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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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So how well did the Dolphins really do?

 

I haven’t a clue. Neither do you.

 

That’s the NFL Draft for you, a two day crapshoot. There’s just no way to immediately know if you have selected a crop of studs or a crop of slugs. With football players, all athletes really, time is the true judge.

 

After all, how can anyone really know how a draft will turn out when the newly minted haven’t even buckled up an NFL chinstrap yet?

 

So count me with the group of folks who believe that day-after draft grades are silly.

 

“I judge it probably in three years”, said Dolphin GM Jeff Ireland. “You have to judge them in how they contributed to your roster and how well they are playing.”

 

Amen to that. That’s why I like to focus on strategy versus a team’s overall philosophy. Were they able to move their vision forward?

 

The Dolphins’ primary goal in this draft was to rebuild the offensive and defensive lines, the foundation of all great teams. They wanted improved size, intelligence, and toughness up front. On offense, this means building an offensive line that can instigate power football. On defense, it means building a front seven that can man a 3-4 system and deliver stops and turnovers.

 

They seem to have accomplished this goal.

 

1(1) Jake Long, OT, Michigan

Long, a massive 6-7 and 315lb. mountain of a man, is being counted on to stabilize the left tackle position for the next decade. The pick makes sense because it plays to the strength of the offense (running back) and is conducive to the success of a young quarterback. Furthermore, Long’s presence allows the Dolphins to shift Vernon Carey back to right tackle, where he’s enjoyed some good success in the past. Together with Carey, he could give the Dolphins their best tackle tandem since 1995 (Richmond Webb and Ron Heller). Add in free agent pick-up Justin Smiley (RG) and rookie center sensation Samson Satele, and the Dolphins have the makings for one of the best young offensive lines in the game. Provided that Jason Taylor is still with the team when training camp opens, look for Long to gain valuable experience early and often on handling an elite NFL pass rusher.

 

2(32) Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson

Meet the potential heir to Taylor, a player who professes to have modeled his game after Taylor. Merling was very productive at Clemson, earning ACC Player of the Week honors an amazing three times in 2007 (they only play 12 games, not including a bowl game). “Merling brings us a quality pass rusher”, said Ireland. “He’s a big guy that we like, a solid kid, competitive, tough, brings good depth to the end position.” Currently listed as 6-5, 282lbs., Merling has the frame to add more strength and bulk. While some say this pick sends a message to Taylor, what it really does is send a message to Matt Roth. Look for Merling to be in the regular defensive line rotation this season.

 

2(57) Chad Henne, QB, Michigan

This was a very important pick-up for the Dolphins. Rebuilding starts with a winning quarterback and the Dolphins do not have one. While 2007 second rounder John Beck remains a work in process, there is some real uncertainty as to how he will turn out. Bill Parcells and Ireland must understand what a disaster it would be to have Josh McCown win the starting job and wisely hedged the bet. Some had Henne rated as the second best QB in the draft after Matt Ryan, and the Dolphins expect him to immediately compete for the starting job. “I bring leadership qualities. Being a four-year starter at Michigan definitely developed me into that”, Henne said. “Intelligence, being able to pick up things fast and performing on the field. Also, just my physical abilities, going out there and making plays”.

 

3(66) Kendall Langford, DE, Hampton

The immediate concern with Langford, as with all 1-AA division prospects, is the level of competition they faced. This didn’t deter the Dolphins in any way, who see Langford as someone who upgrades the depth at defensive end. “Anyone that is 6-5 and 290 and runs a 4.9 is going to be on our radar pretty quickly”, said Ireland. “He had a real good season his junior season. He had a solid season this year. We feel like he has the ability to play in the rotation. He has great size. He has great character. He has a real good makeup as a kid”. Look for Langford to contribute initially as a run stopper while he develops his pass rushing skills (as former Dolphin Kenny Mixon did).

 

4(110) Shawn Murphy, OG, Utah State

Murphy, a college tackle and the son of former baseball great Dale Murphy, is being counted on to upgrade the shallow depth at guard. He has excellent size (6-4, 320) and a reputation as a road grader but isn’t quick enough to continue to play tackle in the NFL. “He’s another makeup guy we feel real good about”, said Ireland. “We’ll put him over at right guard at this time. We feel like he has a chance to be a part of the rotation”.  

 

6(176) Jalen Parmele, RB, Toledo

With the unexpected trade of Lorenzo Booker to the Philadelphia Eagles (more on that in a moment) the Dolphins had a need for competition with Patrick Cobbs as the third running back. Parmele, a 6-0, 220lb. power back, is a guy the Dolphins hope is in the mold of Marion Barber. “My strengths are my ability to run with power”, said Parmele. “I have good power when I run, an explosion”. As with all third string RBs, play on special teams is important, and the Dolphins like his skills there. “He has good special teams value”, Ireland noted. “He has good kickoff return ability. We’ll put him there as well and let him challenge for that position”.

 

6(195) Donald Thomas, OG, Connecticut

Thomas is also expected to improve the depth on the offensive line, though he is probably not as close to being able to make a near term contribution as Murphy is. The Dolphins leveraged the relationship that head coach Tony Sparano has with Connecticut (from his previous stint there) and got a very good read on him. “(Thomas is) kind of a raw player – more of a developmental offensive linemen”, said Ireland. “He has great athletic ability. He’s tough. He’s only been playing football for a couple of years. We saw a great upside in the kid and a chance to be something hopefully in the near future”. If he cannot make the final 53 man roster, look for Thomas to be considered for the practice squad.

 

6(204) Lex Hilliard, RB, Montana

Seen as a fullback prospect in the NFL, the 6-0, 240lb. Hilliard will compete with Reagan Mauia and Boomer Grigsby (free agent) with the hope of at least sticking as a back-up. “I’ll play whatever”, Hilliard said. “It may have to be on special teams. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to help the Miami Dolphins win”. Hilliard has had some injury issues in the past (achilles, thumb) but was quite productive in college (over 1,000 yards rushing in 2007). Said Ireland: “He’s been a real productive running back the last couple of years. He’s had some injury issues, but we think he’s over those things now. We see him as a guy that can play running back and fullback. We have flexibility with the kid.”

 

7(245) Lionel Dotson, DL, Arizona

A raw defensive line prospect who Ireland feels will start out at end but has the size (6-3, 296) to eventually see some time at tackle. “I just wanted my opportunity so that I can show that I can play”, Dotson said. “God-willing, I got an opportunity.” Dotson will have a logjam of competition to overcome; a realistic goal for him would be the practice squad.

 

Other notes:

 

  • In hindsight, the Booker trade shouldn’t have been that surprising. His game just doesn’t fit the Dolphins’ new power football philosophy. But it was Booker’s poor skills on special teams that really prompted the trade. On a Parcells’ team, third string RBs have to be able to perform well on special teams. This thinking goes back to his days with the Giants and how valuable Dave Meggett was in that role. In the end, it’s another Dolphin draft pick no longer with the team.
  •  

  • The Dolphins failed to trade Jason Taylor because no one was willing to meet the asking price, believed to be a first round draft pick. Again, Parcells strongly believes in value which means that the days of free giveaways (see Ogunleye, Adewale) are over. Clearly, potential suitors (Jacksonville, for one) wanted to take advantage of the situation and steal him away. Parcells wouldn’t let that happen. Unless Taylor retires, it is looking more and more like he will be a Dolphin in 2008 at least up through the trading deadline. Hopefully Parcells and Taylor will be able to reconcile their differences, and soon.
 
     
   
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