Hard to believe as it may be, the 2021 NFL Draft is already only about two weeks away. Round one kicks off on April 29th, when the hopes and dreams of each franchise will be pinned on a handful of young men fresh out of the college gridiron — or in some cases, not so fresh, if they opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Either way, the draft is an exciting time for football fans all over the world. Holes are plugged, depth is added, and some cool stories find their way to the big leagues in those three days. Especially for Dolphins fans, there is much to be optimistic about. The team once again has oodles of draft capital to work with, including the 6th and 18th overall picks in the first round.
I’ve been one of many writers doling out praise for how Miami has taken care of business the last two seasons. Like many, I believe the future is bright.
But before we get carried away — a word of caution Miami Dolphins fans.
A simple reminder, really.
Headed into the draft, every prospect looks good in some way. Some prospects look good in just about every way and then flame out spectacularly in the league. Anyone else remember Dion Jordan? Charles Harris?
This is a reminder that people make mistakes in the pre-draft evaluation process. Even Chris Grier, the man fans have taken to calling a “wizard” because of his wheeling and dealing the past few seasons. I hate to be that guy, but Grier’s been the GM while Miami has taken people like Harris, Raekwon McMillan, Kalen Ballage, and Michael Dieter, each somewhat high in the draft.
This is a word of caution that even though Miami is undoubtedly on the right track as a franchise after years of irrelevance, they’re not quite out of the woods yet. They still have to hope a few key pieces from the fateful 2020 draft pan out; they have to nail some picks in 2021 to keep the team young, cheap, and well-positioned to make the jump to the postseason after going 10-6 last year.
So, don’t start counting the eggs before they hatch. Not quite yet.
To see what exactly some realistic expectations might be for this year’s draft class, one that’s similarly important to the class of 2020, let’s break down Miami’s draft history since 2016 when Chris Grier took over as General Manager.
In 2016, the team swung and missed on Leonte Carroo, Kenyan Drake to some degree, and their later picks on day three, which is less concerning. That draft netted Laremy Tunsil and Xavien Howard, though, so overall, that year was a win for Grier. The draft card for the Tunsil pick, in particular, ended up turning into a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for Miami.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) April 12, 2021
2017 saw Grier select Charles Harris, Raekwon McMillan, Cordrea Tankersley, and Isaac Asiata with his first five picks.
In a word, that draft was… subpar, we’ll say.
It wasn’t good.
All of those players had their moments — except Harris, the most pricey pick of the bunch — but didn’t last in Miami for one reason or another. Beyond those names, Grier did alright with Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor, and Isaiah Ford late in the draft. They just weren’t nearly enough to make up for those squandered picks early on.
2018 was solid. The Minkah Fitzpatrick pick is a weird one to analyze because while he has gone on to become an excellent player, he’s now on the Steelers. Grier parlayed the pick acquired for Fitzpatrick into Austin Jackson in last year’s draft, so I suppose the jury is still out on that sequence of events.
As for the rest of the 2018 class, Jerome Baker, Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, and Jason Sanders have worked out well, while the only real stinker was Kalen Ballage (I shudder as I type that name).
Anyone else remember him hurtling into the arms of tacklers for 1.8 yards a carry and bobbling balls into the hands of defenders for easy pick-sixes? Me too — good times.
I’m not bitter, clearly.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) April 12, 2021
2019 is a bit of a mixed bag, with Andrew Van Ginkel, Myles Gaskin, and Christian Wilkins looking like good picks of that bunch. Although while I love Wilkins as much as the next guy, you’d like him to dominate in year three and fulfill his first-round price tag. Michael Dieter hasn’t done much yet, but the other misses were late picks, so there were no real marks against Grier.
And of course, there’s 2020, last year’s class. I won’t belabor the point of how crucial this group is, but the big names to watch moving forward are undoubtedly Austin Jackson and, of course, Tua Tagovailoa. The rest of last year’s rookies played a good amount of snaps in 2020, and their development is key in comprising the core of this young team.
Hopes and dreams, however, are pinned on Tua.
So what does all this tell us about Chris Grier, and what can we expect from this year’s draft? By my estimation, he’s done alright. Probably above average — misses on people like Harris, McMillan, and maybe Fitzpatrick, and hits on players like Tunsil, Howard, and Baker. There have been misfires, but Grier’s been on target more often than not.
Looking ahead to the draft in a few weeks, keep this history in mind.
A word of caution might be necessary to keep people from getting their hopes up too high, and a reminder that every prospect in the early rounds looks great should help temper expectations. Overall, though, Grier has given us reason to trust him.
Here’s hoping we don’t end up with another 2017 class on our hands.