Monday, May 26, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven: The Dark Ages (2000-2004)

Since I started Past Interference, I’ve written about the worst trades in Miami Dolphins’ history. I’ve written about the worst draft picks in Miami Dolphins’ history. I’ve written about disastrous free agent moved made by the Miami Dolphins. But by far, without a doubt, the single worst personnel move in Miami Dolphins history is this: the hiring of Dave Wannstedt to be the teams’ head coach and general manager. There’s just no debate on this point. Wannstedt inherited a playoff team from Jimmy Johnson. Five years later, Wannstedt resigned after turning that team into one of the worst in football. The reverberations of Wannstedt’s disastrous tenure were still felt three years after he left as the Dolphins bottomed out with one of the worst seasons in NFL history. Wannstedt bequeathed to the Dolphins a completely hollowed-out talent base, and the main reason the team was almost bereft of talent were the horrible, unproductive drafts he presided over from 2000 to 2004.

The most striking thing to me about the list of players below is what you don’t see: quarterbacks. Wannstedt took over at the same time Dan Marino departed. Clearly replacing Marino should have been the team’s number one priority. For all but three years of their existence, the Miami Dolphins began a season with a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback on the roster. Both of their Hall of Fame QB’s, Marino and Bob Griese, were first-round selections. Yet Wannstedt chose to go a different route. The only pick he spent on a QB in five years was a 2001 6th-rounder on Josh Huepel who never played a down for Miami (or anyone else). Wannstedt preferred the quick fix of trades and free agency and, starting with Jay Fiedler, his QB acquisitions failed miserably.

Wannstedt ignored the quarterback position at draft time but given his track record below even if he had picked any they probably would have been busts anyway. I count only 6 quality players taken in five years and I’m probably being generous. The 34 players drafted during Wannstedt’s “reign” combined to make exactly one Pro Bowl (Chris Chambers, 2005). It wasn’t all Wannstedt of course. The man’s incompetence became obvious by 2003 so Huizenga promoted Rick Spielman, Miami’s personnel chief, to GM in 2004 but that draft was no better than Wannstedt’s (and I won’t even get into the disastrous trades Spielman engineered).

Miami only had two first-round picks in these five years. Of course Jamar Fletcher and Vernon Carey were both busts. Wannstedt spend two of the lost picks on Ricky Williams and, as I’ve written before, that was probably the worst trade in Miami Dolphins’ history. Also, unlike earlier eras of poor drafting, i.e. 1971-1975, 1984-1989, Miami never salvaged the wasted number one picks with stellar later-round finds. Only four of the 2000-2004 draft picks currently remain on the roster of the Miami Dolphins and three of those were from the most recent Wannstedt/Spielman draft so it’s likely those players are not long for the NFL. 2000-2004 was the true Dark Ages of the franchise, a Black Hole of drafting. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.


2 53 Todd Wade T
3 84 Ben Kelly DB
4 117 Deon Dyer FB
5 152 Arturo Freeman DB
6 167 Ernest Grant DT
7 232 Jeff Harris DB

Todd Wade was a decent offensive lineman. Not great but solid. And Miami’s decision not to resign him in 2004 resulted in more draft day follies. Everyone else from this draft was out of football within three years except for Freeman who lasted until 2005.


1 26 Jamar Fletcher DB
2 52 Chris Chambers WR
3 85 Travis Minor RB
3 88 Morlon Greenwood LB
5 156 Shawn Draper T
6 164 Brandon Winey T
6 177 Josh Heupel QB
6 187 Otis Leverette DE
6 188 Rick Crowell LB

Wannstedt’s best draft, and that ain’t saying much. Fletcher’s started all of 10 games in his career and is on his fourth different team. With that pick Miami could have and should have drafted Drew Brees. In fact, Spielman recommended doing just that but Wannstedt went with Fletcher. Players selected shortly after Miami took Fletcher include Reggie Wayne (30), Todd Heap (31), Brees (32), Alge Crimpler (35), Chad Johnson (36), and Kendrell Bell (39). Now Chambers would have to be considered Wannstedt’s success story but that’s by default really. While the man’s certainly made some amazing acrobatic catches over the years, the numbers also show his catch percentages are terrible. Maybe the worst in football over the last few years. When a QB throws a ball in Chambers’ direction odds are he won’t come down with it.

