How Will Dolphins Address the Running Back Position?

The Miami Dolphins need to add an impact player at the running back position and they'll have a few options to as how to get that done
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The Miami Dolphins really tried to upgrade the running back position last offseason, but it was one of the few positions where their moves didn't really pan out.

In fact, as the 2020 season played out, it was a familiar face who led the way for the running game, namely second-year back Myles Gaskin.

But while Gaskin had a solid season, particularly given how little playing time he got as a rookie seventh-round pick in 2019, the Dolphins need a more dynamic presence at the running back position (truth is, the Dolphins need upgrades pretty much everywhere on offense).

The big question, of course, is how the Dolphins will go about looking for that help.

The Dolphins went the free agency and trade routes in 2020, though as we previously indicated the results were less than satisfying.

The free agent acquisition was veteran Jordan Howard, who came to Miami with a history of consistent production but barely made to the halfway mark of the season after struggling to gain any yardage. By the time he was waived, his average was at 1.2 yards per carry.

The trade didn't work out much better because Matt Breida became an afterthought on offense for most of the season, even after he had an impressive 86-yard outing against New England in Week 15.

Breida is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March and it's really difficult to envision the Dolphins bringing him back or Breida wanting to return.

The only good news about the Breida trade is that it didn't cost the Dolphins more than a fifth-round pick in a year when they were loaded with draft capital.

And before anybody starts bemoaning the loss of a fifth-round pick, the two selections the Dolphins ended up making in that round were Curtis Weaver and Jason Strowbridge, one player who was waived and one who practically never saw the field.

What the Dolphins didn't do last year was take a running back in the draft, even though they certainly had plenty of opportunities to do so.

And to this day we'll argue the Dolphins would have been better served with the 30th overall selection by taking a running back than taking cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, though that doesn't mean we're closing the book on him after a disappointing rookie season.

But the reality is the Dolphins had their choice of any of the six running backs who ended up being drafted in the first two rounds after trading down from 26th to 30th and pretty much all of them — Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D'Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins and A.J. Dillon — shined as rookies or showed really good potential.

And any of those six likely would stand right now as the clear No. 1 running back on the Dolphins roster.

So that was a missed opportunity.

The Dolphins may not get that kind of golden chance again in the 2021 NFL draft, even though there are a few high-profile prospects at that position.

The most obvious is Alabama's Najee Harris, who some mocks have pegged to the Dolphins with the 18th overall selection. That, however, is awfully early for a running back these days — Edwards-Helaire was the first running back taken last year and he went 32nd.

Of course, it's possible the Dolphins could trade down from 18 and take Harris later in the first round, but remember it takes a trading partner to make a deal, so those always are easier to talk about than actually produce.

Maybe the Dolphins will be inclined to wait until the second round to take a running back, something they could have done but declined to do last year when they took Robert Hunt with the 39th pick when Akers, Dobbins, Dillon and Taylor still were available.

If the Dolphins decide to go the free agent route, the most appealing name who could get on the market is Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers.

Jones is coming off his first Pro Bowl seasons when he rushed for 1,104 yards, which followed a 1,084-yard season in 2019. And he has scored 25 rushing touchdowns the past two years.

Jones is 27 and certainly has some good years left, though paying big money for a free agent running back always is a tricky proposition.

"Jones is a fantastic back and the Packers would love to have him back, but the COVID-inflicted dip in the salary cap probably is going to stand in the way," Packer report beat writer Bill Huber said. "I’ve had people around the league tell me the cap is going to be much closer to this year’s $195 million than the doom-and-gloom prediction of $175 million. So, let’s put the cap at $190 million. Even at that, the Packers are projected to be about $18 million in the red. A contract renegotiation for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and an extension for receiver Davante Adams will brighten the financial picture. Still, it’s hard to see how the Packers can add a big-budget running back to the mix. Besides, by using a second-round pick in 2020 on burly A.J. Dillon, the Packers have planned accordingly."

One factor here is whether the Dolphins will be gun-shy about using the free agency route to get a running back after what happened last year with Howard.

Again, it's not as though Howard was a mediocre running back who just continued to be mediocre. He arrived in Miami with very good credentials, including a 4.3-yard rushing average, but couldn't get anything going with his new team.

The perceived notion that running backs are easier to find than players at other positions and therefore shouldn't get huge contracts in free agency also might come into play.

Making another trade always is a possibility, though what happened in 2020 also could play a role.

Based on all the factors, the most logical assumption is the Dolphins will use the draft to address the running back position, unless they somehow decide to move forward with the current players on the roster — Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Patrick Laird, impending free agent DeAndre Washington and/or Breida.

In the end, we easily can see the Dolphins going the route they maybe should have taken in 2020: taking a running back in the second round of the draft.