Analyzing Miami’s First Round Options at Cornerback

Back in March, the Miami Dolphins traded back in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft with the Philadelphia Eagles for cornerback Byron Maxwell linebacker Kiko Alonso. In return, the Eagles received Miami’s 8th overall pick while sending them their 13th overall pick. While most consider this a rather odd move, being that Vernon Hargreaves would have most likely fallen to Miami at this spot, I don’t seem to think so. There no question that Miami has a lot of gaps in their roster to fill through the draft, however this move does not doom what Miami does in the first round by any means, and especially at corner.

Let’s begin by analyzing what most people think will happen: Vernon Hargreaves will be a top ten pick, and will eventually become at least solid NFL corner, possibly great. At Florida, Hargreaves had 81 tackles, 40 assist tackles, 10 interceptions, 27 passes defensed, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles. Not bad for playing in a conference that featured Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins, Devante Parker, Jordan Matthews, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Laquon Treadwell and Mike Evans during his career at Florida. Adding to his stats, Hargreaves was a first team All American in 2014, a Consensus All American in 2015, and was first team All-SEC in his 3 years at Florida.

By comparison, Darrelle Revis made 66 tackles, 14 assists, 8 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns during his career at LSU and became one of the NFLs best shutdown corners during his career. Known for his ball-hawking skills and his ability to high-point the football, Hargreaves posted more interceptions during his career than Patrick Peterson (7) and former Gator Joe Haden (8), both of whom went in the first round and have been at least extremely productive, if not All-Pro. There’s obviously no telling how Hargreaves will do until he hits the field in the fall, but all signs point to him being a great corner.

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That being said, Hargreaves is not the best secondary prospect in the draft this year. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is considered to be the better player, and rightfully so. Ramsey plays longer, standing at 6’1 to Hargreaves 5’11 and has a 1.5” vertical advantage over Hargreaves. He can also play safety as well as corner which is valuable in the NFL. At Florida State, Ramsey recorded 122 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 22 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. On film, Ramsey was all over the place in comparison to Hargreaves although most don’t consider Ramsey to be the best pure cover corner, that consideration given to Hargreaves.

Miami will likely certainly not land Ramsey, and landing Hargreaves while not out of the question, is still a possibility. If he falls to 13, Miami must capitalize and draft him. If not, they still need a corner. Luckily, the draft is loaded with talent in the first round at corner. Miami’s next best option at corner is Eli Apple out of Ohio State.   Although young at 20 years old, and only a 2 year starter at Ohio State, he showed a lot of potential and was very productive in such a short period.

Apple recorded 56 tackles, 4 interceptions, 17 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries. He has a tendency to play well on the biggest of stages, intercepting Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota on his last college pass in the 2015 CFP Final, and then winning 2016 defensive MVP at the Fiesta Bowl. Apple is taller corner, standing 6’1 tall and weighing in at 200 pounds. He plays fast, and backed it up by running a 4.4 at the combine and was surprisingly strong, posting 13 bench presses. Eli Apple would be a generous consolation prize for missing out on Vernon Hargreaves and could be ready to start as Miami’s second corner come September.

Should Miami miss out on Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves, then they should probably look to add depth at linebacker, defensive line, or offensive line. However, if they are feeling lucky they could take a look at another 2 year starter, Mackensie Alexander out of Clemson. At Clemson, Alexander recorded 33 tackles, 0 interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and 1 fumble recovery.

The stats don’t back up the talk of number 1 pick, but Alexander is a great talent and is the most aggressive besides Jalen Ramsey of the other prospects. He is probably more of a project pick if they Dolphins do decide to draft him, although most experts have Alexander going later in the second round, possibly even early in the second round. Miami have had their fair share of problems drafting and keeping cornerbacks in recent years (Will Davis, Jamar Taylor, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith), so it is imperative that if they do go corner with this pick, they get it right. In my opinion, Hargreaves or Apple are their best bets at this position but only time will tell.

Can Miami Win with Ryan Tannehill?

The grumblings down in South Florida have mostly surrounded the defense. The linebacker group drastically underperformed and secondary play was terrible. The defensive line was productive, but still did not meet expectations given the amount of talent and money invested into it. The upcoming draft is extremely important for the struggling Miami defense, as most analysts have Miami going either defensive line or secondary with the 13th overall pick, with the occasional case for Ezekiel Eliot or Derrick Henry since the departure of Lamar Miller and the failure to sign CJ Anderson.

After hiring offensive guru Adam Gase as the head coach, the Miami offense lead by quarterback Ryan Tannehill has stayed relatively out of the spotlight. That was until Greg Jennings appeared on ESPN, calling Ryan Tannehill “far from elite”, citing poor coaching as the main catalyst.  Jennings went on to say “We don’t know who Ryan Tannehill is, but we want him to be this great guy, this great quarterback, this franchise quarterback, but no one has given him the freedom, the luxury, to call plays, make checks, to do the things that a great quarterback will have the opportunity to do.” Let us look to what Ryan Tannehill has been, and then to what he can be next year.

