The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Miami Dolphins 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (6)
Round 1 (18)
Round 2 (36)
Round 2 (50)
Round 3 (81)
Round 5 (156)
Round 7 (231)
Round 7 (258)
Miami Dolphins Offense
By Rich Hribar
Miami made a controversial change over to Tua Tagovailoa after their Week 7 bye last season and the results were a complete mixed bag.
On one hand, Miami posted a 6-3 record in Tagovailoa’s nine starts, but on the other hand, they also pulled him from two games during that span while the rookie had plenty of his own struggles. It also did not help the imprint of Tagovailoa’s rookie season that Justin Herbert was selected one pick after and had so much rookie season success.
Tagovailoa managed just 6.3 yards per pass attempt (37th) with 11 touchdown passes. Entering an offseason with no workouts and coming off a major injury, we did not even know if Tagovailoa would play as a rookie and the Dolphins only gave him marginal surrounding help.
Tua’s top receivers on the season were Mike Gesicki (29 receptions), Lynn Bowden (27), DeVante Parker (23), and Jakeem Grant (21). We are still left with questioning how much Alabama’s supreme talent depth at receiver played a role in elevating Tagovailoa as a prospect, but Miami’s moves this offseason signal they do not see him as an immediate sunk cost and are committed to giving him more assets in year two.
The team added veteran Jacoby Brissett on a one-year deal behind Tagovailoa to give them their quarterback pairing for the offseason. They could potentially add a late-round rookie to compete as the QB3, but would be better off using the draft capital elsewhere.
The Dolphins came out of 2020 ranking 29th in expected points added via their rushing game (-19.9 points). While their backfield ranked just 23rd in touches (24.9) per game, they were 18th in yards from scrimmage per game (123.3 yards) and 14th in yards per touch (5.0 yards).
Myles Gaskin was a surprise hit for Miami. Despite signing Jordan Howard in free agency and then trading for Matt Breida during the NFL Draft last offseason, it was Gaskin who led the Miami backfield. In 10 games played, Gaskin turned 183 touches into 972 yards and five scores. His 18.3 touches per game were ninth at the position while his 97.2 yards per game were 10th. Effective in the passing game, Gaskin was fifth at the position with 4.1 receptions per game while his 9.5 yards per reception were second among all running backs with 20 or catches on the year.
Gaskin is making under $1 million in each of the next two seasons and was pacing for over 1,500 yards from scrimmage over a full 16 games, but there is a fragility to Gaskin’s commitment from the organization. Gaskin is a smaller-framed back at 200-pounds back who converted just 3-of-9 carries inside of the 5-yard line. That role could go to a bigger body in 2021.
The team also did add a bigger body to the fold by signing Malcolm Brown on a one-year deal. To start his career, Brown has converted 8-of-15 carries inside of the 5-yard line for touchdowns.
Miami also got production when needed from Salvon Ahmed, who had 128 yards on 24 touches when pressed into action as a starter. Ahmed is an exclusive rights free agent after 2021.
The Dolphins are once again a popular hotspot for projecting a rookie back to land. They were in a similar position a year ago where everyone assumed they would add a top backfield prospect and they went the old-fashioned Patriots route of piecemealing the position. Already showing they can squeeze production going that route, they do not need to go all-in on a top running back early if they can get improved offensive line play.
But while the backfield can be more productive in 2021 without investing major capital at the position with either of their first rounds picks, Miami is wide open contractually while having questionable long-term talent on the roster to still explore adding a back from this draft class to their stable.
Miami came into 2020 with limited talent at wide receiver and lost a number of the limited bodies they had along the way. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opted out for the season while DeVante Parker (two games), Preston Williams (eight games), and Jakeem Grant (two games) each missed multiple games in-season. To compound matters, they then turned things over to a rookie passer for half of the season.
By the end of the season, Miami wideouts ranked 17th in receptions (12.6) and 27th in receiving yards per game (140.0 yards) while 27th in touchdown receptions (11) as a group.
Parker (signed through 2023), Grant (2023), and Hurns (2022) are under contract for multiple seasons as are rookie contract players Lynn Bowden, Malcolm Perry, and Kirk Merritt. The team can release Hurns ($3.4M) or Wilson ($2.3M) if they feel they have to.