With totals of 1640 yards and 9 TD’s in 7 seasons, Travis' contributions were indeed Minor. Morlon Greenwood gave Miami four years of steady starting linebacking and he’s done the same for three years with Houston.


3 90 Seth McKinney C
4 114 Randy McMichael TE
5 161 Omare Lowe DB
5 170 Sam Simmons WR
7 241 Leonard Henry RB

No first-rounder due to the Ricky Williams trade. Had Miami held onto that 25th pick they could have addressed their running back needs by taking DeShaun Foster (34) or Clinton Portis (50). While neither back might possess the same skill set as Williams, both possess the superior ability to not be suspended for failing drug tests. New Orleans used the Ricky pick on Charles Grant, a very good defensive end now hoping to avoid a manslaughter conviction; Good Luck Chuck. In 2001, Miami had also unwisely traded away their 2002 second-rounder to get the picks they used to take Morlon Greenwood and Otis Leverette. So with his top two picks gone could Wannstedt unearth some gems with the picks he had left? No. Actually Seth McKinney was an okay center for a few years until Miami released him after he suffered a neck injury. And Randy McMichael, when not beating his wife, could be an effective tight-end but he was always an inconsistent player.


2 49 Eddie Moore LB
3 78 Wade Smith T
3 87 Taylor Whitley G
5 156 Donald Lee TE
5 169 J.R. Tolver WR
6 181 Corey Jenkins LB
6 209 Tim Provost T
6 213 Yeremiah Bell DB
7 248 Davern Williams DT

Lots of what-if's here. Had Miami kept 2003’s number one pick instead of trading it for Ricky Williams and addressed their running-back need through the draft instead, they could have used the 17th overall pick on Willis McGahee (23) or Larry Johnson (27). Instead of bust Eddie Moore in the 2nd, Miami could have taken Anquan Boldin which Spielman wanted to do but Wannstedt again overruled him. Wade Smith was another bust who quickly played himself off the team. Donald Lee's a solid blocking tight end but he only lasted two years with Miami. So by default the “gem” of this draft for Miami was safety Yeremiah Bell (haha). Of course Bell’s rarely started in four years but at least he’s still on the team, a true accomplishment for Wannstedt’s draftees.


1 19 Vernon Carey T
4 102 Will Poole DB
5 160 Tony Bua LB
6 174 Rex Hadnot G
7 221 Tony Pape G
7 222 Derrick Pope LB

One final disaster bequeathed to the franchise by the dynamic duo of Wannstedt/Spielman. With Spielman now at the controls Miami blew a rare number one pick on Vernon Carey. Miami’s highest-rated player still available when it came time for the team to select with the 19th pick was actually hometown boy Vince Wilfork. However, since Miami had passed on resigning Todd Wade they felt they had use their top pick to replace him instead of taking the best available player. And thus Carey instead of Wilfork. Carey’s plays and is still a Dolphin (for the moment), but Wilfork's an excellent DE who terrorizes Miami twice a year with the Patriots. Hadnot and Pope are also still Dolphins but one couldn’t call them or anybody else drafted in this era a star. At least Hadnot is good enough to start.


It's still far too early to start evaluating the post-Wannstadt era. Or eras. Right now, I'd name the 2005-2008 drafts The Age of Starting Over...and Over...and Over. I will say that Nick Saban appears to have made the right call in taking Ronnie Brown over Cadillac Williams and Cedric Benson. Of course if Brown doesn't return to form after ACL surgery, that means exactly nothing.

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six: The Johnson Years (1996-1999)

The 1995 season ended with Miami’s third embarrassing playoff loss in six years to the hated Buffalo Bills. Despite Dan Marino’s brilliance it was obvious to everyone that the Dolphins were a good team, but nowhere near championship caliber. And Marino wasn’t getting any younger either. It had now been over a decade since the Dolphins' last Super Bowl appearance and close to a quarter-century since their last Super Bowl victory. Impatience with the long wait and with the sainted Don Shula himself bubbled over and Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga was listening. Now if you’re going to replace the winningest coach of all-time you’d better have a big name to replace him with. And Huizenga did. Jimmy Johnson let it be known he was very interested in Shula’s job and Johnson had not only won two recent Super Bowls with the Cowboys, he built a team so good they were capable of winning another Super Bowl even with an idiot of a head coach (Barry Switzer). The drumbeat for JJ from fans starved for a championship proved too much for H. Wayne to resist and he essentially forced Shula to resign by demanding actions he knew Shula wouldn’t take (firing certain assistants). Johnson was in and Shula was out.

