Evaluating (Not Grading) the Dolphins Draft

Breaking down the pros and cons of each of the seven Miami Dolphins 2021 draft selections
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The days after the end of a draft produce countless grades from media outlets far and wide, both local and national, sometimes accompanied with the caveat that immediate grades aren't necessarily fair.

So we'll take a different approach here because, yes, immediate draft grades are premature. We'll save the grades for three years down the road, which is why later this week we'll be grading each pick in the Dolphins' 2018 NFL draft.

For now, let's just look at the seven picks of the 2021 Dolphins draft individually and examine the pros and cons of each selection, along with other selections the Dolphins could have made instead.

ROUND 1, 6TH OVERALL — WR JAYLEN WADDLE, ALABAMA

Pros: Speed, speed, speed. Remember how the Dolphins really struggled to create big plays last year, particularly turning ordinary plays into big gainers? Outside of Myles Gaskin's touchdown reception at Las Vegas, we really couldn't come up with an example off the top of our head. That's where Waddle comes in. This is a guy who'll be a threat to produce a long gain on anything from a jet sweep, to a bubble screen to a quick slant, and on punt returns as well.

Cons: Just like the speed is the obvious plus when it comes to Waddle, it's just as clear that durability would be the concern. While maybe it's not as pronounced as it is with DeVonta Smith (at least from this vantage point), it's still there. And just like Smith, there's little, if any, recent comp to alleviate the concern. Here's the stat that stands out: Between 2000 and 2020, 28 wide receivers were taken among the first 10 picks of the draft and all but five of them weighed at least 200 pounds at the combine. The five who didn't: John Ross, Tavon Austin, Ted Ginn Jr., Peter Warrick and Travis Taylor. Those five combined have combined for exactly ZERO Pro Bowl appearances.

Who else was an option?: Well, interestingly, Smith also was an option and he later would become the seventh wide receiver since 2000 drafted in the top 10 without weighing at least 200 pounds. The other clear option was tackle Penei Sewell, who ended up being taken immediately after the Dolphins pick by the Detroit Lions.

Early verdict: This is a potentially brilliant pick, but one that comes with some risk.

ROUND 1, 18TH OVERALL — DE JAELAN PHILLIPS, MIAMI

Pros: There was more than one draft analyst who considered Phillips the best edge defender in the draft, if not the best defensive prospect, period. Phillips has the skill set to contribute to the defense in a wide variety of ways, whether it be against the run, in coverage or getting after the quarterback. Let's not forget that Phillips was one of the most highly touted recruits in the country when he first decided to attend UCLA.

Cons: The only reason the Dolphins were able to get Phillips at number 18 is the medical history. Phillips sustained two concussions during his time at UCLA, as well as a broken wrist when he was hit by a car while riding a scooter. Phillips downplayed the concussions during his Zoom media session after being drafted, but it's obviously preferable to be able to land a prospect who's clean in that respect.

Who else was an option?: Of course, this is the spot where we have to mention the running backs, whether it be Najee Harris or Travis Etienne or even Javonte Williams, all of whom clearly would have filled a need. Maybe the Dolphins also could have considered tackle Christian Darrisaw, considering they saw fit to trade up in the second round to select Liam Eichenberg.

Early verdict: Yes, it would be great if Phillips didn't have the concussions at UCLA, but just don't be shocked if he winds up being the most dynamic front seven player on the Dolphins defense very quickly.

ROUND 2, 36TH OVERALL — S JEVON HOLLAND, OREGON

Pros: Remember when Brian Flores was looking to use Minkah Fitzpatrick in multiple ways in the secondary, floating between safety and nickel corner? That's kind of what the Dolphins got in Holland, who also happens to be a big-time playmaker, as evidenced by his nine picks in two seasons at Oregon. While few draft analysts had Holland as the top safety in the draft, that might have been a case of "out of sight, out of mind" after he opted out of the 2020 season because he was right up there after the 2019 season.

