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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