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Expectations for the Miami Dolphins ’11 Draft Class

I’m not going to speculate on the disappointing reports that came out of yesterday’s CBA negotiations. It depresses me and I’m just going to pretend that one day we’re all going to wake up and this nightmare is going to be over.

Instead, I’m in the mood to revisit the Dolphins’ draft class. Sitting here watching the NBA draft has me thinking about what Miami did in April and what our expectations should be for their picks.

Jeff Ireland certainty didn’t bolster his approval rating by any stretch of the imagination, taking a conservative approach by passing on a quarterback. But every selection was justifiable, and at the end of the day, you have to believe the Dolphins will field a more competitive offense in 2011 and in particular, a rejuvenated and rebuilt running game.

But a lot of that will fall squarely on the shoulders of these rookies. So what do each of the Dolphins’ picks have to do in year one to be labeled a smart selection by Ireland? What about in the long-term? Let’s take a look.


Pre-camp projected depth chart standing: Starter

First-year expectations: Centers aren’t usually worthy of being a top 15 pick, so when you take one that high he better be special. Not that the pressure surrounding Pouncey from the fan base will be as tangible as it would be for a skill player, but you better believe anything less than starting from day one and immediately upgrading the Dolphins’ interior offensive line, and in turn, their ability to run the football between the tackles, would be a disappointment. This regime is no longer building for the future. They must win now not only because it’s time by year four, but because their jobs are depending on it.

Mike Pouncey will play a huge role in getting the Dolphins over the hump, because the running game doesn’t rebound without him stepping in and having an immediate impact. Statistically, Pouncey will be judged by how much the running game improves. The Dolphins ranked 21st in the league in rushing last season, a year after finishing 4th. A return to the top ten should be the goal, but the Dolphins should settle for nothing less than top half of the league. Pouncey will play a crucial role in any drastic improvement.

Long-term expectations: Pouncey was a safe pick by the Dolphins. They believe he can not only improve their running game in the present, but they’re expecting him to provide consistency on the interior much like Jake Long has done at tackle. That means being a perennial Pro Bowl caliber center. But I think they would settle for Pouncey emerging as a solid starter, or a step below elite, for years to come.

Prediction: I’ve said all along that Pouncey’s value was elevated by the success of his brother Maurkice with the Steelers. I have my doubts he’ll ever be an elite center in this league. But I do think he’ll be very solid and will give the Dolphins some consistency inside for several years. I see the Dolphins’ running game improving significantly in 2011 and Mike Pouncey is going to do his part to make that possible.


Pre-camp projected depth chart standing: Starter

First-year expectations: Daniel Thomas has some huge shoes to fill with Ronnie and Ricky’s likely departure. We’ve seen rookie running backs have huge immediate impacts in years past. It’s the easiest position to succeed at as a rookie, and Daniel Thomas will be expected to make a speedy transition. A lot still depends on who the Dolphins sign in free agency, though.

For example, if they land a high-profile back like DeAngelo Williams, Thomas will still be expected to contribute and carry as much as 40% of the workload, but he’ll be given more patience. He won’t be asked to carry the offense. However, if the Dolphins were to sign a back like Darren Sproles, who can return kicks and catch the football out of the backfield but doesn’t have the frame to take on a huge workload, Thomas will face the pressure of being the workhorse and will be expected to produce around 1,000 yards on the ground.

Long-term expectations: Can you even associate long-term with running backs anymore? Their already limited shelf lives seem to be diminishing and injuries can quickly derail even the most promising of careers. But quality ones are also easily had in the middle rounds of the draft. Thomas wasn’t taken in the first round but he’ll be expected to produce like a first-round pick. A handful of years of service as the starter or the two in a one-two punch, and at least a few seasons close to or above 1,000 yards should draw positive reviews.

Prediction: I’ll admit I didn’t watch much of Thomas while he was at Kansas St., but when I turn on the film I’m not overly impressed by what I see. I see a supposed power back that doesn’t break many tackles and an upright running style that could lead to some injuries down the road. But enough of the experts have supported the pick, so I’ll reserve judgment for now.

