It’s wonderful when an NFL player produces right away and makes the people selecting him immediately seem very wise.
But that’s not usually the case and the fair thing is it wait two or three years to fully comprehend how good, or not, a player is.
It’s fair to also apply that that 2- or 3-year period to the folks making the selections before judging their draft work...
...Unless you’re judging Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier.
He has drafted 40 players during his time running Dolphins drafts. In two months Grier will conduct his sixth draft for the club. He will make his eighth and ninth first-round picks — because the Dolphins have two first-round selections scheduled this year and had three a year ago.
And, amazingly, Grier is still working within the window of uncertainty (which is a good thing for him) that only new general managers are afforded their first couple of drafts before final grades on their work begin to come in.
Think of it: Grier is in his 22nd NFL season with the Dolphins and a veteran of five drafts in which he had final say over the picks, and there is no final grade on him yet.
Pundits may have opinions on whether Grier is good at drafting or not — because there’s evidence both ways. And around the NFL there are peers with opinions about Grier’s acumen.
But an inarguable grade? A certainty whether the Dolphins have a good decision-maker heading their draft?
We’re still waiting.
This is unprecedented. And also genius by Grier.
Because the longer we wait for that grade on his work, the more work he’s allowed to do.
About that work: Start with the fact there is no clarity in the court of public opinion when the evaluation of that work should begin. I mean, that in itself is wacky.
Grier was named Dolphins GM on Jan. 4, 2016, after spending the previous nine years as the team’s director of college scouting. So after nearly a decade of having significant input about which players the team selected or not — for example, he really liked Reshad Jones in 2010 — Grier was given full reign of the draft.
Except people contend, with some accuracy, he wasn’t the final word over personnel for the team. Mike Tannenbaum was on the scene as the Executive VP of football operations and he had input. And Adam Gase, a strong-willed coach, also got significant say over Miami’s personnel moves.
For this reason significant portions of the public give Grier a pass for everything that happened in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 drafts. He gets not one, but three mulligans.
The problem with this scoring is it’s not wholly accurate. Because Grier exerted significant power and was indeed the final say over those drafts.
Don’t believe me. Believe Grier.
I asked him directly in 2019 if it was fair to both credit and blame him for those three drafts.
“Those were mine, absolutely,” Grier said.
But, what about Tannenbaum and Gase?
Grier went into a short explanation about collaboration but ultimately circled back to having final say over the draft.
The most clear example of how much power Grier wielded over those drafts was the previously reported Minkah Fitzpatrick selection in 2018.
In the minutes before the Dolphins selected Fitzpatrick, owner Stephen Ross raised the idea of trading back to gain more picks rather than selecting Fitzpatrick. (The myth is Ross wanted to trade back and pick Lamar Jackson, but the owner has never confirmed that nor has ever been quoted saying that).
Anyway, Grier’s answer to the Ross trade-back idea was, well, wow!
So this is consistent with Grier’s words. The 2016-18 drafts were his, regardless of public murkiness about responsibility.
We know the 2019-20 drafts are on Grier’s resume. That’s because on December 31, 2018, Ross handed Grier full control of all football operations. He’s the ultimate football authority inside the Dolphins building.
So Grier has run the 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 drafts, is about to run the 2021 draft, and we still have no grade on his work that sticks.
And why is this?
Ultimately, because with rare exceptions, Grier has pushed that grade out into the future.
It is, for example, practically impossible to grade the 2016 draft because first-round pick Laremy Tunsil was traded two seasons ago to the Houston Texans for basically two first-round and a second-round pick.
And the picks from that trade have so far yielded cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, the No. 3 overall selection this year, and the No. 36 overall selection this year.
So while we know Tunsil turned out to be a good player, he’s not on the Dolphins because Grier got rid of him for a promise of the future.
And the future that includes a second-year cornerback and unknown players to be selected this year cannot be judged.
Same thing with Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Grier was willing to risk his job to pick him in April 2018, but traded him 16 months later.
And Fitzpatrick has been twice selected All Pro with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But we still cannot fully judge the transaction for Miami because the Dolphins got starting left tackle Austin Jackson in return for Fitzpatrick.
And Jackson, entering his second season in 2021, is perhaps a season or two from being fully graded as a pick.
So, again, we’re not grading Grier on his signature pick of the 2018 draft.
There are, of course, some things we do know with certainty about Grier’s work the past five drafts.
We know he hit a home run with cornerback Xavien Howard in the second round of 2016. We know Jakeem Grant (2016), Davon Godchaux (2017), and Myles Gaskin (2019) were good late-round picks.
We know Leonte Carroo (third round 2016), Charles Harris (first round 2017), Raekwon McMillan (second round 2017), Cordrea Tankersley (third round 2017), Isaac Asiata (fifth-round 2017) — yeah, the 2017 draft was a mess — and Kalen Ballage (fourth-round 2018) were busts in that they didn’t live up to the team’s hopes, plans or expectations.
But, as is the theme here, murkiness exists everywhere.
Was Kenyan Drake (third-round 2016) a good selection because he had a couple of solid years and a handful of big plays, including the Miami Miracle against New England in 2018? Or was he a wasted pick because the Dolphins saw fit to trade him away within three years and ultimately use the fifth-rounder they got in the exchange in acquiring Matt Breida?
To me, that’s a wasted resource. Others may have a different opinion.
Was Christian Wilkins, selected 13th overall in 2019, a good pick? Poor pick? Somewhere in the middle?
I’d say we still cannot fully grade that pick, although I said before the selection and continue to insist, Brian Burns was the right choice.
Michael Deiter (third round 2019) hasn’t fulfilled expectations but a grade on him might not be right until after the 2021 season.
And Mike Gesicki (second round 2018) and Jerome Baker (third round 2018) seem like good picks now but, again, some people stubbornly cling to the idea Grier wasn’t in charge his first three years even though he was — so it works both ways.
Now the craziest part of it all: The Dolphins, holders of the No. 3 overall selection this season, might trade down from that spot to add more picks. It’s impossible to dismiss the idea Miami might trade down, in part, for a pick in the 2022 draft.
So we wouldn’t have a grade on that transaction, and Grier’s work for it, until maybe 2024 — nine drafts after Miami’s general manager made his first selection.