Huizenga gave Jimmy complete control of the team and expected a repeat of what Johnson's Dallas days. Johnson inherited a Top 10 offense but a below-average defense so, acting quite logically, he concentrated on improving the defense at first. And he did a hell of a job! In his first two drafts Johnson acquired three of greatest defensive players the Dolphins have ever had: Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, and Sam Madison! Three superstars in two years, plus a very good defensive tackle in Daryl Gardner. The result? By the end of 1998 Miami had the number one scoring defense in the league.

On the flip side, Johnson’s attempts to provide Marino with some weapons flopped bigtime. Karim Abdul-Jabbar rushed for almost 3000 yards in three seasons with Miami but he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and was out of football by age 26. He was no better than the Mark Higgses and Bernie Parmalees that Shula had been running out there. At least Abdul-Jabbar contributed though. You can’t say that about the number one bust of 1997: Yatil Green.

The Marks Brothers were long gone. Irving Fryar left as a free agent. O.J. McDuffie was a good possession receiver but no Playmaker. Looking for another Michael Irvin, Johnson gambled a number one pick on Yatil Green. Like Irvin, Green possessed the size, speed, and athletic ability Johnson was looking for. Unlike Irvin however, Green was injury-prone in college. In fact, he’d never played a full season at UM without being injured. But Johnson gambled on him. And Johnson lost. Yatil averaged 1.25 surgeries per games played (10 surgeries, 8 games. Do the math).

If Johnson was intent on recreating his Cowboys teams, then if he wanted another Michael Irvin he should have tried to find him in 1996, not 1997. The 2007 Pro Football Prospectus called the wide receiver class of 1996 the “greatest draft class in NFL history at a single position”. Here’s the list: Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Joe Horn, Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Eric Moulds, Amani Toomer, Muhsin Muhammed, and Bobby Engram. Even Eddie Kennison and Jermaine Lewis had their moments. And Johnson and the Dolphins missed out on all those guys. And Miami wasted several more seasons after that hoping Green could come back and play when they should have drafted another receiver.

Still, overall Johnson’s first two drafts must be considered successes given the superstars he picked that made the defense one of the NFL’s best. Unfortunately, after the great start Johnson’s final two drafts were disasters. Only one really good player: Patrick Surtain. And Johnson’s frantic search for another Emmitt Smith, or just a decent running back really, turned into a parade of busts. Abdul-Jabbar actually seemed like Emmit Smith compared to the likes of his successors: John Avery, J.J. Johnson, Rob Konrad, and the ultimate loser Cecil Collins. Johnson didn’t have any better luck than Shula did in the run game. And unlike Shula who never lost his will, Johnson’s heart wasn’t really in the game anymore. Johnson rebuilt the defense but he had no luck creating a running game or finding a deep threat. Just like with Shula, Marino had to carry the offense but now he was an older QB who could no longer do that on a regular basis. He needed help. Johnson didn’t get him that help and, no longer what he once was, Marino started making more mistakes trying to win games by himself. That in turn frustrated Johnson who blamed it all on Marino when he should have looked in the mirror. Once Johnson realized it would take some more work to get Miami to championship level, he called it a day. Actually Johnson wanted to quit after his third season but that time Huizenga (and Marino, thinking of the team first) persuaded Jimmy to return for another year though his heart clearly wasn’t in it. He and Marino both retired after the 1999 season. So Miami gave up on Don Shula for the promise of Jimmy Johnson and now just four years later they didn’t have either Super Bowl-winning coach. Saddest of all, they also didn’t have Dan Marino anymore. So what did they have?

Dave Wannstadt.

I don’t like the sound of that!!!


