Miami Dolphins: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
Entering the draft with seven picks, one in each round, new general manager Dennis Hickey parlayed the picks into eight players, by trading down multiple times. The extra pick allowed Miami to bolster the roster even more, adding to a strong draft class.
The Dolphins were rumored to be interested in linebackers early in the first round, but they selected the best player at the biggest position of need on the roster—new right tackle Ja’Wuan James, from Tennessee.
After filling a crucial need, the Dolphins selected players of great value for their respective draft slot, and added valuable depth to a roster that needed it. Hickey spoke at length about finding great values, and then looking at the best players available. After looking at the results, he put his philosophy to use well.
This draft featured a little bit of everything, which is a nice change for Dolphins fans that grew weary of the predictable, unproductive drafts underneath former general manager Jeff Ireland.
After three trades, #Dolphins have a fourth (No. 125), two fifths (No. 155, 171), a sixth (No. 190) and seventh rounder (No. 234) Saturday.— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) May 10, 2014
We saw a total of three trades throughout the draft, all occurring on Day 2. This led to flexibility and value picks for the Dolphins, which will not only benefit the team in the immediate future, but also the long term, which is one of the first steps in building a sustainable winner.
This draft was one of the most important in franchise history, as the Dolphins were on the brink of making the playoffs, despite having an offensive line that couldn’t keep their budding young quarterback upright. With stakes high for many players (the Dolphins will have as many as 24 free agents after the 2014 season), and a coaching staff entering a crucial third season, the Dolphins had to land impact talent in the draft.
In this slideshow, we’ll breakdown and analyze what Miami did, and the expectations in the wake of the 2014 NFL draft.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Contractual information courtesy of Spotrac.com. Additional draft information courtesy of NFL.com.
With a roster that has a solid mix of veterans and young, developing players, the Dolphins still needed to add more consistent performers at a few positions.
These needs, as addressed here, included: right tackle, offensive guard, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker and cornerback.
After acquiring an eight-pick draft, here is the haul the Dolphins pulled in.
How’d they do? Let’s take a look.
Round 1, Pick No. 19 Overall: Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Round 2, Pick No. 63 Overall: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Round 3, Pick No. 67 Overall: Billy Turner, OG, North Dakota St
Round 4, Pick No. 125 Overall: Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
Round 5, Pick No. 155 Overall: Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
Round 5, Pick No. 171 Overall: Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
Round 6, Pick No. 190 Overall: Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
Round 7, Pick No. 234 Overall: Terrence Fede, DE, Marist
Overall Draft Grade: B+
The Dolphins' approach to the 2014 draft taught us a lot about Dennis Hickey.
First, it showed that he and head coach Joe Philbin worked together to find talent that fits the coaching philosophies. With the 2013 draft class playing the least amount of snaps in the entire NFL, it is clear the relationship between Philbin and Ireland wasn’t productive for the team. Ireland wasn’t identifying players that fit what the coaches needed to succeed.
The sudden change in draft strategy from taking accomplished players from big schools didn’t work under Ireland, as many of the players selected were already near their athletic ceilings, leaving the Dolphins to be mediocre.
Under Hickey, Miami is putting emphasis on finding the best overall talents that fit within their scheme.
Hickey said targeting small-school guys wasn't necessarily Dolphins' plan going in. “It just kind of happened that way.”— Hal Habib (@gunnerhal) May 11, 2014
We also learned that Miami isn’t afraid of small-school players. After selecting five small-school players, the Dolphins clearly wanted to get players that have a major chip on their shoulder. Small-school players often need more coaching than players from bigger schools, but they’re rarely lacking the talent. The long-term gamble here could pay off big time for Miami.
The next thing we learned was how much the Dolphins are valuing leadership in the locker room. Obviously, after the Jonathan Martin incident, they knew something had to change. With most of the headaches removed from the locker room, the Dolphins accomplished this:
Five captains for the Dolphins, and seven of the eight were seniors.— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) May 10, 2014
The Dolphins' first selection seemed like an obvious one leading up to the No. 19 overall pick, after linebackers Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley went to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens before the Dolphins were on the clock.
By taking Ja'Wuan James, the Dolphins selected the top offensive tackle left at the time. Although some wanted the team to trade down, there were multiple tackle-needy teams behind the Dolphins that might’ve been targeting James, which would’ve left Miami to settle for scraps in the second.
Expect James to quickly claim the right tackle position as his for the foreseeable future.
In the second round, the Dolphins moved down twice, getting two extra draft picks in the process, and they selected ESPN's Todd McShay's 48th overall player and one of NFL.com's Mike Mayock's 10 favorite players in the entire draft (h/t Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald): LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
Landry could challenge incumbent Brian Hartline for the No. 2 receiver position, or earn the slot position, both of which would help the offense tremendously due to Landry’s excellent hands and toughness.
The Dolphins traded their own fourth-round pick to move up 14 spots in the third round (a luxury that could be afforded after acquiring San Diego’s fourth-round pick earlier). With pick No. 67, Miami got the offensive guard they desperately needed, Billy Turner. Turner brings nastiness and athleticism to the offensive line, and he should start, giving the Dolphins two guards that excel at pulling on run plays.
The Dolphins' run game was hamstrung due to the 2013 guards being unable to seal blocks on the edge. That should no longer be an issue.
After bolstering the offensive line, which can now be considered an area of strength due to the depth and sheer talent added, the Dolphins began collecting value players.
The fourth round allowed Miami to select the best player available, Walt Aikens out of Liberty, who was my favorite mid-round option for the team. Read more about Aikens here (subscription required).
With two picks to use in the fifth round, the Dolphins began by selecting Arthur Lynch, a tight end from Georgia. Lynch adds a new skill set to the team.
Also, with the extra pick that Miami acquired from San Francisco, Miami added Jordan Tripp, an athletic linebacker that could line up either inside or outside. Tripp was CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler’s 104th-ranked player overall. The value is undeniable.
In the sixth round, the Dolphins doubled down at receiver by taking the polished Coastal Carolina receiver, Matt Hazel. Hazel will compete with Armon Binns for the fifth wide receiver spot, and he should be the favorite due to his excellent route running and hands.
Finally, Miami added little-known Marist product Terrence Fede, an athletic defensive end who can be molded into a contributor in time. Fede is an analytics darling, with his measurables being comparable to players like Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. It’s unlikely he ever reaches that type of potential, but for a seventh-round pick, Fede was a worthy gamble.
For a full rundown on each of the Dolphins' draft picks in 2014, visit this author's pick-by-pick analysis here.
Best Pick: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Louisiana State University
Even in my initial analysis and grade of this pick, I was excited about the selection of Landry, giving it a B+.
Now that we’ve seen the rest of the draft class, I’m even more optimistic that this was a great pick.
Jarvis Landry seemed to be a forgotten man after his pedestrian NFL combine results, but it’s important to note that he participated with an injury, which shouldn’t be surprising, as the former Bayou Bengal is known for his toughness and competitive nature.
With the Dolphins' receiver core having few contractual obligations (or ways to get out of multiyear deals with little expense) after 2014, Landry could become the next O.J. McDuffie for the Dolphins in short time.
Commonly lauded for his excellent hands and willingness to go over the middle, Landry brings an attitude that the Dolphins' receiver core didn’t have last season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill will love Landry on third downs, and Landry will become a safety net for the third-year starter.
The only issue I have with the Landry pick is that he is a low “upside” player, meaning he’s unlikely to become more than a quality possession receiver. He has mid-4.5 speed and will never be a deep threat, which fits the current roster well because of burner Mike Wallace’s presence, but Landry was a safe choice.
Miami could have chosen to move down a second time in the same round. Fresno State’s Davante Adams was available at No. 57 overall, and he is a high-upside, potential No.1 receiver.
But ultimately, Miami is aiming to make the playoffs in 2014, and Landry was the most pro-ready receiver available in the second round.
And because he will make a noticeable difference on the field in 2014, he is the best pick of the draft.
Worst Pick: Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
Matt Hazel, Wide Receiver, Coastal Carolina
Let me preface this by saying that I am a fan of Hazel. After doing film-work on receivers predraft, I came away impressed with Hazel’s projection to the NFL. He can become a solid slot receiver for years to come.
But in the sixth round, Miami took a player without great physical upside.
None of his measurements at the NFL combine suggest he’s even an above average athlete, meaning he will have to beat out veteran receivers Binns and Damian Williams to even make the roster.
Maybe Philbin and new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor already view him as the next James Jones, a productive player who Philbin once worked alongside when with the Packers.
But with the need for more linebackers and another safety, one could argue Miami didn’t get great value with Hazel.
Ultimately, this isn’t a truly bad pick, nor should it be considered a wasted pick right now. But amongst the entire Dolphins draft, this was the biggest surprise and worst move.
Undrafted Free Agents
After the draft, many talented players were available to be signed to compete for a roster spot.
Since the Dolphins ended up officially signing 15 undrafted free agents (UDFAs), we’ll highlight the best of the best here, and you can read more on the entire group here.
Brock Jensen, Quarterback, North Dakota State
At 6’2” and 223 pounds, Jensen has NFL size, and NFL-caliber accuracy to match.
Jensen joins third-round pick Billy Turner as the second former Bison to join the Dolphins this offseason. They know each other quite well, too, as Jensen led the Bison to an incredible third consecutive FCS championship, making his career record 47-5.
The 15-0 2013 Bison received a school-record performance from Jensen, as he notched 2,793 yards and 34 touchdowns.
He’s a good fit into the Dolphins offense and should be able to beat out Dolphins third-stringer Pat Devlin.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Johnson apparently failed a drug test at the NFL combine, per Fox Sports, leading to his UDFA status.
As a highly regarded talent entering 2013, Johnson was able to put all of his physical gifts together to fulfill his potential. Now Miami has the chance to see if defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers can bring out the best of Johnson. He faces an uphill battle, considering the depth of the defensive line for the team.
Tyler Larsen, Center, Utah State
The Dolphins had tremendous interior line issues in 2013, so signing Tyler Larsen makes a lot of sense.
Larsen is only an average athlete, but he has great experience playing in a zone-blocking system, which is what Miami employs. With a solid training camp, don’t be surprised to see Larsen at least make the practice squad, as Miami continues to build a more competent offensive line.
Damien Williams, Running Back, Oklahoma
After ignoring the running back position in the draft, Miami nabbed a potential steal with Williams.
After being dismissed from Oklahoma mid-2013, Williams fought an uphill battle to reach an NFL roster. But with his combination of size (5’11”, 222 pounds) and power, he has a chance to make the team if an injury happens.
What’s Next for the Miami Dolphins?
With the 2014 NFL draft in the books, the next few weeks will be spent evaluating the actions the Dolphins chose to make, and how this class will affect the 2014 season and beyond.
There is no question that the roster is more talented after this draft class.
Considering that, let’s look at the early roster questions the Dolphins face entering the 2014 season.
Will the Line Allow the Offense to Flourish?
After four out of five starters on the offensive line for the Dolphins were allowed to walk away with no resistance, Miami has put serious resources into the offensive line.
Not only has Miami spent over $60 million on free-agent signings Branden Albert, Shelley Smith and Jason Fox, but also they’ve now invested a first- and third-round pick into more linemen.
More importantly, all of these players fit into the zone-blocking scheme that new offensive line coach John Benton (formerly of the Houston Texans) is an expert in.
With the talent upgrades and better scheme fits, I believe the offensive line will be one strength of the team in 2014. Sure, with two rookies potentially starting, there will be hiccups and issues. But it’s not as if veterans Bryant McKinnie or Tyson Clabo were any good.
The Dolphins are looking to become a more balanced offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, instead of being predictable, as they were with Mike Sherman.
Expect the running game to benefit a suddenly deep backfield, after former Bronco Knowshon Moreno signed for the 2014 season. He is joined by incumbent starter Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. The wildcard of the group is 2013 fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee, who is a talented back out of Florida.
As for the passing game, there is no question Miami will improve upon the 58 sacks allowed on Ryan Tannehill.
