2013 was a tumultuous season for the Miami Dolphins both on and off the Football field. Yet, as bad as things were at times, the 'Fins were right in the mix for playoff spot until the very end of the regular season, narrowly missing out on a wildcard berth. Eager to get back on the straight and narrow path towards winning games and contending in the AFC, the Dolphins appointed Dennis Hickey as their new general manager earlier in the offseason, and Hickey, an analytics guru, looked to get the ball rolling on his tenure by putting together a strong class at last week's 2014 NFL Draft. Here's how we graded Miami's performance: The Dolphins set out to get QB Ryan Tannehill some help up front and on the perimeter.
1st round - Ja'Wuan James
James is a player that the Dolphins became enamored with early in the draft process. The former Tennessee Volunteer made a school record 49 starts at Right Tackle in the SEC, garnering 2nd team All-conference honors last season as a senior. Having surrendered a league-high 58 sacks last season, a Miami offensive line that was seemingly in flux every week needs stability, and James can bring that to the table. He can play on either side of the line, and could emerge as a long-term option at Left Tackle. The only thing weighing down this grade is the fact that James likely would have been available late into the 20s, meaning Miami could have looked to swing a trade with a team looking to move further up in order to attain better value for their selection of James. The New Orleans Saints, who were eager to move up and grab Oregon State receiver and playmaker Brandin Cooks, made a deal with the Arizona Cardinals, who picked just one spot behind Miami at 20. Otherwise, a good pick that addresses a major need. Having played in a zone-blocking scheme at Tennessee, James fits in naturally to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's philosophy.
2nd Round - Jarvis Landry
One of our personal favorite prospects in this draft, Landry was an excellent choice at 63 overall for the Dolphins. Landry had an outside chance of sneaking into the back-end of the first round, but a pedestrian combine showing kept him in the 2nd round range. Landry presents an excellent complement to Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, and though he may lack top-end breakaway speed, the former LSU Tiger does everything a successful receiver needs to do to forge a long career at the top level. Landry led LSU in receiving last year, recording 77 catches for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns. Good value, good pick.
Grade - A-
3rd Round - Billy Turner
One of 4 non-FBS players selected by Hickey and the Dolphins, Turner, like James, is viewed as a major piece for the present and future up front for Miami. The Dolphins need help up front, and Turner is a gamer, having not allowed a single sack in all 15 starts at Left Tackle last season for North Dakota State. Turner can play either Guard or Tackle, and should team with James to give the Dolphins a nice powerful combo up front for years to come.
Grade - B+
4th Round - Walt Aikens
Another non-FBS special, Aikens played both corner and Safety at Liberty, and the Dolphins like his versatility and athleticism. A good tackler with the ability to excel in press-man coverage, Aikens adds another young piece to the Dolphins' stable of DBs. He has a chance to start down the line in Miami, and could thrive on special teams and in subpackages as a rookie. He started his career at Illinois before an off-field incident led to his dismissal and subsequent arrival at Liberty.
Grade - B
5th round - Arthur Lynch
The 6-4 Tight End caught 56 balls for 907 yards with 8 touchdowns in his career at Georgia. He often had a knack for making crucial catches, and was a reliable target for Aaron Murray in the SEC. The 24 year-old is more of a traditional Tight End than a new-era "move" player, but is a good blocker who should serve as a solid number 2 option when the Dolphins go with their 12 personnel. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor comes from Philadelphia, where the Eagles often employed 2 Tight End packages. Good depth pick at this stage of the draft.
Grade - B
And The Rest Of The Grades
Jordan Tripp - LB (5th Round) A- Great production in college, one to watch for the future.
Matt Hazel - WR (6th Round) B- Good production with complementary athleticism, has a chance to develop into a slot man for Miami.
Terrence Fede - DE (7th Round) B Raw, but has a nice skill set that could be further enhanced with proper NFL coaching.
The Dolphins also made some notable undrafted free agent signings in the form of Anthony Johnson, Gator Hoskins, Damien Williams and Tyler Larsen. All in all, it was a nice start to the Dennis Hickey regime in terms of the draft. The next step for the Miami Dolphins is translating this momentum to the field in what will be a crucial summer for Coach Joe Philbin and his club.