As we continue our series of Miami Dolphins draft previews, we arrive at the wide receiver position and the assumption that the team will use a premium pick on that position.
In many circles, it's believed that the Dolphins need to use their first pick on that spot.
But do they really?
Do they really NEED to land Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith if given the chance, ahead of other positions?
The argument is that the Dolphins just don't have a difference-maker at wide receiver, particularly in light of what happened last year when the Dolphins simply couldn't create a lot of explosive plays.
And that's been used as a partial justification for Tua Tagovailoa being unable to produce more big plays for the Dolphins offense during his rookie season.
But is it fair? Is the Dolphins wide receiver corps really that deficient?
Remember, the Dolphins added speedster Will Fuller V as a free agent in the offseason to complement a group that already included DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Lynn Bowden Jr. and 2020 opt-outs Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns.
While maybe there isn't a bona fide star in the group — and that's because Parker hasn't been able to avoid injuries outside of his 2019 breakout season when he was among the best wide receivers in the AFC — there is depth.
And, yes, durability is a concern because the top three guys (Parker, Williams, Fuller) have had injury issues in the past. But there is ability.
Wide receiver actually is among the best positions on the team, based on ESPN NFL Prognosticator Mike Clay's annual pre-draft league-wide unit rankings. In fact, wide receiver is tied with tight end as the second-best position on the roster, per Clay, behind only the expensive cornerback group led by Byron Jones and Xavien Howard.
So, yes, we'll say it again: Wide receiver is NOT a major need for the Dolphins.
And, yes, it would be great to add a Chase, Waddle or Smith to help out Tagovailoa, but the quarterback also has to do his part in being more willing to take chances downfield.
Here's a revealing stat from last year to illustrate that point: Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 21 fewer passes than Tagovailoa last season and had way more completions of 30 yards or more (9-3) and 25 yards or longer (15-6).
What this says is that Fitzpatrick was able to complete passes downfield with this so-called deficient receiving corps. That Tagovailoa wasn't able to do it speaks as much to his reluctance to take chances downfield as it does to the receiving corps itself.
Perhaps all Tua needs is to have that one receiver he can truly count on and in whom he'll have total confidence, but it bears repeating that if the Dolphins take a wide receiver at number 6 (or after trading down a few spots in the first round), it should be a case of best player available because wide receiver is not the need so many have made it out to be.
And if the Dolphins do decide to go with a wide receiver at number 6, it's pretty much accepted that Ja'Marr Chase is the top prospect at the position.
But who should be next in the pecking order, Waddle or Smith?
In this particular debate, there is a difference of opinion, though it seems that Waddle has pulled ahead as the weeks since the end of the college football season have passed.
While some, like former NFL and college head coach Jim Mora Jr., prefer Smith based on his production at Alabama, there are a couple of factors going for Waddle.
The first obviously is the frame and the durability concerns surrounding Smith. While there are precedents for players with similar dimensions — Isaac Bruce is the one who jumps out — having successful careers, they are very few and far between.
But here's something else to consider, something that somehow never gets mentioned.
With all the talk about Smith's incredible production last season — and it was incredible — guess who was Alabama's most productive receiver in the first four games of the 2020 season because Waddle fractured an ankle.
Yes, Jaylen Waddle.
In those first four games, Waddle topped 100 receiving yards every time and had 557 receiving yards with a 22.3 average and four touchdowns. Smith had two 100-yard games with 483 yards and also four touchdowns.
So who's to say what would have happened had Waddle not gotten hurt.
Now, if the Dolphins do select Waddle, it would mark the second time in franchise history they will have taken a wide receiver in the top 10. The first time was in 2007 when they took Ted Ginn Jr., a choice that can be questioned even though Ginn went on to play more than a decade in the NFL.
And, to be sure, there are similarities between Waddle and Ginn, starting with their stature. Ginn came in at 5-11, 178 at the combine back in 2007, while Waddle's measurements are 5-10, 182. And both were extraordinary returners in college.
But the big difference here is that Waddle was a much more explosive receiver at Alabama than Ginn was at Ohio State. Each played three years in college, but during that time Waddle averaged 18.9 yards per catch and had 17 receiving touchdowns, while Ginn averaged 14.4 yards with 15 receiving touchdowns.
All of that isn't to say that Waddle is a flawless prospect because if he were, he'd get drafted ahead of Chase. But Chase isn't a flawless prospect, either, in part because he didn't play last season.
But the reality is that either of them would help the Dolphins offense because they project as very good NFL players, and the same goes for DeVonta Smith.
It's just that maybe it wouldn't be the end of the world if the Dolphins wound up not getting any of them.