Dolphins draft grade. An analysis of their 2021 draft class
Brian Flores will go down as either a genius or buffoon once this draft class hits the field. The 2020 haul was terrible, Tua Tagovailoa looked like a high schooler, Austin Jackson looked even worse, and Noah Igbinoghene barely even found the field. Their 2nd round selections weren’t as horrid, but didn’t exactly light it up either. Robert Hunt and Raekwon Davis showed promise as contributors, but neither was able to post a PFF score above 72. Which puts A LOT of pressure on this crop of guys coming in, now, the Dolphins also added some talent offensively that should help some of the guys from last year. Bringing in Will Fuller V to pair with DeVante Parker is intriguing and veteran center Matt Skura might be able to help Jackson/Hunt grow into the players Miami thought they were getting.
With all of this said, Miami was still a 10-win team with last year’s roster and figures to be even more competitive with the additions they’ve made in the offseason. So, the theme of this year’s draft was to grab high-upside playmakers, guys who can make the type of impact plays that Miami lacked in 2020. Which is exactly what they ultimately did. Let’s take a look at our Dolphins draft grade analysis.
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (Round 1, Pick 6)Embed from Getty Images
It was a whirlwind of activity for Miami leading up to the draft. First, they fleece San Francisco by swapping 1sts and picking up 2 additional 1sts along the way. Then, in a blink of the eye, they swap 1sts and send Miami’s 2022 1st to Philadelphia to get back into striking range of an impact playmaker. Now, we thought that Brian Flores was targeting an impact defensive player, but it turns out he wanted to surround Tua with as many playmakers as he can.
So, he took a guy who Tua is familiar with from his time at Alabama, but one whose main calling card is YAC. Both DeVante Parker and Will Fuller V do their damage on the outside or down the field, neither one is really known for making an impact underneath. Waddle on the other hand, has the ability to turn a quick out or drag route into a 20+ yard play. He adds a level of explosion to this offense that they simply didn’t have in 2020. This was absolutely, 110% a home-run pick.
With Parker, Fuller V, and Gesicki pulling coverage down the field, Waddle should see a lot of one-on-one opportunities underneath. He is going to put a lot of defenses in a bind, do we respect the outside presence of DeVante Parker? Do we respect the field-stretching ability of Mike Gesicki or Will Fuller V? Or do we respect the YAC ability of Jaylen Waddle? It’s quite literally the “pick your poison” situation. Really great start to our Dolphins draft grade…hard to argue with a dynamic offensive playmaker and gaining an extra 1st round pick in the process.
Miami (FL) ED Jaelen Phillips (Round 1, Pick 18)
Upside is what Phillips brings here, arguably the top pure pass rusher in this year’s crop, he adds an element that Miami has sorely lacked since the days of Cameron Wake. The risk is that he was a one-year wonder in college, and his single season wasn’t exactly EYE-POPPING. He did have 15.5 TFLs and 8+ sacks, but was more in the shadow of running-mate Greggory Rousseau. However, what he does offer is a long (6’5) and strong frame (260) that is very reminiscent of Chandler Jones. A guy that Brian Flores is very familiar with and had a lot of success in a similar scheme.Embed from Getty Images
He figures to start immediately as an edge rusher in Miami’s Base 3-4 defense, but most of his snaps are going to come on passing downs. I liked other players at this spot, mainly Najee Harris, but Phillips was the highest rated defensive player still left on the board at 18. So, it’s not as though Miami necessarily reached for his services, and at the end of the day, Flore is a defensive minded coach who is going to emphasize having a strong defense on the field.
He should pair well with Emmanuel Ogbah and Andrew Van Ginkel to form a trio of edge rushers that can put some heat on the QB. Given that the strength of the Dolphins remains in their secondary, this selection should continue to highlight the talents of top duo Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. This will allow Flores to employ the type of blitzes that he concocted in his sole year as DC in New England when he took 3 of the top 5 offenses in the league that year and dominated them (well, KC for a half at least). Another plus for our Dolphins draft grade, but it will take time to see how Phillips holds up health wise.