He is a fresh young talent, so I think he’ll rejuvenate the running game. I see the Dolphins adding a back in free agency that will split or receive the majority of the carries, so I don’t see Thomas putting up Pro Bowl caliber numbers as a rookie. About 750 yards and close to double-digit touchdowns as the likely go-to guy in the red zone are reasonable expectations.


Pre-camp projected depth chart standing: 4th

First-year expectations: As a fourth-round pick, we probably shouldn’t get too worked up about Gates being the offense’s deep threat just yet. He’s a raw route runner that’s going to have to work for every snap he gets with the first-team offense in the regular season. He does have the tools to be a real difference maker, but playing at a small school like Abilene Christian, there is just so much uncertainty with this kid. He could be a roster fringe player that is forced to fight for a roster spot every training camp, or he could be the next DeSean Jackson. Either way, the Dolphins probably have themselves somewhat of a project here.

He’ll be given patience, but he’s going to be expected to make some sort of immediate impact. His most likely avenue for that will be returning kicks. He didn’t do so in college, but he has the speed to put fear in the hearts of special-teams coaches around the league. Returning punts is a more difficult task that requires smarts and toughness, so I expect Gates to return strictly kickoffs initially.

Long-term expectations: If Gates can find a home on special-teams and become one of the league’s most lethal return men, he’ll stick around even if he doesn’t become number two material as a receiver. But I think the Dolphins drafted Gates to open up the offense and provide what was a boring and slow offense some much needed big-play ability. They won’t demand he does so as a rookie but it will surely be welcomed. Eventually, though, whether it’s late in 2011 or next year, he’s going to be expected to make some plays offensively. Best case scenario: he eventually becomes the Dolphins’ number two receiver and an explosive playmaker opposite Brandon Marshall.

Prediction: I think the Dolphins will do what they can to get the ball in Gates’ hands. The easiest way to do that is let him return kicks but I think they’ll plug him in on offense when they can even if the learning curve beats him up a bit. I don’t expect a DeSean Jackson type playmaker, but I see Gates making some big plays for this franchise when it’s all said and done.


Pre-camp projected depth chart standing: N/A (Doesn’t really have a designated position so it’s difficult telling where he stands on the depth chart)

First-year expectations: Charles Clay is another player that fans need to step back from and look at things in perspective. He was a sixth-round pick for a reason. Not that sixth-rounders can’t emerge as impact players, but it’s probably more likely that Clay doesn’t crack the 53-man roster than become the Dolphins’ version of Chris Cooley.

The Dolphins are going to experiment with him by moving him all over the formation and they’re going to give him every opportunity to become a legitimate weapon on offense. He may not, but given the current state of tight end, with not much of anything behind Anthony Fasano, I would say the Dolphins are depending on Clay to produce like a number two tight end in 2011.

Long-term expectations: If Clay doesn’t amount to anything as a rookie, the Dolphins will probably abandon their H-back experiment and sign or draft a traditional pass catching tight end next offseason. A productive rookie season, though, and Clay’s expectations will go through the roof.

Prediction: I love the upside and value Clay gives the Dolphins as a late-round selection. He won’t receive stiff competition from the Dolphins’ backup tight ends, and there isn’t another player on the roster they will likely move around like Clay. I think he makes the most of his opportunities and will provide a unique element to Brian Daboll’s offense.


First-year expectations: There aren’t many expectations associated with seventh-round selections, but the Dolphins are hoping they nabbed a nice little developmental project at nose tackle here. I doubt he earns a roster spot, but maybe he sticks around on the practice squad.

Long-term expectations: None

Prediction: Cut


First-year expectations: Originally thought to be a cornerback, Jeff Ireland has said the Dolphins will try him out at safety. Again, they aren’t expecting much from a seventh-round pick, but Wilson is thought to be more talented than most players taken that late. He has the makings of a possible standout on special-teams, and if that materializes, his chances at winning one of the final roster spots will become much more realistic.

Long-term expectations: None

Prediction: Cut