Five weeks ago, Dolphins fans everywhere were calling for the firing of General Manager Chris Grier. His evident failure to utilize the veritable treasure trove of draft picks he’d managed to obtain over the past few seasons left fans justifiably angered over the lack of results. Good results anyway.
However, upon further reflection, it seems that Grier’s sins aren’t as egregious as they feel. Undoubtedly, he deserves criticism for his poor choices in the 2020 draft. He had three 1st-round picks, and arguably has only hit on one of them. Granted, the one that he hit was for the team’s quarterback – Tua Tagovailoa. For many, the jury is still out on whether Tagovailoa will be the superstar everyone expected him to be.
But the real question to be asked is this: Does Chris Grier deserve to be fired for the team’s struggles? Is his draft record truly a result of poor talent evaluation? Or is this merely a case of confirmation bias warping the way we view him? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.
You may be wondering why we’re starting with the bad side of Chris Grier. The simple answer is that at the beginning of the season, his “badness” was at its peak. Miami was on a seven-game losing streak with no apparent end in sight. Not only that, the picks he’d made in the past two drafts and beyond were performing poorly to say the least.
Grier was officially named the GM back in January 2016. Some may cite the presence of Mike Tannenbaum limited Grier’s influence, but it was reported over and over again that Grier was the one in charge of the draft even during the Tannenbaum years. So those years count too. Which means, as of now, Grier has led six different NFL drafts, from 2016-2021. He’s had his ups and downs, but the worst draft he’s ever had, by far, was in 2017.
- 1st Round – OLB Charles Harris
- 2nd Round – LB Raekwon McMillan
- 3rd Round – CB Cordrea Tankersley
- 5th Round – OG Isaac Asiata
- 5th Round – DT Davon Godchaux
- 6th Round – DT Vincent Taylor
- 7th Round – WR Isaiah Ford
This list still raises the blood pressure of Dolphins fans to this day. Without a doubt, the worst pick made that year was the first one. With the likes of T.J. Watt, Reuben Foster and Ryan Ramczyk on the board, Grier instead went off the unbeaten path. He selected Charles Harris out of Missouri, a player that had the entire fanbase crowded in Hard Rock Stadium asking, “Who?”
They continued asking that question during Harris’s entire Dolphins tenure. Only now, several years later with the Detroit Lions, is Harris starting to show some semblance of being a good player. In Miami, he was consistently underwhelming as a pass rusher, and he lost snaps to essentially everyone else on the roster until the Dolphins finally gave up on him in 2020, sending him to the Atlanta Falcons for a 7th round pick.
The rest of this list isn’t much better. Raekwon McMillan is a decent middle linebacker but does not stand out above the crowd. Cordrea Tankersley initially showed promise, but injuries and lack of discipline in his play led to him being washed out. Isaac Asiata never lived up to his expectations and retired early in his career to focus on other things in his life. Davon Godchaux is currently in the New England Patriots’ defensive line rotation. Vincent Taylor was exciting but inconsistent and is currently with the Houston Texans after bouncing around the NFL.
Then there’s Isaiah Ford. Every Dolphins fan knows Isaiah Ford. Ford has been on and off the roster so many times in the past few seasons it’s ridiculous. Miami actually traded him to the New England Patriots for a conditional 2022 6th round pick, and the Patriots waived him without Ford ever playing a game for them. Where did Ford land afterwards? Right back with the Miami Dolphins practice squad. Ford is a decent player, but decent isn’t enough to wow anyone.
Overall, that was his worst draft, by far. Only one player on this list is even on the team anymore, and that’s been on and off.
Then there’s the 2020 draft. Chris Grier had three 1st-round picks to play with thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade, a stash that any GM would be jumping for joy to have. 2020 had so much top tier talent available, surely Miami would be on the fast track to contention after getting their hands on three blue-chip players.
Grier selected QB Tua Tagovailoa, OT Austin Jackson, and CB Noah Igbinoghene.
As of right now, the only one who looks like there’s potential for the pick to have been worth it is Tagovailoa. Jackson struggles mightily on a weekly basis, whether he’s at tackle or at guard. Igbinoghene is a physical freak who can’t seem to learn the intricacies of the cornerback position and is rarely active on game day.
What makes these picks even more egregious, is reading the list of players who were available when Jackson and Igbinoghene were selected.
Austin Jackson was selected 18th overall. Other players who could’ve been selected include all the top running backs – Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Justin Jefferson, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and others.