Cons: There's really not a lot to question about this pick because Holland is just a very good prospect to add to a defense that thrived off turnovers last season. The only gripe, really, has come in the form of what the Dolphins didn't get with this pick, more specifically their failure to trade up to get a running back.

Who else was an option?: By the time they picked Holland, the top three running backs already were off the board, so that was not an alternative anymore. The Dolphins also could have chosen to beef up their offensive line at that spot instead of a little later in the draft by taking either tackle Teven Jenkins or center/guard Landon Dickerson, a first-round talent with major injury concerns.

Early verdict: Based on floor, ceiling and risk, this just might be the most promising pick of the entire Dolphins draft.

ROUND 2, 42ND OVERALL — T LIAM EICHENBERG, NOTRE DAME

Pros: If you believe in pedigree, there certainly are worse places to find offensive linemen than Notre Dame, and Eichenberg was a really good one for the Fighting Irish. Eichenberg provides position flexibility, something everybody knows the Dolphins value, with his ability to play either tackle or guard. Eichenberg also was among the most NFL-ready offensive linemen in the draft, if not the most.

Cons: Well, we can start by the Dolphins having to sacrifice a 2022 third-round pick to move up eight spots to get Eichenberg. Those kind of trades beyond the first round always are a bit tricky. There's also some question as to exactly what kind of ceiling Eichenberg has as an NFL player, and not every draft analyst was completely sold on him as a high-end prospect.

Who else was an option?: Though the need for a pass rusher was diminished after the selection of Phillips, it's interesting to note that the Giants took George edge defender Azeez Ojulari with the pick they got from the Dolphins after moving down. Based on the way the draft played out, the Dolphins could have stayed at 50 and gotten an offensive tackle at that spot with either Texas' Samuel Cosmi or North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz, who were considered prospects on a similar level to Eichenberg.

Early verdict: From this vantage point, this will be a "meh" pick until Eichenberg gets into the starting lineup and shines.

ROUND 3, 81ST OVERALL — TE HUNTER LONG, BOSTON COLLEGE

Pros: Long was productive at Boston College and, as indicated on NFL Network, led all FBS tight ends in catches last season, outdoing even fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts. If you believe in such things, Boston College has a long history of producing quality NFL tight ends. This move was done with some planning ahead because both Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2021 season.

Cons: If we're focusing on 2021, tight end was the one position where the Dolphins had zero or very little need — unless they were going to add transcendent talent Kyle Pitts. Long joins a tight end room that already included Gesicki, Smythe, Adam Shaheen and offseason free agent pick-up Cethan Carter, who also figures to play some fullback but contribute mostly on special teams.

Who else was an option?: The most glaring name that jumps out is that of Ohio State running back Trey Sermon, who was taken seven spots later and would have addressed an obvious need. Also available at 81 was Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble, who some analysts, including Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, had rated higher than Long.

Early verdict: This was a surprising pick, to be sure. From here, it just seems taking a running back would have been the better move.

ROUND 7, 231ST OVERALL — T LARNEL COLEMAN, UMASS

Pros: The Dolphins got a prospect here with intriguing physical traits, including long arms.

Cons: Coleman has a ways to go in terms of his development before he can make a contribution, which is what you'd expect from a seventh-round offensive lineman.

ROUND 7, 244TH OVERALL — RB GERRID DOAKS, CINCINNATI

Pros: Doaks is the kind of physical runner the Dolphins can use and he had some productive seasons at Cincinnati, leading the team in rushing in both 2017 and 2020.

Cons: The book on Doaks is he's not terribly elusive, needs work in the passing game and has fumbling issues.

Early verdict on both seventh-round picks: Any contributions any team gets from a seventh-round pick is a bonus, so what the Dolphins got from Myles Gaskin in 2020 in his second season was unusual and impressive. Coleman and Doaks both will first have to make the active roster before we can start thinking about what they could become as NFL players.