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)


JB said...

Wannstedt had bad taste in QB's. In Chicago, he had Steve Walsh, and they traded for Rick Mirer when he was there. I can't believe he thought that Fiedler was the answer for the Dolphins. I never understood that. And, he overruled Spielman in 03 again when he wanted Boldin? Mistake. He should have listened to Spielman more. You guys could have Brees and Boldin now.

Rob said...

It just so happens my next post will be about Wannstedt's Fiedler fetish! But I hadn't done much checking into Wannsedt's Chicago blunders so thanks for the info. At least the man was a consistent failure.

Hal said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. It still boggles my mind that Jimmy was allowed to handpick his successor.

Furthermore, when the Chargers were in the doldrums just a year later, their owner reportedly went to one Jimmy Johnson for advice. His advice? "hire the best football man you can find as GM, and let him pick your coach" (that football man turned out to be the late John Butler).

Too bad he couldn't give that advice to Wayne, who had paid him rather handsomely for 4 years, two of which the guy basically gave less than his best.