It began with a quarterback. That alone might say everything you need to know. It followed with a big, strong, smart offensive tackle, then a muscular defensive end brimming with potential and a pass-catching tight end who can race down the middle of the field.
By the time the three-day NFL draft was over, the Miami Dolphins had addressed just about every need on their wish list. The final tally: One quarterback, one running back, one offensive tackle, one defensive end, one tight end, two receivers, an outside linebacker and a defensive tackle.
Not a bad haul. The smile General Manager Jeff Ireland was wearing on Saturday night showed how pleased he was with how everything fell into place. But Ireland will be the first to tell you that with each pick comes question marks and none of those questions can truthfully be answered in late April.
There are, though, some intriguing possibilities. How big a steal was running back Lamar Miller in the fourth round? How impressive are the college stats of Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham? How many of those early picks have a chance to be true impact players? And, of greatest importance, what about the quarterback? How quickly will Ryan Tannehill be ready to play?
As of this moment, all we can do is speculate. Under the best case scenario, this could be a momentum changing draft for this franchise. When you look at the pieces, when you evaluate potential and talent and the mindset of these players, you see a real chance for the type of impact the Dolphins desperately need.
Hope. That, more than anything else, is what the Dolphins have taken from this draft.
Hope that Tannehill can deliver at the most important position in perhaps all of sports.
Hope that offensive tackle Jonathan Martin can make his move to the right side and prove to be one of the final important pieces on this offensive line. Really like that pick.
Hope that defensive end Olivier Vernon can be the pass rushing threat to take some of the pressure off
Hope that the Dolphins have a game-changing tight end in Missouriís Michael Egnew.
Hope that Miller will produce some big kick returns and versatility at running back and hope that at least one of the late round receivers comes up big.
Yes, thatís what we have today. Hope. An abundance of it. Enough to justify cautious optimism heading into the rest of the off season.
Where do you start? Youíve got to start with Tannehill. It always starts at quarterback, doesnít it? When you look at the player, when you evaluate his accomplishments, when you hear him talk and get a real feel for the make-up of this young man, it is all very impressive.
From a personal standpoint, I am thrilled that the Dolphins have finally used a first-round pick on another quarterback. Twenty-nine years is far too long to wait for that to happen. But thatís for another day. The important thing now is that the Dolphins have a real conviction on Tannehill and that conviction is based on first-hand knowledge accrued by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who happened to be Tannehillís college coach at Texas A&M.
Sherman, you see, has a better feel for all of Tannehillís intangibles than anyone else. He knows how he treats to defeat, how he basks in victory, how he handles hours of watching tape, how he maintains his composure in difficult situations, how he interacts with his teammates. These are things other teams could not know and the fact that the Dolphins do know all of this and still decided to take Tannehill with the eighth overall pick has to provide a measure of confidence moving forward.
You look at his size. His speed. His running instincts as a former wide receiver. The strength of his arm. The fact that he put up pretty decent numbers as a senior even with about 70 dropped passes from his receivers. You combine all of that with a high degree of intelligence and desire and you begin to see why the Dolphins felt so secure in this selection.
The Dolphins believe with great conviction that they have their long-term answer at quarterback. We can only hope they are right. And with the strong finish Matt Moore had over the final nine games last season, coupled with the addition of David Garrard, who had a pretty impressive body of work as a Jacksonville Jaguar, you have to feel pretty good about the quarterback position as a whole right now.
As I evaluate the entire Dolphins draft, I see a clear game plan by the brain trust on the second floor of the training complex. Get the offensive line solidified with a big tackle. Find some depth for the front seven on defense. Get a tight end with pass catching skills. Focus on a kick returner with breakaway speed.
Receiver? Jeff Ireland said it might have been the deepest position in the draft, which is probably why he waited until the sixth and seventh rounds to pounce on a pair of very productive college playmakers.
I donít want to get too ahead of myself here. But as I run down each player, as I focus on a first-round quarterback for the first time since 1983, I canít remember the last time I felt this good about a Dolphins draft, from top to bottom. There is a real chance that four or five of these rookies will be heavy contributors this season. Thatís what you call upgrading your roster.
All Ireland asked was to let the process play out, to judge him on his entire body of work, which means free agency and the draft. Well, the process has played out and, at least based on first impressions, the Dolphins are clearly heading in the right direction.