Williams has played just eight games in each of his first two seasons in the NFL, suffering an ACL injury in 2019 and a foot injury a year ago. After 4.0 receptions for 53.5 yards per game as a rookie, Williams sagged to 2.3 receptions for 36.0 yards per game in 2020. He will be a restricted free agent after this upcoming season.
Miami already has made a major addition this offseason by signing Will Fuller to a one-year contract. Prior to suspension last year, Fuller had career-highs with 4.8 receptions and 79.9 yards per game with eight touchdowns. Fuller still has to serve one more game on that suspension from last season to kick off 2021, but his addition does gives Tagovailoa a significant separator at the position, something he did not have a year ago.
Making the commitment to Tua and only giving Fuller a one-year deal, Miami also should not be done adding wideouts to the fold here.
Miami may not have had success at the receiver position last year, but they did at the tight end position. The Dolphins targeted their tight ends 25% of the time (ninth in the league) while they had a 60% success rate (seventh) and averaged 7.7 yards per target (ninth) on throws to tight ends.
Mike Gesicki has raised his touchdowns, yards per catch, receptions, and yardage per game in each season of his career, but does enter 2021 on the final season of his rookie contract. With Tagovailoa under center, Gesicki caught 29-of-43 targets (67.4%) for 308 yards (7.2 yards per target) and three touchdowns after catching 24-of-42 targets (57.1%) for 395 yards (9.4 Y/T) with three scores from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Gesicki has ranked 12th (5.6) and 13th (5.7) at the position in targets per game the past two seasons.
Depth options Adam Shaheen (signed through 2022) and Cethan Carter (2023) have multi-year deals with the team. Gesicki’s expiring contract could keep the door open for Miami to add a player here, but is not a pressing need.
LT: Austin Jackson/Jesse Davis
LG: Solomon Kindley/Michael Deiter
C: Matt Skura*/Tyler Gauthier/Cameron Tom
RG: Robert Hunt/Adam Pankey
RT: D.J. Fluker*/Jonathan Hubbard
While Miami has not been flush with talent at running back or wide receiver, their real offensive issues all circle back to their offensive line performance. Miami ranked 27th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (51%) and 23rd in their Run Block Win Rate (69%) metrics. Per Pro Football Focus, Miami collectively graded out 21st in pass blocking and 30th in run blocking.
A year ago, Miami used the No. 18 and No. 39 overall picks on Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt. Jackson took 79.4% of the left tackle snaps as a rookie, allowing 38 pressures. Jackson’s 7.0% pressure rate allowed per pass blocking snap was the seventh-highest among 45 tackles to play over 500 snaps in pass protection in 2020. Per Pro Football Focus, Jackson ended the season grading out as the 50th tackle among 52 to play 50% of the team snaps.
Hunt was a bit better. He played 66.7% of the right tackle snaps, allowing 23 pressures (5.1% of pass blocking snaps). He also was ninth in penalty rate per snap played among tackles last season with eight penalties while ranking 37th in the same player grades used above for Jackson.
The team also selected Solomon Kindley in the fourth round last season, who started 13 games for the Dolphins as a rookie, but finished 46th out of 48 qualifying guards per Pro Football Focus.
The real question is how much of these struggles does Miami chalk up to being inexperienced and do they still have faith in this trio of rookies as long-term assets. With Kindley being a fourth-rounder, likely not much, and the addition D.J. Fluker could make him the team’s starting right guard or provide insurance should Miami have to move someone such as Hunt inside.
Playing 568 of his 593 snaps last season at right tackle, Fluker actually was a lower-graded tackle than Hunt last season. But Fluker was a full-time right guard over the previous five seasons for three different teams. At tackle last season, Fluker allowed pressure on 10.2% of his pass blocking snaps, the highest rate in the league among all tackles with 100-plus pass blocking reps.
Center Matt Skura was only signed to a one-year contract and was the 49th graded center in 2020 out of 55 qualifiers, leaving center as another position to target as the draft progresses. Miami has a hodgepodge of investments and bodies at the position, but the quality here on a per-player basis is still highly suspect enough that it should not move them out of taking any highly graded player on their board.