Granted, many of the better players in this draft ended up falling into the second round, including the running backs. Grier isn’t the only one who missed on top tier talent at the tail end of the first round. But considering the team’s needs at the time, Grier should have been looking for sure things (like Taylor) rather than draft projects like Jackson and Igbinoghene, the latter of whom went 30th overall.
Free agency is another story. Everyone is well aware of the 2020 free agent class. Chris Grier signed veteran players to big money contracts, and now many of them are gone. Kyle Van Noy, Ereck Flowers, Shaq Lawson, all of them contributed in 2020 and then Flores and Grier jointly elected to move on from them after only one season. They are now with new teams (Van Noy went right back to New England, most notably) and are doing relatively well.
It’s difficult to defend the choice in hindsight. Flowers is a much better guard than anyone Miami has put at that position this season. Van Noy’s veteran presence would have been very helpful at the start of Miami’s season. Lawson appears to be the only one Miami doesn’t miss. So why sign these players to big contracts if the plan isn’t to retain them? That’s another stain on the Chris Grier regime.
Now let’s get to the real point of this column. It’s easy to trash Chris Grier when he makes mistakes, but it’s a lot harder to give him credit where it’s due. And looking at his entire body of work, there’s plenty to give him credit for, even this season.
First and foremost, as much of a failure Grier’s 2020 first round was, his 2021 draft was absolutely stellar. The Dolphins picked WR Jaylen Waddle and OLB Jaelan Phillips with their two 1st-rounders, and both players are proving to be excellent choices. Waddle has already broken the Dolphins rookie record for receptions – previously held by Jarvis Landry. Barring a sudden catastrophic injury, he will inevitably break the most receiving yards by a rookie record as well – currently held by Chris Chambers.
Speaking of breaking records, Jaelan Phillips – as of Week 13 – is now the sole owner of the Miami Dolphins rookie record for sacks with 8.5. Before Phillips, it was a tie between DE Lorenzo Bromell, and DE Bill Stanfill. Stanfill put up eight sacks in 1969, just to give some context as to how long the record has stood. Give Bromell credit for tying it, but a tie isn’t the same as surpassing it.
What makes this so impressive is that Phillips wasn’t particularly disruptive at the beginning of the season. In fact, many were getting ready to call Phillips a bust, that the Dolphins should have drafted his fellow Miami Hurricanes pass-rusher Gregory Rousseau instead. Rousseau had a hot start to his Buffalo Bills career, putting up three sacks in just five games. Impressive for a rookie.
Now, Rousseau still has three sacks. Interesting how the tables have turned.
So obviously, Grier’s 2021 first round was a home run. But the fun doesn’t stop there. With the 36th overall pick, Chris Grier selected safety Jevon Holland out of Oregon. Almost instantly, Holland’s presence was felt. His knack for finding the ball and tackling inside the box is giving vibes of Reshad Jones in his prime. He has two interceptions, two sacks, and is making plays all over the field on a weekly basis.
The rest of the class is still up for debate. Liam Eichenberg is struggling, but there’s still hope for his future. Hunter Long has a lot of other players standing in his way for snaps, so it’s hard to get a read on him right now. Larnel Coleman went on injured reserve before the start of the season, but showed promise in training camp. As for Gerrid Doaks, he’s been trapped on the practice squad all season. That will change now, as Miami is desperate for running backs thanks to the outbreak of COVID-19 in that room. Doaks is now on the active roster, along with veteran Duke Johnson. More than likely, Doaks will get his chance.
So the rest of the 2021 draft is unremarkable so far. It’s easy to point to where Grier should have picked someone else, like a running back, or center Creed Humphrey, or OL Quinn Meinerz, both of whom are having phenomenal rookie seasons. But, give credit where it’s due, hitting three home runs is difficult for any general manager to do.
Now, it’s been established that aside from Tua Tagovailoa, Chris Grier’s start to the 2020 draft is a miserable one. But what about the rest of it?
In the second round, Grier selected Robert Hunt. Out of all the linemen on Miami’s roster, Hunt is the best by far. He looks like a hit for Grier so far.
Then in that same round, Grier picked Raekwon Davis, a DT out of Alabama. He’s a giant (literally) force in the defensive line rotation and still has lots of room for improvement. That’s a scary prospect for opposing offensive linemen, and another hit for Grier.
Brandon Jones is next, selected in the third round. Jones is not a superstar on the level of Holland, but he is a very solid player. Not only that, he’ll be called upon to play against the Jets on Sunday with Holland on the COVID-list. Players don’t have to be stars to be considered hits for general managers, especially as the draft drags on. For a third-rounder, Jones is pretty darn good. Chalk up another win for Chris Grier.
