DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins made major headlines Thursday by drafting Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil with their first-round pick. Tunsil’s stock tumbled Thursday after a video of him wearing a gas mask and smoking a substance from a plastic tube surfaced on social media. Tunsil also admitted Thursday to taking cash from a coach while he was a college player.
In terms of X's and O's, Miami got good value in Tunsil, who was the No. 2 player on the team's board. Now comes the hard part. Do the Dolphins have the right infrastructure to keep Tunsil on a straight path and help him become the best player he can be?
The Dolphins must provide leadership for Tunsil. They aren’t a veteran team or perennial winner, like the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos. One of the things that has hurt Miami most during its seven-year playoff drought is a lack of leadership.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a leader by default but not because he’s good at it. In fact, the incident last season in which he made disparaging remarks to a scout-team player during practice didn’t go over well in the locker room and proved Tannehill has plenty of room to grow in that area.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a great player who also is a loner. He prefers to do his own thing, leading by example and expecting others to follow. Mike Pouncey might provide the best example of leadership, but he’s Miami’s center.
The Dolphins must coach Tunsil up. He could be playing out of position at guard his rookie season, if the team wants to keep veteran offensive tackles Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James in their natural spots. Miami hired the youngest head coach in the NFL: Adam Gase, who is 37 and will be learning on the job. A player with character red flags provides another complex matter for an inexperienced head coach to deal with in his rookie season.
You don’t have to look far with Miami to find a comparable cautionary tale. Three years ago, the Dolphins traded up to No. 3 overall to select Dion Jordan. Like Tunsil, Jordan was projected as one of the draft's top prospects. Also like Tunsil, Jordan was expected to be a future Pro Bowler and franchise building block for the Dolphins.
However, Jordan quickly got sidetracked and is the team’s biggest draft bust in recent memory. Jordan was suspended by the NFL three times in three years, and his most recent substance-abuse violation cost him the entire 2015 season. The Dolphins have had very little contact with Jordan in the past year and are unsure if he still wants to play football.
“[Tunsil] is a guy, he loves football,” said Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, who was part of the front office that selected Jordan in 2013. “This is guy that’s ultra-competitive when you watch him play. This is a different situation from that [Jordan]. This guy is different.”
Grier's talking up Tunsil’s love of the game can be viewed as an indictment of Jordan. However, Jordan’s derailment happened on the Dolphins’ watch, so perhaps the bigger question is whether the Dolphins are different now. Did the team learn the lessons that will keep Tunsil going in the right direction?
Watching Tunsil’s career unfold in Miami will be one of the most intriguing storylines in the NFL this season. Tunsil describes himself as a "good guy," "laid back" and "harmless." At the very least, he has some maturing to do and must show improved judgment.
The Dolphins have put a lot of confidence in Tunsil -- and themselves -- that this pick will result in a major boon for the team, which is the opposite of what happened with Jordan.
For better or worse, Tunsil is now the signature draft pick of the Mike Tannenbaum and Grier era in Miami.