six-game winning streak, a “franchise quarterback” had been acquired, and the 2006 team was a popular pick to get to the grandest stage in football – the Super Bowl.
That promise fizzled and faded as quickly as it materialized. That season has its place in Dolphins history for reasons most fans don’t care to revisit, but as a 19-year old bright-eyed fan, it was the first time I dove head first into the spectacle that is the NFL Draft. Scribbling every single pick into a composition notebook, I was hooked.
Twelve years later, I’m as obsessed as ever. This mock was the hardest one I’ve ever put together. Trying to configure the two major team-needs with the four slightly less concerning roster-holes, in relationship with the depth of this draft is not unlike picking the Mega Millions numbers.
Alas, my final 2018 Miami Dolphins mock draft:
- (11) LB Roquan Smith, Georgia –
Report: Smith does three things better than any linebacker in this class – run, tackle and cover. His sideline-to-sideline range, nation-leading tackle percentage, and sheer instincts to disrupt the underneath passing game makes him a 100% snap taker the moment the card is turned in. Much has been made about his inability to defeat blocks in traffic, but the direction of the game places and emphasis on his strengths and marginalizes his weaknesses.
Fit: Linebackers in this defense have to be able to play in space. WILL and SAM distinctions aren’t as prioritized as they are in other fronts. Smith excels as a blitzer, as a reroute /hook-zone defender and can stay on the field for all packages.
Pick Psychology: Passing on a player like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James would be a tough pill to swallow, but the safety value in the second round trumps that of the next tier of linebackers.
Here’s some Roquan Smith GIFs from the Auburn game. Speed doesn’t slump. pic.twitter.com/ZqgdHF1wLc
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 2, 2018
- (42) FS Jessie Bates, Wake Forrest –
Report: As rangy and instinctive as they come, Bates taps into his baseball skill set to play a speedy center field safety. Where some players key on the quarterback’s eyes, Bates is able to recognize route-concepts, as they develop, which allows him to play faster than everyone around him. He’s not a sound tackler, but he’s willing – once he’s bulks up, he’ll be okay in that regard.
Fit: Supping up the sub-packages was a must for a Miami defense that was dead-last in the NFL on third-down-and-long. Playing single-high safety or a dime role early on, Bates could challenge T.J. McDonald for his starting job early on, or force him into a dollar linebacker role. Bates is the perfect complement for Reshad Jones.
Pick Psychology: If Bates makes it to this pick, it’s a no-brainer. The tight end class figures to have some attractive names at the ready with this pick, but the defensive issues would be nearly entirely erased with Smith and Bates in the fold.
Got into some FS prospects not named Derwin or Minkah last night – Jessie Bates is my favorite. Played CF in baseball, super athlete, extremely instinctive, recognizes route concepts quick as a QB, tremendous ball skills. Video thread courtesy of NFL Draft Breakdown pic.twitter.com/csHENEe3Dw
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) March 8, 2018
- (73) TE Ian Thomas, Indiana –
Report: Thickly built with a quick-twitch, Thomas has the best chance to be a complete tight end in this class. He’s a physical route-runner that can create separation with athleticism or brute force. He’s a tough tackle after the catch and has the bend and drive capable of sealing off the edge in the running game. Injuries and a short resume are the knocks on Thomas.
Fit: Finding a day-one starter with the 73rdpick is as good as it gets, and that would be the expectation with Thomas here. The former Hoosier has more versatility than any tight end on the roster and is the ideal mismatch piece for that coveted Y-iso position.
Pick Psychology: After the first two picks, this has to be a tight end or a quarterback. Likely the last crack at the “next tier” of passers, we’ll go with the immediate contributor over a backup signal caller.
- (123) RB Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State –
Report: The Swiss Army Knife of this class, Samuels is listed as a running back, but he does much more. A direct snap wildcat trigger-man, a pass catching threat from the slot, in-line or the backfield, there isn’t much Samuels can’t do. Tremendous balance and vision, Samuels could be a plug-and-play replacement for Damien Williams.
Fit: In a week-to-week offense predicated on match-ups, Samuels could be a favorite of Adam Gase. Catching the football in short-yardage, flexing out wide and creating ultimate disguise in offensive personnel, this would be a steal of a role player at this juncture of the draft.
Pick Psychology: Running back isn’t a dire need (especially given C.J. Anderson’s place on the market) but passing-up on a match-up nightmare like Samuels isn’t an option. Building this offense around Ryan Tannehill and giving him endless weapons at his disposal is the best route to success.
A few weeks back, I talked about a play-action, zone-read, misdirection based offense capitalizing on Tannehill’s greatest strengths. Charles Clay was such a valuable piece to this, and North Carolina State’s Jaylen Samuels can play a similar role. GIF dump incoming… pic.twitter.com/7QweHOMV52
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 25, 2018
- (131) DT Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hayes State
Report: An explosive interior rusher with scheme diversity, Shepherd was turning heads at the Senior Bowl prior to a hand injury. A mid-round flier allows Miami to develop his raw traits and find ways to get him on the field in certain packages early on.
Fit: Miami needs a rotational piece to the interior defensive line. Hayes is the perfect under-study option to develop while getting some work as a rookie.
