Just this past week, we at PhinsPhocus.com caught up with Ian Wharton, a Dolphins analyst and scout for Draft Mecca, Bleacher Report, and NFL Draft Force. Ian will travel to Mobile, Alabama in the coming weeks to check out the Senior Bowl, where NFL draft hopefuls will showcase their talents. I spoke with Ian about the Dolphins preferences in this year's draft with the changes in the front office, the offensive and defensive positions they should prioritize, and who are those guys to watch for.
MS: What in your opinion was the biggest surprise of all the players drafted in 2013 for Miami? What was the biggest bust for the time being?
IW: After the 2013 draft, I felt the Miami Dolphins were a winner. Dion Jordan (3rd overall) was my #1 ranked player in the class, CB Jamar Taylor (54th overall) was (and still is) a great fit for the scheme, and I thought the rest of the picks would be able to contribute effectively. That being said, the biggest surprise was that the Dolphins only saw their rookies on the field for 866 snaps, which was league lowest by almost 200 snaps. The coaches failed to utilize the talent they (presumably) helped bring in.
The biggest bust from the 2013 has to be OT/OG Dallas Thomas, who saw only 2 snaps after being selected 77th overall. After the Incognito and Martin scandal, most fans and analysts thought Thomas would step in for one of those starters, but instead Coach Joe Philbin started a player off of practice squad, Sam Brenner. The team will enter 2014 with Thomas being a major question mark.
MS: Looking ahead: What do you believe the Dolphins need most in the draft? What is the greatest need? What is the greatest want?
IW: After allowing 58 sacks on QB Ryan Tannehill, offensive line help is clearly the greatest need and want for the team. Since guards are relatively easier to find than tackles, I believe finding at least one good bookend tackle is the greatest need. The pressure to find a left tackle in the draft may be eased in free agency, where there will be a few very good options for Miami to explore. I would also suggest finding the LT in free agency, since starting 3 or 4 rookie lineman isn’t a wise idea.
MS: What was recently departed GM Jeff Ireland's best draft since 2008?
IW: Ireland didn't have a great history of drafting, as the fan base will often point to his missed picks in rounds 2 and 3, but he's had some very solid picks since 2008. The 2008 draft only produced 2 productive players; LT Jake Long (1st overall) and DE Kendall Langford (66th overall). The 2009 draft had 4 productive players; CBs Vontae Davis (25th overall) and Sean Smith (61st overall), WR Brian Hartline (108th overall) and FS Chris Clemons (165th overall). 2011 had C Mike Pouncey (15th overall), TE Charles Clay (174th overall) and S Jimmy Wilson (235th overall). 2012 had QB Ryan Tannehill (8th overall), DE Olivier Vernon (72nd overall), RB Lamar Miller (97th overall), and WR Rishard Matthews (227th overall).
All of those drafts have one thing in common: a strong 1st round pick, but limited contributions from anyone until late day 3 picks. That’s why 2010 was Ireland’s best draft. He nabbed DT Jared Odrick (28th overall), OLB Koa Misi (40th overall), G John Jerry (73rd overall), CB Nolan Carroll (145th overall), and SS Reshad Jones (163rd overall). Getting 4 solid contributors, and a 5th guy who played 1,028 snaps (Jerry) is a very good draft.
MS: Who are the guys that Dolphins fans should be aware of during the Senior Bowl in the coming weeks? What should fans be looking at when evaluating guys that fit the "Philbin" mold?
IW: As far as the “Philbin” mold, he wants players that won’t get into trouble with the law, and won’t question the coaching staff. The only player selected with character flags under Philbin was TE Dion Sims, so look for players with highly regarded character, and rule out those that have been arrested or even kicked off of the team.
The Senior Bowl will have a lot of talent on the field, so matching the Dolphins scheme and needs with prospects is important. Below are 5 positional needs, and a few names fans should watch for:
OT: Joel Bitonio (Nevada), Jack Mewhort (Ohio State), Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee), Billy Turner (N. Dakota State)
DT: Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota), DaQuan Jones (Penn State), Caraun Reid (Princeton)
OG: Chris Watt (Notre Dame), Brandon Thomas (Clemson), Jon Halapio (Florida)
WR: Jordan Matthews (Vandy), Cody Hoffman (BYU), Mike Davis (Texas)
Others: FS Terrance Brooks (Florida State), TE Arthur Lynch (Georgia), OLB Chris Borland (Wisconsin)
MS: How should an incoming GM in Miami approach this year's draft? Is it possible, the Dolphins evaluate their current starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill as well as their overall offensive scheme to tailor to their new incoming offensive coordinator?
IW: The approach of the incoming GM depends on how much power he is given. I believe the Dolphins coaching staff isn’t certain to return for 2014 yet, because a quality GM candidate should demand enough power to pick his own head coach. Whether the new GM receives that power or not, however, he needs to focus on talent that fits the philosophy of the coaching staff. This upcoming season is make-or-break for Joe Philbin, and the Dolphins need to find out if he’s going to be the guy or not. Giving him talent that fits is very important.
Entering 2014, Ryan Tannehill should be firmly entrenched as the starting QB. Each player should be evaluated after every season, and that includes Tannehill, but he’s shown enough ability to be the unquestioned starter next season. The offensive coordinator should have a similar philosophy to coach Philbin, who has West Coast roots. Philbin helps with the offensive gameplan, but the offensive coordinator should continue have control over the offense, and thus they should tailor the scheme to the new coordinator.
MS: In the end, is Jeff Ireland the one to blame for the Dolphins’ mediocrity or is it Joe Philbin for not getting the most out of Ireland's draft picks?
IW: I don’t think it would be accurate to put all of the blame on Jeff Ireland, as he had his share of good draft picks and free agent signings to go with the ones that backfired, but he was mostly to blame. Ireland had trouble drafting solid skill position players, but had success with many of his 1st round picks and day 3 selections. Overall the roster has good talent, but lacks All-Pro players at positions that desperately need them (OL, WR, LB).
But all of the blame can’t just go on Ireland. The fact is that the 2013 Dolphins had enough talent to make the playoffs, and Joe Philbin had the team in a great position to finally go, before the team looked unprepared and uninspired against the lowly Bills and Jets in weeks 16 and 17. Philbin barely used players from the 2013 draft, and maybe 2014 will show more insight as to why those players weren’t used.
We thank Ian for his time this week and please look for him on Twitter @IanWhart0n.