Miami Dolphins Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Durval Neto Queiroz
The Dolphins have a defense in which many of the defensive positions merge. There are players who line up along the defensive line and those who stand up behind them. Then there are plays when everyone is up.
Christian Wilkins ranked sixth in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate among defensive tackles last season. Wilkins played 61.1% of the defensive snaps for the Dolphins last season and as a 2019 first-round pick, he’s still under contract through at least 2022 with a fifth-year option for 2023.
Miami signed Adam Butler in the offseason and he ranked seventh among defensive tackles in pressure rate last season, according to Sports Info Solutions. He played 47% of the defensive snaps for the Patriots in each of the past two seasons and totaled 10 sacks in that time.
2020 second-round pick Raekwon Davis struggled a bit early in the season but came on as the year progressed. The 300-plus-pounder was able to play 52% of the defensive snaps in the middle of the defensive line — though Miami’s ranked just 22nd in defensive DVOA.
Zach Seiler, 2018 seventh-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, was waived by Baltimore in the 2019 season and signed with the Dolphins. Seiler played 51% of the defensive snaps for the Dolphins, had 3.5 sacks with 11 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. He signed a three-year extension with Miami in the offseason.
Only the New England Patriots (22%) and the Carolina Panthers (20%) rushed three defenders more often than the Dolphins (17%) in 2020.
Andrew Van Ginkel
Linebackers for the Dolphins have to be able to do a little bit of everything. Emmanuel Ogbah (98.4% rush rate) and Shaq Lawson (90.9%) rush rate were the two main edge rushers. Jerome Baker was the closest to the prototypical off-ball linebacker and he still rushed the passer on 21.1% of his pass snaps. Everyone else was somewhere in between. With Lawson now gone, the Dolphins appear to be leaning more into the hybrid model.
With so many players rushing the passer, it might be expected that the Dolphins had one of the highest blitz rates in the league. But that wasn’t the case. Miami blitzed at the 14th-highest rate in the league. The kicker is the Dolphins rushed four (52%) at the lowest rate in the league. The question for opposing offenses was constantly not just how many rushers are coming, but also which players will be the ones rushing.
With Kyle Van Noy gone (43.9% rush rate), there will be more playing time for 2019 fifth-round pick Andrew Van Ginkel. Van Ginkel played 46.4% of the defensive snaps, rushed the passer on 69.2% of his pass snaps, and finished with the seventh-highest pressure rate among edge rushers.
Bennardrick McKinney was the return in the Shaq Lawson trade. McKinney played in only four games during the 2020 season but during the 2019 season, he rushed on 22% of his pass snaps, per SIS, so his role should be fit in perfectly on this defense.
Xavien Howard was one of the league’s best cornerbacks last season. He ranked eighth among 148 cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap and allowed the third-lowest completion percentage among that group.
Last season’s big free agent signing, Byron Jones, was merely slight above average (72nd among those cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap) but that was more than enough while playing opposite Howard. Jones only had four passes defensed in coverage but had his first multi-interception season of his career.
Noah Igbinoghene was one of last year’s first-round picks and he had his rookie struggled as many rookie cornerbacks did in 2020. Igninoghene ranked 137th out of those 148 corners in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. Most of that was done as an outside corner, spelling Howard or Jones. He played on just 27.8% of the defensive snaps.
2019 undrafted free agent Nik Needam was the team’s main slot corner, on the field for 59.7% of the defensive snaps. Needam ranked 99th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap in 2020. Miami took a low-cost shot at a bounce-back from Justin Coleman (one-year/$2.25 million), who was one of the league’s best slot cornerbacks with the Seattle Seahawks before two down seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Eric Rowe bounced all around the secondary last season, but his coverage didn’t always hold up. Among 34 safeties with at least 400 coverage snaps, Rowe ranked 31st in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap.
Bobby McCain was more often the team’s deep safety but he was also one of the heaviest blitzing safeties in the league. Though among 24 safeties with at least 30 pass rushes, McCain ranked 23rd in pressure rate.
Rowe and McCain both played 89% of the defensive snaps last season and they’re both signed through 2022. However, there is potential cap space to be cleared on each contract if they’re let go following the 2021 season. Safety could be a sneak position where the Dolphins could add some talent in the draft. Given the hybrid roles of many safeties in the draft class, there could be a number of fits for this defense.