What Can We Learn by Exploring the Dolphins Draft Trends of the Past Five Years?
Although Bill Parcells was the man calling the shots for the 2008 NFL draft, it was technically the first year of the Jeff Ireland era.
Looking back at the past five years worth of drafts won't necessarily give us our answers, but it could give us an idea of where the value lies for this regime.
In fact, these past five drafts—combined with some foreshadowing through the front office's offseason strategy—has me convinced the Dolphins will make a bold move on draft day.
The Dolphins knew they wanted left tackle Jake Long well before the draft and had him penned to a contract in the days prior to going on the clock.
That year, though, the Dolphins had a very Parcells-ian draft that was focused on building the team in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Six of the team's nine selections were either offensive or defensive lineman.
With Long leaving in free agency this offseason, none of the team's picks from 2008 remain on the roster. Long and defensive end Kendall Langford were the only ones who had any sort of long-term success with the team (unless you want to call Chad Henne's time with the Dolphins a success), and coincidentally, both now play for the St. Louis Rams.
The Dolphins laid the foundation for their starting secondary for years to come with cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith in the first two rounds, followed by safety Chris Clemons in the fifth round.
In stark contrast to the year prior, the Dolphins went heavy on the skill positions in 2009, selecting seven combined skill position players from both sides of the ball (three defensive backs, two wide receivers, a quarterback and a tight end).
Fourth-round pick Brian Hartline and fifth-round pick Chris Clemons are the only ones who remains on the roster at this point. Hartline is seen as a vital part of the lineup after signing a five-year, $30.775 million contract, and Clemons signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract as well.
After two drafts with very specific focuses—'08 on the trenches, '09 on the skill positions—the 2010 draft was a solid mix.
Defensive end Jared Odrick was seen at the time as a cornerstone to the team's 3-4 defense, which became a moot point when the Dolphins converted to the 4-3 last year. Selecting Odrick made it two of three first-round picks used on a lineman in three years.
Six of the team's eight picks from 2010 remain on the roster, but with Odrick's role in the air, only safety Reshad Jones and converted offensive guard John Jerry are surefire starters for 2013. Cornerback Nolan Carroll is more of a nickel defender, but he could be a starter given the team's current dearth of talent at cornerback—an odd dearth considering all the cornerbacks they have drafted recently.
The 2011 draft was again focused mainly on the skill positions, with four (running back, wide receiver, tight end and cornerback) of the team's six total selections focusing on those areas.
Once again, however, the team spent its top pick on an offensive linemen with center Mike Pouncey, marking the third lineman overall taken with the team's first-round pick in a four-year span.
Much like the 2010 draft, most of these picks are still on the roster (with wide receiver Clyde Gates and defensive tackle Frank Kearse being the only exceptions) but other than Pouncey, the players who remain have yet to solidify their status as starters.
In the first draft of the Joe Philbin era, Jeff Ireland "violated [his] principles" in drafting quarterback Ryan Tannehill eighth overall.
Other than that, though, this felt like the year the Dolphins were the most systemic about addressing their future needs. With tackle Jake Long, tight end Anthony Fasano, running back Reggie Bush, linebacker Karlos Dansby, defensive tackles Tony McDaniel and Randy Starks and wide receiver Brian Hartline all set to become free agents, the Dolphins drafted one player at each of those spots and two at receiver.
At least two of the players (running back Lamar Miller and tackle Jonathan Martin) drafted to fill those voids will be asked to start in 2013.
What can we learn?
One trend I think will end this year is the Dolphins pattern of drafting a quarterback, which they've done in the first two rounds in three of the past five drafts. Not only are the Dolphins set with a starting quarterback, they are also set at the backup spot after giving Matt Moore a two-year, $8 million deal this offseason.
It's hard to ignore the distinct value they have put on offensive linemen in the draft. Four of the team's 17 picks in the first three rounds over the past five years have been on offensive linemen. That's just shy of 25 percent. With five picks in the first three rounds this year and a dire need on the offensive line, the numbers greatly suggest they'll go with one early.
The Dolphins clearly want to win now. If they are trying to improve their 2013 roster, one of the best ways to do it would be with an offensive linemen. With an abundance of picks, though, the Dolphins could be looking to trade up for one of the draft's top tackles: Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson are all considered worthy of a top-10 selection.
An interesting and unrelated note on the Dolphins' recent drafts: only three out of the 31 players taken in Ireland's four years as general manager came from SEC schools. That's surprising since the SEC is known for pumping out NFL-caliber talent.
Perhaps, if the Dolphins want to improve greatly, they should select players who already lined up against other players now playing on Sundays.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from ProFootballFocus.com's premium stats, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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