Maybe this is the year the Dolphins finally spend a high draft pick on a tight end. It’s looking they won’t have a choice.
They weren’t players when it came to the top two free agents at the position, with Jimmy Graham going to Green Bay and Trey Burton landing in Chicago shortly after the legal tampering period opened.
There are still some worthwhile options, but none are sure bets.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is only 25, but has never come close to reaching the potential Tampa Bay saw in him as a second-round pick in 2014. Spotrac estimates his market value at a tolerable $12.5 million over three years.
Martellus Bennett has been a monster in his career, but he’s 31, has injury concerns and was all set to retire until last month.
Tyler Eifert is a former first-round pick who’s had one good season in five years and underwent two surgeries in 2017. Spotrac predicts he’ll draw offers in the neighborhood of four years, $30 million, which would seem to rule him out for Miami.
Then there’s Ed Dickson, a guy who is turning 31 this summer and hasn’t had a 500-yard season since 2011. Last year, with Carolina, he had 30 catches for 437 yards and one touchdown. That’s not far off of what Julius Thomas gave the Dolphins last season.
Thomas is likely to be cut by the end of today, which leaves Miami with three tight ends on its roster: A.J. Derby (37 career catches), MarQueis Gray (27) and Thomas Duarte (none). The team could also explore re-signing Anthony Fasano, who is known more so as a run blocker and had 12 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown last year. He turns 34 next month and hasn’t said whether he’s going to keep playing.
“That’s always going to be a position we look at and try to figure out what’s going to be best for us,” coach Adam Gase said at the NFL Combine. “Any time that you can have a tight end that can be effective in the pass game and still be effective in the run game and pass protection, that’s what you want there. The last two years, we’ve had some movement where guys have been in and out. We’ll kind of see what happens this year.
“Picking up A.J. late last year was good for us. He did some things that really impressed us in practice and we tried to get him involved a little bit in a game.”
Furthermore, Miami is losing its best red-zone receiver and third-down hero in Jarvis Landry.
Tight end has been a long-neglected area for the Dolphins, who have never drafted one in the first round. Their most recent picks were Duarte (2016, seventh round), Arthur Lynch (2014, fifth round), Dion Sims (2013, fourth round), Michael Egnew (2012, third round). Sims, whose career-high in catches is 26, has been the best of the bunch. Lynch never played an NFL game, and Egnew lasted two years in the league.
The last time Miami took a tight end in the second round was when it selected Loaird McCreary in 1979, and the highest tight end it’s ever selected was second-rounder Jim Mandich at No. 29 overall in 1970.
They passed on Evan Engram and David Njoku in the first round last year to take defensive end Charles Harris. Engram, from Ole Miss, had 64 catches for 722 yards and six touchdowns for the Giants. The last Dolphins tight end to put up those numbers was Charles Clay in 2013, and before him it was Randy McMichael in 2004.
In an era that has seen tight ends emerge as one of the most explosive threats on the field, the Dolphins are in the unenviable position of never having one and always getting crushed by someone else’s. If any team has seen the value of the tight end over the last several seasons, it’s this one.
Making matters worse, this is a tricky year for them to find one in the draft. With the No. 11 pick, they’re way too high to take one in the first round and probably can’t pass up the opportunity to land a top quarterback in that spot. Their second-round pick is No. 42, which might be too late to grab a top prospect like Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews or Dallas Goedert.
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