Breaking Down the 2021 NFL Draft: Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins entered the 2021 NFL Draft with eight draft picks, and after trading their fifth-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for a 2022 fourth rounder, wound up making seven selections.

Last year we saw the Dolphins’ front office focus on beefing up the trenches with six of their 11 selections being players on the offensive or defensive line/edge rushers. The focus changed a bit in 2021 as the Dolphins selected three offensive skill players – most notably Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle – in an attempt to surround second-year quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, with skill players to grow and develop with.

Expectations are higher than they’ve been in quite some time after a 10-win season last year and a successful offseason via free agency/draft this year, so let’s take a look at the newest members of the Miami Dolphins and see how they’ll factor into the team’s plan moving forward.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Round 1, Pick 6

In the opinion of several Dolphins fans, the nightmare situation played out on Thursday night when the Falcons selected Kyle Pitts prior to the Bengals picking Ja’Marr Chase. However, according to what people within the Dolphins’ organization are saying, Waddle was the team’s top-ranked receiver in the entire draft. Now, teams can say whatever they’d like and they could just be saying this simply because Waddle is the one they ended up with, but for the sake of this article we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Waddle has elite speed, playmaking ability, and was on pace to be Alabama’s leading receiver last season prior to going down to injury only to return for the team’s National Championship game against Ohio State. Speaking of returning for that game against OSU, while he was clearly less than 100%, limping off the field after nearly every single snap he took, NFL talent evaluators allegedly fell in love with Waddle’s commitment to the team and his desire to play in the most important game of the season. Waddle is a big play waiting to happen, as proven by his yards per catch during his time in Alabama. Over his three-year collegiate career, Waddle averaged 18.9 yards per catch and he found the end zone on 16% of his career receptions. He’s a perfect fit in Miami as the Dolphins attempt to surround Tua Tagovailoa with skill players that play to his strengths. Opposing defenses will already be in fits pre snap trying to figure out how they’ll defend the Dolphins’ offense when the team trots out DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, Mike Gesicki and Waddle. If you opt to send safety help for both Fuller and Waddle as downfield speed threats, I like Parker and Gesicki’s odds in one-on-one coverage. If defenses opt to play zone coverage, and the Dolphins’ offensive line is able to give Tagovailoa time to scan through his reads, these skill players have plenty of ability as route runners and playmakers to give Tua a window for him to put his elite accuracy on display. Not only does Waddle project as one of the team’s top pass catchers for the foreseeable future, but he’ll likely make an immediate impact already in 2021 given his unique playmaking ability and the fact that Parker and Fuller have been plagued by injuries throughout their careers. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee that one of them will get hurt in ’21, but I would say the odds are that at least one of them will miss some time this upcoming season for one reason or another. At the end of the day, the Dolphins got the playmaker they coveted this offseason and he instantly gives this offense the ability to go to the next level.

Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
Round 1, Pick 18

The Dolphins selected the first edge rusher of the 2021 NFL Draft when they made Phillips the pick at No. 18 overall. Let’s start with the negative in regards to Phillips and get that out of the way. Outside of not being elite when it comes to setting the edge in the run game (not that he’s bad, it’s just something he’ll have to continue working on at the next level), Phillips’ biggest red flag is his medical history. It’s well documented that he medically retired while attending UCLA due to concussions. However, in his one season in Miami, Phillips bounced back with eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss in just 10 games. He was one of the top-ranked players coming out of high school and his athleticism jumps off the screen. The Dolphins needed to add an edge rusher this offseason and you could argue that they got the best one this draft class had to offer. This pick at No. 18, at least in the eyes of Dolphins’ front office members, was a true hybrid selection of best player available and position of need. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for Phillips to become a regular in the defense’s front seven. Emmanuel Ogbah is locked in as one of the team’s defensive ends, but additional pass rushers seem likely to be on a bit of a rotation, especially when you consider how the Dolphins schemed to put pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks last season. Phillips may not post huge sack totals, especially in his first couple of seasons as the Dolphins are a bit unique with how they scheme to rush the passer, but he’ll definitely help create opportunities for others based on how much chaos he can cause coming off the edge.

