The Miami Dolphins wield a lot of power in the 2021 NFL Draft, with the Nos. 3 and 18 overall picks, two second-round selections and another choice at 82nd overall.
That’s quite a package of assets, and while some of them could be used to build out the roster at key positions, one wild card scenario looms.
If Miami isn’t totally sold on Tua Tagovailoa as the quarterback of the future, the team has an appealing collection of picks to include in a trade for Houston Texans superstar Deshaun Watson. The Dolphins are, after all, one of Watson’s reportedly preferred destinations if he moves.
But just for argument’s sake and the purposes of figuring out how Miami can build its core without investing a boatload of cash and picks to land Watson, let’s take a look at who they should target in the 2021 NFL Draft, using the latest order from Tankathon as a guide.
Miami Dolphins draft picks: Best prospects to target in three-round mock
First round, 3rd pick: DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama), Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon), Zach Wilson (QB, BYU)
What more do you need to know? After practice at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, Smith spoke directly about his conversations with Tagovailoa and their potential NFL reunion.
“We just talked about it would be nice to run it back again,” said Smith, per ESPN.com’s Cameron Wolfe. “Not too much, but somewhat talked about it.”
Once upon a time, Smith caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Tagovailoa in the national championship game against Georgia. Although Smith was overshadowed by other first-round draft picks at Alabama throughout his time there, he made the wise decision to return for his senior season in Tuscaloosa.
The result? Smith won the Heisman Trophy, and led the Crimson Tide to yet another national title.
No matter the stage, and despite Smith’s lackluster size compared to general NFL standards, all he does is beat his man at the catch point. He’s a sensational route-runner who can already make sight adjustments with his quarterback and knows how to attack any kind of defense.
Perhaps Ja’Marr Chase is tempting here, but Smith’s history with Tagovailoa makes this a no-brainer pick for Miami. If, for some reason, he’s not on the board still, there’s always the option of taking Sewell and either kicking him inside to guard, or selecting Wilson and moving ahead with a quarterback who seemingly has more upside.
Given the public commitment the Dolphins have made to Tagovailoa, though, nothing would be more indicative of support than bringing Smith aboard.
First round, 18th pick: Najee Harris (RB, Alabama), Rashod Bateman (WR, Minnesota) Zaven Collins (LB, Tulsa)
Before getting to yet another former Alabama player, let’s address Bateman. This would be an obvious choice if the Dolphins either pick Zach Wilson or trade for Deshaun Watson. The latter option seems like the only scenario in which Miami would give up on Tagovailoa at this point, so say Watson to Miami happens.
Then, Bateman becomes the No. 1 target here. In fact, the Fins may need to decide between the Golden Gophers star and LSU standout Terrace Marshall Jr., and it’s probably a coin flip as to who will be the better pro. Since Bateman is a little more physical at the catch point and gives Tagovailoa a slightly larger margin for error, he gets the edge.
But in all likelihood, Smith is going off the board to Miami, so he and DeVante Parker, along with some of the Dolphins’ incumbent receivers and tight end Mike Gesicki, will be enough for Tagovailoa or Watson to work with.
What the Dolphins do lack is a dynamic, game-changing tailback, which Harris absolutely is. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, the bruising ball-carrier has breakaway speed, freakish athleticism and pass-catching ability to be an instant-impact workhorse at the NFL level. He had 30 touchdowns this past season for the Tide. Thirty. Oh, and Harris is very familiar with Tagovailoa, too.
If Miami head coach Brian Flores wants to further build out his defense with this pick instead and convinces the front office to take him up on that, Collins is a versatile front seven chess piece who can drop in coverage, rush the passer and defend the run. Flores’ complex, multifaceted system is an ideal fit for Collins’ all-around skill set.
Second round, 36th pick: Landon Dickerson (C, Alabama), Dylan Moses (LB, Alabama), Jaelan Phillips (EDGE, Miami)
Unclear what Dickerson’s outlook is for the 2021 season due to the knee injury he suffered that kept him out of the national title game but for the final snap. However, if he’s ready to roll as an NFL rookie or takes just a few games to get cleared for game action, he’d be well worth the investment near the top of Round 2.
Dickerson would be an upgrade at center or guard over any of the Dolphins’ incumbent linemen. Plus, yes, the added perk that he was a college teammate of Tagovailoa’s as well. Isn’t it great that the personnel needs, caliber of prospects and happenstance familiarity with the franchise quarterback seem to be aligning for all these Miami draft targets?
Again, Flores is probably not going to want to see the Fins go all offense in the draft with all the picks the team has, so maybe Moses or Phillips is deemed a better fit. Moses is the latest quality linebacker to hail from coach Nick Saban’s NFL factory, and even though he’s still got a ways to go developmentally, he has every tool Flores would want to flourish in Miami’s scheme.
