If the Miami Dolphins have been one thing in the last four years (besides bad), that one thing has been risk-averse. The Jeff Ireland regime (formerly directed by Bill Parcells) has continually refused to take too many chances in the area of player personnel.
That all changed last week during the NFL Draft. Not only did the Dolphins draft QB Ryan Tannehill with the eighth pick (even though most talent evaluators considered him to be a late-first round talent at best), the Dolphins also took chances on a number of other players in hopes that one or more will vastly exceed expectations and deliver Miami to the promised land.
It was a far cry from past drafts, when the Dolphins brain trust picked Jake Long instead of Matt Ryan and traded down rather than select Dez Bryant. But have the Dolphins over-corrected and taken chances on players who can't live up to Jeff Ireland's wildest hopes?
Tannehill will most assuredly not start a single game for the Dolphins in 2012, though that is not necessarily a bad thing (Aaron Rodgers become a regular starter for the Green Bay Packers until his fourth season). Nevertheless, the Dolphins made him the eighth pick in the draft despite only starting 19 games at quarterback in college; roughly half the track record fellow first-rounder passers Andrew Luck brought to the table.
He may be athletic and strong-armed, but plenty of first-round quarterbacks have been that and failed, even if they weren't drafted twenty picks before the experts thought they should have been drafted.
The Dolphins will get less scrutiny for a pair of former Hurricanes, DE Olivier Vernon and RB Lamar Miller, taken in the 3rd and 4th rounds, respectively. Both skipped their senior year, but have the same boom-or-bust potential that Tannehill has.
Vernon is very athletic and could thrive opposite Dolphins DE Cameron Wake, but failed to make much of a name for himself at the U despite those physical gifts. A six-game suspension for his role in the Nevin Shapiro affair last year left him with relatively little game tape to go on.
Miller's skills are more undeniable. He is fast and strong, and should immediately contribute to the kickoff team (Canes fans have fond memories of Miller outrunning the entire Ohio State kickoff team in Columbus two years ago). But running back is one of the few areas where the Dolphins are already deep, and Miller is not known for his pass-catching or blocking skills. It is hard to tell how he will fit into Joe Philbin's West Coast-style offense.
Making Ireland's post-1st-round gambles more baffling is the fact that he waited until the 6th round before drafting a wide receiver (B.J. Cunningham of Michigan State was taken in the 6th round, Rishard Matthews of Nevada in the 7th). Miami traded away its best wide receiver earlier this offseason, and has yet to make any real attempt to replace Brandon Marshall, even though plenty of impact receivers were available in the second round.
But instead of picking Stephen Hill, Ryan Broyles, or Tommy Streeter, the Dolphins went with Stanford OL Jonathan Martin. That was not a terrible decision - the Dolphins gave up a sack every 10.5 pass plays in 2011. But what is the point of grooming a young quarterback if he does not have any scoring threats to catch his passes.
Tannehill, Martin, Vernon and Miller could all end up making Ireland look like a genius, but no general manager wants to depend on a 100% success rate in the draft. In five years, the Dolphins' 2012 draft class could just as easily look like a crate of lemons as a bunch of diamonds in the rough. Ireland's long-term job security depends on them looking more like the latter.