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Dolphins RB Draft Preview: Is Getting One of the Big Three a Must?

The Miami Dolphins could use a feature running back, but it's worth debating whether spending a premium pick in the 2021 NFL draft to get one is the way to go
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We continue our series of Dolphins draft previews by looking at the big question at each position, and when we're talking about the running backs, it's pretty simple.

Do the Dolphins have to come out of the 2021 NFL draft with one of the top three prospects at the position?

Those three players are universally accepted as being Najee Harris from Alabama, Travis Etienne from Clemson and Javonte Williams from North Carolina, with the first two being usually graded as 1-2 at the position.

Harris is the between-the tackles workhorse back with good ability out of the backfield; Etienne is the home-run hitter with the ability to break a long run (or catch) every time he touches the ball; and Williams is the wrecking ball who breaks tackle after tackle.

RELATED: The Dream Scenario at Running Back

The Dolphins' current roster includes five running backs, not counting 2020 seventh-round pick Malcolm Perry, who was a quarterback at Navy and is more like an all-purpose player in the NFL.

The five are incumbents Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Patrick Laird, offseason unrestricted free agent acquisition Malcolm Brown and offseason "street free agent" signing Jordan Scarlett.

It's a group that's pretty much the same as what the Dolphins had entering the 2020 draft when there were not three but six blue-chip running back prospects.

But despite having five picks in the first two rounds, the Dolphins bypassed all the running backs who ended up being taken in the first two rounds, and then watched every single one of them show to varying degrees that they were the right picks.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, waited until the third day of the draft to swing a deal with the 49ers for speedy back Matt Breida, who is gone after one year. And that's longer than 2020 free agent pick-up Jordan Howard lasted.

As the 2020 season played out, Breida and Howard basically were non-factors, Gaskin turned in an impressive season as a second-year seventh-round pick and Ahmed had his one shining moment in the December victory against New England.

But was what the Dolphins got out of the running back position in 2020 good enough?

Will they be content to go with the core of Gaskin, Ahmed and Brown?

Or will the Dolphins fill the need to spend a premium pick, whether it be the 18th overall pick or the 36th pick near the top of the second round on one of the top three guys?

RELATED: Analyzing the Najee Harris Debate

We earlier argued against taking Harris at 18 based on positional value, how the position is so dependent on others to make it work, but another factor could be on the difference between the top three guys and the rest of the running back class.

And from where NFL Draft Bible Publisher Ric Serritella sits, the answer to that last question is the biggest factor.

"I liked Najee Harris," Serritella said. "I think he's the best running back in this year's draft. I really like what he brings to the table. I think he's going to be a good one. It's just hard for me to justify it (at 18) when I can have a Rhamondre Stevenson in Round 4, 5, 6 from out of Oklahoma who does a lot of similar things. For me, I'd rather get a playmaker for Tua (Tagovailoa) to work with."

Along with Stevenson, the second group of running back prospects behind the big three includes Trey Sermon from Ohio State, Kenneth Gainwell from Memphis, Kylie Hill from Mississippi State, and Williams' former North Carolina teammate Michael Carter.

If the Dolphins do decide to use a premium pick on a running back, here's something else to consider: The Dolphins really lacked explosiveness on offense last year, the ability for the quick strike.

From that aspect, Etienne would make more sense than Harris for Miami. And another argument could be made that Brown brings a similar running style to that of Harris (even though he's clearly not as talented), so there's a bit of redundancy factor at play here as well.

The best guess here remains that the Dolphins will not use a first-round pick on a running back — they haven't done it since 2005 — and there's also no guarantee they'll even go for that position in Round 2.