Every year your ‘hot take’ buddy raises the following type of question: Could the best college football team stand a chance against the worst NFL team? While this question is often alarmist and off-base, it was legitimate in 2008 with the 0-16 Detroit Lions, and in 2017 with the 0-16 Cleveland Browns. Let’s draw some comparisons between those teams and the 2019 Dolphins, and invite this year’s Dolphins into a conversation they desperately want to avoid.
In 2008, the Lions opened with a 13 point loss on the road against a strong Falcons team, a 23 point home loss against Green Bay, and an 18 point loss at a mediocre San Francisco.The 2017 Browns lost their first three games by 3, 14, and 3 to tough opponents.
It’s early in the 2019 season, but the Dolphins have been outscored 16-133 in their first three games, losing their first two home games with 10 points for and 102 against. Despite a faint heartbeat against the Cowboys in Week 3, this is a historically bad start for the Dolphins, much worse than the would-be winless Lions or Browns.
So it’s only fair. Let’s prematurely compare the 2019 Miami Dolphins to the historically great 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Those Hurricanes, coached by Larry Coker, went 12-0 and won the BCS National Championship game, beating opponents by an average of 32 points per game. To be clear, we’re looking at the 2001 Hurricanes in college, not in the prime of their NFL careers. Who would win if these two teams played?
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen are good enough for a mediocre 1-2 punch. FitzMagic showed last year that he could still had a spark, but has already been replaced by Josh Rosen in 2019 after only two games. Rosen, who was drafted 10th overall by the Cardinals in 2018, memorably told the media that “There were nine mistakes ahead of me.” Often described as cocky, the big-armed Rosen flamed out in Arizona after finishing 3-10 as a starter. It was a tough situation that saw Head Coach Steve Wilks fired after one season, and Rosen didn’t get a true shot at success, but his stock certainly took a hit. The Cardinals only received a 2019 second round pick and a 2020 fifth rounder from the Dolphins in exchange for Rosen.
Regardless of their struggles, both of these quarterbacks are at worst serviceable backups and Rosen retains his upside, although he has been the weakest quarterback out of the 2018 first round.
The 2001 Miami Hurricanes started Ken Dorsey, who has been typecast by College Football fans as a game manager when looking back at that Hurricanes offense. Many fans forget that Dorsey led the Big East in passing yards for three years straight and was a legitimate Heisman candidate twice, but he was surrounded with weapons in Miami and scouts graded his arm as weak. NFL teams agreed, and no team drafted Dorsey until the 49ers selected him in the seventh round of the 2003 draft. None of Dorsey’s backups in 2001 played notable roles in college or the NFL.
Tally to Chosen Rosen and FitzMagic, because NFL mediocrity is better than modest-armed Heisman candidate Ken Dorsey.
The 2019 Dolphins are led by Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage at the running back position. After going on a tear late in 2017, Drake had a disappointing 2018 and continues the trend this year. Drake has really struggled in 2019 and has seen his status in the league fall back to Earth. Head Coach Brian Flores even felt the need to give Drake a vote of confidence on Monday after fumbling against Dallas, which is never a good sign. The truth is that the Alabama product looks like a replacement level NFL running back, and his backup Kalen Ballage looks like a replacement level backup.
The Canes had one of the best running back rotations in College Football history. Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Frank Gore sound more like a mid 2000’s Pro Bowl roster than a three-headed college backfield. Portis, a Junior at the time, was the star of this 2001 team, rushing for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was supported by the freshmen duo of McGahee and Gore, who combined for another 900 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. This trio would each go on to have incredible careers in the NFL, And don’t forget Najeh Davenport, who was the team’s fourth best running back but went on to have a solid stint in the NFL as an elite fullback for the Packers and Steelers.
We’ll award easy tally to the 2001 Hurricanes, with their historic college rushing attack. These three running backs, along with fullback Najeh Davenport could have started in any NFL backfield as college stars. Tally 2001 Canes.
The 2001 Hurricanes had incredible receiving talent, both at wideout and inside at tight end. Their superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson played the same role in the NFL. After catching 10 touchdowns on 700 yards in 2001 and totaling 1100 yards in 2002, Johnson was drafted third overall in 2003 by the fledgling Houston Texans. The large-bodied Johnson went on to be a seven time Pro Bowler in the NFL. Roscoe Parrish did not see much playing time in 2001, but was a very talented young receiver for the Hurricanes.
