Miami Dolphins: Projections for the 2012 Rookie Class
In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins had a clear agenda: to get pieces to instill a true West Coast offense. Four of their first five picks were spent on offensive players, all of whom could have significant roles on the team in the future. Miami also signed a number of undrafted rookies who will get the chance to prove themselves in rookie minicamp, which started this past Friday.
The Dolphins are not quite in full-rebuilding mode this season, but are definitely in a transition period with the coaching staff being completely revamped this past offseason. New coach Joe Philbin has a specific vision for the team and is in the process of molding it to fit that vision.
This transition starts with Philbin's first rookie draft class, which will be crucial to his success as Miami's head coach. The class has a few playmakers, a potential franchise quarterback and a few experiments who Philbin hopes to fit into his West-Coast style.
Here, I'll analyze each pick and lay out the best and worst case long-term projections for each player. I'll also explain what I expect from them in their rookie seasons.
First Round: Ryan Tannehill, QB
Ryan Tannehill, the quarterback from Texas A&M, was taken by Miami with the eighth overall pick in the draft. Many people thought that eighth was too high for Tannehill, but he was considered the only other potential franchise quarterback in the draft after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Miami Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill's head coach at A&M and knows the quarterback better than anyone in football. This pick basically comes down to how much you trust Sherman and Philbin, and personally, I have faith in their analysis and decisions.
Tannehill takes over the reins at some point during the 2012 season and develops over the next few years. His grasp of the offense is mastered, kinks in his throwing mechanics are worked out and he learns to play at the speed of the NFL.
He becomes the leader of the team and wins over the fanbase as he continues to gain confidence. By his fourth or fifth season he is considered a top-10 quarterback and turns the Dolphins into a perennial playoff contender. Personally, I think if Miami puts good pieces around him and doesn't rush him, this is a very possible scenario.
Tannehill confirms every Miami fan's worst fear and becomes the next Chad Henne. He shows flashes of potential, but is unable to make all the throws he needs to become a great NFL quarterback. His confidence lags a bit, and after the Dolphins fail to make the playoffs with Tannehill, he is let go when his rookie contract expires.
I'd be very surprised if Philbin lets this happen and fully expect him to be a good starter for a while in Miami.
I think Tannehill will start the season on the bench behind Matt Moore and end up starting the last few games of the season. Tannehill will be the opening day starter of the 2013 season.
Second Round: Jonathan Martin, OT
Jonathan Martin is a talented offensive tackle from Stanford who was projected as a first-round selection, but slipped to Miami in the second round. Martin played left tackle in college, but will most likely move to the right for the Dolphins.
Martin is not overly strong, but is a very skilled finesse player who will fit in great with the West Coast offense.
Martin steps in and starts as a rookie, playing every game and getting stronger. He stays consistent on the right side, filling in adequately for Long on the left if needed. Martin develops into one of the best right tackles in the league, enjoying a long NFL career.
Honestly I don't think Martin has much potential to bust, so I think the only way his career gets derailed is from injury. As long as he stays healthy, I fully expect him to be an NFL starter for a long time.
Martin wins his position battle with Lydon Murtha, starting the entire season at right tackle.
Third Round: Olivier Vernon, DE and Michael Egnew, TE
Olivier Vernon and Michael Egnew played college football at Miami and Missouri, respectively, and were each taken in the third round by the Dolphins. Neither position was necessarily a huge need for Miami, but they definitely improved both positions by taking these two skilled players.
Vernon is a player who won't wow anyone, but can be a good producer. Egnew is incredibly talented as a receiver, but needs significant work as a blocker.
Vernon gets some time as a rookie and improves over the next couple of seasons, eventually settling in as an every-down starter at end. He racks up seven sacks a season, productively rushes both the passer and running back and provides pressure from the outside.
Egnew molds into an Aaron Hernandez-type tight end, catching the ball as much as any receiver on the team and even being a potential deep-threat up the middle. He becomes a serviceable blocker, developing into a top-10 tight end.
Both players have a similar floor. Vernon's lack of outstanding attributes causes him to be over-matched and unproductive. Egnew can't be as effective with the enhanced speed of the NFL, and his lack of blocking ability causes him to be more of a liability than an asset.
Vernon plays only average minutes and gets a sack or two. Egnew is relied on as a receiver when he plays, but his weak blocking prevents him from being an every-down player.
Fourth Round: Lamar Miller, RB
Even though he was Miami's fifth player taken in the draft, Lamar Miller has the potential to have the best NFL career. Miller is an explosive running back from the University of Miami who slipped in the draft because of concerns over a shoulder injury.
