Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Front Office Mix N' Match: Part 1 - Mueller Recap (The Draft)

Well, it's finally the new year and this dreadful season can mercifully be put to rest.

The upcoming offseason has already brought with it some important changes to the franchise and many more should be expected in the coming w
eeks and months.

Bill Parcell's first act as the chief was to fire Randy Mueller (Note: I can't call Parcells The Big Tuna without thinking of the nickname bestowed on Jim Halpert of "The Office" by Andy Bernard after his move to the Stamford branch of Dunder Mifflin. That's wh
ere my "Big Tuna" allegiance lies, so that's where that name will remain.)

Anyways, I have mixed feelings about seeing Mueller go. Obviously, Parcells needs to be given full control over all these kinds of football decisions in order to implement the kind of successful programs he is known for. We all should put some level of trust in his ability to get the right guys for the job at hand.

On the other hand, I think that Mueller did a fine job in his one shot with full control over the draft. In last year's draft, he had a veritable bounty of picks, and he grabbed 5 players who saw significant playing time as rookies, most of whom looked like long term keepers.

Now that the season is complete, let's take a look at how the rookie class panned out. Just to note, I am of the position that rookies should almost never be given up on after only one season. Regardless, here we go:

1. WR Ted Ginn - This much maligned pick by the media and many Phin fans, actually turned out alright, I'd say. Sure, it's debatable whether he's worth the #9 pick, but what's done is done, and the fact is that Teddy showed he can play and I'm happy that he's on the team. He certainly wasn't the complete bust that most people projected him to be. Take a look at his stats:
71 targets/ 34 receptions / 48% catch rate
420 yards / 12.4 yard avg / 5 20+ yard recs / 1 40+ yard rec
2 TDs / 18 first downs

Punt Return
24 returns / 15 fair catches / 3 fumbles (1 lost)
230 yards / 9.6 yard avg
1 TD / 2 20+ yard returns / 1 40+ yard return

Kick Return
63 returns
1,433 yards / 22.7 yard avg
39 20+ yard returns / 2 40+ yard returns
For a first round rookie, those are certainly respectable numbers and ones that can easily be improved upon next year. Ted Ginn consistently improved as the year went on, proving that he is more than just a dangerous return man. His hands were far better than advertised, and his poor catch % is mostly a result of sub-par QB play. He has a place on this team as starting-caliber receiver for sure.

2. QB John Beck - I didn't even want to see Beck play a single down this season, but Trent Green's unfortunate injury forced the issue. It's real hard to judge Beck's performance this season and take anything meaningful away. He played two games (Philly and Pitt) in horrible weather conditions (Bog Bowl, anyone?), but I don't want to use that as a sole excuse. In fact, I don't want to make any excuses for Beck. He played extremely poorly at times and he looked very much like a rookie. But guess what, folks? He was a rookie! Don't think for a minute that any other rookie QB who was thrown into those situations would have fared significantly better. Drafting another QB in the first round this year is simply out of the question in my mind. If that's the mindset that we are going to take towards young QBs, we should all just get used to drafting a new guy every year after the prior one struggles. We have to have patience in this regard. Beck must be given more opportunities and a fair chance to win the starting job in 2008.

Not that much can be garnered from these stats other than that Beck needs to learn how to protect the ball better and increase his completion percentage, but here they are anyway:
62.0 rating
107 attempts / 60 completions / 56.1%
559 yards / 5.2 avg
1 TD / 3 INTs / 8 20+ yard passes / 0 40+ yard passes
10 sacks / 69 yards lost on sacks / 7 fumbles (5 lost)

9 carries / 12 yards / 1.3 yard avg
1 TD / 4 first downs

3. C Samson Satele - Most national pundits proclaim that Miami was royally ripped off in the Wes Welker trade, but that's only because I doubt they realize who Miami got in return. In Satele, Miami has found the young anchor to the offensive line who should be here for a long time. That's one important position that is now locked down and Parcells won't have to worry about it. Satele faded a bit down the stretch, but that's only to be expected from a rookie - at any position. It's impressive enough that he started every game this season. In addition, he was flagged for penalties only twice and gave up a minuscule 2 sacks. Of course, it was Satele's run blocking that was a concern entering the league, and there is still a lot of room for improvement in that area. Even though Miami ran an incredibly high percentage of run plays up the middle (61%, only Jacksonville and Baltimore ran up the middle more frequently; the NFL average is 50%) the resulting 3.86 Adjusted Line Yards ranked 24th in the league.

