Despite wave of newcomers, Dolphins may still be a year away

MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Dolphins emerged from the NFL wilderness this week by adding 11 draft picks to their roster, including a potential franchise quarterback, and a veteran running back with a career average of 5.0 yards per carry.

Even so, they may still be at least a year away from playoff contention.

That’s partly because last season’s team was so bereft of talent, and partly because of the type of players Miami drafted, especially with the top two picks. Neither is likely to start when the 2020 season begins.

No. 5 overall choice Tua Tagovailoa is still recovering from a hip injury that ended his Alabama career in mid-November, and he might spend most or all of his rookie year as an understudy to returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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Southern Cal tackle Austin Jackson, drafted with the 18th overall pick, is only 20 years old and needs development.

“Games aren’t won in March and April,” coach Brian Flores said. “A lot of hard work has to be done for us to become a good team.”

Jackson was one of three offensive linemen drafted in the first four rounds — a franchise record. They’ll join free agent acquisitions Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers in competing for playing time as the Dolphins strive to improve a perennially troublesome area, with the long-term goal of keeping the injury-plagued Tagovailoa healthy.

“I’m just blessed for the opportunity to play with him,” said Georgia guard Solomon Kindley, a fourth-round pick. “I’m going to do whatever I can to protect him.”

New long snapper Blake Ferguson of Louisiana State is also looking forward to teaming with Tagovailoa — and trash-talking him. After Miami selected Ferguson, he tweeted a photo of LSU’s 46-41 win over Alabama last season.

“See you in Miami @Tuaamann,” Ferguson tweeted.

With their last pick, the Dolphins made Navy’s Malcolm Perry the only player from a service academy to be selected. Perry played quarterback the past two seasons, but he’ll likely get a tryout as a receiver and kick returner in Miami.

The Dolphins addressed by a priority by acquiring running back Matt Breida from the San Francisco 49ers for a fifth-round draft pick Saturday. Breida totaled 1,902 yards rushing in three years with the 49ers, and with free agent acquisition Jordan Howard, he should upgrade a ground game that ranked last in the NFL in 2019.

The Dolphins are positioned to reap another draft bonanza in 2021, when they have two picks in the first round and two in the second. But they’re already relevant again, thanks to their most consequential draft in many years, and the resulting buzz created by all the new faces, especially Tagovailoa.

“I’m going to go out there and compete as if I’m preparing to be the starter,” Tagovailoa said, “even if I’m not going to be the starter right away or the entire season.”

On the final day of the draft, they added five players — Kindley, North Carolina defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge and Boise State linebacker Curtis Weaver in the fifth round, Ferguson in the sixth round, and Perry in the seventh round.

The 337-pound Lindley is the biggest addition yet this offseason, and now perhaps the team’s best swimmer. He grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and was so large as a youngster he wasn’t allowed to play Pee Wee football. He looked for another sport, became a lifeguard, earned the nickname “Big Fish” and once rescued another youngster from the bottom of the pool.

Ferguson also took an unusual route to the NFL, succeeding his brother Reid as a long-snapping specialist at LSU. Reid has been with the Buffalo Bills since 2017.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unknown when the Dolphins will get the first up-close look at their many newcomers. Flores, like all coaches, is antsy.

“We’ve got to get out there,” he said. “We’ve got to practice. We’ve got to get into meetings, get into walk-throughs. We’re a long way off from that, given what’s going on. Hopefully we get that going at some point, but obviously there are a lot more pressing issues out there.”

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