by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
Nick Saban isn’t going to fall into the trap, committing the failure his predecessors so often did.
He knows that one of the biggest mistakes a team can make in the NFL Draft is to bypass great players to reach for a position of need. Look no farther than your Miami Dolphins and the past 25 years of bad top draft picks to know the truth of this.
What Saban and General Manager Randy Mueller have accomplished during this offseason is the mark of two smart football men. By managing the cap wisely, taking advantage of some good fortune (Daunte Culpepper), and using free agency to address areas of need with proven talents (L.J. Shelton), the team is now well-positioned for the 2006 NFL Draft.
The Dolphins won’t have to focus on any one position. They can sit back and let the talent come to them. They can pick the best player available, the one that makes the most sense to the long term success of the team.
This is what healthy teams do year in and year out. They take Vince Wilfork in 2004, not Vernon Carey in a panic. They take Anquan Boldin in 2003, not Eddie Moore. They take Drew Brees in 2001, not Jamar Fletcher.
There are many other examples but you get the idea.
This is why Saban will not flinch if Vince Young or Jay Cutler slides to the Dolphins’ first round pick, 16th overall.
In fact, depending on how the draft falls, there are many different options that the Dolphins will be able to choose from.
Quarterback: Young or Cutler would trump almost any other possibility.
Halfback: If the NFL suspends Ricky Williams for the season, great talents like DeAngelo Williams, LenDale White, and Laurence Maroney become real possibilities, even luxuries, the Dolphins could afford.
Wide Receiver: Perhaps the biggest positional need is at #3 receiver. Wouldn’t Chad Jackson or Santonio Holmes look great in a Dolphin jersey?
Offensive Tackle: Winston Justice, with the right coaching from Hudson Houck, could be a fixture on the line for years to come.
Defensive Tackle: Saban gravitates to known talents, guys he’s faced or coached in college. If the right offer comes and the Dolphins trade down, does LSU’s Claude Wroten make sense? If Brodrick Bunkley or Haloti Ngata somehow slid to the Dolphins the way Wilfork did two years ago, could one of them get the nod?
Defensive End: Kamerion Wimbley is a player to keep an eye on. He can play end or flex as an OLB and is fast enough to drop into coverage. The Dolphins could use him in much the same way they use Jason Taylor. Of the DE/OLB “tweeners”, he probably carries the highest rating. Saban has already said that a defensive front 7 player that could “affect the quarterback” would be a real consideration.
Linebacker: Having lost out on Lavar Arrington, Ernie Sims now becomes a bigger possibility. He runs a sub-4.5 and would be very disruptive, especially coming on a blitz. Sims can play inside or out.
Defensive Back: This is an area where many so-called draft gurus feel the Dolphins are most likely to go. Do the Dolphins have enough talent at cornerback? Would the best CB on the board (Jimmy Williams, Tye Hill, Johnathan Joseph, or Antonio Cromartie) make the most sense?
In the end, here’s what seems reasonable in terms of what we can expect on April 29:
Trade Up or Down?: There doesn’t seem to be a reason or need for the Dolphins to pay to move up the board. If the Dolphins go anywhere it will be down, though I do not think this is likely unless Young and Cutler are gone, Jackson is gone, and the top “front 7” talent is gone. In this event, a trade down would make more sense as there would be an abundance of CB talent that could be had for value after the 20th pick.
Offense or Defense?: If the board falls the way most gurus see it, the Dolphins are likely to be picking the best defensive player available on their board. That will likely be a “front 7” talent or perhaps even their #1 rated CB available. Of course, Young’s or Cutler’s availability would demand a change in that thinking. So might an NFL ruling against Ricky Williams.
That’s the beauty of focusing on value over need…you take a good player because you can.
So what would I do if I were the trigger man, assuming that the Dolphins stay at #16?
If Young and/or Cutler are on the board when the Dolphins pick, I write “Vince Young” on the card as fast as my hand could do it. Same goes for Cutler if he’s the last of the “Big 3 QBs” left standing. Yes, the Dolphins have Culpepper and are all but certain to acquire Joey Harrington from the Lions. Still, a prize like Young or Cutler gives the Dolphins wonderful options for the future in terms of long term value that can be kept or traded at a later date. It’s the smart play.
If both Young and Cutler are gone, my focus shifts to the defensive front 7. Guys like Wimbley and Sims carry very high grades and would instantly upgrade the Dolphin defense.
If Wimbley, Sims, and other highly graded front 7 defenders are gone, I would give strong consideration to taking the best CB available as that player (whoever it is), would be amongst the highest graded players on the board while also covering an area of need.
However this draft ends up falling, the Dolphins figure to get an outstanding football player, regardless of need, that will make a real difference in the future success of the franchise.