Pick Psychology: This positon is one of the tougher areas to diagnose. Miami has a pair of promising sophomores in Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor but neither, nor Jordan Phillips, are accustomed to taking on the reps left behind by Ndamukong Suh.
- (209) QB Alex McGough, Florida International
Report: The FIU product is a cerebral quarterback that relies on preparation over sheer talent. His attention to detail on ball fakes and processing the defense post-snap has caught the eye of the Dolphins’ coaching staff. He lacks the big arm, but affords extra time in the pocket with a keen sense of what’s happening around him. McGough had dinner with the Dolphins for the second time this week.
Fit: The Dolphins don’t need a starting quarterback, but the backup situation is terrifying. McGough could challenge for the number two job immediately and provide a quality football mind to the quarterback room.
Pick Psychology: This pick is simply connecting the dots. McGough has spent a lot of time with the Dolphins in this process and finding a backup quarterback in the sixth-round would be a major boon.
- (227) TE Chris Herndon, Miami
Report: I admit this is awfully low for Herndon. Players slide all the time and medical concerns are a great reason for a slide. Herndon is an athletic marvel, but his production hasn’t matched the ability. He has a long way to go as a blocker, but could provide a nice red-zone match-up piece early on.
Fit: With Ian Thomas in-house, Herndon’s future would be as the number-two detach tight end option. He could serve as a slot-receiver early on and put his refinement as an in-line blocker on the back-burner.
Pick Psychology: Miami has a propensity to gamble on medical risks. Herndon’s forecasted slide is strictly because of the medical and raw nature of his skill set.
- (229) CB Devron Davis, Texas-San Antonio
Report: A fit for the prototypical corner in this defense, Davis offers press-capability and a wiliness to come up and tackle on the edge. He’s comfortable in both man and zone coverages and has a knack for laying the wood.
Fit: Another developmental piece, Davis could make the Dolphins’ roster as a primary back-up to Cordrea Tankersley on the left side of the Dolphins defense. That’s where he primarily lined-up at UTSA and both Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett play the right side.
Pick Psychology: Simply matching a player that fits what the Dolphins do at a position that can never feature too many good players.
The shelf-life of mock drafts are fleeting, but I feel fantastic about this one. Crossing off needs with players that represent value at the spots they are picked is the ideal draft. There are a variety of avenues that could be explored by Miami come draft night.
Just remember, we are getting an elite-level, early-20’s prospect on Thursday night. Whether you like the pick or not, the Dolphins need that pick to contribute and earn a second contract. We’re all on the same team.
Pillaging the Pats
Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins
De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.
A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.
*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.
If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.
I’m in Foxboro reporting on Patriots’ game, so I’ve gotten to chat with people about Dolphins target Brian Flores. One thing nobody exactly says but stands out: This is not your usual Belichick disciple. Disciplined, yes. Stoic even. But not as… how should I put this… rigid?
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) January 12, 2019
By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.
|Coach (Year Left New England)||Additional Migrating Staffers|
|Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame)||0|
|Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland)||0|
|Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets)||0|
|Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver)||0|
|Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State)||0|
|Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit)||0|
Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:
1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.
2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.
That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.
It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.
Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.
There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.
Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme
For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.
Enter Patrick Graham.
It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.
Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.
Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.
And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.
For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.
We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.
The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.
This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.
— James Light (@JamesALight) February 5, 2018
In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).
The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.
New England Patriots 4-3 Even Front I just talked about vs Titans. 2 Gap & 1 Gap Hybrid. Very tough to run the ball against. First example is with Tampa 2 Coverage. Second is with 3 Buzz Coverage (SS Buzz). pic.twitter.com/dnskxkrgFp
— James Light (@JamesALight) January 16, 2018
Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.
The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.
Vincent Taylor gon’ eat in this new defense. Miami didn’t two-gap at all, but he’s capable. pic.twitter.com/m7nfBdbVoU
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Davon Godchaux has the power to play a true nose or the 2i/3 in the 3-3 Bear Front. Here he is showing us as close to nose alignment dominance as we’ll find from 2018 in this D. pic.twitter.com/Ylc4wt86Di
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.
The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.
The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.
No false steps, clean diagnosis, knifes in and makes the TFL. This new defense wants to free up its LBs, which could make a word of difference for the emerging Raekwon McMillan. pic.twitter.com/MHDja6ebtM
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.
The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.
Jerome Baker working as an outside rush backer off the weak side – a role he will see plenty of in 2019 in Patrick Graham’s defense. pic.twitter.com/SVzKXuyc8T
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.
These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.
The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.
Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting
It is that time of year again. Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.
It’s mock draft season! Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…
Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:
Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU
Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy. Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.
Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”. Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.
CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU
Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams. It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.
For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection. In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.
The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma
Now it’s getting exciting! There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray. As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.
Kyler Murray will now get feedback from NFL scouts regarding his draft position and many scouts estimate he’ll be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. He also has millions from baseball waiting for him. Big decision still looms.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 14, 2019
Some question if he will be available at #13. As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched. Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size. Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier. Murray will be no exception.
2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring. If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.
Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson
Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship. Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.
Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs. He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback. Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.
Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson
This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.
What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available. Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.
Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald). Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.
SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke
It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback. Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach. Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill? There are other options out there at a cheaper price.
When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.
All that said, it’s the NFL draft. Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out. Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential? I just don’t see it with Jones.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13. Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.