The Miami Dolphins’ season is officially off the rails.
Miami’s odds to make the playoffs now stand at just 14%, according to FiveThirtyEight, down from 49% before the season started. The team is currently on a four-game losing streak after winning its season opener, which has many Dolphins fans searching for a scapegoat to blame this seemingly lost season on.
General manager Chris Grier has emerged as a favorite piñata in recent weeks as the team’s offense struggles and areas of its defense are exposed.
But I won’t be joining in on the piling on of Grier. In fact, my opinion of him hasn’t changed a bit since the start of this season, and I think he’s given Dolphins fans many reasons to believe he should be given the chance to right the ship.
Grier isn’t former Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie – who popularized the phrase “Trust the process” back in 2013 – but he has seemingly brought a similar mindset to Miami.
The thinking is simple: The NFL Draft is a crapshoot (no matter how much you try to tell yourself you have superior scouts), so it’s best to accumulate as many high draft picks as possible. Want to win the lottery? Then go out and buy more tickets.
Grier did just that in his first NFL draft as the general manager of the Miami Dolphins. The first-year GM traded down from eighth overall to 13th, and snagged left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Grier later flipped Tunsil to the Houston Texans during Miami’s rebuild period for another two first-round picks and a second-round pick. This offseason, he turned the 2021 third overall pick from Houston into the sixth overall and a future first round pick through a series of trades with San Francisco and Philadelphia.
In short, by trading down, Grier netted the Dolphins three future first-round picks.
Here’s where the critics would come in and say, “Well, who did those picks turn into?” Whereas I would respond: “The whole point of accumulating picks is so that you can afford to miss on some!”
And yes, Grier has missed on a few of his Day 1 and 2 picks in the draft. In 2020, for example, he picked cornerback Noah Igbinoghene 30th overall, but he’s been a healthy scratch for much of the 2021 season. But thanks to Grier’s maneuvering, Igbinoghene was Miami’s third pick in the 2020 draft, so even if he turns out to be a bust, it’s better to have busted on your third pick in the first round than with your only pick in the first.
Thanks to accumulating more picks, it’s also given the Miami Dolphins a chance to hit on more players, too. The team drafted four players within the first 42 picks this year, and all four of those rookies have been immediate contributors. It’s too early to say for sure if they’re hits, but so far so good.
Here are the snap percentages for each of those picks on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
- Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle: 80% (Led all wide receivers in offensive snaps)
- Edge rusher Jaelen Phillips: 77% (Led all pass rushers in defensive snaps)
- Free safety Jevon Holland: 97% (Led all defenders, no matter position)
- Left tackle Liam Eichenberg: 100% (Second game as a starter)
It’s too early to say for sure if they’re hits, but so far so good.
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Miami Dolphins are batting above the Mendoza Line
This brings me to my next point, which is to say that Grier hasn’t shown to be an abysmal scout of talent. If he were to be continually drafting nothing but busts within the first two rounds, I’d certainly be more understanding to those calling for his head. But here are some of the notable players he’s drafted outside of the first round since taking over in 2016:
- Cornerback Xavien Howard (Second round)
- Tight end Mike Gesicki (Second)
- Linebacker Jerome Baker (Third)
- Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (Fifth)
- Defensive tackle Devon Godchaux (Fifth)
- Kicker Jason Sanders (Seventh)
- Running back Myles Gaskin (Seventh)
Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: The picks Grier has missed on. Miami’s offensive line is largely a mess because Grier has continued to draft sub-par talent along the offensive line since drafting Tunsil. Austin Jackson (first round), Robert Hunt (second), Solomon Kindley (fourth), Michael Deiter (third) were all drafted in the last three years. They’ve all seen significant playing time, but none have proven to be better than the average player in their respective positions. In fact, a few have been significantly worse than average.
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Grier has failed along the offensive line. There’s no doubt about it.
But this brings me back to process over results, because there’s a difference between missing like he has or missing because a GM fell in love with a player and went against consensus by reaching for that player.
Take Jackson for example. He was ranked as the sixth-highest offensive tackle according the Athletic’s 2020 Consensus Big Board, which averages the rankings of dozens of draft evaluators. Jackson ended up being the fifth offensive tackle taken in that draft.
Hunt, meanwhile, was the top-rated offensive guard on the big board, and he ended up being the first guard drafted.
So while Grier may have missed on these two prospects, he wasn’t alone. These picks aren’t busts because they were reaches, which I see as a much more dire problem at some football organizations.
It all comes down to No. 1 for the Miami Dolphins
Every pick, every trade and every free-agent signing means close to nothing in comparison to the most important decision of Grier’s tenure thus far: The drafting of Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa was the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the quarterback the team hedged its future on. All Grier’s decisions were leading up to and/or preparing for this pick, hoping to put the team in a good enough position to make a run with him under his rookie contract.
First things first, I’m not going to sit here and say that in hindsight Grier shouldn’t have selected Justin Herbert instead. Herbert is currently playing as a top-five quarterback in the league while Tagovailoa has consistently been below average.
Still, like my earlier point, it’s not like Grier went against the grain in drafting him. Tagovailoa was the No. 5 prospect on the Athletic’s Consensus Big Board, and so Miami drafted him exactly where the rest of the world thought he should go. Pretty much every GM in the league would have drafted Tagovailoa over Herbert if put in the same situation.
And Tagovailoa could very well be the prospect we all thought he was. In limited action in Week 1, he played moderately well despite the worst offensive line play in the league early in the season, per Pro Football Focus. He is slated to return from the injured reserve list in Week 6 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. And while it’s not likely he’ll be able to save the team’s season, it’ll give him even more time to develop. He’s only started 11 games thus far in his career and is just 23 years old.
Most importantly, even if Tagovailoa doesn’t turn out to be a top-tier quarterback, that’s not cause to abandon the rebuild.
The point of taking a quarterback that high in the draft is not only to hope he’s the quarterback for the next 20 years, but to give a team a window for a potential championship during his rookie contract. Even if Tagovailoa proves to be a league-average quarterback, Miami has the resources to continue to build a championship-caliber team around him for the next three seasons.
I think a best-case scenario would be the Cleveland Browns of today. An average quarterback on a rookie deal with a solid team built around him, paired with solid coaching, is the formula Grier should aim for. He was the mastermind of this rebuild, which was praised as it was happening, so I think it’s only right he gets to see it through considering he’s done more good than bad over the past five years.