Many argue that Ryan Tannehill has been an “average” quarterback through 4 years as an NFL starter. This stance is supported by his numbers, as Tannehill has yet to throw for more than 30 touchdown passes and for more than 4500 yards in any of his first four seasons. By comparison, his first round counterpart Andrew Luck threw for more than 4500 yards and 40 touchdowns during the 2014 campaign. NFL elite Tom Brady has thrown for over 4500 yards twice since 2012 and for over 30 touchdowns three times in the same duration.

Tannehill finished tied for third in the NFL for sacks in 2015. Defenses tallied 45 sacks against Tannehill, continuing his trend of being the most sacked quarterback in the NFL over the past four seasons. Overall, Tannehill finished 21st in passer rating turning in an 88.7, same as Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and just slightly less of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Certainly not bad, but definitely not great has been the general synopsis of Ryan Tannehill’s career. For the most important position on the field, ‘not bad’ is simply not close to good enough.

Before looking to the future, perhaps the right thing to do is to look around Tannehill to see if he has been given a fair chance throughout his career. After all, football is a 53 man sport guided by a seemingly infinite amount of coaches and front office staff. Starting with coaching, Tannehill has seen three different offensive coordinators, two head coaches, and three GMs. By comparison, Tom Brady has had the same head coach his entire career, and only switched coordinators when an ostensibly better opportunity came about for them. Changing systems and coaches is never good for a quarterback, let alone a young quarterback trying to settle into the NFL.

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For the 2016 season, the Dolphins have entrusted first year head coach Adam Gase and former Colts Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen to bring Tannehill from a good game manager to a great starting quarterback. The other question is personnel around Tannehill. The overall ranking for the Miami Dolphins offensive line in 2015 was 30th in the league according to Pro Football Focus, this includes a 27th ranking in pass blocking. Until Jarvis Landry, Miami has never had a true number 1 target throughout Ryan Tannehill’s career. Mike Wallace has proven to be a quarterback-specific receiver after falling flat in Minnesota and not much can be said for now departed Rishard Matthews and Brian Hartline. The development of Devante Parker will be intriguing going forward, and will hopefully add a much needed weapon. During the last three weeks of the 2015 season, Parker hauled in 13 catches for 286 yards and 1 touchdown. Most importantly, he had receptions of longer than 30 yards in each of those games.

This type of receiver is yet to be found in Tannehill’s career, and should help going forward. The defensive side of the ball has been no better for Miami during Tannehill’s career, and in 2015 the team finished 19th in points allowed and 21st in pass defense, allowing 4,225 yards through the air. In 2013, Miami’s pass defense finished 16th and 27th in 2012. Also, Miami finished 28th in 3rd down defense in 2015, and they have only finished inside the top 10 in 3rd down defense once during Tannehill’s career. Not having receivers to throw to and an unreliable defense would be enough to impair a young quarterback’s growth. However, the offensive line has probably been more problematic than any of the previous factors mentioned. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in his 4 year career – the most of any quarterback in that amount of time.

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MIAMI GARDENS, FL – NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins scrambles for yardage as he is pursued by defensive tackle Kyle Williams #95 of the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter in a game at Sun Life Stadium on November 13, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

During 2015, Tannehill averaged about 2.57 seconds in time to throw, ranked 30th overall and his time to sack number was 2.48 seconds, ranked 31st overall. Not only does he not have time to get his throws off, he barely has time to take the snap and look around. Russell Wilson’s time to sack average on the other hand is 4.05. Many would argue that Wilson works hard for that time to throw, whereas Tannehill is a sitting duck in the pocket. Fair assessment, until you start looking at the more successful pocket passers in the NFL. Alex Smith has a 4.03 second average to sack, Joe Flacco a 3.68 second average, and Ryan Fitzpatrick a 3.61 second average. One second in the NFL is the difference between the good and great quarterbacks, and the below average ones. Bottom line here: Ryan Tannehill has not brought the Miami Dolphins the prominence we expected him to bring when he was drafted. Has it been his fault? Evidence concludes: absolutely not.

Looking forward, Miami and Ryan Tannehill have a lot of work to do. So far, Tannehill has put up good numbers, but until the numbers in the win column improve he will never be considered great or hardly even good. The main thing is that in order for Ryan Tannehill to improve, the team around him must improve. Even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady need a great defense, offensive line and great coaches in order to produce hall of fame careers and Super Bowl championships. Tannehill deserves the same resources before he is judged four years into a rather turbulent career.