The 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and now it’s time to grade the Miami Dolphins 2021 draft class and the job the Dolphins organization did. I know, I know many people feel you can’t truly grade a draft for 3 years. To which I say that is hogwash! In my opinion, you can grade a draft right after it happens as you take into account team needs, scouting reports on the players, and the general consensus of thought around the player in regards to the draft class. Essentially grading the player taken against the other options they had at the time of the pick.
In 3 years, you are judging and grading the performance of this rookie class, today though, right after the draft, you are grading the logic behind the selections and how they do (or don’t) improve the team on paper, and does the pick make sense.
My overall Draft grade for the Miami Dolphins is an A-. I feel the Dolphins went into this draft with a mission and a game plan and stuck to it and got exactly what they needed with this class. They need to help out rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa first and foremost, and with 3 of their first 5 draft picks, that is exactly what they did. On top of improving the offense they needed to come out of this draft with an edge rusher, and in the minds of many and the majority, they got the #1 edge rusher in this draft. The only thing preventing this from being an A+ grade is the trade down from 3 to 12 then back up to 6 might (again might) have prevented the Dolphins from getting the best WR in this class (even though the Dolphins will tell you they got the #1 WR on their board.) And the Jevon Holland selection at the top of round 2 (while adding a great player) comes off as more of a luxury pick than filling a need.
The Dolphins clearly went into this draft with the thought process of drafting the best available player above all else and not overreaching for a need. When they had those two things line up, they took advantage of that, but they didn’t stray far from their board and stuck with BPA above all else.
So, with the Dolphins receiving an A- grade overall, let’s break down each and grade every individual pick.
Round 1-Pick #6- Jaylen Waddle WR Alabama (Grade A)
The top priority for the Dolphins in this draft was to get playmakers to surround Tua, and with Waddle at the top of Round 1, they did just that. When you think of Jaylen Waddle, the first thing that comes to mind is “Instant Offense.” Speed, big-play ability, and someone who can make a small play into a big play. This is something the Dolphins haven’t had in recent years and something their offense was badly missing. The Dolphins are saying Waddle was their #1 WR in this draft class. Do I believe them? I don’t know, probably not. But even if they are lying, he was clearly their #2 WR on the board, and being able to get him and pair him up with his former college quarterback seems like a win-win to me. I expect big things from Waddle immediately, and his game translates very well to the NFL, and his speed should allow him to make an immediate impact this upcoming season. Waddle, Fuller, Parker, Preston=No Excuses For Tua in 2021!
Round 1-Pick #18- Jaelan Phillips DE Miami (Grade A)
The Dolphins had a huge void at the edge rusher position, and Phillips fills that void. The only thing preventing this from being an A+ grade is that Phillips has a history of concussions, so there is some inherent risk here with this selection. With that said, though, Phillips was too good for the Dolphins to pass up as he checks literally every box you want from a defensive end/edge rusher. Athletic, strong, fast, good bend, and a knack of getting to the quarterback. He is the ultimate disruptor and someone who makes quarterbacks uncomfortable. The Miami Dolphins haven’t had a player like that in many years from the defensive end position. Some have said he is the best natural pass rusher to enter the draft in the past five years. Others have even compared him to Chase Young; the 2nd overall draft pick out of Ohio St in the 2020 draft who had a great rookie season for the Washington Football Team. If Phillips plays anywhere close to that, then Miami got the steal of Round 1 by selecting him 18th overall.
Round 2-Pick #36- Jevon Holland S Oregon (B-)
This is the “We Drafted Minkah Fitzpatrick Two Years Ago and Were Forced to Trade him and Now We Still Have to Replace Him” selection for the Dolphins. A couple of things here when breaking down this selection. Is Holland a good football player worthy of being the 36th draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft? YES! Does it fill a need for the Miami Dolphins? NO. I think Holland will be a great player for the Dolphins because he is a great player. But in a perfect world, if the 2019 Miami Dolphins first-round pick (Fitzpatrick) were still on the team, this pick would not be needed. Also, if Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe didn’t have larger contracts than they should have, this pick may not be needed. As the Dolphins have a salary cap situation, they need to clear up and fix, and one (or possibly both) of those guys will be shown the door, most likely in the coming days, weeks, and months. And if the plan is to move on from one of them, well, you better have a capable replacement ready to go. Holland is the total package, and many had him as a 1st round draft choice and the #1 safety in the draft. Everyone didn’t have that opinion (the ones who didn’t had him as the 2nd best safety), but some did and for Miami to get him at pick #36 is great. But, let’s be totally honest here. If past draft mistakes didn’t happen, this pick wouldn’t be necessary. Hence, the B- grade.