At tight end, the Canes lined up greats Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. These two represented College’s Football’s Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez of their day, and their later careers actually drew some parallels. Regardless of what happened after Miami, Shockey was incredible in 2001 and Winslow was a “f*cking soldier” in Miami.
For the Dolphins, Devante Parker and Albert Wilson are a middling WR2-WR3 punch, and Mike Gesicki and Nick O’Leary are both serviceable. But Parker has not stayed healthy or played consistently since being drafted in the first round in 2015, and Wilson is just an above-average pass-catcher with great legs.
This decision is closer than running back, but we think that elite college receivers Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, showed talent that would make up for their lack of NFL experience at the time. 2001 Andre Johnson over 2019 Devante Parker any day. Tally to The U.
After trading away starting Offensive Tackle Laremy Tunsil for multiple first round picks, the Dolphins have replaced Tunsil with Julien Davenport, a former fourth rounder for the Texans who they received as scraps for the Tunsil deal. The Dolphins then bring Jesse Davis, Michael Deiter, Daniel Kilgore, and Danny Isadora to their starting offensive line. This group can be best summarized as a wall of late round draft picks with minimal NFL experience.
The 2001 Miami Hurricanes had a solid line, but only Bryant McKinnie was elite. The 6’8 355 pound McKinnie was a monster at Miami. He was a unanimous first team All-American who joined The U after gaining 70 pounds and switching positions in Junior College. McKinnie was so good in 2001 that he finished 8th in Heisman voting. No other offensive lineman has cracked the top 10 in Heisman voting since McKinnie. After being drafted 7th overall by the Vikings, McKinnie went on to have a solid career with a Pro Bowl selection.
The Hurricanes’ second best lineman was Center Brett Romberg, who would go on to win the Rimington trophy as College Football’s best Center in 2002. Martin Bibla, Joaquin Gonzalez, and Vernon Carey would also be drafted to play in the NFL, Carey in the first round.
While it is typically tough to say that a college offensive line is better than a group of NFL starters, it’s reasonable here. Bryant McKinnie was nasty, and the rest of the group was draftable. We’re going to make a tough call and give the 2019 Dolphins the tally, because offensive linemen often take longer to develop and the Hurricanes did not have multiple elite lineman in 2001, where Vernon Carey was just a sophomore and was not a fully time starter.
The Dolphins lost long-time pass rusher and defensive captain Cameron Wake, who joined Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. As a result, they roll out first round draft pick Christian Wilkins, who anchors their three-man defensive line at 315 pounds. Wilkins is supported by inexperienced nose tackle Davon Godchaux and veteran journeyman John Jenkins. Taco Charlton was just acquired by the Dolphins off of waivers, and has high upside despite not living up to his scouting report thus far in the NFL.
The 2001 Hurricanes had seven defensive lineman drafted into the NFL. Those Hurricanes can match your 2019 Christian Wilkins with their Vince Wilfork, who was drafted in the first round before his stellar NFL career. But Vince Wilfork was still early in his Miami career during the 2001 National Championship season, and the true standouts of that pass rush were Jerome McDougle and William Joseph, future first round draft picks. McDougle was not great in the NFL. These guys were elite rushers, and supported by two other mid round draft picks, Matt Walters and Andrew Williams.
While it is hard to advocate for a mediocre defensive line in the NFL, Christian Wilkins and the potential for Taco Charlton are a more solid group than underdeveloped Wilfork or future NFL bust Jerome McDougle in college. Tally to the Dolphins for a slightly more polished group.
While the Dolphins’ 3-4 blitz-heavy base defense provides little room for true linebackers, Raekwon McMillan is a leader and could find a starting role on any defense in the league. He is supported by Jerome Baker, who was drafted in the third round. Outside linebackers Charles Harris and Samuel Eguavoen are primarily blitzers, and Harris is a former first round pick.
The ‘Canes brought the heat at linebacker, and had five linebackers from this 2001 drafted in the NFL. Its two stars, Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, were drafted two years later in 2004’s first round. Vilma became one of the Jets better linebackers all time, making the Pro Bowl before being shipped off to New Orleans and replaced by David Harris. Vilma went on to win a Super Bowl with the Saints. D.J. Williams played nine seasons with the Broncos, recording 100 tackles four times while rotating among the different linebacker spots.
This position is very tough, but Vilma and D.J. Williams were special talents from the moment they hit the NFL. Brian Flores would be hard pressed to take McMillan, Baker, and Harris over these elite college athletes.