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Running backs Miami Dolphins should target in 2021 NFL Draft

How will the Miami Dolphins square the diminishing value of modern running backs with finding a new high-end ball-carrier in the 2021 NFL Draft?

Matt Fitzgerald

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The Miami Dolphins are rumored to be targeting a new No. 1 running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, according to ESPN.com’s Cameron Wolfe.

“The Dolphins are interested in drafting a feature running back, sources told ESPN, with added intrigue in bigger, complete backs,” Wolfe wrote.

Balancing out the offense would certainly make life easier on rising second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but tailback is often cited as the most replaceable position in football. Thankfully for Miami, general manager Chris Grier is in an enviable, flexible position.

With two first-round picks and four selections in the top 50, Grier has all the means at his disposal to find a new workhorse in the backfield. The pressing questions: How early is too early to draft someone, and is there better value to be had in the later rounds?

Let’s take a look at the three best backs the Dolphins should consider taking, based on how a mock simulation plays out on The Draft Network.

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Top Miami Dolphins RB targets in 2021 NFL Draft

Najee Harris, Alabama: First round, 18th pick

Miami Dolphins draft Najee Harris
Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris (22) celebrates after beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s probably going to come down to a decision between Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne if the Dolphins go this route in Round 1. Taking a back this high is usually ill-advised, but doing so would guarantee Miami has its choice of who the personnel department believes to be the best player at the position.

Harris and Etienne have similar college workloads, but going off of the “bigger” criteria from ESPN.com’s report about what the ‘Fins are looking for, Harris seems like he’d get the nod here.

Reuniting with his former Alabama teammate in Tagovailoa, Harris would be the 6-foot-2, 230-pound bruiser to drive an otherwise uninspiring rushing attack. Not only is Harris a great downhill runner, but he can also cut on a dime, hurdle defenders and catch the ball excellently out of the backfield.

Giving Tagovailoa a sturdy back who doubles as a receiving threat and is plenty big enough to hold up in pass protection seems like the best of all worlds. The temptation will be there for Grier to add a premier defensive prospect at No. 18. However, with head coach Brian Flores’ excellent schematic acumen on defense, the next couple picks can address that area.

Javonte Williams, North Carolina: Second round, 36th or 50th pick

Top Miami Dolphins RB targets in 2021 NFL Draft: Javonte Williams
Dec 5, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Javonte Williams (25) with the ball in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Listed at 5-foot-10, 220 pounds and with a demonstrated nose for the end zone with 19 rushing touchdowns in 2020, Javonte Williams is the type of bulldozer Miami could target in the second round.

In a couple mock simulations, Williams was available at 36th, but in one of them, he went off the board just before the Dolphins went on the clock at No. 50. That means it’d probably take an early second-round pick to get him, and it may well be worth it.

Funny enough, The Draft Network’s pro player comparison for Williams is Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb. Coming out of Georgia, Chubb was splitting duties with another future NFL back in Sony Michel, like Williams did with Michael Carter. More on him in a minute!

Anyway, the Browns drafted Chubb 35th overall, and you can bet they’re pleased with what they’ve seen so far. It’d be epic if Miami got Williams and he turned out to be a similar home-run hitter to Chubb.

There’s no shortage of power to Williams’ running style, yet he does have that ability to not only take it to the house on any given snap, but also plow in on goal-to-go situations. Plus, he’s almost impossible to bring down, as Pro Football Focus graded Williams as the most elusive back they’ve ever evaluated in a single season last year.

Suddenly, dashing to secure Harris or Etienne in Round 1 seems unnecessary if Williams is around to begin Day 2.

Read More: Miami Dolphins mock draft: 7-round 2021 NFL Draft projections

Michael Carter, North Carolina: Third round, 81st pick

Top Miami Dolphins RB targets in 2021 NFL Draft: Michael Carter
Nov 27, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Michael Carter (8) runs as Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Shayne Simon (33) and safety Kyle Hamilton (14) defend in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Although he doesn’t necessarily fit the “bigger” mold the Dolphins are looking for, perhaps Michael Carter’s 5-foot-8, 201-pound frame is thick enough to justify Miami drafting him.

Carter was on a timeshare situation with Williams, again, as part of a rather loaded Tar Heels offense. That said, his elusiveness and explosive playmaking ability jump off the tape, as is the case with Williams.

In his “The Beast” draft guide for The Athletic, expert analyst Dane Brugler compared Carter to a “lesser version of Dalvin Cook.” Um, that sounds pretty good to me.

That’s the type of lateral quickness, burst and vision we’re talking about when it comes to Carter. He’s equally adept at pass-catching as his college teammate Williams, as both stars had 25 receptions in 2020.

There’s not a lot of wear and tear on Carter either, and among these prospects, he has the lowest center of gravity, which makes him hard to spot behind big offensive linemen and tough to bring down in space.

It feels like the Dolphins can’t really go wrong with Harris, Williams or Carter. As long as they get one of them, and use their other picks to fill out other needs, they should have all the means necessary to go from a 10-win team to a Super Bowl contender.