DAVIE, Fla. — In his first draft as Miami Dolphins general manager, Dennis Hickey established a clear model for the franchise’s future.
Versatility. Character. Leadership. Experience.
Heading into the draft, Miami displayed obvious needs for help on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Hickey stayed focused on filling needs. He picked up a couple more targets for quarterback Ryan Tannehill as well.
Hickey plugged the gaping hole at right tackle by adding Ja’Wuan James with the 19th overall pick. After dropping back in the second round and still coming away with a potential dynamic playmaker in receiver Jarvis Landry at No. 63, the Dolphins moved up to No. 67 in the third round and selected versatile offensive lineman Billy Turner.
On day three, Hickey added defensive back Walt Aikens (fourth round, No. 125), who can play either corner or safety; a blocking tight end in Arthur Lynch (fifth round, No. 155); linebacker Jordan Tripp, whose experience at the collegiate level includes playing inside, outside and special teams (fifth round, No. 171); all-around receiver Matt Hazel (sixth round, No. 190); and pass-rushing defensive end Terrence Fede.
Probably the biggest surprise coming out of the three-day event was the spectrum of schools in which Hickey stretched to select players. Three of his choices came from the SEC. The other five? All from FCS schools.
Critics may question Hickey’s FCS-heavy draft, but the new general manager feels it isn’t about what school or division a selection comes from, but what skills will allow the player to compete at the NFL level.
"The important thing, and part of scouting comes down to, is evaluating the traits that a player has," Hickey said. "Those things, you can translate those. The level of competition varies depending on the week, from week to week, from game to game, opponent to opponent. You focus on the traits and do those traits translate to success at the next level? The players we saw, we saw enough in their skill set that they will be able to translate to the next level.
"Our scouts spend a lot of time on the road — it’s not all the big places — but we’re always looking for players and searching for players," he said. "One of the exciting things about scouting is discovery, going to a place where a player has never been drafted before and finding a player you feel like can contribute and help your team."
One of those is Fede, the first player from Marist College to be taken in the NFL draft.
"I saw that throughout the draft and I was excited about that, giving us small school guys a chance," Fede said. "If you’re a good player and you dominate, that’s what they want."
And the Dolphins don’t mind versatility either. Nearly every player described their skill set as being varied and their ability to adjust vast.
Miami’s selections also reflect a desire to bring character to the locker room. It comes as little surprise five of Miami’s eight picks served as team captains at some point during their collegiate careers.
"It’s part of the evaluation process," Hickey said. "It’s one of the thing we always ask. We want to bring leaders onto the team. It was like that when I was in Tampa. We put a lot of stock in that."
As for experience, all completed senior seasons, Landry being the only exception.
This may not be Miami’s most memorable draft. There may not have been a lot of sexy picks. The Dolphins will not find out how many of these players were worthy choices until years from now.
But until then, credit Miami for sticking to its plan and executing.
Little more could be asked of the Dolphins’ brass.
PLAYER WHO COULD BE A STAR
Jarvis Landry: It is no surprised Landry was emotional when selected by Miami in the second round. After an impressive junior season in which he finished with 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns, Landry failed to impress the way he wanted at the combine due to a pulled hamstring. Statistics did not deter Hickey, who said he had an eye on Landry for a "long time."
"Obviously I saw him play live several times, and he always jumped out, just his ability to make plays and play with a toughness and passion that symbolizes what the Miami Dolphins are about," Hickey said.
With defenses likely to key in on Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, opportunity could open up for Landry if he plays himself into a prominent role. And if he gets that chance, Landry could end up being a real steal.
Jordan Tripp: The Dolphins did not appear to over- or under-draft Tripp, who fills a need for depth at linebacker but could emerge as a starter in time.
A legacy at Montana, Tripp is strong against the run, and plays with intensity and a competitive spirit. He routinely placed among top linebackers in the combine, with a 3.96-second short shuttle, 6.89-second three-cone drill and a 37 1/2-inch vertical leap.
Arthur Lynch: Lynch was projected to have been selected as high as the fourth round or fall to free agency. He’s more of a blocking tight end, although scouts suggest he may not be physically ready to face NFL defensive ends. And strength is one of his better qualities. As a receiver, he’s more of a close-range threat.
Lynch appears to be a project who could figure into schemes designed to protect Tannehill, but at worse, the former captain at Georgia brings character to Miami’s locker room.