How well will the Miami Dolphins do with the 22nd overall pick in next week’s NFL draft, providing they don’t trade out of that spot in one direction or the other?
You have my guarantee that it won’t be the best the franchise has ever done at that number, and that’s no knock on the skills of the Dolphins’ personnel evaluators or the depth of this year’s college talent pool.
There’s simply no way that anyone will ever have a greater impact on the Dolphins than Don Shula did.
Obviously, Shula wasn’t drafted by Miami, but the organization’s first-round draft pick in 1971, the 22nd overall, was sent to Baltimore as the league-ordered punishment for Joe Robbie tampering with the Colts’ highly successful young head coach and eventually signing him away.
So the Colts got North Carolina running back Don McCauley and the Dolphins, who had no first-round pick that year, got the winningest coach in NFL history plus a quarter century of top-shelf organization and stability.
“(Colts owner) Carroll Rosenbloom put up such a stink over coach Shula going to Miami that I was the compensation,” McCauley said years later. “I always say, ‘Who got the better deal?’ “
McCauley scored 57 touchdowns rushing and receiving in his 11 seasons with the Colts but clearly everyone knows the answer to that question. In fact, the former NCAA rushing leader at North Carolina was laughing when he gave that quote to our Hal Habib.
Truth is, you don’t have to be at the very top of the draft order to land a big fish or, in the case of the Dolphins, a mammoth mammal.
Here’s a list of guys who came from farther down the food chain but proved to be among the 10 best draft values in Miami history.
We could argue about the order in which they are named and even which names are excluded but the point is the same. With a bright coach and a player who precisely fits his developmental goals, it’s not necessary to have a top-10 pick in order to strike it rich.
1. Jason Taylor: Third round, 73rd overall, enters Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
2. Dwight Stephenson: Second round, 48th overall, in Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. Jake Scott: Seventh round, 159th overall, Dolphins’ career interceptions leader and a Super Bowl MVP.
4. Dan Marino: First round, 27th overall, in Pro Football Hall of Fame.
5. Mark Clayton: Eighth round, 223rd overall, Dolphins’ career leader in touchdown receptions.
6. Zach Thomas: Fifth round, 154th overall, Dolphins’ career leader in tackles.
7. Nat Moore: Third round, 78th overall, No. 2 on Dolphins’ career lists for touchdown receptions and games played.
8. Vern Den Herder: Ninth round, 230th overall, had double-digit sacks totals in several seasons at a time when that stat was not officially counted. Had five in one game vs. Buffalo.
9. Dick Anderson: Third round, 73rd overall, finished one off franchise’s career interception record with 34.
10. Mark Duper: Second round, 52nd overall, Dolphins’ career leader in receiving yards.
Why not Bob Griese and Larry Csonka, a couple of Hall of Famers, on that list? Well, they were high picks, No. 4 and No. 8 overall respectively, so a franchise expects to get extraordinary value there and is shocked when it doesn’t happen.
Same goes for Richmond Webb and Bill Stanfill, a couple of Dolphins Honor Roll members. Great players taken at the great price of a high first-round pick.
I made an exception with Marino because he went late in the first round in 1983 after five teams chose other quarterbacks instead of him.
If you really want to get technical, some of the most amazing values in Dolphins history weren’t drafted at all. Larry Little and Jim Langer, both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, are the best examples.
Little signed a free-agent contract with San Diego out of Bethune-Cookman College and was pleased to get a $750 bonus in return for his signature. Langer, from South Dakota State, signed first with the Browns but was cut in training camp. That’s when Shula picked him up and turned Langer into the starting center on Miami’s perfect 1972 team.
Adam Gase hasn’t proven himself to be a Shula or a Jimmy Johnson or anything like that, but during his 10-win rookie season as a head coach, the Dolphins got the most out of the players available to him.
Makes you think that whoever is handed him next week at the No. 22 draft spot will be put to maximum use and not wasted like Dion Jordan, who went third overall to Miami in 2013 and never was worth all the fuss, just like Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin, the general manager and coach who took him.