Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins faced a difficult task of upgrading a defensive unit that ranked bottom-five in points allowed per game. The Dolphins had eight selections available to add significant talent up front and on the back end of their growing defense.
Miami also faced big-time question marks at the quarterback position before the 2018 NFL Draft. The team signed Jay Cutler to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill in 2017 after the incumbent suffered a season-ending knee injury in the offseason. And the play at the position was up-and-down during the 2017 campaign as a result.
Just as I did with the 2017 re-draft for the Dolphins, I will take a look at all of Miami’s original picks and decide which picks they got right, and which players would present a better long-term investment for the franchise. The Dolphins could switch things up and make a move to inspire the fanbase and improve their outlook heading into the future.
Miami replaces Fitzpatrick with new franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2018 re-draft
Most Dolphins fans know the tragic ending to the Minkah Fitzpatrick experience in Miami. The team landed an absolute steal with the 11th pick of the 2018 NFL Draft with the versatile Alabama defensive back. Once viewed as a centerpiece to Brian Flores’ defense, Miami moved Fitzpatrick all around the defensive unit, including outside cornerback, safety, nickel CB and even linebacker.
However, the love affair between the Dolphins and Fitzpatrick ended abruptly early in the 2019 NFL season. As the team prepared for a potential rebuild, they traded some of their more valuable assets, such as Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil. This move caused certain players to question the direction of the team and the vision of the organization overall.
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Amid rumblings of his discontent with the Dolphins, Miami traded Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for their 2020 first-round pick. The talented defensive back went on to start 14 games for the Steelers. Fitzpatrick also made the Pro Bowl squad after accumulating seven takeaways, nine pass deflections, and a touchdown with his new team.
While the team remained high on former quarterback Ryan Tannehill before the 2018 NFL Draft, Miami made a grave mistake by passing on future league MVP, Lamar Jackson, in the first round. In this 2018 re-draft, the Dolphins right that wrong and get their franchise quarterback here with the explosive signal-caller. Jackson is one of the most dynamic threats in football and makes routinely jaw-dropping plays like the one below for Baltimore.
— David Aaron (@__Davidaaron__) November 11, 2019
Jackson’s addition would almost certainly mean no Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft and would allow the Dolphins to shift their focus elsewhere to improve the team.
Dolphins shifts focus to defense and add a future star, Fred Warner, at LB
Former Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki blew up the NFL Combine before the 2018 NFL Draft, displaying elite athleticism for the position and making himself a top NFL prospect. He ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and posted a 41 1/2-inch vertical jump. The Dolphins took Gesicki with the 42nd pick and upgraded their passing offense in a big way.
However, the addition of Gesicki came at the expense of bypassing a future stud on defense, and former Brigham Young linebacker Fred Warner. The fast-rising Warner has been a sparkplug and legitimate playmaker for San Francisco the past two seasons. He racked up 118 combined tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and nine passes defended as a 16-game starter for the 49ers.
Gesicki’s play improved drastically during his second season in 2019 and looks poised for a genuine breakout in 2020. Miami’s original pick in the second round could be an excellent option for Tagovailoa, or the 2018 re-draft quarterback Jackson. Still, the team missed out on a real difference-maker on defense with Warner. The Dolphins bolster their front seven and give coach Brian Flores a quarterback for the talented defense in this 2018 re-draft.
The team continues to build offense, add protection up front with Orlando Brown
One of my favorite prospects before the 2018 NFL Draft, Orlando Brown, has been an absolute stud and cornerstone to the Baltimore offensive success as a right tackle. The Ravens have been one of the best rushing teams in the league during the past two seasons, and he has been a big part of that, along with his dynamic QB Jackson.
Even though the Dolphins did not end up with Brown, their original pick has also been a great success. Jerome Baker is an outstanding talent at linebacker and one of the better young defenders in the league. Along with Raekwon McMillan, Miami has a pair of exceptional linebackers for Flores to build his defense around.
However, this re-draft takes to focus more on the offensive side with these new selections. Miami uses their third-rounder to draft the big tackle Brown and form one of the better sets of bookends in the AFC with Laremy Tunsil. The rebuild in Miami would have gone a lot quicker with this selection and made Miami a contender following this successful re-draft of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Secondary gets a jolt with the first pick of the fourth round with Tre Flowers
To upgrade the skill positions further, the Dolphins took a second tight end prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft, Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe. The former pass catcher for the Fighting Irish was also one of the better blocking prospects, and Miami took Smythe to compliment the more prominent vertical threat Gesicki.
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In this re-draft for the Dolphins, Miami adds a potential starter in former Oklahoma State defensive back, Tre Flowers. The tall and physical cover man has been a 15-game starter for the past two seasons for the Seahawks. During that time, he has racked up 149 tackles, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, and 14 passes defended.
