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On Porpoise 1-98 - The Draft
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On Porpoise 1-98 - The Draft

Well, fans - it's been a little over a year since the last issue of "On Porpoise" came out and I've been feeling just a tad guilty about the hiatus.

A tad? Hell, I've been feeling downright appalled at my lack of dedication to that most famous of all Dolphins' Internet publications, that bastion of journalistic excellence, that magnificent opus of scintillating information about the greatest sports team in the history of modern sports, that....

Well, you get the idea.

I don't really have a good reason for the year long absence of "On Porpoise". Oh, it has been a busy year, what with the move and all the upheaval that that created in my life, but the real reason there has been no "On Porpoise" this year is that I have been focusing all my writing energy on the news.

Which is, of course, a little silly. There are a million and one sources of news out there on the Internet and most have at least as good a selection of sources as I have, while quite a few have better wells of information from which to draw.

So this year, I hope to concentrate more on commentary and on writing "On Porpoise" than on just writing the news.

For those who don't know what "On Porpoise" is, it's my personal editorial column on the Miami Dolphins. It contains only a little news, no religion, no cholesterol and only 5% of your daily recommended allowance of politics.

In short, it's where I get to sound off about the Dolphins without worrying about such petty concerns as journalistic integrity and accuracy in reporting.

I mean, if it doesn't bother Armando Salguero, Dan Pompei or Mel Kiper, why should it bother me?

Well, that's a little unfair. I believe that Mel Kiper is well meaning - he's just, well - not too bright. The other two, I'm not so sure about.

Certainly you know who Armando Salguero is. He is the head Dolphins reporter for the Miami Herald. This is the guy who thought it was a good idea to write a story about how Dan and JJ weren't getting along and how Dan would effectively be demoted this year. Besides the fact that he didn't check his story with either Dan or JJ, he decided to publish it right before one of the biggest games of last season, worrying Dan about his future at a moment when Dan needed all his focus.

Now there's a guy who really cares about his team, no?

Dan Pompei writes for The Sporting News and was one of the first guys to report the rumor that JJ would retire after the 1998 season - just before JJ signed his contract extension through the year 2000. I think that that little episode speaks for itself.

OK, well - enough soap box rhetoric. It's time to talk about what I should be talking about at this point in the season - the draft.

I am against the draft. I think that if a young man (or woman) is morally opposed to serving in the military then....

Hmmm? What's that?

Oops - sorry! Wrong draft...

Before I give the draft a grade, however, it might be a good idea to refresh our memories about just exactly who was taken in this year's draft. However, before I tackle that, let me say just one little thing about how I grade the draft -

In two words - I don't.

Grade the draft, that is.

At least, not yet. It is not only stupid and an incredible waste of time to give a draft grade before any of the draftees has even put on shoulder pads, but it's also the height of arrogance.

To give an accurate grade for a draft, doesn't it make sense to wait until the players have actually shown their contributions to the team on the playing field?

Well, it does to me and so I don't give draft grades until the players have been able to show their worth against the rest of the league. As of now, I'm not ready to grade the 1998 draft. In fact, I'm still not ready to grade the 1996 draft, although I think that I could at least come up with a preliminary grade for that group of players.

So - no explicit grades on the 1998 draft.

Now, I had initially predicted that the Dolphins would have gone with Jason Peter with their first round pick, but Peter went so high that the Dolphins would have had to trade way up to get him, even if they were very high on him - which, apparently, they weren't.

I had received a report from Miami that the Dolphins really liked running back John Avery from Mississippi way back in March and that I shouldn't be surprised if they took him in the first round. As it turned out, that report was right on the money.

At first, I was skeptical of this report, because the source was new to me, and I wasn't sure how much to trust this particular source. I can't tell you how many sources I've had that have turned out to be full of - well, something that we all already have too much of in our lives.

Also, I had no idea at that time who John Avery was and even after I found out, I had trouble believing that the Dolphins would take him.

However, continued reports out of Miami praised Avery and the fact that he kept moving up the draft charts from the top of the third round to the top of the second as the draft drew nearer made me re-think my analysis.

And when JJ traded down to number 29, I figured that he was going after Avery. As it turned out, I was right this time.

Now, some people have credited me with being some kind of draft guru because I called this one right. Remember, however, that of all the players that I explicitly mentioned in my draft write-up, the Dolphins only selected 2 - Avery and John Dutton.

Of course, it's hard to know if they would have selected some of the others I had mentioned if they had been available, but I wasn't exactly batting 1.000. And I completely missed guys like Bromell, Mixon, Surtain, and Bundren.

Still, it's good that JJ can pull the wool over his most dedicated watchers. That helps him get the people he really wants.

As to the selection of Avery - well, he's a bit of a gamble and we're all going to have to wait and see, which is beginning to be the mantra we all chant every year after the draft. But I think that at number 29 in the first round, he was a good, solid pick. Remember that anyone taken after about number 20 is effectively a second round pick in any case.

Certainly, he will contribute right away on kickoff returns and probably on third downs. He might be able to become a full time player someday, but he almost certainly won't start initially. He's got a lot of competition with Lawrence Phillips, Ray Nealy and the running back formerly known as Karim Abdul-Jabbar.

TRBFKAKAJ? How, exactly, would you pronounce that?

But so what? The greatest team in the history of football had 3 great running backs - Mercury Morris, Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. Isn't there room on the current Dolphins team for a guy like Avery?

And don't you think he can make big contributions?

Now, before you answer, consider this factoid: Mercury Morris - not Larry Csonka - had the best average per carry of any Dolphins' running backs back in 1972 at 5.3 yards per carry. And while he didn't have as many carries or total yards, Morris had twice as many touchdowns as Csonka in both 1972 (12 to 6) and 1973 (10 to 5).