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Round 2-Pick#42- Liam Eichenberg OT Notre Dame (B+)
The only thing preventing this from being an A or A+ grade is that the Dolphins had to trade up and part with a 3rd round draft selection in 2022 to make this pick. Eichenberg is by far my favorite pick in this draft by the Dolphins. One word comes to mind when thinking of Eichenberg, and that word is “RELIABLE.” In college, he didn’t get beat; he rarely makes mistakes and is just consistently good. Will he ever be an all-pro or pro bowler? Who knows, but I don’t think he will ever be a liability or weakness on an offensive line either. I see him as a total plug-n-play type player who, once he gets in the starting lineup he will probably never leave it. The Dolphins selected 3 offensive linemen in the first 4 rounds in 2020, and those players have promise. The 3rd round selection of Michael Dieter appears to be a bust, and the free-agent signing of Ereck Flowers was a total whiff by Grier, and because of that, this pick is needed. Overall though, I think Eichenberg will see the field quickly for the Dolphins, and once again, adding a piece to make Tua’s life easier is what this draft is all about. I love that the Dolphins continued to invest in Tua by adding a more than capable body to protect him and make his life easier.
Round 3-Pick #81- Hunter Long TE Boston College (A)
This is probably the most controversial pick of the entire Miami Dolphins draft, but I have to admit I like it, and it makes total sense to me. Let’s start with the obvious (and not to beat a dead horse) it is an investment in Tua and provides him with another weapon. Which, again, is what this draft is all about. Second, while the Dolphins have a very deep, tight end room currently when you break it down, you can see why this pick makes total sense. Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe are in the final years of their contracts. Will both be back after the 2021 season? Who knows. With Gesicki, we all want him to return, but in this league, players leave and jump teams all the time. Miami has to be prepared for that. And with Smythe, while he is a nice player, he is also a very ordinary player who doesn’t provide much value or help as a receiver. And this is a passing league, and for tight ends, you need to be a capable receiver to hold a roster spot these days. Adam Shaheen is a nice tight end, but Hunter Long is a better prospect and brings more to the table. And that’s where this pick makes sense for the Dolphins. You can like Smythe and Shaheen, but Long is just a better player on paper and has a better skill set. So, “best-case scenario,” you have a great 1-2 punch of Gesicki and Long causing havoc on the field and making it tough for opposing defensive coordinators to figure out ways to stop the Miami Dolphins tight end tandem the next few years (assuming they can re-sign and get Gesicki an extension). Or, “worst-case scenario” Gesicki is gone after the 2021 season, and you have a tight end whose strength is as a receiver already on your roster ready to step up into a larger role and fill Gesicki’s shoes (but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.)
Round 7-Pick #231- Larnel Coleman OT UMASS (C+)
This is a tough one to grade, I will admit, but by no means is this a bad pick. It is Miami drafting a player at the end of the draft that is a project. And it is OK to draft projects late in the draft if you feel you can coach a kid up, and in a year or two, you think he can become a contributor and help your team win games. Coleman has great traits, height, weight, arm length….everything you want in an NFL Offensive tackle. What he doesn’t have is seasoning or experience playing against high-level competition. But, let’s go back to the main theme of this draft. Get Tua help and draft offense early and often. Miami stuck to that theory here even at the end of the draft in Round 7 and takes someone in Coleman who maybe not right away will be a big help to Tua. Still, if he develops like the Dolphins front office hopes, he could be a player who is a contributor in years to come.
Round 7-Pick #244- Gerrid Doaks RB Cincinnati (B)
With the final pick the Dolphins made in the 2021 NFL Draft; they got a good little player here. Doaks was a productive running back at Cincinnati when he was healthy. Now, he had a ton of injuries in college and missed a lot of time. That is why he fell to the end of the draft. But when healthy, he has a good skill set that can translate to the NFL game. Good size, good in pass protection, not very fast, but has a good balance which is key in the NFL for running backs. I like what they got here late in the draft. Fans and media members were banging the table for the team to take a running back early in this draft (and in last year’s draft as well), but it didn’t work out for them. There were reports the Dolphins tried trading back into Round 1 to get a running back but could not do so. So, if you aren’t going to get one of the Top 3 running backs in this year’s draft (and there was a clear and steep drop off after those top 3 running backs), then getting one here in Round 7, in my opinion, is just as good as getting one in Round 3 or 5, or 7. Doaks has a shot in Miami. Mainly because the Dolphins running back room isn’t all that good, and he doesn’t have a bunch of competition he has to beat out for a job.