The latest mock from ESPN’s Todd McShay offers what I believe is the template for the best possible outcome for the Dolphins in next month’s NFL Draft, excluding any scenarios that involve the Texans sending Deshaun Watson to Miami.
McShay has Miami trading the third pick to Carolina in exchange for “a big package that could include the No. 8 pick, Carolina’s second-rounder (No. 39) and a future 2022 first-rounder.”
McShay then has Carolina drafting Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields third and Miami taking Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith eighth.
As perspective, in 2018, the Jets picked sixth and craved quarterback Sam Darnold but knew he likely wouldn’t drop to sixth. So they called the Colts and acquired that third overall pick for a bundle: the Jets’ first-round selection (6th), two second-round picks (37th and 49th), and a second-round selection in 2019.
And this leap for Carolina — from 8 to 3 — should net even more currency for Miami, because it’s a bigger jump in the top 10 than the Jets/Colts scenario.
And there are two reasons why this, among all scenarios not involving a pre-draft Watson trade, would be the best possible outcome for Miami:
Reason 1: At pick No. 8, the Dolphins would be positioned to get a player who not only would fill their biggest need but also would be a consideration at number three.
Though the draft always serves up surprises, there’s a good chance Smith will be available at eight, behind four quarterbacks (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Fields and either Trey Lance or Mac Jones), offensive tackle Penei Sewell, UF tight end Kyle Pitts and LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, who is considered by many to be the best receiver in this draft.
So if the Dolphins believe Smith has a chance to be as good or nearly as good as Chase, there’s every reason to trade down.
Reason 2: Say the Houston Texans remain adamant against trading Watson and say Watson then doesn’t report to work in July.. or August… or September. And say the Texans then finally realize they must trade him because he’s serious about never playing for them again.
Acquiring additional draft inventory in 2022 — including a likely second first-round pick — would allow Miami to make a legitimate offer for Watson at that point.
At the moment, only two teams have two first-round picks in 2022: the Jets (who could take Wilson at No. 2 in this draft) and the Lions (who just traded for Jared Goff and want to see what they have). The Dolphins, Jets and Jaguars have two first-round picks in 2021.
If Miami added a second first-round pick in 2022, the Dolphins would be in position to offer both first-rounders, a 2023 or 2024 first rounder and a player to get Watson if he’s not made available until the summer.
And I find this notable: Even with four picks in the top 50 of this draft, some of the biggest decisions affecting the Dolphins in this draft will be made by other teams: Houston, Philadelphia, Carolina and Denver.
Houston, of course, because Miami’s desire to trade for Watson (confirmed by multiple sources) can become a reality only if the Texans change their position and make him available.
And I include Philadelphia (picking sixth), Carolina (eighth), and Denver (ninth) because their interest in Fields or Lance will ultimately determine whether a trade-down becomes a realistic opportunity for Miami.
If one of those teams falls in love with Fields or Lance — and this presumes Wilson goes second to the Jets or another team in a trade, which is no sure thing — then Miami will be positioned to add future draft inventory and take a receiver that it really likes at No. 6 or No. 8 or No. 9.
So root for the Eagles, Panthers or Broncos to become convinced that they need to move up for a quarterback. Or, of course, keep rooting for Watson to be made available.
Philadelphia appears the least likely of those three to try to move up to No. 3 amid ESPN insider Chris Mortensen’s report on Monday that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie “has instructed his group to prioritize making Jalen Hurts successful in 2021 as opposed to creating a true competition.”
Even though getting a top offensive weapon at 3 (Chase, Pitts, Smith) would be welcomed, the other opportunities with that pick (Watson or a trade-down) offer more delicious possibilities for the Dolphins.
THIS AND THAT
As for that McShay mock draft, he explains Miami’s trade down and selection of Smith at No. 8 this way:
”Miami GM Chris Grier has to be happy with this outcome. First, the Dolphins trade back a few spots for extra picks. Then one of the top two wide receivers is still there when it is their turn to pick.
“Giving quarterback Tua Tagovailoa one of his favorite targets from his Alabama days would surely improve his QBR when throwing to wide receivers, which ranked No. 31 of 33 qualified QBs last season (60.8). Smith, fresh off a Heisman-winning, record-breaking season in Tuscaloosa, is super explosive and shows savviness in his route running.”
At No. 18, McShay has the Dolphins taking Southern Cal guard Elijah Vera-Tucker, which I consider unlikely considering Miami has Ereck Flowers, Jesse Davis and Solomon Kindley and greater needs elsewhere.
McShay explains that “Vera-Tucker anchors well in pass pro and has allowed just four pressures over his past two seasons at USC. The Dolphins were among the most blitzed teams in the NFL last season (33.1% of dropbacks), and much like we’ve discussed with the Bengals and Chargers, you need to protect a young quarterback -- especially if he has an injury history like Tagovailoa does.”
McShay, in this mock, has Miami bypassing UM receiver Kadarius Toney (19th); UM defensive ends Greg Rousseau (21st) and Jaelan Phillips (22nd) and Alabama running back Najee Harris (24th).
▪ It’s worth noting that draft analyst Matt Miller, who has done good work in his new TV role with ESPN, has Miami also making that trade with Carolina but receiving less in return. He suggests Carolina trades picks 8 and 39 and a 2022 second rounder and 2022 fourth-rounder to Miami for the third pick. I’m not sure that’s enough.
Miller then has Miami trading picks Nos. 8, 18, 36 and 39 overall and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to Houston for Watson.
If Watson becomes available, the Dolphins plan to pursue it, as we’ve reported. Two things that should concern the Dolphins: The Jets can offer more and better first-round inventory, including the second pick in next month’s draft compared to Miami’s pick at No. 3, and two first-rounders in 2022 compared to Miami’s one.
The Dolphins also could be concerned that a team you wouldn’t necessarily expect offers a good quarterback as part of a package for Watson (such as Arizona offering Kyler Murray, as a hypothetical).
▪ The Dolphins on Monday tendered contracts to three exclusive rights free agents: cornerbacks Nik Needham and Jamal Perry and linebacker Calvin Munson. Needham, who was generally effective in the slot last season, will make $850,000 in 2021. All are expected back. The Dolphins did not tender their fourth exclusive rights free agent, quarterback Jake Rudock.
Here’s my Monday Dolphins piece on their safeties, part 6 on an 8-part series.
Here’s my Monday Heat piece with scouts assessing the Heat and their trade options.