Through all the debate and speculation about the 2021 NFL Draft, the central question surrounding the Miami Dolphins boils down to: What is in Chris Grier’s mind?
What is the assessment of the Dolphins general manager and coach Brian Flores and their lieutenants concerning their options for selecting an impact playmaker in the first round to energize the offense?
They were positioned to land the best non-quarterback with the No. 3 pick and gave up that option in the interest of adding future draft capital.
Trades to move from No. 3 to 12, then back up to 6 have added more mystery and intrigue than usual.
It is puzzling because it has clearly weakened the Dolphins’ hand in Thursday’s opening round. That may well come back to haunt them if Florida tight end Kyle Pitts turns out to be the dynamic pro that many evaluators expect — for another team.
Kyle Pitts a rare talent
Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has called Pitts the highest-rated tight end in all the drafts he has analyzed. Gators coach Dan Mullen has referred to Pitts as a “unicorn.”
I’ve felt for weeks that I’d be thoroughly disappointed if the Dolphins don’t come away with Pitts, who possesses a rare combination of skills to give opposing defensive coordinators fits for years.
Disappointment has already set in because Pitts is almost certainly out of Miami’s reach now.
After quarterbacks are taken with the top three picks, the Atlanta Falcons are said to be set to snatch Pitts. And why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to add such a game changer for the twilight of quarterback Matt Ryan’s career?
Worse yet for Miami, the Cincinnati Bengals are likely to use the No. 5 pick to reunite LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with quarterback Joe Burrow.
Chase gets top marks on most rankings of the wide receivers in this draft.
Which would leave the Dolphins to go eeny, meeny, miny, moe with Tua Tagovailoa’s former Alabama teammates, wide receivers DeVonata Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
Dolphins’ plan shrouded in mystery
Unless they play the “highest rated player available on the board” card and take offensive tackle Penei Sewell. No matter how dominant Sewell was for Oregon (prior to opting out of 2020 for COVID considerations) that pick would surely spark mass outrage in Dolphinland.
Which brings us back to the initial question: What are Grier and Flores thinking going into this all-important draft?
If, as recent reports have indicated (ESPN’s Todd McShay among others), Pitts is the Dolphins’ preferred choice, why didn’t they stay at No. 3 when they had the pick of the receiver litter?
When the Dolphins made the trades that landed them at No. 6 there was conjecture that they were OK with any of the top tier wideouts or Pitts. I don’t believe any NFL team approaches any draft like that. Ever.
They evaluate. They prioritize. They have a list.
Grier and Flores have a plan. We just don’t know what it is.
It may be a winner. It may not.
Trades for draft picks get mixed results
Trading to stockpile high draft picks is a valid strategy for rebuilding teams. But there’s no way to be sure where those picks are going to land in future years or what return you’ll be able to get with them.
The Dolphins may have gotten a bit too clever for their own good in the trades with the 49ers and Eagles, which netted an extra 2023 first-rounder and a 2022 third-round compensatory pick.
But they gave up the No. 3 pick this year, which was part of the 2019 trade with Houston for Pro Bowl offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Consider that they essentially replaced Tunsil on the offensive line with Austin Jackson, who they took at No. 18 in 2020 with the pick obtained from Pittsburgh for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Jackson was so-so as a rookie, though he has potential and may yet develop into a stalwart on the line. Fitzpatrick has been outstanding in two seasons for the Steelers, and right now that trade is a net loss for Miami.
As much as I like Flores as a coach, and I do, the personnel side of the Grier/Flores partnership has had ups and downs.
Yes, they have greatly improved the roster over the past two years and banked a 10-win season in 2020.
The really difficult challenge in the NFL is the steep climb from nine or 10 wins to 12 or 13 and a team capable of going deep in the playoffs.
To make that leap requires a roster with genuine stars who move the ball and make a difference in big games. Those type of players are notably absent from the Dolphins roster.
Playmakers for Tua must be priority No. 1
They hope Tagovailoa will grow into that description. They need to give him high-quality resources to make it happen.
This week’s deal that sent veteran guard Ereck Flowers to Washington added more mystery and intrigue than usual. Some interpreted it as a preface to drafting Sewell, with 2020 second-round pick Robert Hunt moving from right tackle to guard.
What the Flowers deal primarily did was create some needed salary cap space and cut ties with a player who wasn’t worth the three-year, $30 million contract they gave him as a free agent last year.
Sewell may well prove to be a cornerstone offensive tackle in the NFL. Can’t help recalling that Jake Long was supposed to be that when the Dolphins took him first overall in 2008 rather than Matt Ryan.
Long is long retired due to injuries and Ryan is still compiling hall of fame credentials for the Falcons, and may soon have Kyle Pitts to help finish the job.
Offensive lineman won’t cut it
The Dolphins took Jackson, Hunt and guard Solomon Kindley in the first four rounds last year. It’s up to Flores the coach to make those picks pay off through development.
It’s up to Grier the GM to add playmakers in this draft who can create magic with the ball in their hands.
I suspect they’ll end up with DeVonta Smith with the first of two first-round picks.
Maybe the Heisman Trophy winner, paired again with Tagovailoa, will prove as dominant a force for the Dolphins as he was for Alabama.
Or maybe they’ll rue letting Kyle Pitts get away.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns