Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
You know the story of the Dolphins. Well, perhaps not the story of them as a football team, but definitely the story that you kept hearing about a couple months or so ago. There is likely a name that comes to mind when you think of the Dolphins, then another related name, and possibly a few more of tertiary importance. Making this entire post, and corresponding draft choice, about that name (who likely isn't even going to be employed by the Dolphins when the season begins) would be obvious and short sited. So for the sake of moving forward I'm not going to say or acknowledge that name in any relation to this draft, for any reason, besides strictly football related matters.
If Miami's new general manager Dennis Hickey is a smart GM, this is likely his mindset going into this year's NFL draft. Don't waste your time trying to focus on the past. Learn from it, and move on. Only focus on what move you can make at the #19 pick that will make your team the best it possibly can.
I guess though before we get ahead of ourselves, we have to ask, is Dennis Hickey a smart GM?
The short answer is: we don't really know. The slightly longer answer is: we don't really know because reasons. The rule of 3's even better answer is: we don't really know because he is at his first GM gig.
Here's what we do know about him though. He was hired to be the GM of the Dolphins after working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 18 years. He spent six of those years as the director of college scouting before being promoted to director of player personnel in 2011. By all accounts, he has had a heavy influence on the Tampa Bay drafting process since taking over that position. He also was very much involved in the free agency process there, but it appears he's earned his stripes as a scout and talent evaluator. It is unclear how much he was involved in hiring the ultimate "guy who has to ruin everything for everyone" guy, Greg Schiano.
Since taking over as the GM he has made a few interesting moves in free agency. He gave Branden Albert almost 10 million a year for five years. A move that is a lot of money, but may not end up being terrible given the coming inflation of contracts due to the rumored future cap increases. He also brought in young d-tackle Earl Mitchell, signed Cortland Finnegan for two years, and brought in Louis Delmas and Knowshon Moreno on one year deals.
What I will say is that yes I think he is a smart GM, at least when it comes to the draft. He seems like a football lifer who has worked his way through the scouting ranks and is at least a competent talent evaluator. Go look at the last few drafts for the Bucs. Drafting talent has not been their issue. Letting Greg Schiano do things the "Schiano way" has largely been their issue. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a Chiefs-esque improvement in Tampa next year just from having a sane person in Lovie Smith running that team.
His GM work so far has been a bit of a mixed bag, but like I said above he came up as a scout, so it might be possible he just needs some time to work on other GM traits like negotiating contracts. I think sometimes we forget that athletes aren't the only ones that work on developing and honing skills over the course of their careers. The life of a GM is obviously very ephemeral and doesn't leave much time to work on things, but if you're competent enough at other areas you can sometimes compensate for a weakness or two while you catch up. For instance, Howie has always been very good at handling the cap and negotiating, but if you believe that he had heavy involvement in the last couple Andy Reid era drafts then you could say he's learned and developed his drafting abilities over the last few years.
This is all a very non-football related way of saying that I think Aaron Donald, DT from Pittsburgh, is the pick here. Now for football reasons!
Going into this draft there are some obvious needs the Dolphins should look to address in some way. The incident mentioned above has left them with a bit of a void at both tackle and guard. Branden Albert helps, but they still could use another tackle as well as a guard or two. Danny Watkins is lurking. I don't have to tell you how much Danny Watkins lurking is a bad thing for football reasons. I suppose though for any other life reason it's probably a good thing. I bet Danny Watkins gives great, life affirming hugs. Also as big as he is (and the whole fire fighter thing) you couldn't help but feel safe around him. Unless of course you're a quarterback! What I'm trying to say is: Dolphins + drafting a guard = J.
They also have troubles at linebacker. There are talks that they might be shifting all their starters to different positions. Read that again, only this time do it in a Christopher Walken voice. Wasn't that fun! But seriously think about that. What are the odds that turns out well? Now the front office hasn't come out and said this but as the saying goes where there is smoke, there is a disappointing linebacker core.
They could also use a tight end. Charles Clay is solid, but this is basically a two tight end league now, and they should be looking to add as many weapons around Tannehill as possible. I don't have a joke for that. Tight end play in the NFL is very serious business these days.
Now with that established, let's look at who is available at this point. The top three tackles have already been taken. Many pundits think the Dolphins want Zack Martin but he too is already gone. If you want a guard, you could either get one in a later round or you're taking Xavier Su'a-Filo a little too early (I think his talent is good enough, but I don't like taking a guard this high with the other talent still on the board). They would probably have loved to get Mosley here, but with him gone the top linebacker on the board is Ryan Shazier (more on him in a minute). With Ebron gone you are going to have to reach to take a TE like Amaro or Seferian-Jenkins, who you could probably still get in the second.