1 20 Daryl Gardener DT
3 79 Dorian Brew DB
3 80 Karim Abdul-Jabbar RB
4 113 Kirk Pointer DB
4 118 Stanley Pritchett FB
5 134 Jerris McPhail RB
5 150 Shane Burton DE
5 154 Zach Thomas LB
6 189 Shawn Wooden DB
7 230 Jeff Buckey G
7 251 Brice Hunter WR

A good pick in Gardner and about as great a 5th round bargain as you will ever find with Zach Thomas, maybe the best linebacker in Dolphin history. Stanley Pritchett had a decent career but he was mainly a blocking back. Since Abdul-Jabbar had a 1000-yard season I guess you have to consider him a quality player but his YPC average was always pedestrian. Shane Burton and Shawn Wooden lasted surprisingly long in the NFL though neither were ever consistent starting material. Jerris McPhail failed. As I talked about above, despite the number of quality players here the one real shame of this draft was that Johnson missed out on the greatest WR class in NFL history. I mean, Miami could have used one of those third round picks on TO! (or Teddy Bruschi or Jonathan Runyon or Stephen Davis or Donnie Edwards, etc). Heck, they could have had Joe Horn in the 4th.


1 15 Yatil Green WR
2 44 Sam Madison DB
3 73 Jason Taylor DE
3 92 Derrick Rodgers LB
3 93 Ronnie Ward LB
3 96 Brent Smith G
4 121 Jerome Daniels G
5 149 Barron Tanner DT
5 157 Nicholas Lopez DE
6 166 John Fiala LB
6 170 Brian Manning WR
6 173 Mike Crawford LB
6 177 Ed Perry TE
7 203 Hudhaifa Ismaeli DB

No point in further beating the Yatil Green horse to death. As classic a bust as any of Shula’s 1984-1989 first-rounders. 1997 was not the year to go for a wideout. I believe 4th-rounder Derrick Mason was the only good NFL receiver from this draft. Certainly getting Madison and Taylor lessened the sting of the Green pick immeasurably. Derrick Rodgers and Ed Perry turned out to be good players as well.


1 29 John Avery RB
2 44 Patrick Surtain DB
2 49 Kenny Mixon DE
3 79 Brad Jackson LB
3 82 Larry Shannon WR
4 102 Lorenzo Bromell DE
5 143 Scott Shaw G
6 171 Nathan Strikwerda C
6 172 John Dutton QB
7 210 Jim Bundren G

Here’s where Jimmy Johnson lost his magic touch. This draft was almost a total botch job. Johnson traded down with Green Bay to get Green Bay’s first and second-round picks and took John Avery with Green Bay’s first-rounder. Avery of course was Miami’s second first-round bust in a row. Green Bay used Miami’s pick to take Vonnie Holliday, a DE who’s had a pretty good career. Worse though, the trade cost Miami a shot at Randy Moss! Johnson later claimed he wouldn’t have taken Moss anyway even if he kept Miami’s original draft slot. Of course he could be lying to salvage his reputation or he might have thought Yatil Green would come back strong from the first of his many surgeries. Still, even without Moss the trade could have worked if Johnson hadn’t blown that pick on Avery and instead taken someone decent like Corey Chavous, Flozell Adams, Brian Kelly, or Samari Rolle. Johnson at least salvaged something by grabbing Patrick Surtain in the second but that came at a high cost; Johnson traded away Miami’s number one pick in 2000 to get that second-rounder for Surtain. Jimmy should have just kept that 2000 first-round pick, grabbed Surtain (or Kelly or Rolle) instead of Avery, and forgotten about running back until later. As it turns out, the two good backs still left were 79th pick Ahman Green and 95th pick Michael Pittman.

Oh, Johnson wound up trading the second-rounder (60th pick) from Green Bay to Detroit for the Lions’ 3rd, 5th, and 7th rounders, and every one of those picks (Jackson, Shaw, and Dutton) flopped. Johnson also missed on another WR, grabbing Larry Shannon in the third (he played in two NFL games) while just ten picks later Pittsburgh took Hines Ward. And Johnson missed out on a late-round QB find when he went with John Dutton, who failed to make the team, instead of Matt Hasselbeck (pick 187). Salt, meet wound.


