Dolphins’ 2017 NFL Draft class: Grading Chris Grier’s hits, misses

Charles Harris is off to a good start. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

For more than a decade, Chris Grier has helped the Dolphins mine late-round talent out of the NFL Draft. It’s an undeniable talent of his, and his latest hit looks like he could be a staple of Miami’s defensive line for years.

Among Grier’s seven draft picks last year, none proved to be a better value than fifth-round defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. The Dolphins saw a premium talent despite some red flags and, after thorough investigation, found a starting-caliber player with the 178th overall choice. Not only did he play well, he adapted well to the team’s expectations of professionalism

“He’s been exactly what you want a guy to be,” coach Adam Gase said.

Godchaux wasn’t the only good pick in the Dolphins’ 2017 draft class, which produced starting cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in the third round and a promising defensive end in Charles Harris with the No. 22 overall selection. Vincent Taylor, a defensive tackle they took in the sixth round, also was a contributor.

Among the three rookies who didn’t do much on the field this year, linebacker Raekwon McMillan (second round) and wide receiver Isaiah Ford (seventh) were on Injured Reserve the entire season. Fifth-round pick Isaac Asiata, a guard, took what the staff described as “a red-shirt year” because he needed significant work to get ready to play.

On top of those selections, the Dolphins found six undrafted free agents who can hack it in the NFL. Linebacker Chase Allen, from Southern Illinois, was the best of them and appeared in all 16 games with four of those being starts.

Cornerback Torry McTyer, safety Maurice Smith and punter Matt Haack also showed long-term potential. Haack was eighth in the NFL in punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line this year.

Any look at Grier’s draft from last year—in the Dolphins’ power structure, he spearheads that operation—must begin with Harris. While defensive end might not have been the greatest need at the time, he was the top player on their board and looks like he’s going to be very good.

Very good? With only two sacks and limited playing time stuck behind Cameron Wake and Andre Branch?

Yes, very good. Harris’ advanced numbers give a fuller picture of how well he played as a rookie. He was among the Dolphins’ best defensive linemen when it came to causing opponents to commit holding penalties, hurrying the quarterback and knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage. He did that despite playing just 47.5 percent of the snaps, including four games of 38 percent or fewer.

“His disruption numbers have been trending positively for us, so I think that those are blocks to build on and to move forward with,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said.

McMillan and Tankersley are already marked down as 2018 starters, and Harris will get a chance to compete against Branch.

McMillan would’ve almost certainly been Miami’s starting middle linebacker in the opener had he not torn his ACL in the first game of the preseason. Tankersley took a much different track, coming on slowly in the preseason before coming on to take Byron Maxwell’s job in Week 4.

Tankersley had been inactive the first two games, but issues with Maxwell’s performance prompted the Dolphins to thrust him into the starting lineup against Drew Brees for his pro debut. He held his own and became a full-time starter.

If Tankersley can grow into an unquestionable starter, that gives Miami optimism about its secondary going forward with him, Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain all 24 years old.

If the Dolphins intended to pit Godchaux and Taylor against each other to battle it out for a job, Godchaux has the clear lead after Year 1. He had 40 tackles and a forced fumble, working his way onto the field for 47.8 percent of the defensive snaps.

But Taylor looks like a quality piece as well.

“We gained a lot this season from seeing Vincent do all of the things we asked him to do,” Gase said. “He was one of our high-energy guys. He practiced hard every day and he gave us value on special teams, which is great to get from a defensive linemen. I do think he’s a guy that we’re looking forward to keep developing and seeing how far we can help him grow as a football player.”

Even at this stage, with Godchaux and Taylor still trying to prove themselves, it looks like Grier has once again made good use of the late rounds. His best find was Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones in the fifth round in 2010, and in the last few years he found talent in Jakeem Grant (sixth round) and Jay Ajayi (fifth).

And if three or four players from this class are already full-time starters by the beginning of their second season, that’s another strong year for Grier.

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DT Davon Godchaux sold Dolphins on himself in NFL Combine interview

Davon Godchaux was a great selection with the 178th pick. (AP)

DAVIE—There were good reasons why many NFL scouting departments were hesitant about LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. The Dolphins shared some of those reservations as they evaluated the possibility of drafting him.

There was an arrest for a complicated domestic incident last year that resulted in him being briefly kicked off his college team (charges were dropped, and he was reinstated), he made what many thought was an odd decision to leave school after his junior season and, quite frankly, he’s got a goofy personality.

But any skepticism the Dolphins had about whether he was serious about football vanished quickly when they sat down with him at the NFL Combine. General manager Chris Grier, coach Adam Gase and defensive line coach Terrell Williams were instantly convinced that Godchaux was the type of player they coveted.

It’s the only Combine interview Gase can recall in detail.

“I remember being shocked,” Gase said. “We were showing him tape and we weren’t even hitting play yet and he says, ‘Here’s what happened.’ He’d go through everything. ‘I screwed up here. I should’ve been (doing this)’

“I just remember Terrell saying, ‘How do you know what play this is?’ He was like. ‘This is all I do.’ I just remember being floored by that because he was so football—That’s all it was. That’s all he was about.”

That proved to be an accurate glimpse, and the Dolphins set their minds on pulling off a draft steal. As they saw him slide into the fifth round, they began to feel like they were the one of the few who knew what he was. They felt confident enough about being able to get him that they bypassed him with their first fifth-round pick, No. 164 overall, and jumped on him with the 178th selection.

Going into Sunday’s game against Denver, it’s clear he was the best value of anyone they chose. He might even be their best rookie, period, regardless of draft slot.

“I think it’s just the consistency that he’s had and the fact that he always does everything you ask and he does it right,” Gase said. “There’s not many guys that can challenge him with the energy he plays with. Every down he’s on the field, he gives you everything he has.”

Godchaux immediately jumped ahead of third-year defensive tackle Jordan Phillips on the depth chart, and they battled throughout training camp. Both have played well alongside Ndamukong Suh when healthy this season.

Godchaux has played all 11 games, including five starts, and been on the field for 52.5 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps. He played slightly more than Phillips the last two weeks.

He is tied with Suh for most tackles on the defensive line with 31 and he’s got a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go with it. Pro Football Focus ranks him the No. 73 defensive tackle in the league this season.

“Godchaux is probably one of the best on the team at holding double teams,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “He’s just a squared off safe. He’s like an old-school safe. He just holds in there and hangs and doesn’t get moved.

Beyond the way he’s played, the staff has been impressed by how he prepares. He’s taken after Suh’s no-nonsense approach and seems to have learned how to carry himself as a pro. It helps that he’s also in the same corner of the locker room as Cameron Wake, Andre Branch and William Hayes.

“He’s been exactly what you want a guy to be, especially for a young guy,” said Gase, who sent Godchaux out as one of the game captains against New England last week.

“I know Suh spends a lot of time with him. It started in the spring. I just think that’s kind of how he is built. (Suh) has just kind of got that natural leadership about him to where those young guys all kind of follow him.”

Following Suh around is never a bad plan, and that’s a strong starting point for Godchaux as he blossoms into a long-term piece for Miami.

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2017 NFL Draft: Miami Dolphins sign DT Davon Godchaux

Davon Godchaux (57) signed his rookie contract today. (Getty Images)

Another formality is out of the way for the Dolphins after signing draft pick Davon Godchaux to his rookie deal today. They now have six of their seven draftees under contract.

Godchaux, a fifth-round defensive tackle, is expected to compete with fellow rookie Vincent Taylor and third-year player Jordan Phillips for a starting job this offseason.

The only draft pick unsigned at this point is first rounder Charles Harris, who said he’s not concerned about practicing without a contract. Rookie deals are automatically slotted within a predetermined range, so his deal should be done soon.

Raekwon McMillan, Cordrea Tankersley, Isaac Asiata, Vincent and Isaiah Ford signed their contracts the week after being drafted.

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Inside Dolphins rookie Raekwon McMillan’s emotional draft night

Miami Dolphins Raekwon McMillan, linebacker, speaks to the media at Miami Dolphins minicamp at the Dolphins training facility in Davie on Friday, May 5, 2017. (AP)

DAVIE—In reality, Raekwon McMillan didn’t wait that long to be picked in last week’s NFL Draft. But to him, it felt like forever.

He put together an exceptional three years at Ohio State, good enough to make leaving early an easy choice, and believed he made a convincing case to any NFL team looking for linebacker help. McMillan thought of himself as a first rounder–despite some projections having him going in the third–and struggled to stay patient as he watched on TV at his apartment.
Continue reading “Inside Dolphins rookie Raekwon McMillan’s emotional draft night”

NFL.com point system ranks Miami Dolphins’ draft 10th in league

Some believe Davon Godchaux was a steal in the fifth round. (Getty Images)

It’s hard to land top talent in the NFL Draft without many high picks, but NFL.com’s ratings suggest that the Dolphins pulled it off.

Using its ranking of the best college players available, the site gave a point value to each of the top 150 prospects. Miami got 402 points, landing 10th in the league. Here are the top 10:
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No more trying to pull rabbits from the hat in Dolphins draft

General manager Chris Grier and the Miami Dolphins kept it simple during the 2017 NFL draft. Concentrate on needs. Take players who have proven capable of competing at a high level. Stay away from mining for gold in unexpected places.

It’s that last point that makes the most sense when it comes to establishing a basic standard.

Miami Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey walks off the field dejected late in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens during NFL action Dec 07, 2014, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. ( Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

I like that Miami exclusively went with draftees from college football’s Power Five conference this time around. Doesn’t mean you can’t find top talent in other places, but the guys who played well in the big conferences did so against tougher competition on a more regular basis.

If they didn’t always break records, at least they were tested physically and mentally most weeks. There’s no accounting for the powder-puff games on every team’s schedule, of course, or the fact that having great talent around a certain player allows him to thrive in ways that might not have been possible on a lesser roster.

Look back, though, at Miami’s 2014 draft class. Former GM Dennis Hickey outsmarted himself in that one. Other than Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee) and Jarvis Landry (LSU), it was largely a case of trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Guard Billy Turner from North Dakota State. (Started some games for Dolphins but was released by Miami and then Baltimore and is trying to catch on with Denver).

Cornerback Walt Aikens from Liberty. (5 career starts and 1 career interception).

Tight end Arthur Lynch from Georgia (Exception to rule, never was healthy, never played a lick).

Linebacker Jordan Tripp from Montana (Special-teamer for Dolphins, now on his 3rd team since they cut him).

Wide receiver Matt Hazel from Coastal Carolina (Bouncing around league on practice squads).

Defensive end Terrence Fede from Marist (One epic punt block as rookie won’t keep him on roster much longer).

Taking the better players from programs in the SEC and the ACC and the Big Ten and the Pac 12 and the Big 12, that’s just common sense. They had to be great in high school to get there in the first place, and coachable in college in order to get playing time. So the Dolphins took draftees from Missouri and Ohio State and Clemson and Utah and LSU and Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech. Not a Marist in the bunch.

We’ll have to see if it works out, but the odds surely are better that a handful of players from that group will be up to NFL speed before long.

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There have been quite a few small-school heroes in Dolphins history, so there’s no pretending that it’s not possible to find one in the draft. I’ll list some here, but with the same basic conclusion, that I would rather try to build on players with the fewest variables at the best-known programs.

I would rather do it Chris Grier’s way than Dennis Hickey’s.

Small-school products who were major or at least important contributors for Dolphins:

Jason Taylor, Akron

Mercury Morris, West Texas State

Vern Den Herder, Central Iowa

Mark Duper, Northwest Louisiana State

Doug Betters, Nevada

Freddie Solomon, Tampa

Patrick Surtain, Southern Mississippi

William Judson, South Carolina State

Samson Satele, Hawaii

James Pruitt, Fullerton State

Jim Jensen, Boston University

Leroy Harris, Arkansas State

 

That’s just a quick scan and probably you can add a few names to that list. Just remember we’re talking about a half century of Dolphin drafts. It’s really not that many either way

 

 

Mel Kiper: Dolphins should’ve drafted Zach Cunningham over Raekwon McMillan

Raekwon McMillan isn’t versatile enough for Mel Kiper’s taste. (Getty Images)

At the time the Dolphins took linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the second round of the NFL Draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper seemed very down on the decision. He went far enough to say it would’ve been a good pick if this was still 1985.

When asked today for a little more explanation on that critique, Kiper didn’t back down. He said Miami should have gone with Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham, who went to Houston three picks later, in that spot.
Continue reading “Mel Kiper: Dolphins should’ve drafted Zach Cunningham over Raekwon McMillan”

How would you grade the Miami Dolphins’ late-round NFL draft picks?

Isaac Asiata #54 of the Utah Utes holds the trophy after a win against the Indiana Hoosiers in during the Foster Farms Bowl game at Levi’s Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

After their first-round selection of Missouri defensive end Charles Harris on Thursday night, the Dolphins continued to add depth on the defensive side on Friday. Adam Gase and company picked up Raekwon McMillan, a linebacker from Ohio State, in the second round and Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in the third.

On Saturday, the Fins were busy. Though they were without a fourth-rounder, they ended up with two picks in Round 5, landing Utah guard Isaac Asiata at No. 164 overall and LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux at No. 178. In the sixth, they added another DT in Oklahoma State beefcake Vincent Taylor. Then, after trading down in the seventh and adding a seventh-round pick next year, the Dolphins ended their 2017 draft campaign by selecting Virginia Tech wide receiver Isaiah Ford.

They added depth at positions they needed and may have found someone to compete for a starting role on the offensive line. You can’t ask for much more than that.

But we’d rather hear from you. How would YOU grade the Miami Dolphins’ picks from Round 1 to 7? Vote in the graphic below.

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2017 NFL Draft: Miami Dolphins take WR Isaiah Ford in seventh round

Ford is a new receiver for the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—The Dolphins wrapped up their 2017 NFL Draft class by taking receiver Isaiah Ford from Virginia Tech in the seventh round, making him the 237th selection overall.
Continue reading “2017 NFL Draft: Miami Dolphins take WR Isaiah Ford in seventh round”

2017 NFL Draft: Miami Dolphins take DT Davon Godchaux in fifth round

The Dolphins took LSU DT Davon Godchaux late in the fifth round. (Getty Images)

DAVIE–With their second pick in the fifth round, the Dolphins picked up LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux at No. 178 overall.

Godchaux is a 6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle who had 6.5 sacks last year and will get a chance to compete for a starting job with Miami. The Dolphins have star Ndamukong Suh in one spot, and Jordan Phillips is in line for the other unless Godchaux can overtake him.
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