2021 Dolphins Draft: Can Pass Rush Help Come From University of Miami?

The Miami Dolphins have a clear need for a pass rusher heading into the 2021 NFL draft and Gregory Rousseau is among the top prospects available for that role
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One year after acquiring veterans Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson in free agency in large part to help their pass rush, the Miami Dolphins moved on from both players this offseason.

While there may have been validity of getting rid of Van Noy's contract and getting an inside linebacker (Benardrick McKinney) in exchange for Lawson, the moves left the Dolphins with a clear need at the edge defender spot.

In fact, we ranked it here as the biggest need on the team after the first wave of free agency.

Luckily for the Dolphins, there are several blue-chip edge prospects in the 2020 NFL draft, and though none of them are considered safe enough to take with the sixth overall pick, it could be something worth considering either with the 18th overall pick or maybe even with the 36th pick (the fourth of the second round).

The list of edge defender prospects includes two former stars from the University of Miami, Gregory Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips.

Others include Jayson Oweh from Penn State, Azeez Ojulari from Georgia, and Kwity Paye from Michigan.

Rousseau and Phillips have as much upside as any of the five guys mentioned, though each of them carries a degree of risk.

For Rousseau, the issue is the fact that he realistically played only one season at UM after redshirting in 2018 after playing just one game and then he opted out of the 2020 season.

His one season, though, was pretty spectacular as he recorded 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman.

Rousseau addressed the concerns of his limited experience when he did a Zoom media session following the UM Pro Day this week.

"I don’t have a lot film, but I feel like I showed a lot in the time that I did play, my redshirt freshman year," Rousseau said. "I feel like I proved a lot. I also feel like I’m a very versatile athlete and I fit into a lot of schemes and I’m just going to be somebody who’s hard working from Day 1. I’m ready to get to the next level."

As for Phillips, the issue are a series of injuries that derailed his career after he started off at UCLA. Phillips even quit football after a second concussion ended his 2018 season at UCLA after he earlier had sustained a high ankle sprain and a severe wrist injury in a moped accident.

After sitting out a year, Phillips became a force at UM last year, finishing with eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.

Like Rousseau, Phillips put on a show of rare athleticism at the UM Pro Day, even topping what Rousseau did.

He then downplayed concerns about his injury history.

"My play on the field obviously showed I didn't miss a snap," Phillips said. "I didn't miss a game. I didn't miss a workout. I didn't miss anything. If you saw the Pro Day, you saw that the risk, I'm worth it. Obviously I'm healthy, so I don't think it's a risk at all. We play a violent game, so obviously people get hurt, but I wouldn't be here today if I was a risk.

"I truly believe if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you, so that's how I've been living the last couple of years."

Both Rousseau and Phillips are pass-rushing specialists, though Phillips might have a more well-rounded game and just might be a better overall prospect.

The biggest question might be whether the Dolphins — or any team — will feel comfortable enough with Phillips' health status to spend a premium pick on him.

It says here the Dolphins don't leave the second round of the 2021 draft without having drafted a edge defender, and don't be surprised if it ends being Phillips or Rousseau.