The 2016 Miami Dolphins are a playoff team. Based on the unenviable path the NFL’s only franchise with an undefeated season has taken the last 20 years, that is a borderline miracle. Once a regular on top of the AFC East, the Dolphins have been basement regulars for awhile. Few teams in the league have wallowed in obscurity to the extent of Miami, and they owe a lot of that to awful decisions on draft day.
Miami has made so many glaring missteps with the majority of its last 15 first round draft picks that reaching the postseason, for awhile, seemed like a part of Dolphins history, not a part of Dolphins future, and fans know not to look forward to the playoffs.
How different it could have been. We’ll take a look at exactly what Miami could have done differently with those last 15 first rounders. Offense, defense, skill positions, and in the trenches, most years Miami could have done better. There’s a couple of season where the Dolphins got it right, but altogether there are few teams in the league that have made poorer decisions in the NFL Draft than Miami. We’ll try to fix the past. Check out our redraft and let us know if you agree.
15. 1998 – Flozell Adams
Original Pick: John Avery
The 1997 Miami Dolphins finished the season 9-7 with seven of its sixteen games decided by a field goal or less. For their efforts they were awarded a Wild Card game with the AFC East champion New England Patriots, a game they lost 17-3, and the #29 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.
The Dolphins used that pick to select John Avery, a running back out of Mississippi. It was a common theme throughout the career of Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, building up the run to compliment the Dolphins historic passing attack. Avery was not the answer, and in fact there were only two running backs who would reach a Pro Bowl from the ’98 Draft, Fred Taylor out of Florida, and Ahman Green from Nebraska. The Dolphins did just miss out on a selection however that could have significantly bolstered the Miami rushing game.
Nine picks after Avery’s name was called, the Dallas Cowboys selected offensive tackle Flozell Adams out of Michigan State. Adams slipped in the draft due to a hearing problem and questionable athletic ability. A lot of teams regretted passing on the Spartan. Adams spent 12 of his 13 seasons in Dallas, five times being named to the Pro Bowl and starting 194 games in a spectacular career.
14. 2001 – Drew Brees
Original Pick: Jamar Fletcher
It would be two seasons before Miami again got the opportunity to make a first round selection, and they blew it. The 2000 Dolphins season went better than many expected, with Miami winning the AFC East and knocking off the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round before crashing to the Earth with a 27-0 loss at Oakland in the Divisional round.
That season was Miami’s first following Marino’s retirement, and the quarterback play from Jay Fiedler was competent enough that the Dolphins thought they had found their successor to the greatest signal caller in franchise history.
With the offense seemingly in a good place, Miami went with defense in the 2001 NFL Draft. Jamar Fletcher, a two-time All-American cornerback from Wisconsin would spend three years with the Dolphins, appearing in 41 games, and was never a full-time starter. After Fletcher was chosen at #26, seven of the next ten picks were future Pro Bowlers, and there’s a couple of shoo-in Hall of Famers. As Miami has spent the better part of the last 15 years searching for its next franchise quarterback, in my redraft I’ll take Drew Brees, who was selected by the San Diego Chargers just six picks after Fletcher.
13. 2004 – Chris Snee
Original Pick: Vernon Carey
Another two years passed before Miami selected in the first round, a tough reality for a team that missed the playoffs in back to back seasons. The 2003 Dolphins finished 10-6, a one game improvement from the previous season, but were left on the outside looking in when the postseason began.
The following summer Miami looked to strengthen its offensive line when they chose Vernon Carey from the Miami Hurricanes with the 19th overall pick. While the selection of a hometown favorite was well received, and Carey certainly had a nice career as a Dolphin, there was another offensive lineman on the board Miami wishes they had taken.
The next OL selected in the 2004 NFL Draft was Chris Snee out of Boston College. Snee spent the entirety of his 10 year NFL career with the New York Giants after he was taken with the second pick in the second round. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Snee was named to the Pro Bowl four times and was a First Team All-Pro in 2008.
12. 2005 – Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: Ronnie Brown
2004 was a disaster for the Dolphins. Embroiled in a controversy regarding marijuana use, lead running back Ricky Williams elected to retire from football, and Miami bottomed out with a 4-12 effort. The Dolphins started the season 0-6, and finished with a losing record for the first time since 1988.
So it’s unsurprising that with Williams out of football, Miami aimed to improve the backfield in the 2005 Draft. With the second overall pick the Dolphins were in a good position to pick up a playmaker. It’s hard to say that they whiffed, Ronnie Brown was the best running back chosen in the first round, the other two being Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams. So with the benefit of hindsight, I’m going with a quarterback in this redraft.
Alex Smith was the number one overall pick in the ’05 draft. And while there has been no shortage of criticism for Smith’s bland style of quarterbacking, he’s carved out a nice NFL career for himself, and has led the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs this season. I’ll take the next QB called in the draft, Aaron Rodgers, the #24 overall pick of the Green Bay Packers. The Dolphins certainly have a lot of company among teams who missed out on the future Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion.