With no perfect fit of team need plus top end talent available, Hickey would be wise to go strictly best player available at this point. So who then is BPA?
Since I'm already too many words in at this point, I'm just going to say I narrowed it down to whoever you feel is the second best CB, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Ryan Shazier, or Aaron Donald. Filo is out for reasons I listed above. I gave a long, serious look (seriously, so much brow furrowing) at taking Shazier here since this team clearly doesn't have a lot of faith in their current LB core, but ultimately I decided that he was a bit of a reach. He's an interesting prospect to me, but one I could easily see busting in the NFL. I was left then with either taking a CB or Donald. From a needs perspective, these positions might as well be "Friends with Benefits" and "No Strings Attached" (or if you prefer a Mad Men comparison they're Roger Sterling and Jim Cutler), in that they're just about the same thing. At CB they have Brent Grimes and the newly signed Finnegan. Both are 30, which means they are neither particularly young nor are they completely past their prime. That's a decent starting CB tandem. They've also got Grimes locked up for four more years and Finnegan for two. At DT they have recently resigned Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, and free agent addition Earl Mitchell who are 30, 26 and 26 respectively. That's a good core, but one that's not set up to be around for a while. Mitchell is here to stay after signing a four year deal. But Odrick is a FA in 2015 and will surely be looking for a nice pay day then. Starks also just got paid, but it's only for two more years.
I think Donald is ultimately the superior talent to any CB left available, but not enough that this was an obvious decision for me. What ultimately tipped the scale here is the contract lengths and my read on Hickey. Grimes is set as their CB1, and with Finnegan as a quality CB2, they've bought themselves two years before they absolutely need to address the CB position. Also with the number of quality CB's still left at this point, it wouldn't be a surprise if they still get a good player that they can groom in the next round or two. In that same window at DT, they could lose 2/3's of their rotation. Going off his FA moves, Hickey seems like a guy who is looking to build from the inside out. You don't make signing Albert or Mitchell a priority like they did if that's not something you put a lot of value in. With all that in mind, I find it hard to imagine Hickey would pass on the highest rated D tackle in the draft. Then again I could be completely wrong. He could draft like a wide receiver or something. That's what makes the draft so much fun!
1 Houston Texans (Imp) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville - [Explanation]
2 St. Louis Rams (starship 007) - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson - [Explanation]
3 Jacksonville Jaguars (sports00fan00) - Jadeveon Clowney, DE, SC - [Explanation]
4 Cleveland Browns (InHinkieWeTrust) - Johnny Manziel, QB, TAMU - [Explanation]
5 Oakland Raiders (SleepingDuck) - Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo - [Explanation]
6 Atlanta Falcons (jimmyrustler) - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn - [Explanation]
7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (AnthroEagle) - Blake Bortles, QB, UCF - [Explanation]
8 Minnesota Vikings (pot) - Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA - [Explanation]
9 Buffalo Bills (wow4444) - Jake Matthews, OT, TAMU - [Explanation]
10 Detroit Lions (kamjam) - Mike Evans, WR, TAMU - [Explanation]
11 Tennessee Titans (NowWhat?) - Justin Gilbert, CB, OK State - [Explanation]
12 New York Giants (Anthony DiBona) - Eric Ebron, TE, UNC - [Explanation]
13 St. Louis Rams (ILL Eagle) - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama - [Explanation]
14 Chicago Bears (JerkyBoy) - Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville - [Explanation]
15 Pittsburgh Steelers (KJ Brophy) - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan - [Explanation]
16 Dallas Cowboys (Patrick Wall) - C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama - [Explanation]
17 Baltimore Ravens (rohan915) - Zack Martin, OT, ND - [Explanation]
18 New York Jets (del.champion) - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State - [Explanation]
19 Miami Dolphins (HD) - Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh - [Explanation]
20 Arizona Cardinals (NCeagle) -
21 Green Bay Packers (ablesser88) -
22 Philadelphia Eagles (jhn) -
23 Kansas City Chiefs (PeaceVT) -
24 Cincinnati Bengals (deg0ey) -
25 San Diego Chargers (StoneColeKiller58) -
26 Cleveland Browns (P_Roach17) -
27 New Orleans Saints (bebin) -
28 Carolina Panthers (MikeKafka) -
29 New England Patriots (Amateur_Hour) -
30 San Francisco 49ers (AndyMcNabb) -
31 Denver Broncos (dceagles) -
32 Seattle Seahawks (eagles0132) -