2 39 J.J. Johnson RB
2 43 Rob Konrad FB
3 72 Grey Ruegamer C
5 134 Cecil Collins RB
5 142 Bryan Jones LB
6 192 Brent Bartholomew P
7 232 Jermaine Haley DT
7 244 Joe Wong G

Johnson botched this draft even worse than 1998. The only quality player here is Grey Ruegamer, current starting center for the World Champion New York Giants. Johnson was smart enough to pick him but not smart enough to keep him; he never played a down for the Dolphins. As for the top pick, Jimmy traded down twice to obtain extra picks and used the second-rounder he ended up with on his namesake, J.J. Johnson. Of course Johnson became Miami's third consecutive top-pick bust. Rob Konrad wasn’t much better. But hopefully he and Johnson are enjoying their post-NFL careers and counting the money they made. Certainly Cecil “the Diesel” Collins, currently serving a 15-year sentence for burglary, is not. If you have fond memories of the 8 games he started before his arrest please write to him at Moore Haven Correctional Facility in Florida. He’s probably lonely.

If Miami had held onto their top pick, they could have drafted Fernando Bryant, Patrick Kerney, Al Wilson, John Jansen, or several other quality players still in the league. Even with the second-round picks they wound up with, Miami could have grabbed Dre Bly, Reggie Kelly, Jim Kleinsasser, or Peerless Price. Once again we see drafting for need ain’t gonna work if there aren’t any good players available to meet that need. And 1999 was not a good year for running backs once Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams (let’s not talk about him here Dolphin fans) were off the board. The best of the rest was Kevin Faulk and he was not the every-down back Miami needed.

In his final draft, Jimmy Johnson made four separate draft day trades to move up and down at various times. Nothing worked. This total washout of a draft no doubt contributed to Johnson’s realization that he wasn’t going to win a title with this team any time soon. And with Marino at the end of the line, Johnson didn’t want to try. Enter the man with the moustache.

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five: The Bronze Age (1990-1995)

After 1984-1989’s Black Hole of Drafting that reduced the team to an NFL afterthought, it must be said that Shula and company rebounded nicely in the 1990’s. Suddenly, the first round (and usually the second round even) started providing high-quality players that transformed the Dolphins back into a contender from 1990 to 1995. Unfortunately, none of those players quite reached Hall of Fame level so the Dolphins’ “Bronze Age” period falls short of their “Silver Age” achievements in the same way those Silver Agers couldn’t quite the Golden Age of 1970-1974. From 1990-1995 the team made four playoff appearances, won two division titles, and played for a conference championship. That 1992 AFC title game remains the closest Miami has been to a Super Bowl in the now almost-quarter century that’s passed since Super Bowl XIX.

From 1990 to 1994, Miami snared at least a every good player in the first round every time out except in 1991 when they blew their pick on Randall “Thrill” Hill. Yet even turned that into a positive (hard to believe but it’s true). Souring on Hill quickly, they suckered the Cardinals into trading their 1993 number one for him. With the trade for Hill the only draft then of this era that can be considered a failure would fittingly be Shula’s last, the one that kicked off his disappointing final season of 1995.

Miami obtained seven Pro Bowlers in this six-year period. That’s a very good total. The main problem was the number of quality players taken adds up to only 10 in six years. With one definite exception, all the good players came from the top of these drafts. Miami could just as well have quit after the first two or three rounds. Of course, when free agency started up a team’s fortunes stopped resting entirely on the draft. In the 1990’s Shula tried to use both the draft and free agency to make one final run at a Super Bowl. But his teams were still too flawed to reach the mountaintop. Shula understandably gave up on drafting running backs at this point. And why not? He was getting better results grabbing and suiting up guys right off the street like Bernie Parmalee and Mark Higgs. Defense and the offensive line were the areas of concentration now and good picks there got Miami close in 1992. But after the defensive collapse in the 1995 playoff defeat vs. the Bills (the third-straight postseason loss to Buffalo), it seemed clear to all that Shula had only acquired the horses for a good solid team, not a champion. And the team’s fans, and owner, desperately craved a champion.


1 9 Richmond Webb T
2 39 Keith Sims G

3 66 Alfred Oglesby NT
4 93 Scott Mitchell QB
5 137 Leroy Holt RB
6 151 Sean Vanhorse DB
8 205 Thomas Woods WR
9 231 Phil Ross TE
12 315 Bobby Harden DB

A great draft here. Webb’s probably the best offensive lineman Miami drafted since Dwight Stephenson’s retirement and Sims was quite good as well. Mitchell actually created a brief QB controversy when he played well taking over for Marino after Dan's achilles injury in 1993. Some seriously wanted to keep Mitchell and let go of the aging, injured Marino. Of course as Lions fans soon found out, even an older, less effective Marino was far better than Mitchell on his best day.


1 23 Randal Hill WR
3 60 Aaron Craver RB
5 113 Bryan Cox LB
5 121 Gene Williams G
7 191 Chris Green DB
8 220 Roland Smith DB
9 246 Scott Miller WR
11 302 Ernie Rogers G
12 331 Joe Brunson DT

What happened with Hill was bizarre. Shula clearly saw the need for a new deep threat as Duper and Clayton’s careers neared their end. Yet Miami soured on Hill after one game and traded him to the Cards for their 1992 #1 pick. Miami got a much better player out of the deal. The only gem from the 1991 draft was one of my all-time favorite players: Brian Cox. Even if Cox, a Pro Bowl linebacker, hadn’t been any good he still earned a lifetime of credit from me for his two handed flip-off of the Buffalo crowd in Orchard Park.


1 7 Troy Vincent DB
1 12 Marco Coleman DE

2 43 Eddie Blake DT
3 70 Larry Webster DT
4 97 Dwight Hollier LB
5 124 Christopher Perez T
6 155 Roosevelt Collins LB
7 191 Dave Moore TE
8 209 Andre Powell LB
9 236 Tony Tellington DB
10 267 Raoul Spears RB
11 294 Lee Miles WR
11 296 Mark Barsotti QB
12 321 Milton Biggins TE
12 328 Kameno Bell RB

Finally, finally (!) Shula snares some defensive stars in the first round. Do you know how far back you have to go for the last time that happened? 1977? (Was A.J. Duhe considered a star?). Both Vincent and Coleman made Pro Bowls and Vincent turned into one of the best defensive backs of the 90’s. Of course those things happened when Vincent and Coleman had moved on to other teams. They didn’t survive the end of the Don Shula era in Miami. Dwight Hollier played eight years with the Dolphins and Larry Webster had a decent career though mostly with Baltimore. In a big personnel blunder Miami let Dave Moore go early in his rookie season and he ended up playing for 15 years for other teams including the Bucs.


1 25 O.J. McDuffie WR
3 78 Terry Kirby RB

4 105 Ronnie Bradford DB
5 132 Chris Gray G
7 191 David Merritt LB
8 218 Dwayne Gordon LB

No speedster, but a tough possession receiver, O.J. McDuffie was Marino’s only dependable weapon in the last phase of his career. Terry Kirby was your versatile third-down back type but he did that for only three years as a Dolphin.


1 20 Tim Bowens DT
2 54 Aubrey Beavers LB
2 65 Tim Ruddy C
4 112 Ronnie Woolfork LB
5 147 William Gaines DT
6 177 Brant Boyer LB
7 214 Sean Hill DB

Great picks in Bowens and Ruddy, two Pro Bowlers who played many seasons for Miami.


1 25 Billy Milner T
2 53 Andrew Greene G
4 122 Pete Mitchell TE
5 158 Norman Hand DT
6 194 Jeff Kopp LB
7 233 Corey Swinson DT
7 246 Shannon Myers WR

Fittingly, Shula capped his futile push for one last Super Bowl with a totally disastrous draft. For some reason Shula decided he wanted to replicate the 1990 draft but Milner and Greene were huge busts rather than the second coming of Webb and Sims. 1995 was not a good year for offensive lineman. Tight end maybe. Actually, Miami got a good TE but let Pete Mitchell go before he played a down. With hindsight we can see Derrick Brooks was the guy Miami should have jumped on in the first round (he went 28th). Ah, what might have been.

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four: Disaster (1984-1989)

You want to see the rocks on which Dan Marino’s Super Bowl dreams crashed? Look no further than his team’s drafts from 1984 to 1989. In my previous post, we saw how from 1976-1983 the Dolphins executed a series of great drafts, stockpiling the talent that Don Shula molded into the Killer Bees defense and one of the great passing offenses of all-time. (I was remiss in that earlier post in not mentioning the name of Chuck Connor who became Miami’s Director of Player Personnel in 1978. He deserves a lot of credit for those drafts though by this time surely Shula had final say over all player moves).

In 1982 the Dolphins defense ranked second in points allowed and in 1983 they ranked first. With a record-setting passing installed for 1984, Miami looked to be a Super Bowl contender for years to come. However, 1984 revealed some trouble spots. Miami’s scoring defense dropped to seventh and more disturbingly, they slumped to a well-below average 19th in yardage allowed, a sure sign you’ve got a classic “bend but don’t break” defense, the kind that gets exposed in the playoffs. And exposed they were. In Super Bowl XIX, Miami’s front seven proved completely incapable of putting any pressure on Joe Montana or stopping San Francisco’s run game. The debacle also revealed another weakness: the total lack of a running threat allowing the opposing defense to concentrate on Dan Marino alone. To avoid wasting Marino’s prime then, Miami clearly needed to improve their running game and their front seven.

Not a stupid man, Don Shula attempted to address these two needs in the first round of every single draft from 1984 to 1989. And the pick blew up in his face Every…Single…Time. An unparalleled series of busts really and their names are legend: Jackie Shipp, Lorenzo Hampton, John Bosa, Eric Kumerow, and Sammie Smith. Perhaps sensing they’d just blow the pick anyway, Miami traded away their top choice in 1986 to the Bucs for star linebacker (and Marino’s former Pitt teammate) Hugh Green. Green proceeded to rip up his knee shortly thereafter and was never the same player. Now that was some bad luck. But those draft choices? Shula should have known better. Hampton: only the third-best back on a college team with an overpowering offensive line; Shipp: Classic workout warrior who can’t actually play; Bosa and Kumerow: Reaches and everyone knew it at the time. Too small to play defensive line, too big and slow to play linebacker.

Really, other than John Offerdahl, Miami’s drafts here were all top-to-bottom disasters until 1988. In 1988-1989 at least the team added some productive players to keep their annual first-round bust company, though they obtained no star players at all in this five-year period. All in all, these drafts certainly lend credence to the “best available athlete” theory of drafting rather than simply selecting for need.

The inevitable result of these drafts was Miami’s descent into utter mediocrity. After all the success of the 1981-1985 period, the Dolphins posted a 29-31 record over the next four years (not counting the replacement games of 1987). Just as Marino was heading into what should have been his prime years, he was surrounded by nothing but draft busts and role players. The talent level was so bad, one of the league’s worst, that it was only Marino’s brilliant play that allowed his team to even reach average status.

1 14 Jackie Shipp LB
2 53 Jay Brophy LB
4 109 Joe Carter RB
5 138 Dean May QB
6 165 Rowland Tatum LB
7 194 Bernard Carvalho G
8 221 Ronnie Landry RB
9 250 Jim Boyle T
10 277 John Chesley TE
11 305 Bud Brown DB
12 320 William Devane DT
12 333 Mike Weingrad LB

I previously wrote a little about Miami’s trade up to grab Shipp here. I defended the trade idea; it was just a bad pick. But I must share this little 1984 tidbit about Shipp from Sports Illustrated's online vault (good stuff there):

“TITANIC AWARD: Dolphin linebacker Jackie Shipp, the No. 14 from Oklahoma, may turn out to be the bust of '84. When it comes to pass defense, he's sunk. And Don Shula's playbook baffles him. "The main thing I remember about my college playbook is that it was filled with dorm rules," Shipp says.”

When they're right they're right. Bud Brown lasted for five years as a Fin but he wasn’t good. I’d say this draft was as bad a misfire as a team can have. NOTHING.

1 27 Lorenzo Hampton RB
3 65 George Little DE
3 83 Alex Moyer LB
4 91 Mike Smith DB
4 111 Jeff Dellenbach C
6 145 George Shorthose WR
6 167 Ron Davenport RB
7 195 Fuad Reveiz K
8 223 Dan Sharp TE
9 251 Adam Hinds DB
10 279 Mike Pendleton DB
11 307 Mike Jones RB
12 335 Ray Noble DB

I wrote more about Lorenzo Hampton and the awful RB class of 1985 in this post. Miami needed a back but this was not the year to grab one. The only real worthwhile pick in this whole draft for the Dolphins was longtime offensive tackle Jeff Dellenbach. Fuad Reveiz was a good NFL kicker but only played for the Fins for four years.

2 52 John Offerdahl LB
3 81 T.J. Turner DE
4 107 James Pruitt WR
5 136 Kevin Wyatt DB
7 193 Larry Kolic LB
8 218 John Stuart T
9 247 Reyna Thompson DB
10 274 Jeff Wickersham QB
11 303 Arnold Franklin TE
12 329 Rickey Isom RB

Not counting kickers, Offerdahl was the only All-Pro player selected by Miami in the 1984-1989 period. Unfortunately, Offerdahl was injury-prone and couldn’t stay healthy enough for a long career. As for the rest, T.J. Turner played for seven years and Reyna Thompson made a Pro Bowl. However Thompson made it there in a New York Giants uniform; Miami gave up on him after three years in yet another personnel blunder.

1 16 John Bosa DE
2 43 Rick Graf LB
2 56 Scott Schwedes WR
4 99 Troy Stradford RB
5 132 Chris Conlin G
6 155 Lance Sellers LB
7 182 Tom Brown RB
8 210 Joel D. Williams TE
8 212 Mark Dennis T
9 237 Tim Pidgeon LB
10 266 Bobby Taylor DB
11 293 Terence Mann DT
12 322 Jim Karsatos QB

Another complete debacle. Three picks in the top 56, none of who ever cracked the starting lineup. Mark Dennis lasted for seven years as a Fin so I guess he’d be the best player taken here.

1 16 Eric Kumerow DE
2 42 Jarvis Williams DB
3 73 Ferrell Edmunds TE
4 99 Greg Johnson T
5 126 Rodney L. Thomas DB
6 153 Melvin Bratton RB
6 156 George Cooper RB
7 180 Kerwin Bell QB
8 212 Harry Galbreath G
8 220 Louis Cheek T
9 239 Jeff Cross DE
10 266 Artis Jackson DT
11 292 Tom Kelleher RB
12 320 Brian Kinchen TE

I’ve argued before that the Kumerow selection was the single worst pick in Miami Dolphins’ history. Not only was Kumerow awful, not only should Miami have known he was going to be awful, but they passed on Thurman Thomas to take Kumerow. Ok, let’s not think about this too much. Miami at least got a Pro Bowler in TE Ferrell Edmunds although they couldn’t get rid of the guy fast enough when Keith Jackson became available in free agency. Miami added two good defensive players in Jarvis Williams and Jeff Cross, a Pro Bowler, and a good offensive guard in Harry Galbreath. The first draft of this era that wasn’t a disaster.

1 9 Sammie Smith RB
1 25 Louis Oliver DB
4 92 David Holmes
5 121 Jeff Uhlenhake C
6 147 Wes Pritchett LB
7 176 Jim Zdelar T
8 203 Pete Stoyanovich K
9 232 Dana Batisite LB
10 259 Deval Glover WR
10 275 Greg Ross DT
11 288 Bert Weidner G
12 315 J.B. Brown DB

Ah Sammie Smith. A total bust with a horrible tendency to fumble at the worst possible moments of a game. Well, at least he was a good guy off the field. What’s that you say? Busted for drug trafficking? You don’t say. Alright he’s served his time, get off his back already! Stop chanting “Sammie Sucks, Sammie Sucks”. The 80’s are over!

Once again, Miami went for a running back in the wrong year. Miami was considering taking Louis Oliver with the ninth pick but opted for Sammie instead. As the first round went on and Oliver remained unpicked, Miami made a deal with Chicago for another first round pick and took Oliver. If only they’d just taken Oliver to begin with. He wasn’t great but he was a good DB for several years so for the only time in the 1984-1989 era, Miami picked one quality first-rounder. Miami did get an All-Pro here. Stoyanavich. A kicker. (I have to say, the Dolphins have consistently selected good kickers over the years). Uhlenake, Weidner, and J.B. Brown were all long-time, if unspectacular contributors.

A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part One (1966-1970)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Two (1971-1975)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Three (1976-1983)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Four (1984-1989)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Five (1990-1995)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Six (1996-1999)
A History of the Miami Dolphins Drafts, Part Seven (2000-2004)