In recent years the Miami Dolphins draft has been at its best outside the first round. Who are the franchise’s five best non-first round picks?
If you’re a consistent reader of mine, you know that last month I talked about the Miami Dolphins best and worst first round picks since 1990. There were some truly terrible picks in the bottom five, and some all-time great ones at the top. But the best Miami Dolphins draft work over the years has come outside of the first round.
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First round picks get the lion’s share of the publicity, and rightly so. But if you’re not able to win in the middle and late rounds of the NFL Draft, your team is going to struggle. Every year there are a ton of gems sitting outside the top 32 picks, if you have the wherewithal to find them. The Dolphins have been hit-or-miss over the years with their mid-round selections, but these five guys represent some of the best in the history of the league, along with one budding all-star.
Jason Taylor, a third-round pick in 1997 out of Akron University, is an obvious choice for the top spot on this list. Taylor is currently seventh on the all-time sacks list with 139.5 career sacks, and was just named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Who else makes the list? What other gems has the Miami Dolphins draft been able to uncover over the years? Let’s get the countdown started.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
5. Jarvis Landry, WR – 2014
It feels a little strange to have Jarvis Landry on this list given the caliber of players who follow him. However, Landry has had a stellar beginning to his career and could be on the path to greatness. No other wide receiver has had more receptions through his first three seasons than the youngster out of LSU. The only other player to have as many receptions? Landry’s teammate at LSU, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. In today’s NFL, that’s elite company.
The knock on Landry throughout his career has been that he’s a “system receiver.” That is to say, his success is simply a product of the system he’s in, that he has to be schemed open to be effective with the football. His detractors point to his average yards per reception and his low touchdown totals to support this viewpoint.
To some degree, they have a point. But in response, I would say: isn’t that the point of a wide receiver? Isn’t that what your offensive system is supposed to do, get your guys open and in a position to succeed? Landry isn’t a prototypical No. 1 receiver in today’s NFL, but he is the perfect receiver for what the team has asked him to do.
Does he have great yards per reception numbers? No. Does he score often? No. But that’s not what he’s asked to do. He’s a slot receiver asked to have good hands and move the chains. Every single team out there needs a guy like that. And I believe he’s only going to get better as he enters the prime of his career while in Adam Gase’s offense.
Choosing between the next two guys on this list is impossible for me. Both were favorites of mine and had very similar careers with the Dolphins. Moreover, the duo was instrumental in upholding the Dolphins long-standing tradition of great defense.
Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison both came to the Dolphins in the second round of the NFL Draft, one year apart. Both players had 30+ interceptions during their years with the team, and both regrettably finished their careers outside of Miami.
If I had to put one guy above the other, I would have to give a slight edge to Madison. Patrick Surtain was an amazing corner during his time with the Dolphins, and was a bit more versatile than Madison. Surtain had seven and a half sacks during his career to Madison’s two.
What separates the two in my mind is the fear that they put into opposing quarterbacks. Both men were great corners, but I feel like Madison was overall more feared than Surtain. Surtain finished his career with one fewer interception than Madison, and was an amazing player in his own right. The differences between the two are really minute. It’s splitting hairs, but I have to give the slight edge to Madison.
Mandatory Credit: Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports
3a. Sam Madison, CB – 1997
Sam Madison arrived in Miami after being chosen in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft. Things started of slowly for Madison in Miami. His rookie season he only started three games for the Dolphins, snagging only one interception. That inauspicious start to his career was quickly an afterthought, however. Madison quickly established himself as a premier cornerback in the league.
Madison, in tandem with next year’s second-round selection Patrick Surtain, quickly formed one of the best corner duos in the NFL. For his part, Madison burst onto the scene in his second season, starting every game for the Dolphins and coming down with eight interceptions.
The following year Madison would lead the NFL in interceptions and begin a streak of four straight Pro Bowl selections, with two straight All-Pro team selections. With Madison on the right side and Surtain on the left, teams weren’t throwing the ball against Miami with any degree of success.
Madison left the Dolphins in 2005 and went on to win a Super Bowl with the New York Giants in 2008, making him the only member of this list to garner a ring. Though Madison had little to do with the Giants success that season, or in that game, it was the Patriots only loss that season, so I’m giving him a notch for that.
I’ve mentioned that guys like Troy Vincent, Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain were among my favorite Dolphins players growing up. One guy stands above the rest, though, and that guy is Zach Thomas. Thomas was, hands down, my favorite Dolphin not named Dan Marino.
Thomas was the epitome of what a football player should be. Unheralded coming out of Texas Tech, this fifth-round pick quickly showed teams just how wrong they were about him. Thomas was thought to be too small to play middle linebacker in the NFL. He wasn’t fast enough. He wasn’t strong enough. There were a million reasons why Thomas couldn’t succeed at the next level.
Yet each and every Sunday, Thomas went out there with the singular focus of proving all the doubters wrong. And he did so in a big way. Short of Nick Buoniconti, Thomas is the best linebacker in the history of the franchise. You can even make the argument to place Thomas ahead of the leader of the Killer Bs.
Had Thomas won, or even played in, a Super Bowl, I would be right there putting him at the top of the list myself. However, I think something has to be said for having success with the franchise, and Thomas was, unfortunately, with the team at the wrong time. Things weren’t as bad for the Dolphins in the late 90’s as they have been this decade, but they never could fully put it together and have the ultimate success.
Thomas retired in 2005 having earned five first-team All-Pro selections, seven Pro Bowl selections, and holding the team record for tackles with 1,035. I expect Thomas to one day be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Along with the No. 1 player on this list.
139.5 sacks, six touchdowns, eight interceptions, six Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro selections all adds up to one Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement. That’s not a bad resume for an undersized defensive end taken in the third round from a mid-major college. Jason Taylor is head and shoulders above everyone on this list and is the clear choice for Miami’s best non-first round pick since 1990.
Taylor was an absolute beast from the moment he stepped on the field for the Dolphins. During his illustrious career in Miami, Taylor piled up the sacks, to the tune of six seasons with double-digit sack totals. He led the league in sacks in 2002 with 18.5, only three and a half sacks short of the single season record at the time.
But what made Taylor an all-time great wasn’t just his contributions on the field, it’s what he meant to the team. Taylor was a consummate professional who made everyone else on the field better for being around him. He was the driving force behind the Dolphins in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s, and couldn’t have been a better guy both on and off the field.
Taylor got the call that he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, in his first year of eligibility. While I was mildly surprised that Taylor got in on the first ballot, there’s no question in my mind that he’s the Dolphins best non-first round pick.