Phillips wouldn’t have to go far to his NFL destination if he’s still on the board here. However, given the premium placed on edge rushers and the fact that the Dolphins are decently deep at that spot, he’d either be less of a priority or already off the board. Nevertheless, the upside is there, and teams can never have enough pass rushers.
Second round, 50th pick: Deonte Brown (OL, Alabama) Alim McNeill (DT, NC State), Javonte Williams (RB, North Carolina)
Four Alabama players in the top 50, all to the Dolphins? Maybe crazier things haven’t happened in NFL Draft history, but does it really seem so far-fetched? Per NFLonCBS, the 6-foot-3 Brown tipped the scales at 364 pounds prior to Senior Bowl practices. That’s a lot of man to move for opposing defenders.
Brown is quick enough on his feet to play right tackle, and he thrived in that role for the Crimson Tide. While he’s probably better suited to play guard in the pros, Brown is the type of mauler who can bring some serious attitude to Miami’s currently uninspiring rushing attack.
On the other hand, adding someone like McNeill to a defensive line that already has some promising young cornerstones in Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins is another appealing option. McNeill can play nose tackle, but even at 315 pounds, he’s got the suddenness and short-area burst to play the 3-technique. This man can move.
McNeill would give Flores and the coaching staff a lot of flexibility and keep offenses guessing as to what sort of stunts Miami will pull off on any given down.
In the event Harris isn’t the choice at 18th, Williams is a phenomenal secondary option. With a thickly-built 5-foot-10, 220-pound frame, Williams just doesn’t go down upon first contact. He’s adept as a pass-catcher and averaged 7.3 yards per carry in 2020 en route to 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns on only 157 carries.
Third round, 82nd pick: Jordan Smith (EDGE, UAB) Marlon Tuipulotu (DT, USC), Nico Collins (WR, Michigan)
In 21 games at UAB, Smith amassed 89 total tackles (23.5 tackles for loss), 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. His length at 6-foot-7 is a serious problem for offensive tackles to deal with, and even though he played lesser competition in college, the numbers don’t lie.
Pro Football Focus rated Smith as the country’s No. 5 edge defender in 2019, and he followed that up by ranking 16th out of 378 qualifiers this past season. Not often do players from a less-heralded program like UAB enter the NFL Draft early, but Smith justifies it, because his skill set, if he lands in the right spot, translates very well to the NFL. Smith is already making an impression against the best prospects at the Senior Bowl.
For similar reasons that McNeill is an attractive target at No. 50, Tuipulotu gets squarely on the radar here. The USC product started for three years, showed off strong interior pass-rushing ability and could align anywhere across Miami’s front and make an impact. Tuipulotu’s 46 total tackles from 2019 are a testament to his relentless motor and how well he can diagnose plays.
Finally, there’s Collins. If you remember from the 2020 draft, the Cleveland Browns landed Donovan Peoples-Jones in the sixth round, and he had a big impact as a first-year pro. Collins won’t fall that far, but a similar story could emerge around him. After playing for less-than-stellar quarterback with the Wolverines, Collins could well shine in the NFL with a better passer throwing him the ball.
The 6-foot-4 Collins has a huge catch radius, yet is also very explosive, evident in his 19.7 yards per catch from his junior campaign. He opted out of the 2020 season, so there’s a chance Collins will continue to be somewhat overlooked. He’s an early Day 2 talent who could still be on the board later in the third round. He’d be an appealing outside receiving threat opposite Parker in Miami.
Miami Dolphins mock draft: Spicing up the offense around Tua Tagovailoa
- First round, 3rd pick: DeVonta Smith, wide receiver, Alabama
- First round, 18th pick: Najee Harris, running back, Alabama
- Second round, 36th pick: Landon Dickerson, center, Alabama
- Second round, 50th pick: Alim McNeill, defensive tackle, NC State
- Third round, 82nd pick: Jordan Smith, EDGE, UAB
What better way to put Tagovailoa at ease and reaffirm the effort to maximize his talents than by drafting three of his former teammates to join him in Miami?
It’s not just a sentimental thing, an outlandish mock scenario to draw attention, or an entirely unrealistic proposition, either. There’s a very strong chance Smith will be available at No. 3, that Harris will be the first ball-carrier off the board at 18th, and that Dickerson, due to his injury situation, being free to draft at 36th.
In fact, it may turn out that McNeill’s stock soars to the point where the Dolphins take him near the top of Round 2, and then pivot to either Dickerson or Deonte Brown at 50th overall.
What’s great about Miami’s situation is the franchise is way ahead of the curve in its ongoing rebuild. Absent any super crucial free agents aside from, arguably, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins should be active on the free agent market and can add established veterans to fill some of these holes on the roster.
Should the Fins emerge with a draft class like this, headlined by a trio of studs from college football’s preeminent powerhouse program, it’ll not only work in Tagovailoa’s favor, but it’ll almost ensure the offense takes a giant leap forward in 2021.