4. RB Lorenzo Booker - Everyone is still pretty much in the dark on why Booker was kept off the field and inactive for so long. Some speculate that it was because of his poor pass blocking skills, but when he finally got a chance to play, I didn't notice him particularly lacking in that area. His explosiveness with the ball in his hands was just as advertised, and he should remain as this team's third-down back and pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Here are his stats (he played in 7 games):
28 carries / 125 yards / 4.5 yard avg
8 first downs / 1 20+ yard run / 0 fumbles

36 targets / 28 receptions / 78% catch rate
237 yards / 8.5 yard avg / 2 20+ yard receptions
13 first downs / 0 fumbles

5. DT Paul Soliai - Soliai is the first true disappointment from the '07 draft class. Of all the picks, this was one of my favorites, and I expected him to contribute much more than he did. He was often left inactive, dressing for only 8 games. He recorded only 3 tackles all season, and he was usually behind unheralded Steve Fifita on the NT rotation. With Keith Traylor almost assuredly retiring this offseason (and even if he doesn't, there's no chance he will come back to Miami) Soliai will have another opportunity to prove himself and earn playing time. He'll likely be on a short leash this offseason, and Parcells won't hesitate to sign another guy from free agency to play NT. I still think Soliai can do it. I just don't know if he will ever put it all together at this level. We'll find out soon enough.

6. FB Reagan Mauia - This turned out to be a pretty good value pick. After cutting Corey Schlesinger, Mauia assumed the starting FB role, and he handled it pretty well. He's really not much of a threat running the ball (4 carries for 5 yards) or catching the ball (2 receptions for 5 yards and a fumble) but he was a decent blocker who should get better with another offseason under his belt.

7. G Drew Mormino - Mormino was actually challenging for the starting LG job in training camp until he suffered an injury and had to go on IR. He's probably not starting material in this league, but he could stick around next year as a versatile and cheap backup.

8. LB Kelvin Smith - Smith was on the practice squad for much of the season, but he made it to the active roster for 4 games and played a role on special teams. In limited action with the defense, he recorded a single tackle and showed that he needs a lot of work in pass coverage. He could eventually become a solid backup, but right now he is more suited as a special teams role player.

9. P Brandon Fields - Amazingly enough, Fields didn't have a single punt blocked this year, which shows that he managed to decrease the time he holds onto the ball. Other than that, he played pretty much as I expected - some huge booms and some nasty shanks. My prediction remains the same as it did when he was drafted: He'll make a solid, if unspectacular, punter. Here are his stats:
77 punts / 3,327 yards / 43.2 yard avg
2,820 net yards / 36.6 net avg
10 inside the 20 / 3 inside the 10
6 touchbacks / 7 fair catches
39 returns for 387 yards

10. LB Abraham Wright - Wright was one of the surprises in training camp, but he never earned any playing time in the regular season and then he was lost for the season with an injury.

This is the only draft that Randy Mueller was a part of with the Dolphins organization that can truly be attributed to his skills, since Nick Saban had full control over the previous drafts during Mueller's tenure. Not only was he able to amass picks before the draft, but he turned them into several long-term pieces of the puzzle. With 10 picks, he nailed down solid starters at punt returner, kick returner, WR, C, FB, and P. John Beck should still be very much in the discussion as the future QB and Lorenzo Booker is an ideal third-down back. No player completely flamed out as a bust (though Soliai comes close) and the late round picks should all still be in contention for backup roles in 2008. Overall, I think this was a very solid draft and it proves Mueller knows what he's doing behind a draft board.

Of course, none of that matters if Mueller doesn't jive with Parcells' style of philosophy, which he clearly didn't. In fact, that chemistry is all that really matters in the GM position on this team. Jeff Ireland, Mueller's successor as GM, also has a strong pedigree in the draft, and since he is familiar with Parcells and drafts to his philosophy, this should be considered a good move.

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