Jeff Ireland took a lot of heat in Miami.
He probably shouldn’t have traded for and then traded away wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He paid too much for wide receiver Mike Wallace. And he burned too many picks trying to find a viable quarterback and help on the offensive line. He also never won a playoff game.
Those who observe the Dolphins closely were surprised when the Saints hired Ireland to be a high-ranking college scout last week, but the reaction was likely overblown. While it remains true that Ireland never put together a team in Miami that became much of a factor in the AFC East, he has an eye for young talent.
Looking over his drafts from 2008-13, when he was Miami’s general manager, the first thing that pops out is his ability to locate talent in the later rounds of the draft. Ireland selected safeties Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones in successive years, 2009 and 2010.
Clemons started 72 games over five years for Miami before hooking on with the Arizona Cardinals. Jones, who is still with Miami, also became a starter.
In that same 2009 draft, Ireland managed to draft cornerback Vontae Davis (first round), cornerback Sean Smith (second) and wide receiver Brian Hartline (fourth), all of whom became starters for the Dolphins.
He also drafted Pro Bowl guard Mike Pouncey in 2011 and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who began to emerge last season, in the first rounds of the 2011 and 2012 drafts. And don’t forget he signed undrafted gems Davone Bess and Marlon Moore, and he brought over pass rusher Cameron Wake from the Canadian Football League.
There’s no denying Ireland drafted several good players during his time with the Dolphins. But every team has a collection of good players. The issue — and one of the reasons he was fired by the Dolphins — is that Miami struggled to draft and develop elite players.
During his tenure with the Dolphins, Ireland made 50 draft picks. Only three of those players — tackle Jake Long, punter Brandon Fields and defensive tackle Paul Soliai — have made the Pro Bowl. That, really, is the same issue the Saints have faced in recent years with former director of college scouting Rick Reiprish overseeing things.
Since 2009, the Saints have drafted 29 players. Of those, only punter Thomas Morstead, defensive end Cameron Jordan, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Mark Ingram have made the Pro Bowl. New Orleans needs to find more of those players and not burn second-round picks on players like quarterback Pat White, who has thrown 21 passes in his career, which Ireland did in 2009.
Some of Ireland’s other duds include defensive end Phillip Merling (second round), quarterback Chad Henne (second) and Patrick Turner (third). All of those players are either backups or out of the league. The jury is still out on defensive end Dion Jordan, a first-round pick whom Ireland traded up for in 2013.
Many talent evaluators will tell you that the draft is somewhat of a crap shoot. Nearly 100 players were taken ahead of Graham in 2010, including tackle John Jerry, who was selected by Miami in the third round. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was taken with the 24th pick, and the Jets took Darrelle Revis with the 14th selection.
And you’ll be reminded countless times over the next week that New England pulled quarterback Tom Brady out of the sixth round. If anyone had any idea how those players’ careers would turn out, they certainly would have been selected higher.
But there are teams that excel in the draft. The Seattle Seahawks, with whom Ireland was a draft consultant last year, immediately come to mind. New Orleans needs to become one of those clubs.
The team has selected many talented players in recent years. Jordan and safety Kenny Vaccaro could become stars if they harness their talent. Wide receiver Kenny Stills appears to be on his way there, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks showed flashes during his rookie season.
But more of those players are needed. Ireland needs to find guys who will help ensure the Saints avoid more 7-9 seasons and better set them up for sustained success.
Even though Miami isn’t full of believers, New Orleans believes Ireland can bring about that change.