11. 2006 – Antonio Cromartie
Original Pick: Jason Allen
Miami bounced back in 2005 with new head coach Nick Saban at the helm. The Dolphins again missed the playoffs, but went 9-7 and finished the season on a six-game winning streak.
In the 2006 Draft Miami focused on the defensive side of the football. The Dolphins took Jason Allen, a Third Team All-American out of Tennessee with the 16th overall pick. Allen spent four seasons in Miami before being released in November of 2010.
The Dolphins were so close to adding a vastly better player to their secondary. Two spots after Allen was chosen, the San Diego Chargers selected Antonio Cromartie out of Florida State. While Cromartie has been viewed as a head case at times, evidenced by the five different stops he’s made in his ten year career, his accomplishments on the field cannot be denied. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl four times, and led the league in interceptions in 2007, a First Team All-Pro year for the Seminole.
10. 2007 – Patrick Willis
Original Pick: Ted Ginn Jr.
The 2006 Dolphins again missed the NFL playoffs. This is going to be a familiar theme, so get used to it. Nick Saban left Miami after the disappointing season, taking the recently vacated head coaching position at Alabama. Cam Cameron got the job, and with it the #9 pick in the 2007 Draft.
That pick was used on Ted Ginn Jr., a wide receiver out of Ohio State. Ginn would never be especially impressive with Miami, his three seasons with the Dolphins were plagued by dropped passes, and he made the biggest positive impact in the kick return game. Still, Miami shipped Ginn to San Francisco for a 5th round pick in 2010.
Four of the next six picks would later be named to a Pro Bowl. With as many holes as the Dolphins had on both sides of the ball at that time, it’s hard to go wrong. I’ll take Patrick Willis, who was chosen two spots after Miami’s selection. A future teammate of Ginn’s in San Francisco, Willis was named a First Team All-Pro five straight times and spent his entire eight year career with the 49ers.
9. 2008 – Jake Long
Original Pick: Jake Long
In 2007, the Dolphins truly hit rock bottom. Miami finished 1-15, the worst season the franchise has ever seen, and needed an overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 to avoid becoming the first 0-16 team in NFL history. When that happens you usually get the first pick in the NFL Draft the following season.
And Miami knocked it out of the park. There’s no definite place to start for a team as deficient as the Dolphins were following the ’07 campaign. The prior year the Oakland Raiders went high risk-high reward when they drafted JaMarcus Russell with the top overall pick. A year later Miami went safer and selected Jake Long, an offensive lineman out of Michigan at #1.
I’m not going with a redraft here, because I loved the selection of Long at the time, and still do. Pressed, I’m going to say that Miami should have chosen Matt Ryan who went to the Atlanta Falcons two picks later, but I’m not a fan of picking a quarterback at number one. Long spent five seasons in Miami, and four times was named to the Pro Bowl.
8. 2009 – Clay Matthews
Original Pick: Vontae Davis
Long helped to revolutionize the Miami offense. The 2008 Dolphins ran the “Wildcat” and engineered the greatest one-season turnaround in NFL history. Miami won the AFC East, returning to the playoffs before bowing out courtesy of a 27-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
That summer the Dolphins used the 25th pick in the draft to take Vontae Davis, a cornerback out of Illinois. Davis spent three underwhelming seasons in Miami before he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a second round pick in 2012.
Davis would eventually turn into a top cornerback in Indianapolis, though the player selected after him made an immediate impact. The Packers chose Clay Matthews from USC. Matthews was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and for five of the next six seasons. He won a Super Bowl with Green Bay in 2011.
7. 2010 – Rob Gronkowski
Original Pick: Jared Odrick
Miami’s reign on top of the AFC East was short lived. The Dolphins followed up 2008’s 11-5 effort by going 7-9 in 2009. Teams caught up with the “Wildcat,” a gimmicky offense that was not sustainable long term.
So the next era in Miami Dolphins football began with the #28 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Miami went with Jared Odrick, a defensive tackle out of Penn State. His rookie year Odrick broke his foot after one game and missed the rest of the season. He played four more years with Miami before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015.
I’ll give the same answer that most teams would compiling a redraft from 2010. I wish Miami had picked the guy that was selected by the New England Patriots with the tenth pick in the second round. Rob Gronkowski has collected over 400 receptions and 6,000 receiving yards in his career and is barreling head first towards being named the greatest tight end that has ever played professional football.
6. 2011 – Mike Pouncey
Original Pick: Mike Pouncey
Tony Sparano’s Dolphins went 7-9 for the second consecutive season in 2010, a continued slide into the dark abyss of irrelevancy that would come to define Miami’s teams for several years. The quest to transform back into a .500 team began with the #15 pick in the 2011 Draft.