Oregon Safety Jevon Holland (Round 2, Pick 36)
I didn’t love this pick all that much because I believe Miami could have continued to add talent to the offense, specifically along the offensive line with Landon Dickerson still hanging out there. However, this isn’t a complete flop of a pick and Miami had a sneaky need here. They released Bobby McCain shortly after the draft, which alludes to the fact that they were planning on upgrading him. Last year’s 3rd rounder Brandon Jones was pedestrian and does his work more in the box. And, Eric Rowe still somehow manages to excite Brian Flores enough to have a starting job.
However, the simple fact was that Miami needed help on the back-end, having a great duo of corners is only worth it if you have guys who can clean things up in the deep 3rd. Which is exactly what they got with Jevon Holland. He is a centerfield-type that can come down to cover in the slot, much like Devon McCourty is for New England. Now, this isn’t to say he is destined to be a Pro Bowler, no, it was a weak safety class this year which is why he went this high. But, he fills an immediate need and could be a valuable role player in the future for Miami with his ability to play all positions in the secondary. A solid pick for our Dolphins draft grade, albeit not filling as big of a need as the previous two.
Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg (Round 2, Pick 42)
I love this pick. Eichenberg is a long (6’6), strong (310, 33 bench reps), and athletic tackle that has the ability to slide to Tua’s blind side and let Austin Jackson assume a more natural RT position. He also allows Robert Hunt to slide into interior of the offensive line to hopefully kill 3 birds with 1 stone. This was a very, very deep draft for offensive tackles and in other years Eichenberg is most likely a mid-1st round pick.
The part that is so intriguing to me is not only his success at Notre Dame, but benching 225lbs 33 times with very long arms. That shows you the explosiveness/strength he has on the outside, which is going to be key when dealing with quicker edge rushers. He also has the ability to slide with Tua as he moves around the pocket, his mobility was one of his calling cards going into the draft. Eichenberg’s athleticism will be instrumental as Miami rebuilds their putrid running game. Myles Gaskin has explosiveness when he gets to the 2nd level, so the addition of a guy who excels in space is a welcoming addition.
Outside of Waddle, this was the most impactful pick that Miami made. So, to get him in the middle of the 2nd round can be seen as nothing but a steal. His value was easily that of a 1st round pick and Miami found itself another cost-controlled starter for the foreseeable future and a major positive for our Dolphins draft grade.
Boston College TE Hunter Long (Round 3, Pick 81)
As much as I loved the previous pick, this one left me scratching my head. He offers little value as a blocker in the run game, Miami rarely ever employs a 2-TE set (and is less likely now with their WR corps), and he was part of a weak draft class at the position. The trade for Adam Shaheen obviously didn’t pan out the way Miami hoped and they do need a decent backup with Gesicki getting dinged up from time to time.
Yet, this position could have been filled by a vet (i.e. Delanie Walker), not reaching for a guy who might not have been taken until the 5th round. Sure, he has NFL-ready size at 6’6 255, but he was an average contributor on an average team in an average conference. If Gesicki goes down, I think it would be a stretch to imagine that Hunter Long could come in and even replicate half of what he can do.
I will say this, it’s not as though Miami missed a much better opportunity to draft a player better than Hunter Long, but just because that is the case, doesn’t mean you still make the selection. With 4 picks already on the board, I would have liked to see Miami kick the can down the road and swap it for a future pick or back-up tight end. Perhaps a call to the Bucs for O.J. Howard or Cameron Brate would have been in order. Neither one should really command higher than a 3rd round pick when you take into consideration their production and/or injury history.
I said it once, I said it twice, and I’ll say it again, “this better work”. The stakes are high for GM and HC going into 2021, if this class fails to impress as well, there may be new guys in charge. However, if this class does pan out and Miami finally finds the combo of players to get back into the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, well, then watch out. You’d have a team that has a litany of young, cost-controlled players for the next 3-5 years who will give you the financial freedom to add impact veterans around them. It’s an exciting time for Miami fans, they have a quartet of weapons that can hold their own against any in the league, something they haven’t had since the Marino days.
The only problem is that who in the hell knows what kind of QB you’re going to get out of Tua. Will it be the guy who led Alabama to two straight National Championship games? Or will it be the guy who could barely throw the ball 10 yards down the field? One question that has a lot resting on it’s shoulder.
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