The search for impact players could have yielded players of greater intrigue and fame this week. Instead, the Dolphins took their chances on a bunch of lesser-known types on the first day of the annual NFL Draft on Saturday as coach Jimmy Johnson made two more trades.
Still, Johnson walked away from the opening day of the draft feeling extremely confident about his catch of five players.
He has been in desperate search of impact players and rated three of the five players as possible first-round picks.
That group was led by running back John Avery of Mississippi, who was boldly compared to Barry Sanders by Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville. The 5-foot-9 Avery ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and has superb quickness. Johnson and offensive coordinator Kippy Brown said Avery will compete with Karim Abdul-Jabbar and Lawrence Phillips immediately for playing time.
``We're going to put him right in the mix with the others,'' Brown said.
In the second round, the Dolphins selected cornerback Patrick Surtain of Southern Mississippi and defensive end Kenny Mixon of Louisiana State. Johnson said that the Dolphins considered both, along with Florida wide receiver Jacquez Green, at the time they took Avery. In the third round, the Dolphins took linebacker Brad Jackson of Cincinnati and wide receiver Larry Shannon of East Carolina.
Those five picks, which will be joined by six more today, came after two trades Saturday and three this week.
They also came after ignoring the chance to take talented-but-troubled wide receiver Randy Moss or even play safe with talented defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday with the No. 19 pick. It also came after deciding not to ante up for free-agent defensive lineman Chester McGlockton.
The Dolphins didn't know that at the time they traded, but it didn't matter.
``If we had been at 19, we would not have selected a player there, we would have traded out of that spot,'' Johnson said.
He said Moss and Holliday didn't fit the Dolphins' version of good value at that point _ Moss because of a lot of off-field problems and talent, Holliday because he was more of a tackle than an end.
Rather, Johnson did two of his favorite things. He traded down, doing so before the first pick was made, and then went after speed.
The Dolphins opened the draft an hour early by trading from No. 19 to No. 29 with Green Bay, receiving the No. 60 pick. They then took the No. 60 pick and traded it to Detroit for picks 79, 143 (fifth round) and 172 (sixth). On Thursday, the Dolphins traded their No. 1 pick in 2000 for Carolina's second-round pick, No. 43. That was the pick used for Surtain.
Avery is the player the Dolphins coveted most because he can produce the most radical change. During his two years and 20 games at Mississippi, Avery had 13 rushes of 20 yards or longer. During two years and 33 games since Johnson took over as coach, the Dolphins have eight runs of 40 yards or longer.
Johnson said he had hoped to get Avery in the second round. But as the draft approached, he said it was more and more likely that Avery would be snatched up. Based on the success last year of Warrick Dunn in Tampa Bay, that was probably true.
``I was talking with [Kansas City coach) Marty Schottenheimer and he said, `We really wanted him at 27,' '' Johnson said. Instead, the Chiefs took offensive lineman Victor Riley in a need-based pick.
Though Avery will compete for time right away, Johnson said Avery wouldn't have to start to make an impact.
``I look at our first-round pick contributing but not necessarily starting,'' Johnson said. ``I think that Avery can put the ball in the end zone.''