DAVIE — The Miami Dolphins went into the 2018 NFL draft with hopes of improving team speed and finding players capable of lining up at different spots across the formation. Miami was able to find talented players on both sides of the ball, as highly touted quarterbacks caused a bevy of gifted players to be selected later than expected.
Here’s what Sports Talk Florida thought of each of the Dolphin’s eight selections:
Round 1: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Safety
Fitzpatrick was expected to be a top-10 pick and as a result of a quarterback-heavy draft, Fitzpatrack was available for the Dolphins at pick No. 11. Miami wanted to improve its flexibility on defense and selected a player Dolphins general manager Chris Grier dubbed a “Swiss Army knife.” Fitzpatrick is capable of being a pure center-fielding free safety, he can match patterns by wide receivers in the slot and he can play down in the box. Fitzpatrick is the perfect complement to strong safety Reshad Jones as his speed, versatility and intelligence will dramatically improve the back end of Miami’s defense.
Round 2: Mike Gesicki, Tight End
After cutting Julius Thomas, Miami had a need at tight end and filled the void by taking the most athletic tight end in the draft. At 6-foot-6 247, pounds, Gesicki ran 4.54 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. While Gesicki has had his fair share of struggles as a run blocker, he’s really just a big wide receiver at this juncture and will be used accordingly. His height-speed ratio makes him a special talent, and Dolphins’ coaches will likely utilize him on the flanks early in his career while he continues to develop as a blocker. Don’t expect to see much of him as an in-line tight end as a rookie.
Round 3: Jerome Baker, Linebacker
Miami experimented with Kiko Alonso at weakside linebacker in 2017 and the results left much to be desired. Kiko will likely make the move to SAM backer in 2018, effectively leaving a hole at weakside linebacker. Highly touted linebacker Roquan Smith was off the board by the time Miami made its first-round pick, which left them searching for answers at linebacker after the first two rounds. Miami’s prayers were answered when Baker, a first-round talent was still on the board in Round 3. At 6-foot-1, 229 pounds, Baker has 4.53 speed in the 40-yard dash and has ball skills akin to a safety. With the selection of Baker, Miami got a steal in Round 3.
Round 4: Durham Smythe, Tight End
Coach Adam Gase had tight ends that compliment one another during his tenure in Denver with Julius Thomas (receiving tight end) and Virgil Green (blocking tight end). With the selection of Durham, Grier has done his part in helping Gase duplicate what he had in Denver. Smythe is the blocking tight end in this scenario while Gesicki will be the Dolphins’ receiving tight end of the future. If Gase is worth his salt, he’ll find creative ways to get both tight ends on the field at the same time.
Round 4: Kalen Ballage, Running Back
At 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, Ballage ran 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at the combine and 4.35 at his Pro Day. Ballage has the ability to separate from defenders as a route runner and exceptional hands. He’d be best suited to serve as an H-back, which would allow him to occasionally stay on the field with Drake. However, Ballage believes he’s more Le’Veon Bell, as opposed to Charles Clay. He see’s himself as a running back who can play wide receiver, not a running back or fullback who can play tight end. Ballage is raw as a runner as he grew up playing multiple positions and only recently settled in as a running back in college. His vision as a runner must improve in order to become the Le’Veon Bell-type back he desires to be.
Round 6: Cornell Armstrong, Cornerback
The Dolphins added depth in the secondary in Round 6 with cornerback Cornell Armstrong. Armstrong is tight in coverage and is seemingly almost around the ball. He’s able to quickly get in and out of breaks with his 5-foot-11, 183 pound frame and he was timed as low a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. Armstrong should be considered a candidate to play in the slot, as well as on the boundary. While he isn’t the largest player, he’s a solid wrap-up tackler who isn’t afraid to make a hit on a larger running back or tight end. Armstrong should make the Dolphins’ roster and become a quality special teams performer in Year 1.
Round 7: Quentin Poling, Linebacker
The Dolphins added another athletic linebacker when they drafted Quentin Poling in Round 7. Poling is Ohio University’s all-time leader in tackles and played MIKE backer for the Bobcats. Poling’s speed at 6-foot, 235 pounds rivals Dolphins’ third-round pick Jerome Baker as he ran 4.52 at Ohio University’s Pro Day. Poling has outstanding speed sideline-to-sideline and should instantly be a very good special teams contributor. Poling is well adept at covering zones but does not offer much in man coverage due to stiffness in his hips. While he’s not the most physically imposing linebacker, he does have the ability to make impact plays (tackles at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield) because of his leverage, instincts and initial burst.
Round 7: Jason Sanders, Kicker
The Dolphins lost kicker Cody Parkey to the Bears in free agency and desperately need to replace him. Miami waited until Round 7 to pick Jason Sanders who made just 25 of 35 field goals in his college career at New Mexico.
Not only was Miami able to fill needs in this year’s draft, but at nearly each draft slot, they were also able to fill those needs with players who weren’t expected to be available. The Dolphins got tremendous value at every pick and for that reason; this draft haul should allow them to become perennial playoff contenders in the very near future.
Overall Grade: B+