The Dolphins used that selection to acquire Mike Pouncey, a center from Florida. Pouncey was a two-time First Team All-American with the Gators and entered the NFL Draft following his junior year.
Pouncey is still with Miami today, and although he only played in five games last season before missing the rest of the year due to injury, I’m sticking with him in this redraft. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler who has earned that distinction at two different positions. Given the other players available at this point in the 2011 Draft, the Dolphins actually didn’t do that bad.
5. 2012 – Luke Kuechly
Original Pick: Ryan Tannehill
An 0-7 start to the 2011 season meant an early exit for Tony Sparano, and Todd Bowles took the reigns for the rest of the season with the Dolphins ultimately finishing 6-10. By the time next summer’s draft came around, Joe Philbin was in charge in Miami.
And his first selection certainly made headlines. Miami went with Ryan Tannehill as the #8 pick in the draft, the first time the Dolphins have selected a quarterback in the first round since Marino in 1983. Tannehill started all 16 games as a rookie, and remains Miami’s starting QB today.
The Tannehill selection has been criticized by many throughout his career, though it’s certainly not worse than picking Robert Griffin III second overall in the same draft. Tannehill looked destined to exit Miami after the 2016 season, but under new head coach Adam Gase, his work has helped lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. It’s a fair assessment that his work has been inefficient enough, however, so I’m taking the next guy in the 2012 draft, Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers. Kuechly was instantly impactful and was named a First Team All Pro each of his first three seasons with the Panthers.
4. 2013 – Ezekiel Ansah
Original Pick: Dion Jordan
The Tannehill pick did not produce immediate dividends in 2012. That Miami team did take a small step in the right direction though. The Dolphins finished 7-9, though by the time the 2013 NFL Draft came around, the team had significant holes on both sides of the ball. Miami’s offense ranked 27th in the NFL in 2012, its defense 21st.
Miami elected to address its defensive needs with its first round pick in 2013, choosing Dion Jordan, a defensive end from Oregon third overall. Jordan has played very little for Miami since he was drafted, he’s made 46 tackles in a Dolphins’ uniform, and missed the entire 2015 season due to a third failed drug test.
Most of the names called in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft would be an upgrade from Jordan. As far as defensive ends go, you don’t have to look far. Two picks later the Detroit Lions selected Ezekiel Ansah from BYU. Two years later he racked up 14.5 sacks, most in the NFC, and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
3. 2014 – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Original Pick: Ja’Wuan James
In 2013, Miami looked to be headed in the right direction. The Dolphins started the season 8-6 and appeared to be playoff bound before dropping the final two contests of the regular season and missing the postseason for another year. The Dolphins picked 19th in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Miami went with Ja’Wuan James an offensive lineman out of Tennessee with its first round pick. As a rookie James started all 16 games in Miami, and the first seven of the next season, before missing the rest of that year with a toe injury. James again started all 16 games this season.
James wasn’t a bad pick by Miami, but if I get a do-over, I’m picking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the #21 pick in 2014. Clinton-Dix was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time this season and was named a Second Team All-Pro. He’s been a key contributor for a Green Bay Packer team that won the NFC Central this season.
2. 2015 – Marcus Peters
Original Pick: DeVante Parker
Another 8-8 year and a sixth straight season out of the playoffs was the story for Miami in 2014. The Dolphins were 7-5 on December 7th and proceeded to lose three of their final four games to clinch another postseason absence.
With the 14th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Dolphins picked up DeVante Parker, a wide receiver from Louisville. In his rookie season, Parker hauled in 26 receptions for 494 yards and three touchdowns.
Parker was a fine pick given the Dolphins needs at the time, but if I’m Miami I’d love to have Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs drafted Peters four picks after Miami took Parker, and his impact early on with KC is staggering. He was named to his second straight Pro Bowl following the 2016 season, and it took all of two years for him to be named a First Team All-Pro.
1. 2016 – Laremy Tunsil
Original Pick: Laremy Tunsil
It was more of the same for the Miami Dolphins in the 2015 season. 6-10 overall, out of the playoffs, and of course a head coaching change. Joe Philbin was fired, Dan Campbell served as head coach in the interim, and Adam Gase earned the full-time gig before the 2016 season.
The first test for Gase was a mighty one. Thought by many to be the top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil slid back after a video was released appearing to show him smoking a substance out of gas mask just minutes before the picks were announced. He was available to Miami at #13 and he did not slide any further.
I’m sticking with Tunsil. The rookie started 14 games for an offensive line that paved the way for a Dolphins ground game that ranked 9th the NFL in rushing yards. Jay Ajayi was the league’s fourth leading rusher in 2016, and Tunsil had a lot to do with that. Time will tell if this was a savvy selection by Miami’s rookie head coach.