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Like most NFL teams, the Miami Dolphins spent between $2-3 million to scout and evaluate draft prospects.

The team's personnel department investigates the medical history and background of 500-plus draft prospects for the eight selections they discussed for four months before making this weekend's picks.

So its not debatable that new GM Dennis Hickey, coach Joe Philbin and their staff are far more educated about college talent than the average Joe watching a highlight tape on Youtube, or DraftBreakdown.com.

But let us not pretend this Dolphins draft wasn't perceived to be watered down by all the small school talents Hickey added in his first draft at the helm.

"They reached on every player but Jarvis Landry, probably taking them a round higher than we had them," an NFC Executive said when asked for his thoughts on the Dolphins' draft.

"Talented guys, but a lot of small school guys," another scout said. "That's risky."

The NFL draft is already the biggest crapshoot in all of professional sports. Fifty percent of your draft class will be a bust. The other 50 percent will struggle to make it to three and a half years in the league, which is the average NFL career.

Putting the transition small school players have to make — adjusting to the level of competition — on top of that makes Billy Turner, Walt Aikens, Jordan Tripp, Matt Hazel and Terrence Fede's journey even more arduous.

However, you can add up all the All-Americans, All-Conference players, team captains, and combine invitees you want. Add up whatever you'd like, but the only thing that matters is how many draftees in the 50 percent become difference makers.

The two biggest difference makers the Dolphins had last season were Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes. Keep in mind neither of them were drafted. They clawed and scratched their way into the NFL, then to their Pro Bowl status.

Charles Clay, a 2011 sixth-round pick from Tulsa, led the Dolphins in touchdowns last season.

Zach Thomas was found in the fifth round, and Jason Taylor was drafted in the third, so anyone who says these five unheralded players the Dolphins drafted on Saturday, or any of the eight players taken this weekend can't be a difference maker for this franchise is mistaken.

The odds aren't in their favor, but you can never underestimate the heart of a competitor, and a player's desire to succeed. For a small school player to get to the NFL is a major accomplishment in itself.

Both Aikens and Fede fought their way back from season long suspensions to get back on the NFL radar. That takes resilience. Just ask Jimmy Wilson, who spent two years in a jail cell before resuming his college career at Montana, then carving out a respectable career as the Dolphins starting nickel cornerback.

Last year's rookie class, which featured nine players from major conferences — many of whom possessed impeccable credentials — barely contributed. All but four of them — Dion Jordan, Caleb Sturgis, Jelani Jenkins and Dion Sims — had a redshirt season.

Dolphins fans need to hope last year's draft class finally makes an impact, and that this year's class has a few contributors. Especially on the offensive line, where Ja'Wuan James, the first-round pick, is expected to be the starting right tackle, and Turner, the third-round selection, is expected to contend for one of the vacant offensive guard spots.

"It really boils down to the players," Hickey said when talking about his apparent small school player infatuation. "The really good players are successful. We don't evaluate the school. We evaluate the player."

Hickey admitted evaluating small school players is more of a challenge because of the inferior level of competition they face, but he points out that Turner, Tripp played well at the Senior Bowl, the biggest showcase game for draft talent, and Hazel caught his eye at the East-West Shrine game.

"We were judging the individual players," Hickey said. "It just so happened to happen that way."

Nobody is saying these five players won't become solid NFL contributors, or the next Wake, Grimes or Wilson. But Hickey certainly didn't help his cause, or make the team's journey any easier by reaching on a pile of players major college programs passed on.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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