There isn't a team in the NFL that has better assets than the Miami Dolphins, a franchise that has stockpiled draft capital to be used over the next several seasons. There's a reason general manager Chris Grier has the Dolphins in prime position to take over the league, collecting five first-round picks, four second-round picks and four third-round picks over the next three years.
Miami is coming off a surprising 10-6 season and is the Buffalo Bills' biggest threat for the AFC East title in 2021. The Dolphins can close the gap even more by having an excellent draft, starting with the two first-round picks they currently have. Miami holds the No. 6 and No. 18 picks in this draft, setting the franchise up with the ability to draft a difference-maker on offense and another Week 1 starter in the middle of the first round.
The Dolphins have enough draft capital -- thanks to the Houston Texans -- to make a play at another difference-maker in this draft and make the offense even better. This is part of the perfect draft plan the Dolphins need to execute in the coming weeks, one that will ensure an excellent second season for Tua Tagovailoa and get Miami to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
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Ja'Marr Chase or bust
Miami was in prime position to select Chase with the No. 3 overall pick, but it didn't need to select Chase that high. The Dolphins traded down to No. 12 and added two first-round picks from the San Francisco 49ers, then used one of them to trade back up No. 6 in the hopes of selecting Chase (basically adding a first-round pick to move down three spots).
Grier read the draft board. The top three picks are going to be quarterbacks and if the Atlanta Falcons trade out of No. 4, there's an excellent chance the fourth pick will be a quarterback as well (even if Atlanta stays at No. 4, a wide receiver shouldn't be in the cards for the Falcons). That leaves the Cincinnati Bengals as the only team standing in the way of the Dolphins' pursuit of Chase. Cincinnati could draft Chase and pair him with franchise quarterback Joe Burrow again, but the Bengals need to protect their asset and improve the offensive line (tight end Kyle Pitts is also a potential play there).
The Dolphins just need to sit at No. 6 and dwell on the excellent odds Chase is going to be there. Pairing Chase with Devante Parker, Will Fuller, and Preston Williams gives Miami one of the top wide receiver units in the NFL -- including a No. 1 in Chase that can make Tagovailoa a star for a decade.
Chase is the best wide receiver in this draft with the potential to change a game every time he comes down with a catch. He is just what the Dolphins need.
Offensive lineman at No. 18
This will be an interesting conversation for the Dolphins, specifically since running back Travis Etienne will likely be on the board when Miami is on the clock for its second first-round pick. There is no reason for Miami to reach for Etienne here, not when the Dolphins have to make sure Tagovailoa is protected up front.
Adding an edge rusher would be ideal too, but the Dolphins have prioritized the offensive line over the past year (Austin Jackson in the first round and Robert Hunt in the second round in last year's draft were part of the process). Miami could use some more help on the right side of the line, especially since Tagovailoa is a left-handed quarterback.
Hunt showed a lot of progress at the end of last year, but adding a player like Alijah Vera-Tucker will be tough to pass up if they fall to No. 18. Vera-Tucker actually lined up next to Jackson at USC, so the two have some chemistry already -- and he projects as an excellent guard at the next level with his strong punch at the line and his ability to dominate in run blocking. Vera-Tucker is a strong play here if he's available.
If Christian Darrisaw falls to No. 18, Miami would be hard pressed to pass on him too. Darrisaw has excellent footwork for a player his size and can start at tackle or guard in the NFL. Again this is all about protecting Tagovailoa, which is what both Vera-Tucker and Darrisaw can do.
Trade for another first-round pick, draft Travis Etienne
The Dolphins have enough draft capital to trade back into the first round and draft Etienne, the No. 1 running back Miami needs to complete an already exciting offense. The Dolphins can't bank on Etienne falling to them at No. 36, but can package that pick and that No. 81 pick to get back into the first round and land him. Miami still has a second-round pick to spare (No. 50), a selection the Dolphins can use to collect more picks in this draft (Miami just has a fifth-round pick and two seventh-round picks left).
Since the Dolphins don't have many picks past the third round, use the assets collected and move up to select Etienne -- one of the most explosive running back prospects in this draft. Najee Harris would be tough to pass up here, but Etienne appears to be a better fit for an offense with fresh ideas under co-offensive coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey. Etienne can force his way through tacklers and has the elusiveness to make them miss, creating a big play in the process. His route-running is very polished for a running back, an added weapon for Tagovailoa. Etienne is a player the Dolphins will want to get the ball to 15 or 20 times a game.
The Dolphins have Myles Gaskin and Malcolm Brown in their rotation, but Etienne would be the No. 1 running back in this committee. Even if the Dolphins want to ease him slowly into the league, Etienne will make an immediate impact in an already stacked offense. Trading up to draft Etienne is the final piece of the puzzle for Miami to keep pace with Buffalo's offense and score enough points to keep the New England Patriots out of reach.
The Dolphins have set themselves up to win now. They are built to make the playoffs in 2021 and this draft is blueprint toward making that happen.