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2015 Dolphins Draft Picks
I usually hate Miami's bye week but it was nice to have a Sunday free from the drama of Dolphin game analysis by the Twitter brigade and blogosphere. I think we all needed to catch our breath and watch the rest of the league lose their collective minds while forgetting the most consistent truth in football...Any Given Sunday.
Miami's five-game winning streak is a feat none of us thought possible after an unimpressive seven-game losing streak. But here we sit wondering if a miracle could happen with Miami winning out and closing the season at 10-7. With home games against the Jets and Patriots (who may be resting starters at that point), and road games against the Saints and Titans (neither looking good as of late), you cannot rule out the possibility. There are 13 teams in the AFC who are still playoff eligible and Miami currently ranks last in the standings among them. Rather than rack our brains with what-ifs, the best course is to let the season play out and appreciate that the Dolphins, at the very least, saved themselves from utter disaster.
I saw a headline from David Hyde that stole my thunder concerning how I look at the next few months for Miami. It described Tua Tagovailoa's play as saving the jobs of everyone in Miami except his own. Couple that with the rumors at the end of last week about Miami making another run at Deshaun Watson and we have a recipe for plenty of early offseason drama. Where am I going with this you ask? Regardless of whether Miami pulls off a miracle, this is still a flawed team and we should not be lulled into the idea that changes are not needed. I have to wonder if some of the jobs being saved are the right decisions and could it jeopardize Miami's future? How many more times can we watch Brian Flores and Chris Grier field a team that digs itself into too big of an early-season hole? Can they construct something that is finally consistent as opposed to being a tale of two seasons?
The elephant in the room is and will continue to be the quarterback position so long as Stephen Ross publicly romances the idea of Deshaun Watson. Much like the Jim Harbaugh debacle a decade ago, Ross humiliated himself, the team, and the fanbase during the trade deadline. Tua responded by playing like a developing franchise quarterback and I am here for every minute of it. I hated the idea of drafting Tua. I was within an inch of canceling my Dolphin fan identity when they drafted him. Now I am on board for seeing how far he can take this team. His teammates love him and opposing defenders can't stand him. Much like the early versions of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, Tua will dink and dunk you to death. Logan Ryan was the most recent defeated opponent taking a shot and subsequently apologized. Hey, death by a thousand cuts stings a heck of a lot more than a quick beheading. My personal opinion is that Miami's best course of action is sticking with Tua and surrounding him with a quality, healthy supporting cast.
The obvious upcoming changes (we hope) for this team are on the offensive line and the receiving group. Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg, Austin Jackson, and Michael Dieter should all be back next season with only Hunt being considered a Bonafide starter. A couple of free-agent signings, preferably short-term and middle-of-the-road guys, will provide adequate competition for the current lot while either replacing them or pushing them to improve. They are still young enough to develop. As for the receiving group, only Jaylen Waddle has proven to be a mainstay. Devante Parker certainly has a role going forward, but it is not as a healthy starter. Miami needs to aggressively pursue at least one free agent and quality draft prospect to give Tua options.
Running back upgrades are needed too. Myles Gaskin and Savon Ahmed are nice pieces for the stable, but Miami needs both a free agent and a draft pick. I'm just not sure either has to be top-shelf. If the offensive line sees a big improvement the ground game will simultaneously make that leap. Has anyone noticed how Jordan Howard is suddenly doing well when he was a dud in Miami? Change is good, but Miami does not need to break the bank on this one with either free-agent money or draft capital.
The defense has certainly arrived and I believe their crowning achievement is making people question whether Lamar Jackson is actually a franchise quarterback. Part of my gloating is because Boss Ross pounded the table for Miami to draft Jackson a few years ago. He, like so many, continue to be fooled by mobile QBs who dazzle during the regular season. It is rare for any QB to have the processing speed that helps win championships. Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers have proven to be the exceptions who have the brain, arm, and legs that bring championship-caliber performances. Jackson, Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson (yup, had to make sure I included him) have shown that they cannot yet clear that hump when it counts most in the playoffs.
Okay, enough of my quarterback ramblings and back to the defense. I would like to see more power in the defensive line, an upgrade at linebacker, and some better young talent at cornerback. I believe Miami has the pieces to consistently be a top 10 defense. Sure you should always be looking to get the next men up in the draft, but this group has flat out been embarrassing opponents for weeks. You could argue that Andrew Van Ginkle should be more specialist than starter, and Eric Rowe hasn't live up to expectations...but that is nitpicking. In my opinion, the next big test for these guys comes in the final game of the season (if New England opts to not rest their starters). The Patriots have cocooned Mac Jones and prevented him from throwing away games. They are also running on people without mercy. If Miami can make the Pats look vulnerable (much like they did to the Ravens), it would be the chef's kiss of an unbelievable turnaround. The mark of a great defense is fearing no one and I cannot think of a better way to prove it than perplexing Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.
Finally, let's circle back to the original question - Are the correct jobs being saved by this current win streak? I don't know. Brian Flores has done a heck of a lot better, but those questions about his work environment still linger. Every great leader is demanding. Every great leader is accountable. And most importantly, every great leader can communicate with honesty and understanding. Has Flores turned the corner on that last part? Or is he still of that Bill Belichick mold which has failed every single one of his assistants when they took head coaching jobs elsewhere? We also have to wonder if he can bring in better assistants for the offense. What they tried has not worked and I am very concerned that quality offensive coordinators are leery of the Flores working environment.
As for Chris Grier...again I don't know. He hit some serious home runs in this draft and I thought his approach to the 2020 free agency was perfect. I want him to mimic that this offseason. But he continues to miss on drafting in the trenches and that is this team's current Achilles heal. We are told that he gets what his coaches want rather than imposing his will on them. I like that. He also told Captain Star Bleeper to pound sand when the Bleeper pushed to draft Lamar Jackson. I like that he stood his ground, even if he proves to be wrong. That is confidence and you have to respect it. I have no doubt that Grier and Flores will be back for 2022 barring an epic meltdown over the next four games. Time will tell if that is the right decision for this organization.
You should be enjoying this ride. The last five weeks have been a lot of fun and let's hope the final four are even better. But don't get content with mediocrity. Don't lionize guys that are delivering average performances. It doesn't mean they don't have a place on the team, but we should not fear upgrades in starting roles. This is a team with holes and potential. That potential will never be realized if the front office and coaching staff do not acknowledge (and address) the holes first.
I hope everyone in the Phinfever family has a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. With so many terrible things in our world it is nice to have an escape to talk about Dolphins football with good people.