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Left Versus Right: How One Decision Impacts The Entire Dolphins’ 2020 Draft

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Smart Money Indicators say that the Miami Dolphins will be taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft. The Dolphins could select one with their first pick (currently 5th overall) or later down the line. 

There is of course no ironclad guarantee that what’s expected will play out as planned. Just ask anyone who has flopped a set of aces only to be mowed down by a runner-runner straight.  

But for now, the odds are significantly on the side of the Dolphins emerging from round one of the draft with a quarterback.

When it comes to which quarterback is in the Dolphins’ sights, there is a lot more to the decision-making process than may meet the eye of the casual observer. This is due to the wildcard factor of left versus right hand. Major League Baseball scouts analyze this factor on a daily basis but not so much for NFL personnel departments.

Presume for now that the Dolphins, barring an expensive trade up, will not be drafting Joe Burrow.  That leaves the trio of Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jordan Love as the likely targets.

After the amount of coverage Dolphins fans have been subjected to regarding Tagovailoa, it will not be lost on anyone that he is left-handed.  What may be less known is that no left-handed quarterback has thrown a regular season pass in the NFL since 2015. In fact only 32 left-handers have ever played quarterback in the NFL.  And despite the success of a handful of them, for every Steve Young or Ken Stabler there are also plenty of Doug Nussmeiers or Pat Whites! 

The Ripple Effect

As if selecting a quarterback in the draft isn’t already a significant enough investment, selecting a left-handed one requires additional commitment to the cause. Re-tooling the offense is required as a consequence.  To illustrate, most football observers recognise that on the offensive line, the left tackle is generally considered to be the marquee position and is compensated accordingly.  The reason for this is very simple – he’s the guy that prevents your multi-million dollar quarterback from ending up like Joe Theismann.

As a general rule of thumb, when constructing an offensive line the premier pass blocking tackle occupies the left-hand side while the better run blocker holds down the right tackle position.  When analysing the offensive line player rankings in any given year, right tackles such as the Saints’ Ryan Ramczyk or the Eagles’ Lane Johnson generally grade higher on run blocking effectiveness; while the benchmark set by left tackles such as Ronnie Stanley from the Ravens or the Colts’ Anthony Castonzo relates more to pass protection. 

A left-handed quarterback however needs that alignment to be flipped and it is here that things get tricky for a team.  If the Dolphins select Tagovailoa with their first pick, the right tackle position will become key to future plans. The solution isn’t as easy as simply sliding an established left tackle to the right-hand side – the mechanics are vastly different and the transition time for the player will become a factor. 

Options

What are the things that need to be considered by Coach Brian Flores and General Manager Chris Grier when developing their big board ahead of the upcoming draft?  The easiest path if they draft Tagovailoa at 5 would be to then manoeuvre into a position to also draft Jedrick Wills who is a ready-made right tackle for a left-handed quarterback. Wills allowed only one sack across 771 snaps last season for Alabama. 

Failing that, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs is also a left tackle by trade who played right tackle by necessity. However there are no guarantees that either player would be available at a point where the Dolphins would be comfortable selecting them. 

Notwithstanding a possible trade up, if either Wills or Wirfs fell to 18 then it is likely that the Dolphins would use so little time phoning in their selection that if they were in a rodeo, they wouldn’t even qualify for a score.  

The strategy of pairing a left-handed quarterback and a marquee right tackle would also need to be looked at through the prism of future salary cap considerations. The team’s future right tackle would likely demand left tackle money as they would essentially be doing that position’s job. The left tackle would most probably still also expect to be paid accordingly by virtue of their position title.  And let’s not forget that if a team is going to commit to developing everything around a lefty quarterback, they’d better hit and end up with a long-term relationship rather than a Tim Tebow experience.

The number of factors that the Dolphins must consider when developing their 2020 draft board are many and varied. The draft’s first two days at least will need to reflect a coherent and well thought out approach to ensure all the picks, however many there ends up being, are all part of a broader shared strategy.   

Having a left-handed quarterback in the mix adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult process. Regardless of which path the team takes, the next two drafts will set the tone for the Dolphins of the next decade and they cannot afford to whiff at the rate they have in recent years. 

For every Dolfan, the 2020 NFL draft will hopefully be one for the ages.   

Pat has been following the Dolphins for over 35 years and has been there for the Dan Marino/John Offerdahl/Patrick Surtain/Jason Taylor draft successes as well as the Eric Kumerow/Yatil Green/Dion Jordan debacles. A qualified referee, coach and short story writer, Pat will regularly peel back the layers of the onion that is the Miami Dolphins as the team looks to emerge from its decades-long slumber and regain its rightful place among the sport's elite franchises.

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