During Smythe’s tenure with Miami, he has made a considerable impact as an in-line player on the offense but has failed to catch more than seven passes in a season. A switch to Flowers here in the fourth round of this 2018 re-draft would provide the Dolphins with great depth in the secondary and a potential starter at outside CB for the 2020 season.
Miami grabs versatile runner Jaylen Samuels with second fourth-rounder
Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dolphins featured up-and-coming runner Kenyan Drake alongside newly signed veteran Frank Gore. The team used their second pick in the fourth round to add competition to the running back room and selected Arizona State bruiser Kalen Ballage.
Miami’s rookie running back experienced a modicum of success in 2018 but failed to progress much in 2019 behind a troublesome offensive line. His lack of vision and ability to create yards after contact hurt the Dolphins’ offense consistently.
Samuels showed to be an extremely versatile weapon out of the backfield during his first two seasons. He is an underrated runner and a tremendous pass catcher. Samuels compiled 47 catches in 2019, which placed him in the top-20 among running backs, despite playing in a backup role. His presence would be a welcomed sight for this offense, and Samuels would become a favorite to start in 2020.
After passing on Gesicki, the team adds Jordan Thomas over Armstrong in fifth
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, cornerback Cornell Armstrong only lasted one season with the Dolphins. He did not make the team before the 2019 season and now resides in Houston with the Texans. The team was looking to add some defensive back depth behind the promising Xavien Howard but swung and missed with the pick of Armstrong out of Southern Miss.
Earlier in this re-draft, the Dolphins chose to pass on the current starting TE Gesicki in the second round, so the need remains here late in the 2018 NFL Draft. And Thomas is a player that has flashed in a part-time role behind Greg Olsen in Carolina. With Olsen off to Seattle, Thomas returns as the favorite to lead the position in 2020. The Dolphins’ TE spot is wide open, and the 6-foot-5, 278-pound Thomas is an excellent fit for the offense.
Dolphins keep J.C. Jackson from New England, take CB in the seventh round
Miami added Byron Jones this offseason to bolster their young, promising secondary consisting of Xavien Howard, Eric Rowe, Bobby McCain, and rookie safety Brandon Jones. However, the team now has a ton of money invested in the cornerback position and a lot of faith placed in their expensive free-agent acquisition.
As the Dolphins’ original seventh-rounder in 2018, Miami drafted Quentin Poling to help add competition to the linebacker corps and special teams’ units. Poling was a practice squad player that failed to make a significant impact on the big-league roster. He was waived from the injured reserve before last season and spent time with both the Falcons and Raiders.
Meanwhile, cornerback J.C. Jackson has been a ball hawk and playmaker in the secondary for the Patriots after being signed as an undrafted free agent. He has eight interceptions and a Super Bowl title during his first two seasons and would be a valued addition on the Dolphins’ defensive back end.
The kicking game remains unchanged with Jason Sanders as their final seventh-round pick
The Dolphins have done a great job finding young talent for the kicking game and on special teams in the later rounds of the NFL Draft and free agency in recent years. The team drafted explosive return man Jakeem Grant in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and signed punter Matt Haack as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft.
Sanders has been steady and consistent for the Dolphins since being taken by them with their second of two seventh-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is 41-for-50 on field-goal attempts with a long of 54 yards and even scored a touchdown on one of Miami’s most memorable plays from last season.
(Video by Miami Dolphins/Twitter) pic.twitter.com/YeclSoQgNk
— CapSportsReport (@CapSportsReport) December 1, 2019
In a re-draft, you cannot ask for much more in the seventh round, and the Dolphins stay the course in 2018 with Sanders.
2018 Miami Dolphins’ Redraft Summary
Round 1, Pick 11 – Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
Round 2, Pick 42 – Fred Warner, LB BYU
Round 3, Pick 73 – Orlando Brown, OT Oklahoma
Round 4, Pick 123 – Tre Flowers, S Oklahoma State
Round 4, Pick 131 – Jaylen Samuels, RB N.C. State
Round 6, Pick 209 – Jordan Thomas, TE Mississippi State
Round 7, Pick 227 – J.C. Jackson, CB Maryland
Round 7, Pick 229 – Jason Sanders, K New Mexico
In this successful 2018 NFL re-draft, the Dolphins improved their outlook heading into the 2020 NFL season, while positioning themselves as potential powerhouses in the NFL moving forward. The additions of Jackson and Warner set the tones on offense and defense, while Miami was able to add valued depth in the secondary, versatile weapons on offense and special teams talent to boot.
The AFC East is wide open in 2020, and with a re-draft like this, the Dolphins would be the front-runners for the division and a potential playoff contender.
Scott Gorman is an NFL Draft writer and analyst for PFN covering the Miami Dolphins. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.