Dave Hyde: Dolphins’ draft had a big, ugly, wonderful purpose to it

Tribune Content Agency

I say this with borderline wonder in my voice: The Miami Dolphins drafted an offensive lineman to start Saturday’s fourth round. Another offensive lineman. It was Georgia’s Solomon Kindley this time. A right guard. Or left guard.

“I could play each side of the guard,” he said. “To be honest, I could play anywhere the coaches need me.”

There was the Dolphins’ big NFL draft plan right after finding a quarterback. It was to fix the damn offensive line. Pardon the curse, but isn’t that how you’ve addressed the Dolphins offensive line for so much of this past decade? Among other, more multi-syllabic curses?

Kindley followed the Dolphins’ drafting of guard/tackle Robert Hunt in the third round. Who followed tackle Austin Jackson in the first round. Who followed guard Ereck Flowers and center/guard Ted Karras in free agency.

You don’t need to frame the need by stating last year’s offensive line was last in ESPN’s pass-block win rate, 28th in its adjusted sack rate and 32nd in Football Outsiders’ adjust line-yards created. You just had to watch them get shoved around the field last year. Again. As usual.

In fact, both Dolphins lines were punched in the mouth most Sundays and couldn’t fight back. The defense was 30th against the run. So look at this draft. They got some big ugly linemen on that side, too. Defensive tackle Raekwon Davis was taken in the second round and defensive ends Jason Stowbridge and edge player Curtis Weaver in the fifth round to go with more free-agent buys.

You look for new and different with a change of regimes. And, well, this was new and different by general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores. It’s welcome, too. Necessary, if the Dolphins are to ever win again.

They addressed the root of the Dolphins’ problem after the quarterback. Or maybe even before him, if the Lesson of Ryan Tannehill tells anything. He failed for seven years with the Dolphins and succeeded one year in Tennessee. Coincidence?

Everyone has been so captivated by the bright, shiny object of quarterback they’ve neglected the big uglies that keep him bright and shiny. That isn’t just the fans or media. It has started with the franchise power brokers.

In the decade before Grier and Flores took over in 2019, the Dolphins drafted 20 linemen with 79 picks. That’s 26%. New England drafted 30 linemen in 87 picks (34%) in that decade. Baltimore drafted 33 linemen in 89 picks (37%). Those two franchise realize winning on the line accompanies winning on the scoreboard.

I wrote of those stats before the draft, but they bear repeating again. So does this: In the two drafts of Grier and Flores, the Dolphins have drafted linemen in nine of 17 picks. That’s 53%. That’s more than double what they’d done the previous decade. They only took one more lineman in the five drafts from 2014 to 2018.

So with a change in regimes has come a change in philosophy. They put investment behind their ideas. Three of their top-five picks this draft were linemen. Smart, right?

It’s about here you have to say this, too: This isn’t guaranteed to work. Look at last year’s draft. A third-round pick was used on guard Michael Deiter. He struggled to the point he’s evidently not guaranteed anything this year. Why else bring in five players through the draft and free agency who could play guard?

And defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, the 13th pick last year? You need to see more his second season. That’s a nice way to talk about his rookie year.

But for the first time in forever the Dolphins had a draft day a overwhelming purpose on the lines. Entering with 14 draft picks, they needed to with this empty roster, too. Now it’s full of young linemen.

“We’ve got to get them here,” Flores said. “We’ve got to get them the terminology. We’ve got to work together as a group, as a unit. I think we feel good about the players we’ve selected, but at the same time there’s a long road ahead.”

The road started in the moments after the draft when you heard words repeated pick after pick, in post-draft interview after post-draft interview: Mean, nasty, physical, versatile, strong, tough.

“I try to strain and I try to finish people,” Hunt said.

It doesn’t guaranteed the problem is solved. That only comes with getting the right players. But for once they had the right idea in casting a big net in hopes of getting enough linemen. Bless their hearts, this Dolphins draft got to the heart of the matter.


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