There’s a lull with the next three picks. Solomon Kindley’s status as a guard is still questionable. He was disciplined in training camp, presumably for being overweight, and eventually got benched for Austin Jackson. That move hasn’t gone well, but it still happened. Then there’s Jason Strowbridge and Curtis Weaver, a pair of pass-rushers who haven’t panned out. Strowbridge is currently a free agent. Weaver is on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.
Now, everyone was shocked when the Dolphins selected a long snapper in the sixth round. Particularly because there was still a lot of good talent on the board. But Blake Ferguson has proved his worth as a long snapper, one of the best in the league. If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, special teams still matters in the NFL.
The last pick in that draft is utility player Malcolm Perry. Perry showed immense promise and potential as a gadget player. He could be a running back, a wide receiver, and a quarterback. The possibilities for wildcat trickery seemed endless. Then Miami let him go during final cuts, and the New England Patriots claimed him, as they were always rumored to want him first. Ironically, the Patriots have since let him go, and he is now on the New Orleans Saints practice squad.
Make no mistake, the 2020 draft is a stain on Chris Grier’s resume because of the Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene selections. But even in that draft, Grier was able to find some solid players, and no GM is perfect.
The list continues from there. In 2016, Grier selected Laremy Tunsil, Xavien Howard, and the criminally underused Kenyan Drake. And despite the note he left on, wide receiver Jakeem Grant had a lot of big plays for the Dolphins during his tenure. So that should count as a win for Grier.
2018 gave Miami the likes of Mike Gesicki, Jerome Baker, Durham Smythe, and of course kicker Jason Sanders. If anyone is wondering where Minkah Fitzpatrick is on this list, ask the Pittsburgh Steelers. Grier made an excellent pick with Fitzpatrick, but it was Fitzpatrick himself who made it abundantly clear he did not want to be in Miami, and so Grier and Flores jointly punched his ticket to Pittsburgh. So I still credit Grier for recognizing the talent.
2019 marked the arrival of Christian Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel and Myles Gaskin. If you feel so inclined, you can also say that Michael Deiter is improving and could eventually prove to be a long-term win for Grier. That remains to be seen.
The Ugly (Truth)
The only reason this is titled the “ugly” truth is because there’s a certain conclusion that needs to be drawn here. When the list of legendary general managers gets read, Chris Grier’s name will likely not be on it. But upon this reflection, to say that he deserves to be fired is a massive overreaction that many, including myself, have fallen prey to. Grier is responsible for some of the best picks Miami has made in a very long time. That cannot be overlooked.
Not only that, there’s something to be said about the quarterback position. True, Justin Herbert is undoubtedly a star in this league. But Herbert, objectively, has more going for him at this time than Tua Tagovailoa. However, Tagovailoa is slowly changing the bad reputation he unjustly earned last season. Among all of the Deshaun Watson trade rumors, talk of his supposedly poor arm strength, and a painful rib and finger injury, Tagovailoa has persevered.
His star isn’t rising as fast as Herbert’s is, but that does not mean it won’t eventually be as high as Herbert’s. Coming out of college, many draft experts compared Tagovailoa to future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees. It needs to be restated that Brees took about six seasons and a change of scenery to become that Hall of Fame player, and Miami has been kicking themselves ever since for daring to let him leave the building without a contract.
Peyton Manning highlighting Tua Tagovailoa’s efficiency.
Tua’s game will never be the blockbuster play, but these details is what gives me hope for a franchise QB.
— 3rd & Juan (@3rdnJuan) December 11, 2021
If Tagovailoa continues to steadily improve, and prove his naysayers wrong, Chris Grier will be credited with drafting Miami’s franchise QB for the next decade. At the end of the day, the QB position is the most important position in the NFL. Teams without one are usually on the outside looking in during the playoff rush. Thanks in large part to Tagovailoa, the Dolphins are still very much in the hunt for the playoffs in spite of their seven-game losing streak. It would be unprecedented for Miami to pull it off, but not impossible.
So give credit to Chris Grier where it’s due. He’s made his mistakes, but he’s also made a lot of good decisions for the team too. Sometimes, a little patience proves to be the difference maker. At the start of the season, the sky was falling. Now, the star is rising.
Chris Grier does not deserve to be fired. If anything, the argument can be made he deserves an extension.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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