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The best draft picks in Dolphins history? It’s an interesting debate that gets even more interesting when you factor the value of the pick. It’s one thing to get Dan Marino in the first round of the 1983 draft, but to get him with the 27th pick of that round is even more impressive.
Those 26 teams that passed on Marino kicked themselves for years and years. Some might still be kicking today.
Before we look ahead to this week’s draft, let’s take a minute and look back. Let’s look at the smartest picks in Dolphins history. Let’s look at the steals. Let’s look at the players who slipped into the Dolphins hands and turned out to be the shrewdest of picks.
So for your scrutiny, Dolfans, here is my personal list of the 10 best “value” picks in team history, starting at No. 10 and working our way up to the best of the best.
10. Old-timers have to remember receiver Howard Twilley. Great hands. Wonderful moves. An important part of the early Super Bowl teams. Well, Twilley was taken in the 12th round of the 1966 draft out of Tulsa. That’s what you call value. It was Twilley, you may recall, who caught a huge touchdown pass from Bob Griese in the team’s first Super Bowl win.
9. Bryan Cox was a fifth-round pick out of Western Illinois back in 1991. Looked a little undersized when he arrived. Seemed out of place in this big-time environment. How wrong we were. Cox became the heart and soul of the Dolphins defense, let alone one of the team’s most popular players. Sure, he got a little too emotional at times. But a fifth-round pick with that type of impact? A great value, indeed.
8. Doug Betters has an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (1983) on his resume. Not bad for a sixth-round pick back in 1978. Betters was an important part of the famed Killer B’s. Played here 10 years. For a while he was as dominating as any defensive lineman in the league. Great value in the sixth round.
7. He was taken in the ninth round of the 1971 draft out of a huge football institution called Northern Iowa. Who knew that Vern Den Herder would emerge into one of the defense’s most important pieces in the back-to-back Super Bowl runs of the early 70’s. Den Herder embodied what the No-Name defense was all about. Smart. Hard-working. Relentless. He would play 12 seasons for the Dolphins. Not a bad late round gamble.
6. How can you classify a second-round pick a steal? When he grows into one of the greatest centers the league has ever seen. That’s what happened to Dwight Stephenson, a second-round pick in 1980 out of Alabama. The Dolphins drafted him to be good. But they never imagined he’d be this good. Today he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Case closed.
5. The Dolphins took Jake Scott in the seventh round of the 1970 draft as more of a fishing expedition. They ended up landing the big one. Scott was playing in Canada at the time, but the Dolphins convinced him to head south. What emerged was one of the best players on the No-Name defense and one of the smartest, most-talented safeties the league has seen. That’s seventh heaven for a seventh-round pick.
4. Jason Taylor was a third round pick in the 1997 draft. Fifteen years later he has retired as perhaps the best defensive player in team history. Taylor’s impact on this franchise can be measured in so many ways. No Dolphins player has ever rushed the quarterback with more success. No Dolphins player has ever set an example, on and off the field, the way Taylor did. Too thin to play in the NFL? Tayor turned out to be a giant in this league.
3. If Taylor isn’t the best defensive player in team history, then his brother-in-law Zach Thomas certainly is. Thomas was a fifth-round pick out of Texas Tech in 1996. He was supposed to be too small to make it. Like Taylor, he was plenty big enough. When you consider what Thomas meant to this franchise, getting him in the fifth-round was one of the great bargains of any draft.
2. It’s easy to forget that Dan Marino’s favorite target for so many years wasn’t taken until the eighth round of the 1983 draft. Mark Clayton was enormously important to the Dolphins for 10 seasons. So small, yet so confident and so talented. Clayton helped solidify the 1983 draft as perhaps the finest in franchise history.
1. And, of course, it’s got to be Dan Marino at the head of the class. Not because he was picked in the first round, but because he wasn’t taken until the 27th selection. By that time, five quarterbacks had been taken ahead of him; the Jets taking a guy named Ken O’Brien only a few picks before. The Dolphins have had some remarkable value picks over the years, but to get perhaps the greatest pure passer this league has seen and to get him so late in the first round, well, that’s a remarkable accomplishment. I’ll never forget the look on Don Shula’s face after Marino’s first start, a 38-35 loss to the Buffalo Bills. It was the only time I had ever seen Shula smiling after a defeat. He obviously knew what he had in Dan Marino.
And now the question needs to be asked: Will Dennis Hickey‘s first star search unearth another late-round pick in this weekend’s draft that deserves a prominent place on this list? This is the intrigue of the NFL draft. This is why, if you’re a Dolphins fan, it is worth following to the very end.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.