Part 2: Miami Dolphins, Chris Grier, and 1st-Round Draft Trends

Now that I’ve spent time looking at Chris Grier’s draft classes from a broad perspective, it’s time to start digging into each round of the draft in order to try and identify tendencies, trends, and other interesting notes for the Miami Dolphins since 2016.

In this part, I’m going to dig into the first round specifically so let’s start by breaking down the first-round draft picks by year.

YearPickPlayer (Pos.)
20216Jaylen Waddle (WR)
18Jaelen Phillips (DE)
20205Tua Tagovailoa (QB)
18Austin Jackson (T)
30Noah Igbinoghene (DB)
201913Christian Wilkins (DT)
201811Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB)
201722Charles Harris (LB)
201613Laremy Tunsil (T)

Alright, let’s dig into what the data tells us.

First and foremost, assuming every team would have a baseline of (1) first-round pick per season, that would mean seven total first-rounders in seven seasons (duh, I know).

From 2016-2022, the Miami Dolphins had one season with (3) first-rounders (2020), another season with (2) first-rounders (2021), and one season without a first-rounder (2022) with a grand total of nine first-round selections in seven seasons.

Of those nine first-round picks:

  • One was traded for Tyreek Hill (30th pick in 2022)
  • Four draft selections were on offense.
  • Five draft selections were on defense.
  • Three draft selections were from Alabama (Waddle, Tua, Minkah), the most of any college for the team in that round under Grier.
  • Since drafting starting QB Tua Tagovailoa 5th overall in 2020: 50-50 split between offense and defense across 4 selections.
  • Average position of first selection: 11.6 overall

Which players were a success? (6 out of 9 – 67%)

This section could easily be largely subjective, however, I focused my attention really on players that would go on to earn (or likely earn) a second contract either with the team or a big-money contract, an easy indicator of performance. Additionally, it’s easy to look at every name on this list and see that these are roster cornerstone players you’d want to build your team with.

  • Laremy Tunsil would go on to be a first-year starter for the Miami Dolphins before going on to play for the team for three seasons. Tunsil would then be traded to the Houston Texans in a blockbuster trade that netted the Dolphins a 2020 1st round pick, a 2021 1st round pick, and a 2021 2nd round pick (don’t even get me started on what those picks turned into!). Tunsil has earned 1st team All-Pro honors twice in his career.
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick would play just one season and two games for the Miami Dolphins before being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a first-round pick. Since then, Minkah has been a first-team All-Pro safety three times, making the Pro Bowl those same three seasons (2019, 2020, 2022), and has become known for his ability to make key interceptions. The draft pick he was traded for became left/right tackle Austin Jackson.
  • Christian Wilkins has played all four seasons in Miami since being drafted by the team in 2019, the first year with Chris Grier completely overseeing all things personnel. Since then, Wilkins has accumulated 11.5 sacks, 290 total tackles (166 solo), and 33 tackles for loss. He also has an interception, 17 passes defended, and 3 forced fumbles. Wilkins had his 5th-year option picked up for the 2023 season and is expected to be signed long-term by the team. He’s also the funniest guy on the sidelines.
  • Tua Tagovailoa is easily one of the most controversial players in the NFL due in no part to him as a person. The media, and fans, love to debate whether Tua is a franchise quarterback and it seems there’s a new report every day, regardless of what Chris Grier and Mike McDaniel say, that the team is looking for another QB. And yet, 2022 was his best season as a Pro and showed a third straight season of growth for the young signal-caller. In fact, there were even MVP chants in the stands mid-season en route to leading the league in passer rating. There’s still a lot we don’t know, including his long-term health and how high his ceiling is, but the truth of the matter is that he’s a winner on the rise. He currently boasts a 21-13 record with 52 touchdowns and 23 interceptions for his career. Is there more growth and winning to come with Tua? I believe so.
  • Jaylen Waddle is already the second-best wide receiver in his draft behind just Ja’Marr Chase (Though, I do see you Amon-Ra). Since entering the league, Waddle has played in 33 regular-season games (out of 34 possible) with 2,371 receiving and 14 touchdowns. He led the league in yards/reception in 2022 at 18.1y/r and finished 7th in receiving yards in the NFL, 9th in yards per game (79.8), and had the 2nd longest reception of the season (84 yards) in the NFL. Waddle is a stud and is poised to be a superstar in the NFL for years to come.
  • Jaelen Phillips is absolutely a star on the rise. Across 34 games played, 100% of games since he entered the league, Phillips has 15.5 sacks, 103 total tackles, 41 QB hits, 3 passes defended and 3 forced fumbles. His 2022 season was quietly a big jump for him overall with an 87.7 grade according to PFF (up from 53.7 in 2021). With Phillips lining up alongside Wilkins, Chubb, and Sieler in the Fangio defense, 2023 is sure to be an even bigger year. Here’s to it!

Which players were not a success? (3 out of 9 – 33%)

  • During the 2020 draft, when the Miami Dolphins had three first round picks, the Dolphins seemed to draft more for need rather than taking the best player available, at least with Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene. Both players, thought to be pretty raw prospects at the time, haven’t shown much growth – if any – since being drafted
    • In the case of Austin Jackson, while he’s got all the tools to be successful, he hasn’t been able to put it together to this point. PFF grades across his three seasons were 52.5 (2020), 49.9 (2021), and 57.9 (2022), though his 2022 season was cut short due to injury with just 84 snaps played.
    • As for Noah Igbinoghene, his three seasons have included just five total starts. While he has shown improvement in some areas, like passer rating allowed (135.3, 129.4, and 82.2 for each season respectively), Noah has allowed 6 touchdowns on just 57 targets (11% TD rate). I will say that his career highlight came this season with the game-winning INT against the Steelers. That was awesome. The hope at this point is that Vic Fangio and his staff can help the young man improve. Will he? Only time will tell.
  • Charles Harris, the 22nd pick in the 2017 draft, was drafted to add to the pass rush on the defensive line for a team coming off a 2016 playoff berth under head coach Adam Gase. However, Harris would struggle to catch on as a member of the Miami Dolphins and would last just three seasons with the team.
    • During his three seasons with Miami, Harris would play in 41 games (8 starts) accumulating just 61 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 23 QB hits, and 3.5 sacks.
    • In the last three seasons, 1 in Atlanta and 2 in Detroit, Harris has improved with 97 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 25 QB hits, and 11.5 sacks.
    • A change of scenery, coaching, and systems seems to have done the trick for Harris. While he’s still not the elite talent some thought he’d be, he’s certainly shown he probably belongs on an NFL roster.

What does it all mean for the Miami Dolphins?

Chris Grier certainly gets a lot of criticism for the 2020 first round, but the reality is that about 67% of his first-round picks since he became General Manager have gone on to find success and many, if not all, will receive a second (big-money) contract either with the team or elsewhere.

Sure, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, and Charles Harris stand out for the wrong reasons. However, so do Jaylen Waddle, Jaelen Phillips, Tua Tagovailoa, Christian Wilkins, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Laremy Tunsil for the right reasons. Oh, and Tyreek Hill whom the team acquired for a 2022 first-round pick looked pretty good last year, too.

The team may not have a first-round pick again this year but it certainly was interesting taking a look back at first-rounders of the past. Next up? Day 2!

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