You know who the Miami Dolphins picked in the 2018 NFL draft. You know what I thought of that draft. Now you need to know what the team thinks of the job it did:
This all from speaking with sources both within the Dolphins and around the league, who are versed in what the Dolphins are thinking:
The Dolphins came into this draft wanting to improve their team defense and versatility.
First-round pick Fitzpatrick does that at the line of scrimmage and in two deep. One of the Dolphins coaches compared him to Malcolm Jenkins, which is a great on-field compliment considering the Philadelphia Eagles safety is a two-time Pro Bowl player and a defensive leader for the Super Bowl champions.
It should not escape notice that in the Super Bowl, the Eagles matched up Jenkins (who is 6-foot and 204 pounds) against New England tight end Rob Gronkowski much of the game.
It’s hard to find guys like Jenkins or Fitzpatrick, especially if they match ability and versatility with high character. And the Dolphins believe Fitzpatrick checks those boxes.
Second-round pick Mike Gesicki was a polarizing pick when it happened but not in the Dolphins building.
They envision A.J. Derby, Gesicki, fourth-round pick Durham Smyth, and recently acquired Gavin Escobar immediately representing a very good tight end corps. The team also has MarQueis Gray and Thomas Duarte.
The Dolphins believe they now have significant depth at the position and that’s important because coach Adam Gase likes to play two tight ends on the field at the same time.
Gesicki is a second-round selection and so he should be a starter. But the Dolphins hope that’s the case eventually. Immediately, the team hopes he can play on obvious passing downs and in the red zone.
The Dolphins know Gesicki is not a great blocker. Or a good blocker. But, I’m told, he’s “a willing blocker” who will get stronger and eventually be functional in the running game.
Smythe is considered a player comparable to Anthony Fasano -- in that he can block well while still being able to separate some from a defender in the passing game.
Ironically, the addition of Smythe means the Dolphins have no immediate plans to re-sign Fasano.
Third-round pick Jerome Baker runs a 4.53 at 6-foot-1 and 229 pounds. The Dolphins see him as a modern day WILL linebacker.
“He’s really fast,” a source said. “Can he go cover Dion Lewis in space on opening day? Yes. He has that ability. I’m not saying he’s going to be the opening day starter but the ability is there. “
That’s great because the Dolphins play the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season opener. Lewis signed with the Titans this offseason.
And it’s not just Lewis that promises to challenge the Dolphins linebackers in 2018. The Patriots have Rex Burkhead. They also drafted Sony Michel. The Bills sometimes use LeSean McCoy as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
Last year it was Kiko Alonso often chasing these players.
This year it’s up to defensive coordinator Matt Burke to sort it all out:
If Burke wants to move the linebacker corps around and make Alonso a strong side linebacker while Baker takes over at weak side, that’s an option.
Or perhaps the Dolphins utilize three safeties and only one linebacker in sub packages -- with Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald and the best coverage linebacker the Dolphins have at the time on the field all at once.
This, by the way, is a good puzzle to put on a defensive coach’s desk. Much better than asking him to get Lawrence Timmons to cover someone.
Running back Kalen Ballage, another fourth-round pick, is obviously a down-the-road player in the backfield. He’s not going to immediately displace either Frank Gore or Kenyan Drake. But the Dolphins don’t think that means he’s going to be “redshirted.”
How does he get to the game day active roster? Special teams. He’s 223 pounds and he loves playing special teams. Ballage also runs in the 4.4s.
In doing their homework on Ballage, the Dolphins asked punter Matt Haack what kind of teammate the running back is because they played together at Arizona State. The team asked Haack if he’d want to work with Ballage.
Haack’s answer is obvious because Ballage is on the team.
Sixth-round pick Cornell Armstrong is interesting but his history is not pristine. He missed a bowl game as a sophomore for violating some team rule. But the Dolphins are comfortable it won’t be an issue.
(Yes, they’ve been wrong at times on guys off the field, including on the roster and within the coaching staff. But all teams deal with this stuff and if a problem becomes chronic, this offseason has proven it gets eliminated).
Armstrong is fast (it was a thing this draft for Miami) and he plays outside which is very valuable. Yes, Armstrong’s ball skills need improvement. But the Dolphins believe they now have a player behind Tony Lippett to challenge the veteran.
For whatever reason the Dolphins are aware of the potential for criticism about the pick of kicker Jason Sanders in the seventh round. They understand that Sanders’ 10 of 15 (66.7 percent) success rate in 2017 is highly suspect.
But the club is confident Sanders is the right pick. When he was picked, associate head coach Darren Rizzi was in the draft room. And he was by all accounts very excited.
The Dolphins also believe they must be judged by what they did with draft picks that would have been available for this draft but were instead used in trades.
The team used a relatively high fourth-round pick in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams for defensive end Robert Quinn, who will be 28 in a few weeks. And the Dolphins believe that’s great value.
The Dolphins last year gave up a fifth-round pick for linebacker Stephone Anthony. The team will not use a fifth-year option on Anthony, guaranteed for injury, despite the fact he’s a former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints.
But the Dolphins are still intrigued by the player. They believe he can still help and although they’re not assuring him he’ll be on the team in 2019, they’re eager to see what he can do this offseason and through training camp.
That’s how the Miami Dolphins view their 2018 draft.
(NOTE: I’ll work to get insider information on linebacker Quentin Poling, who was also selected in the seventh round. I failed in that assignment for this piece. I suck).