Jevon Holland, S, Oregon
Round 2, Pick 36

I was interested in seeing what Miami would do with this pick if Javonte Williams was on the board, however, the Denver Broncos traded up to No. 35 and made him their selection. With the “big-three” running backs off the board, the Dolphins opted to address the secondary by selecting Oregon’s Jevon Holland. A 6’1″, 207 lbs safety, Holland was the first at his position off the board after being selected before both Richie Grant (UCF) and Trevon Moehrig (TCU). Holland can roam as a deep safety while also having the versatility to man up opposing team’s slot receivers and tight ends. In fact, 64% of his snaps while at Oregon came while covering the slot. Prior to opting out of the 2020 college football season, Holland compiled 108 tackles and nine interceptions, proving to be one of the best ballhawk safeties in the draft. Holland joins current safeties Bobby McCain, Eric Rowe and last year’s third-round selection, Brandon Jones. While Holland may not see the field as a starter immediately for the Dolphins, he’ll likely factor in as a regular contributor in 2022 considering the fact that Rowe is due a little over $5 million in ’22 while McCain is due $7.7 million.

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Liam Eichenberg, OL, Notre Dame
Round 2, Pick 42

Eichenberg fits the Brian Flores mold of an offensive lineman due to his ability to play multiple positions. He started at left tackle at Notre Dame, but he’ll likely play right tackle, or kick in to guard at the next level in Miami. The most eye-opening stat floating around regarding Eichenberg is the fact that he didn’t allow a single sack over the course of his final two season at Notre Dame. The Dolphins did pay up to land Eichenberg, as they packaged No. 50 overall and a 2022 third rounder to move up to No. 42, but offensive line was definitely still a position of need this offseason despite signing Matt Skura and D.J. Fluker earlier this offseason. If I had to guess today as to what the ’21 starting offensive line will look like, I’d go: LT: Austin Jackson, LG: Solomon Kindley, C: Skura, RG: Robert Hunt, RT: Eichenberg. However, the specifics as to who starts where will be sorted out over the course of training camp and preseason.

Hunter Long, TE, Boston College
Round 3, Pick 81

While the Dolphins may not have landed Pitts in the first round, they still decided to address the position in the third round in the form of Boston College tight end, Hunter Long. Adding a running back such as Michael Carter or adding depth to the offensive line seemed to be the way the Dolphins would go here, but with both Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe entering the final year of their rookie deals, Miami opted to add Long to the tight end room. Long was a player that the Dolphins got a good look at this offseason as the team’s coaching staff had the opportunity to work with him earlier this year at the Senior Bowl. Additionally, Long posted respectable numbers in his junior season at Boston College, finishing with 57 receptions for 685 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. I wouldn’t expect much in regards to statistical production out of Long in ’21, but add him to the list of playmakers the team has added to support the growth of Tagovailoa.

Larnel Coleman, OL, UMass
Round 7, Pick 231

The name of the game when it comes to Coleman is athleticism. He’s got good bend and movement for his size, which allows him to stay in front of his man during pass-blocking reps. Coleman had the second-longest arm length of all draft-eligible prospects, and his wingspan measured out at a whopping 84 7/8 inches. Even with his incredibly long arms, Coleman proved his strength at his pro day with 24 bench press reps at 225 lbs. Also, he helped solidify his athleticism by running a 5.17 40-yard dash at 6’6″ 307 lbs. One of the biggest knocks on Coleman is that he can be a bit aggressive with his first punch after the snap, which if he doesn’t land and engage with the defender lined up across from him, can lead to his technique being compromised for the remainder of the play. Coleman allowed just four quarterback pressures in four games his senior season at UMass, which is a significant improvement to the 2-3 pressures he allowed per game during his two previous seasons. Coleman faces an uphill battle being a seventh-round pick, but Flores and Chris Grier once again didn’t shy away from adding competition to the team’s offensive line unit.

Gerrid Doaks, RB, Cincinnati
Round 7, Pick 244

The Dolphins landed a bruising-style running back in the seventh round in the form of Cincinnati’s Gerrid Doaks. At 5’11” 228 lbs, Doaks amassed 673 rushing yards on 144 carries while totaling nine touchdowns as a senior at Cincinnati. While his stats aren’t “eye-popping”, his play style is. He’s not scared to be forceful as a high-effort/motor player, and he also can stay on the field on third downs as a very good blocker (allowed just one sack in 130 career pass-protection reps) with the ability to perform adequately as a pass catcher (14-202-2 last season). He also forced 25 missed tackles last year and totaled 17 runs that went for 10+ yards. He missed the 2018 season with a sports hernia injury and then became a backup 2019 before regaining the starting role in ’20. Doaks joins an interesting Dolphins’ running back room that also features Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed. While all of these guys have found some success at one point or another during their NFL careers, none of them are what most would consider a “feature” back, so there will definitely be an opportunity for Doaks to make a name for himself this offseason.

If you’re looking for more draft content, be sure to check out our 2021 NFL Draft first-round grades & recap article!

Ben Morgan is a co-host and blogger for the Loaded Box Podcast. Check out his article archive and find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook

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