He has drawn comparisons to the Texans' Arian Foster because he is an extremely quick, sneakily strong back who can catch balls out of the backfield as well.
Miller gets some carries his rookie year and then becomes a full-time platoon member in his second season. He stays healthy, shows his explosiveness and racks up the catches as well. A consistent 1,000 yard-12 touchdown-50 reception performer is not out of the question at all.
The injury lingers and Miller never develops the confidence necessary to be a successful NFL back. He becomes a situational player, only used to catch a ball out of the backfield or to give the starter a break.
Used somewhat sparingly at first, Miller breaks out a couple of big plays and is given more carries as the year goes on. By the end of the season, he performs well enough that fans hope Reggie Bush isn't re-signed and Miami platoons Daniel Thomas and Miller moving forward.
Fifth Round: Josh Kaddu, ILB
Josh Kaddu started all 13 games as a Sam Linebacker at the University of Oregon last season. Kaddu has good size at 6'3", 240 pounds, but his greatest asset is his athleticism.
Kaddu can go sideline-to-sideline with ease and is capable of playing inside or outside linebacker. He also should be a major contributor on special teams.
Kaddu becomes a top special-teamer and battles for a spot with Koa Misi, eventually overtaking him next season. Kaddu starts for a few seasons and enjoys success as a solid, athletic player who isn't a tackling machine but can make plays in coverage.
Kaddu simply cannot hang at the NFL level and doesn't get any playing time, other than moderate action on special teams.
Becomes a great special teams performer but only gets a few snaps a game at linebacker.
Sixth Round: B.J. Cunningham, WR
B.J. Cunningham is a wide receiver from Michigan State. Cunningham is MSU's all-time reception and receiving yards leader. With alumni such as Derrick Mason, Muhsin Muhammad and Plaxico Burress, that is an impressive feat.
Cunningham is strong, has good hands and should fit well into the offense as an over-the-middle slant receiver.
Cunningham shows that he can hang in the NFL and develops his frame to be a consistent pass-catcher. A threat over the middle and in the red zone, Cunningham works to become a reliable third-stringer on the depth chart and enjoys a solid career.
Cunningham's average speed leaves him unable to make an impact at the NFL level. He loses the position battle and is released after a couple of seasons, bouncing around from team to team over his career.
Cunningham beats out Rishard Matthews and is fifth on the depth chart, but is used only sparingly in the offense. The presence of Egnew as a receiving option limits his time on the field and he catches less than 10 passes.
Seventh Round: Rishard Matthews, WR and Kheeston Randall, DT
Rishard Matthews is a wide receiver from Nevada who is very comparable to Miami's sixth-round pick from the previous slide, B.J. Cunningham. Kheeston Randall is a defensive lineman from Texas who was once touted as an early-round pick until a disappointing senior season dropped his stock.
Matthews is a tad smaller and slower than Cunningham, which may cause him to have a tough time making the active roster. Randall is a strong lineman who is good against the run, but not athletic enough to be a pass-rushing threat.
Matthews beats out Cunningham and works his way up the depth chart in the next couple of seasons, eventually solidifying his role as a reliable slant-route receiver. Randall becomes a force against the rush and improves enough against the pass to be a consistent starter in the NFL.
Both players could lose out their position battles, fail to make the roster and eventually get cut.
I expect both players to be on the practice squad throughout this upcoming season. Matthews has a chance to see the field if a receiver goes down with injury.
Undrafted: Jeff Fuller, WR and Kelcie McCray, S
Jeff Fuller was Ryan Tannehill's top target at Texas A&M. Kelcie McCray is an athletic safety from Arkansas State. Fuller's stock dropped significantly over the course of his senior year, as concerns mounted about his health and tendency to drop easy passes. McCray was projected by many to be a fifth-round pick, so Miami was lucky to sign him after the draft.
Fuller is athletic, tall (6'4") and is very comfortable catching passes from Tannehill. McCray is very athletic and good in coverage, but lacks some fundamentals and will need to develop his all-around game.
There are a few other notable undrafted FA signings for Miami, such as DE Jacquies Smith, but I feel like Fuller and McCray have the best chances of making the active roster.
Both players show their potential in rookie minicamp and are given a shot to make the active roster. Fuller becomes a serviceable fourth-string WR and McCray shines on special teams and gets some turns in the secondary.
Both players get cut and are not picked up by another NFL team.
I expect Fuller to start off on the practice squad behind B.J. Cunningham, but potentially get some time on the active roster, especially if Tannehill starts a few games. I also expect McCray to make the practice squad, but he has a very good chance of being moved up to the active roster and getting some time, potentially becoming the third safety if Reshad Jones or Chris Clemons gets hurt.