And while Csonka's yards-per-carry average dropped from 5.2 in 1972 to 4.6 in 1973, Morris' ypc rose from 5.3 in 1972 to an astonishing 6.4 ypc in 1973 on 149 carries.

In fact, Mercury Morris holds the Dolphins' single game record for most rushing yards with a 197 yard game against the Patriots in 1973. With just 15 carries in that game, Morris averged 13.1 yards per carry. Those are Barry Sanders-like numbers.

I must admit that the touchdown number stunned me. I would have bet almost anything that Csonka or perhaps Jim Kiick had the most touchdowns. But it was Mercury Morris - a smaller, faster, more elusive running back who was not the team's primary runner.

Does that sound familiar?

Now, for those who argue that it's irrelevant to compare the '72 Dolphins and what they did to today's league, I would say - in some ways, you're right. But the idea that a small, fast, elusive running back can't have a serious impact in today's offenses is bunk.

As for Avery's size, take a look at these illuminating numbers, which compare relevant stats for 4 running backs currently playing in the NFL:

	               	       John    Emmitt   Barry    Warrick
 			       Avery   Smith   Sanders     Dunn
	Weight when drafted:    186     190      UNK       176
	Current weight:         186     209      200       176
	Height:                 5-9     5-9      5-8       5-8
	Speed:                  4.3     4.6      4.4       4.4

NOTE: Special Thanks to FinFan Chris for digging these numbers up for me.

Now, does all this mean that Avery is the next Barry Sanders or Warrick Dunn? I certainly hope so, but since there is no way to tell, it would be foolish to predict.

But let's give the guy a chance, shall we?

To those who say that Avery would have been available at number 44 - you can forget that. Marty Schottenheimer said publicly that he almost took Avery with the number 28 pick just before the Dolphins and Oakland, Dallas and the Saints were all looking at Avery between the number 29 and number 44 pick.

As for Randy Moss, whom the Dolphins could have had at number 19, there is no way to tell if he is going to play up to his potential in the NFL, but I have a feeling that that guy is going to be a disaster. In fact, he has already missed the entire first Minnesota mini-camp with an ankle injury that he got in a basketball game.

Of course, I don't know Moss personally, but everything that I've read or heard about his attitude positively stinks of overconfidence and the kind of arrogance that is immune to the realities of what it's like to play in the NFL.

Personally, I'm delighted that JJ didn't pick Moss. That guy is going to be the next Keyshawn Johnson. Or, at least, what Johnson was like as a rookie. He'll probably have a mediocre first year and then write a book telling the world how it was everyone's fault but his that he didn't produce.

Of course, "write" is a word that doesn't apply to guys like Moss and Johnson. They don't write - they tell a talented ghost writer their story and the ghost writers turn their incoherent ramblings into intelligible prose.

But I digress...

Who else could the Dolphins have had at number 19? Or 29, for that matter? Holliday is a good interior defensive lineman, but he's not a guy who would be likely to bust a game wide open with one or two plays.

Avery is such a player - or at least is a lot closer to it than Holliday.

Except for Moss and Holliday, every other player taken between 19 and 29 is either a defensive back or an offensive lineman. Of the defensive backs, none has as much potential for big plays as Avery does.

Of the offensive linemen available at number 19, none was a sure fire impact player, even if JJ was willing to draft an offensive lineman in the first round, which he absolutely, positively won't do. He explains it this way - offensive linemen are the hardest to grade and more offensive linemen picked in the first round are busts than any other position.

Now, I don't know if this is true or not and I'm not sure I care, because no matter what JJ's reasoning is, he won't break that rule. Offensive linemen are not drafted in the first round - in fact, he's never taken one higher than the third round.

So while reading down the list of players available at the end of the first round, only Yacquez Green stands out as a guy that might turn out to be a more productive player than Avery. And that's a big "might".

I will admit that when Tampa Bay took Green, I pounded my desktop and verbally expelled a convenient expletive (for you Buffalo fans, that means I yelled "Sh*t!").

But other than Green, Avery was the biggest potential playmaker on the board and given the choice between the two, I think JJ did the right thing.

So, where does that leave us? Well, like all sportswriters who have covered the draft, I have now spent way too much time on the first round and have left virtually no time to talk about the second and subsequent rounds, which is really where a team's draft is made.

But don't worry. I promise I'll get to all the later rounds in the next week or two.

Before I go, however, I should say that while I was perplexed during the draft about JJ's choices, my subsequent investigation of the players he took have confirmed again what I should know instinctively by now - JJ knows what he's doing, at least as far as the draft is concerned, and deserves our trust.

As to the future of "On Porpoise", I have a whole boatload of things to talk about in the next few issues. The rest of the draft rates another issue, free agency will get a look and I'll also be talking about the new offense and whatever else suits my fancy.

And if that isn't enough, there will be a special issue of "On Porpoise" in the next few weeks that will discuss some special plans I have for the future of my website and my presence on the Internet in general.

In the next year, I plan to spend even more of my time in writing and disseminating information to all the fans out there. "On Porpoise" will be back as a regular feature instead of an exercise in irregularity.

After all, who wants to be irregular?

Oops - I think it's time for me to end this for now - My wife was just reading over my shoulder and has passed out. It must have been the idea that I will be spending even more time on the Dolphins than before - as if that were actually possible.

Yes, I've finally given up and realized that I'd rather be writing about the Dolphins than doing almost anything else - by myself that is.

Of course, no matter what I do in the near future, it won't be an accident. Just like JJ taking John Avery was no accident. You see, no matter what things I do, I always do them....

... On Porpoise.

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Curt Fennell
DOLFAN in New Rochelle


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Curt Fennell
DOLFAN in New England