DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Trying to overtake the Patriots in the AFC East, the Dolphins hope for help from the Flames, Grizzlies, Chanticleers, Red Foxes and Bison.
Miami turned to small-college talent on the third and final day of the NFL draft Saturday, adding a cornerback, tight end, linebacker, receiver and defensive end.
Their selections included Liberty Flames cornerback Walt Aikens in the fourth round, Montana Grizzlies linebacker Jordan Tripp in the fifth round, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers receiver Matt Hazel in the sixth round, and defensive end Terrence Fede of the Marist Red Foxes in the seventh round.
“Our scouts do a great job of digging under every rock and going to every school and trying to find good players wherever we can find them,” new general manager Dennis Hickey said.
The Dolphins also added one major-college player, Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch in the fifth round.
Miami took two other Southeastern Conference players earlier — Tennessee right tackle Ja’Wuan James in the first round and Louisiana State receiver Jarvis Landry in the second. North Dakota State Bison tackle Billy Turner was selected in the third round.
Fede, the first Marist player to be drafted, watched the draft and noted the Dolphins’ fondness for talent from such outposts as Lynchburg, Virginia; Fargo, North Dakota; and Conway, South Carolina.
“I was pretty excited about that, giving us small-school guys a chance to show that we can play at a high level,” Fede said. “You don’t have to go to one of those big schools to be able to produce. If you’re a good player and you dominate, that’s what they want. When I saw that, it opened up my heart.”
Not all Dolphins fans were thrilled.
“When is the FBS draft?” one tweeted.
Hickey acknowledged that evaluating small-college players and projecting their NFL potential can be difficult.
“The important thing is evaluating the traits that a player has,” Hickey said. “You can translate those. The level of competition varies, so you focus on the traits, and do those translate to success at next level? The players we drafted, we saw enough in their skill set to believe they will be able to translate.”
In the wake of an 8-8 season, the Dolphins hope for a bigger impact from their draft class than in 2013, when none of the nine picks cracked the starting lineup. James has already been penciled in, and Turner is expected to compete for a No. 1 job at one of the guard spots.
Aikens will compete for playing time with free-agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan and a pair of 2013 rookies who saw little action — second-round pick Jamar Taylor and third-round pick Will Davis. All are candidates for the job opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes.
Veteran cornerbacks Nolan Carroll, a starter last year, and Dimitri Patterson departed in free agency.
The Dolphins recently flew Aikens in for an interview, and he was glad they drafted him.
“I took a visit a couple of weeks ago and fell in love with the coaches. I have a lot in common with their plans,” he said. “I want to be a starter. I want to be a dominating player.”
Aikens was convicted of misdemeanor theft in 2010 and transferred from Illinois to Liberty.
“I borrowed a laptop from a teammate and it turned out to be stolen,” Aikens said. “The school was trying to set an example of some football players at the time, and they thought it was best if I left.”
Hickey said Aikens allayed any concerns when he visited the Dolphins during the evaluation process.
“Guys make mistakes when they’re 18, 19 years old,” Hickey said. “We felt comfortable after getting him in our building and talking further with him.”
At Liberty, Aikens became a three-year starter. He also spent time on the school’s basketball and track teams.
Fede said he was suspended for the 2010 season at Marist because he violated team rules.
The five offensive players selected will try to help new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor upgrade for a unit that scored once in the Dolphins’ final 24 possessions as they lost their final two games to blow a potential playoff berth.
Aikens, Tripp and Fede could help a defense that ranked 21st overall and 24th against the run.
While several of the Dolphins’ new rookies will attempt to make the long leap from small college to the pros, on Saturday they were already celebrating the realization of a dream.
“Maybe in ninth grade I made it a goal of mine to play in the NFL,” Hazel said. “It finally came true.”
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