The Miami Dolphins reigned as defending AFC Champions at the time of the 1985 draft. Miami possessed a great young quarterback, two terrific young receivers, a quality offensive line, and a pretty good defense. The biggest area of need was at running back. The last time the Dolphins spent their top pick on a running back was in 1968 when they got Larry Csonka. Not so coincidentally, Miami hadn't had a good RB since Csonka's departure. With typical Dolphin luck, the year they finally decided to once again spend a first-round pick on a running back it turned out to be the worst year for running back since, like, ever!
Miami picked the University of Florida's Lorenzo Hampton. I just happened to be attending UF in 1985 and I was excited about the pick. I have no idea why though. I hated it when Hampton carried the ball for the Gators. It seemed so unnecessary since the Gators already had two other backs who were clearly better than Hampton: Neal Anderson and John L. Williams. Every handoff to Hampton was just one fewer carry for Neal and John L to run free.
Two memories come to mind for Hampton's Dolphin career. The first: an awesome Monday Night game against the Jets where Sweet 'Lo (yeah, that was his stupid nickname) ran wild. The Jets had beaten Miami earlier in the year 51-45; Marino threw 6 TD's but the Fins still found a way to lose. Miami's defense was pretty much nonexistent by that time. Anyway, by the time of the Monday Night rematch, Miami was a mediocre 5-6 while the Jets came in at 10-1 riding a 9-game winning streak. But despite the winning streak, Paul Maguire would go on TV every week and say the Jets really weren't that good and would ultimately be exposed, and every week Bob Costas would just laugh in his face as the Jets notched another win. So Hampton kicked off the rematch with an early 54-yard run and wound up with 148 yards on 19 carries, two TD's, and Miami kicked Jet ass 45-3. They also kicked off a 5-game New York losing streak, a losing streak Paul Maguire all too happily claimed credit for predicting. Hampton's great game created the brief illusion that he was in fact the gamebreaking franchise back Miami thought they'd drafted. He wasn't.
My other Hamption memory was watching a Dolphin game on TV and hearing Dick Enberg identify Miami Vice (a huge hit at the time) actress Olivia Brown as Lorenzo's fiance. Later in the game, Enberg informed us that Ms. Brown had called the network to let them know she was happily married to somebody else. Oh my.
Anyway, Hampton played 5 years for the Dolphins but you'd have to say his NFL career was a disappointment. A bust really (though I'm sure he's a hell of a guy). He had one decent year, 1986, where he ran for 830 yards on 186 carries, scored 9 TD's and caught 61 balls for 446 yards and 3 TD's. Of course, if you take out that Jets game his numbers aren't so impressive. He never ran for more than 414 yards or averaged over 3.9 yards a carry in any other season. Compare that to the NFL careers of his former UF teammates. Neal Anderson had 3 thousand-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons and made 4 Pro Bowls, while John L. Williams played for a decade, made a couple of Pro Bowls as a fullback and had 6 seasons catching 50 or more passes. I told you they were better. Too bad they were a year behind Hampton and therefore not a part of the 1985 draft class.
Could Miami have done anything differently in the 1985 draft? If they were intent on a runner, than I don't think so. As I mentioned earlier, the 1985 running back class really really sucked. Check it out for yourself:
09 Giants George Adams Kentucky
26 Broncos Steve Sewell Oklahoma
27 Miami Lorenzo Hampton Florida
35 Cleveland Greg Allen Florida State
53 Seahawks Owen Gill Iowa
75 San Francisco Ricky Moore Alabama
103 Dallas Robert Lavette Georgia Tech
104 St. Louis Ron Wolfley West Virginia
114 Dallas Herschel Walker Georgia
118 Detroit Joe McIntosh North Carolina State
126 Chiefs Bruce King Purdue
135 L.A. Raiders Dan Reeder Delaware
137 Seahawks Johnnie Jones Tennessee
167 Miami Ron Davenport Louisville
172 Cincinnati Kim Locklin New Mexico State
182 Packers Gary Ellerson Wisconsin
185 Washington Lionel Vital Nicholls State
197 Bills Jacque Robinson Washington
202 Detroit Scotty Caldwell Texas-Arlington
207 Chargers Curtis Adams Central Michigan
218 L.A. Rams Marlon McIntyre Pittsburgh
227 Minnesota Jaime Covington Syracuse
235 N.Y. Jets Mike Waters San Diego State
244 St. Louis Scott Williams Georgia
250 Bears Thomas Sanders Texas A&M
267 Chiefs Jeff Smith Nebraska
271 St. Louis Dennis Williams Gallaudet
288 Tampa Bay James Williams Memphis
289 Philadelphia Herman Hunter Tennessee State
295 New England Paul Lewis Boston Univ.
303 L.A. Raiders Steve Strachan Boston College
307 Miami Mike Jones Tulane
328 New England Tony Mumford Penn State
Can you believe how bad that group is? Do any names on that list jump out at you? I see exactly one: Herschel Walker, and he probably shouldn't even count as part of that draft class. Walker, a college football stud, first played pro ball in 1983 but it was for the New York Generals of the USFL. For some reason (possibly the personal services contract he had with Donald Trump), Walker wasn't eligible for the the NFL's special 1984 supplement draft for USFL players so Dallas gambled a 5th rounder on him in the 1985 draft. It paid off when the USFL folded after their 1985 season and they signed Walker in 1986. So Walker wasn't really part of the 1985 college football draft class nor did he even play for an NFL team in 1985.
If you don't count Walker, the most successful back taken was probably the Cardinals' Ron Wolfley. He never ran for very many yards but he made 4 Pro Bowls as a good blocking fullback. The only other guys who made much of a mark were: (1) Steve Sewell, not much of a runner but a pretty good short-yardage receiver for John Elway; and (2) Thomas Sanders who played 5 years with the Bears as a change-of-pace back, won a ring, and, far more importantly, helped change the world along with the rest of the Shuffling Crew in the immortal Super Bowl Shuffle video. Now that's a true legacy.
Miami needed a big-play running back in 1985. As it turned out none were available. 1985 just didn't produce any great running backs. If the Dolphins had taken somebody else instead of Hampton, say Greg Allen or Owen Gill, I doubt things would have changed much. What Miami should have done was emulate Dallas and gamble a pick on Herschel. I mean, by 1985 everybody knew the USFL wasn't long for the world. They were bleeding money, losing franchises, and planning to move their games to the fall to compete with the NFL (haha). Dallas gambled and it paid off.