Unless the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots on Sunday — indeed, unless they somehow make the playoffs — some very serious questions are going to be asked of the coaching staff, the personnel department, and basically, anyone in management that has say over the product on the field.
And the most intense spotlight will be shined on the talent evaluation and acquisition end of this organization because, after all, if that’s broken there is no hope of being any good.
As the Dolphins’ stated goal is to build primarily through the draft and then retain the good players they find, it’s fair to look at what has happened in the draft the past three years since general manager Chris Grier began running the personnel department, and coach Adam Gase and executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum helped form the brain trust that brings players to Miami.
So let’s look at Miami’s draft results so far.
And let’s do it in a dispassionate and methodical manner because emotion does not serve anyone’s purpose. You may want people fired simply because the Dolphins have a 198-198 record since 1994. You may want change because you’re tired of the current course.
But that’s not how owner Stephen Ross is likely to do it when he evaluates his evaluators after this season.
He’s going to look at the facts.
He’s going to compare what the Dolphins have done the past three years with what other teams, including division rivals, have done and decide if his people are working to a high standard or not.
So let’s examine some facts.
The Dolphins have drafted 23 players since 2016 when the current brain trust took over. Today, there are still 20 of those players on the roster.
That means 87 percent of the players the Dolphins picked the past three years are still on the team contributing somehow.
And that percentage is the fourth-highest among all NFL teams for those three years.
The Dolphins actually are one of five NFL teams that have all of their selections from the first five rounds of the 2016-18 drafts still with the team. The others are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta.
New England, an established beacon of personnel department excellence, has seven of its 12 players (58 percent) drafted in rounds 1-5 since 2016 still on the team.
The three players the Dolphins drafted who are no longer on the team are former sixth-round pick Jordan Lucas, who was traded prior to this regular season, and two seventh-rounders — quarterback Brandon Doughty and tight end Thomas Duarte.
So all that speaks to quantity. The Dolphins are knocking the quantity ball out of the draft ballpark.
But how about quality?
Let’s establish that after three years, the 2016 draft was a good one.
First-rounder Laremy Tunsil this season has developed into a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle. Second-round pick Xavien Howard is the NFL’s interception leader and the fact he’s had 11 interceptions in the past 17 games suggest he’s been steadily improving since last year.
And this: Both these players play cornerstone positions.
The cornerstone positions are quarterback, left tackle, edge rusher and cornerback because it’s so hard finding great players at those spots.
The rest of the ‘16 draft offered significant contributors in Kenyan Drake, who has eight TDs this season, and Jakeem Grant, a late-round selection who had touchdowns returning punts (1), returning kickoffs (1) and receiving (2) before going on injured reserve this season.
But while the 2016 draft is looking good, the 2017 haul is not. Not at all.
First-round pick Charles Harris is failing to live up to the hopes Miami had when he was drafted 22nd overall. Yes, he’s still young and can still change his career arc, but with two sacks in 23 games, he has not made many significant plays and with only three starts he has not been the heir to Cameron Wake everyone hoped.
Third-round pick Cordrea Tankersley has similarly been a disappointment. The cornerback started 11 games as a rookie which was a good start but lost that job in training camp this year as he was unable to overcome the tightness in the hips that prevented him from being elite in college.
Tankersley was merely a backup who had fallen behind undrafted Torry McTyer when he went on injured reserve.
The hopes of the ‘17 class currently rest mostly on second-rounder Raekwon McMillan, who has started every game this year and been good at times, and bad at times. Lately he’s improved, but at no time has he played like an outstanding three-down linebacker.
Late picks Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor have played and contributed well above their fifth- and sixth-round draft pedigree. They’ve both been contributors and Godchaux has been a starter for much of two seasons.
It’s way too early to evaluate the 2018 draft class other than to say first-rounder Minkah Fitzpatrick so far has been everything the Dolphins expected when they picked him No. 11 overall. He has played safety, nickel and cornerback and against the Patriots is expected to make his second start of the season at the boundary corner spot.
The Dolphins love him and are hoping he can eventually go beyond being solid to becoming a big playmaker.
Second-round pick Mike Gesicki has to make a lot of improvement to avoid looking like a bad pick while third-round pick Jerome Baker seems on track to not only being a starter but an occasional playmaker, as his pick six against the Jets in November showed.
Seventh-round pick Jason Sanders won the kicking job in training camp and his 94.1 field goal percentage is sixth in the NFL.
Fourth-rounder Durham Smythe and sixth-rounder Cornell Armstrong are special teams contributors.
The ‘18 draft will also be judged — at some point — on whether the Dolphins made a wise choice in not mortgaging future picks to move up to pick a quarterback. But January will probably be too early to make that judgment.
And that’s when the folks who put together the Dolphins’ last three drafts will be under the evaluation microscope.