Thus, expect Miami to be more effective at sustaining drives and being less predictable in 2014.
What Lies in Store for the Receiving Group?
After adding rookies Jarvis Landry and Matt Hazel, reports surfaced that slot receiver Rishard Matthews could be in the doghouse.
Dolphins adding Matt Hazel means more bad news for Rishard Matthews: http://t.co/0KKWu6FGJn— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) May 10, 2014
Despite having a few good weeks in 2013, Matthews hasn’t been able to see the field and contribute consistently so far in his career—although as a former seventh-round pick, he’s done well to stay on the roster and post this type of night.
Brian Hartline is also entering a critical year, despite being a model of consistency for the franchise. He could be cut after 2014—saving the team $4 million—and considering the Dolphins just selected a potentially better version of him in Landry, he could be let go if Landry performs well.
Mike Wallace, 2013’s major free agent signing, is likely going to be around through 2015 due to his contract structure. After a pedestrian 2013 season statistically, Wallace is looking to connect with Tannehill more often, and he should have an easier time as his offensive line gels, theoretically giving the quarterback more time to deliver a strike to the speedy playmaker.
Brandon Gibson is also returning from injury for 2014, which could be bad news for him. With his cap hit being so low, if he struggles to look as good as he did last year, he can be let go at any point, allowing rookie Matt Hazel to potentially take his spot.
To sum it up, I believe this is the last season in Miami for multiple Dolphins receivers. They’ve spent a lot of resources on the position, and now have similar receivers at different prices. Usually, the younger and cheaper talent prevails. Expect the same result here as well.
How Will the Dolphins’ Linebacker Situation Shape Up to Start the Season?
After 2013 signees Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe struggled to make more of an impact than their predecessors, many fans wanted to see a new middle linebacker, which would allow Ellerbe to be moved to his more natural spot of weak-side linebacker, and Wheeler to become a situational player.
Suffice to say, there weren’t many options at linebacker in free agency or the draft, forcing Miami to add a developmental player in Jordan Tripp in the fifth round of the draft.
I don’t expect Tripp to make a big impact this season, so Miami will have to hope that Ellerbe is fully healthy this season—which he wasn’t in 2013—and that Wheeler finishes plays more effectively.
I'm a patient man and I can honestly tell you I don't know what Dannell Ellerbe's upside is. Remember, he played 1/4 the year hurt.We'll see— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) May 11, 2014
Oh, and let’s not forget, Miami needs to use former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan more.
Jordan is an excellent cover linebacker and a good pass-rusher. Like Ellerbe, now that he’s fully recovered from a shoulder injury, expect to see his production increase.
Can the Dolphins Reach the Playoffs?
Well, for as poorly as the Dolphins played at times in 2013, they were literally one win away from making the playoffs, and this draft class should help address Miami’s biggest weaknesses.
Also, after getting so little from the 2013 draft class, Miami is essentially able to utilize 14 new players that didn’t impact the team last season.
Of course, not all of those players will make a difference, but if the Dolphins can perform better against their division foes, they have a good chance of at least making the wild card.
Hopefully, Thad Lewis won’t be leading the Buffalo Bills against Miami, as he was the unlikely villain who helped the Bills go 2-0 against the Dolphins in 2013.
If Miami is healthy in 2014, and their draft class comes together as the talent suggests it should, they have a good chance to be right in the mix for the division and wild-card race at the end of the 2014 regular season.
In summation, Hickey and the Dolphins did well in their quest to land players that can impact Miami immediately and improve throughout their careers.
They addressed all of their pressing needs with immediate contributors besides inside linebacker, but it’s not as if their current starter is devoid of talent.
Miami showed a new draft approach, adding players with considerable upside with their later picks, which could be the key to sustained success.
All in all, Miami had a productive draft, filled with a good balance of instant impact and future potential. The coaching staff must develop and refine these raw talents for Miami to take the next big step.
Ian Wharton is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Miami Dolphins. Be sure to check out his entire archive, including draft analysis and insight on the 2014 NFL draft.
You can follow and interact with Ian on Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy