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  Hickey Era Begins with 2014 NFL Draft
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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New Miami Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey is still new. He’s warmed the seat of his chair, refined his scouting department, brought in better technology, smoothed out his delivery at various introductions and pressers, and spent some money to fill holes so obvious that a dope like me probably could have managed it. Nothing controversial, little to really debate, a decent start.

But Dennis Hickey hasn’t done anything yet.

Don’t get me wrong: what Hickey's accomplished thus far has been helpful. Free agency has been wisely handled, with few risks taken in addressing needs. Operational improvements here and there have been made to simplify decision making and increase efficiency in sharing data amongst coaches and scouts at points of need.

All of this is fine and good, and tips us off a bit as to how Hickey may conduct his business. But the real heavy lifting comes with NFL Draft, the repeated failure at which being the major cause for the Dolphins wandering and floundering over the past decade and a half. Nothing defines a GM more than his work in the NFL Draft. It’s less about being clever, or making slick trades, and more about simply selecting good players which, unfortunately, previous Dolphins GMs have not done a good job of.

The last decent GM the Dolphins have had was Jimmy Johnson. Since then, snake eyes, including the recently departed Jeff Ireland.

What should our expectations of Dennis Hickey be?

If Hickey’s smart, he’ll continue grinding along as he has. There won’t be a dramatic waive of the magic wand or anything spectacular or desperate. Hickey knows the Dolphins need more good players, and that few positions on the team are truly set. He knows he will be judged, ultimately, on winning and that winning is predicated mostly by how well your players perform.

Simply put, his job is to scout and select more good players. Period. All the wailing from the draft gurus and the like about value and position doesn’t mean a hill of beans. All he has to do is just pick good players.

In today’s NFL almost all of the teams do a fine job of scouting. The report that the Patriots have on a guy is every bit as comprehensive as the one the Bills have. And the Dolphins have one of the best scouting departments in the NFL, a legacy of the Wayne Huizenga years when no expense was spared in people, travel, or tools.

What separates the elite teams from the average ones is quality decision-making on a consistent basis, in-line with an agreed philosophy. The act of deciding, if you will. The Dolphins have failed at this time and again.

What’s needed now is a steady hand. Will Hickey provide it? Is he ready for this?

No one really knows, not even Hickey. As for me, I won’t waste your time telling you what other media wags and draft gurus have already said about team weaknesses and priorities. In today’s instant news world of Twitter, being first is more important than being right, and so much of what you’ve already read is probably wrong anyway.

For Hickey and the Dolphins, this draft ought to be about talent first. You can wrack your brain studying scenarios until you turn blue, but what happens when the Dolphins go on the clock in the first few rounds should be rather simple: pick the best player available on their board. Don’t reach, don’t be clever. If the guy you like is there, take him.

What does this mean?

Firstly, it means you should brace yourself for someone not necessarily at a position of need in round one. No matter. With the roster as it currently stands, there is little chance that player won’t be afforded a chance to contribute.

An offensive linemen? Obviously needed. Wide receiver? With the injuries to two of their top three guys, it’s an obvious need. Tight end and running back upgrade? Needed. Defensive back or lineman? Can’t have enough good ones.

You get the idea.

Secondly, it means that the Dolphins will have a shot at a very good player no matter what. And for a team with a crying need for more of them, just about everywhere, this is good news. If need and availability match up, it’s extra wonderful.

Thirdly, it means that trade ups and trade downs in the early rounds just aren’t necessary this year. Quality, quality, quality should be the recurring theme to get this team into the playoff mix.

Hickey doesn’t need to wheel and deal to have a solid first draft. He doesn’t need to pay through the nose to trade up for a right tackle in round one. It isn’t worth giving up badly needed picks. Just stick to your knitting Dennis, and don’t get cute.

In later rounds, things always tend to get a bit more tricky. This is where need starts to become more of a tiebreaker as next tier players begin to line up rank and file. Great GMs are adept at sorting through this talented but flawed pool to identify gems. And nabbing an extra roster worthy player in the pool of undrafted guys is like putting a cherry on top of the sundae. Hickey will have his chance to show us his true judgment skills.

Hope springs eternal. Welcome to the Dennis Hickey era, Dolfans. Let’s pray this one is happy.

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