Hits and misses. Sometimes, there is no in-between in the NFL draft.
The Miami Dolphins experienced opposite ends of the spectrum with their picks in the 2011 draft. With one high pick, they added a player that proved to be the foundation of the offense; with another, they added a player who could be out of the league as early as this season.
It happens to the best drafters, too, but it's sometimes hard to see that in the immediate "draftermath" analysis.
On that note, most analysts loved the Dolphins' draft in the minutes after its conclusion. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Dolphins a B- in his grades (subscription required). Matt Infante at The Phinsider gave them a B+. Bleacher Report's Zach Duarte gave them a B.
Do those grades hold true three years later, or do we need to re-assess the Dolphins' haul? Let's take a look back and see how they did.
C Mike Pouncey—First Round, 15th Overall
The Dolphins' offensive line is in turmoil, with four of last year's five starters on their way out. Mike Pouncey could be the only one left standing from that group, and that's not such a bad thing.
Pouncey played guard and center at Florida, earning all-SEC honors (first team and second team, respectively) at each position. According to Walter Football's scouting report on Pouncey, the versatile lineman "struggled with snaps when moved to center," but that has not proved to be a problem for him at the next level.
He was also regarded as less athletic than his brother, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, but Mike is far from lacking in that department. He is one of the few centers who can snap and then get out in front of a perimeter play as a lead blocker, as we see above.
One problem: There are now questions about what kind of person Pouncey is after his name was revealed as one of Jonathan Martin's primary harassers in the Ted Wells investigation. There is no question, however, about his talent. The Dolphins haven't always drafted well on the offensive line, but Pouncey was one of the best picks of the Ireland era.
Second Round, 62nd Overall—Miami Gives Up Third Round, 79th Overall; Fifth Round, 146th Overall; Seventh Round, 217th Overall to Washington Redskins
It's hard not to admire the Dolphins' conviction in moving up 17 spots to get a player they liked at a position of need (the Dolphins hadn't yet traded for Reggie Bush), and the trade in its own right was good value.
As it turns out, they made the right decision. It was reported by NFL.com's Jeff Darlington in the minutes after the pick that if the Dolphins hadn't moved up to take Daniel Thomas, the Bengals would have done so instead.
RB Daniel Thomas—Second Round, 62nd Overall
The Dolphins moved up the board to grab a running back who has been among the worst since he entered the league. He has averaged 3.59 yards per rush attempt, the lowest average for any back with as many carries (365) or more over the past three years.
Thomas was regarded as a quick-not-fast back who had the initial burst to get positive yards, and at 6'2" and 228 pounds, he was pegged as a "bruiser" who could wear down a defense. Those traits never blossomed into a starting-caliber NFL back, as Thomas was undone by his indecisive tendencies as a runner as well as a lack of versatility in the passing game (poor pass protection, maximum 15 receptions in a season).
It's not just whom the Dolphins drafted, but also whom they didn't draft. The Dolphins might kick themselves when they look back at the 2011 draft and find Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray selected nine picks later and Patriots running back Stevan Ridley selected two picks after that. Thomas is a free agent this offseason and will likely leave for another team.
WR Clyde Gates—Fourth Round, 111th Overall
The Dolphins rolled the dice on an unrefined receiver with big playmaking potential, but they came up snake eyes. At 6'0" and 197 pounds, Gates has what looks like good size for his position, but he plays very small. He struggles to get off press coverage and offers very little as a blocker. These problems plagued Gates at Abilene Christian and followed him to the NFL.
Gates was primarily a return specialist in his short Dolphins career, returning 34 kicks and three punts in 2011. His utility on offense, however, has been limited, as he's hauled in just 30 career receptions, and only two in his lone year with the Dolphins.
He was never able to refine his very limited route-running skills and inconsistent hands. He wasn't coached by highly innovative offensive minds, spending most of his time with Tony Sparano with the Dolphins and the New York Jets, and bouncing around the league hasn't helped his development, either.
Sometimes, track stars pan out. This was not one of those times.
Sixth Round, 174th Overall—Miami Gives up Sixth Round, Pick 179; Seventh Round, Pick 218 to Green Bay Packers for Sixth Round, 174th Overall and Seventh Round, 231st Overall
Once again, the Dolphins identified a player they wanted and moved up the board to take him. This time, they actually nabbed a talented player who has a bright future in the Dolphins offense.
The Dolphins moved back 13 picks in the seventh round to move up five picks in the sixth round. That's not a bad trade-off, and based on the draft pick value chart, the two sides nearly broke even.
TE Charles Clay—Sixth Round, 174th Overall
It never ceases to amaze me how much better Ireland did with late-round picks than mid-round picks. Charles Clay is proving to be yet another example. The Dolphins missed on their two picks before Clay, but hit a home run after trading up in the sixth round.
At 6'3" and 245 pounds, he was considered a versatile player who could cause matchup problems in the passing game, but lacking the functional strength to impose his will as a blocker. He was regarded as a physical receiver over the middle, with the ability to use his body to win leverage and plod forward for tough yards after the catch.
Scouts had him pegged as a player with the talent to warrant a fourth- or fifth-round selection, but because of the uncertainty about his NFL positional fit, he was knocked down to the sixth round. He has developed into an important player in the Dolphins offense, though, as one of Ryan Tannehill's most reliable targets, hauling in 69 of the 102 passes thrown in his direction (67.6 percent).
The future looks good for the Dolphins' versatile matchup weapon.
DT Frank Kearse—Seventh Round, 231st Overall
The Dolphins brought in Kearse as one of many attempts to fill gaps in their 3-4 defense. He was a three-year starter and earned all-conference honors at his position in each of his last two years. He lacked ideal athleticism and pursuit skills at 6'4" and 315 pounds, but he had plenty of strength in that burly body and it was hoped that he could participate in a competition for snaps at nose tackle behind Paul Soliai.
He was waived by the Dolphins at the end of training camp in an attempt to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Panthers pounced on the opportunity to grab him for their own roster. He has bounced around with the Panthers and Cowboys since then and has yet to emerge as even a marginal contributor to an NFL defense.
CB Jimmy Wilson—Seventh Round, 235th Overall
Wilson's stock was marred by murder chargers that never stuck but kept him in jail for over 20 months total from June 2007 to July 2009. As a result of the time lost during those months in jail, he entered the NFL at 25 years old.
The Dolphins are probably glad they took a chance on him, because over the years he has developed into an important situational player for their defense, playing a variety of roles: as a perimeter cornerback, in the slot and at safety. Wilson has played over 600 snaps in each of the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He has stayed out of trouble and has played a valuable role in the Dolphins defense. Taking a chance on a talented player with some question marks is the name of the game in the late rounds of the draft, and when you hit, you look like a genius.
Overall Grade: B-
In hindsight, this draft could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse.
With their first-round pick, the Dolphins laid the foundation for the future of their offense. They missed big time on their selections in the second and fourth rounds. Their grade is salvaged a bit by some good picks in the later rounds.
The overall haul leaves the Dolphins with one or two starters (Pouncey and Clay) and a valuable role player (Wilson). If they'd hit on those mid-round picks, this draft would have been a slam dunk that would have positioned the Dolphins for a very bright future.
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