Experts discuss better Dolphins WR fit: Ja'Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith?

DAVIE, Fla. -- A top Miami Dolphins priority this offseason is surrounding quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with better offensive playmakers, and their top asset is the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

The draft's top two wide receivers -- Alabama's DeVonta Smith and LSU's Ja'Marr Chase -- have to be on the short list of candidates for that pick and there's strong arguments for both to be the first receiver selected.

Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, excels with unique quickness, acceleration, route running and has a knack for separating and making plays. His 175-pound frame is the big question. Chase, who opted out of the 2020 season but was college football's best wide receiver in 2019, excels with strength, body control, technique, route running and in tight-window situations.

Both have vocal supporters as the draft's top receiver. ESPN analyst Louis Riddick is a big proponent of Chase as a WR1, saying, "If/when Ja'Marr Chase runs that 4.45 or less in the 40 [-yard dash] this spring, go ahead and send him straight to Miami."

Tagovailoa, who played with Smith at Alabama and has talked about reuniting with him in Miami this offseason, told NFL Network last month: "A lot of people say Smitty is too small, doesn't weigh too much. You guys see his film, this guy can play. I'd be very excited to have someone like Smitty on our team."

ESPN's Todd McShay dropped a mock draft Thursday, projecting Miami to draft Smith with the No. 8 pick after a trade down with the Carolina Panthers.

Smith vs. Chase is a spicy debate, so we enlisted three different perspectives -- ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN front office insider Mike Tannenbaum and an NFL scout to break it down.

Kiper: Edge goes to Smith

Smith and Chase are 1 and 1A for Kiper. He gave the slight edge to Smith, who he says will go down as one of Alabama coach Nick Saban's top 2-3 players ever coached because of his work ethic.

"Ja'Marr had that one phenomenal year with [QB] Joe Burrow opposite [WR] Justin Jefferson with Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the backfield. He's 6-1, 205-to-210, so bigger than DeVonta. Now, DeVonta had the better body of work. Plus, DeVonta played this year and played phenomenal. Ja'Marr didn't," Kiper said. "If Tua is your QB moving forward, it would probably be DeVonta because of the familiarity. It's been a pretty even split from the people I talk to on [who is the] top receiver between those two."

Dolphins coach Brian Flores addressed Smith's size at the Senior Bowl, saying, "you can nitpick all you want about a guy's size, but good players are good players are good players. He made a lot of plays in the biggest games of the year. He's a very good player, and it's been good getting to know him. He's a good kid, too."

Kiper agrees, saying questions about Smith's size "don't make any sense."

"He's over 6-feet tall, 175 pounds. Marvin Harrison [an Indianapolis Colts Hall of Famer] was 179 pounds coming out of Syracuse. That's the comparison," Kiper said. "He's got the height. He's durable. He's strong. He got the finger injury in the national title game on a dropped pass. He took a lot of hits and stayed healthy. He was uncoverable against top competition. DeVonta's quickness, acceleration off the line and out of his break was on another level. In terms of weight, what are we talking about here?"

Tannenbaum: Chase a rare athlete

Chase is Tannenbaum's No. 1 receiver because of his pro size and play style.

"He's very versatile. He's super smart. You can't move around like he did without really knowing the offense. Athletically, he's rare. He was a better player than Justin Jefferson. You look at what Jefferson did [as a Minnesota Vikings rookie], it's scary thinking about how good Chase can be," Tannenbaum said. "I'm very curious how the league handles opt-out guys. In a big decision like Chase, I would really drill down on why. It was a pandemic, I wouldn't hold it against him if he didn't feel safe. But I would want to know what accountability do they have, do they run away from other challenges, does this speak to their mental toughness, are they easily influenced? I would want him to take me through his decision process."

Though Tannenbaum prefers Chase, he also compares Smith to Harrison, who was uncoverable when Tannenbaum was the New York Jets' general manager.

"The national championship against Ohio State, I left the stadium thinking, 'Wow, is DeVonta Smith the best player in the draft?' He was magical," Tannenbaum said. "Smith has historic change-of-direction, his ability to run routes and create separation, his hands are exceptional, he makes very tight-window catches. His build is definitely a concern -- he's slight. You wonder, can he stand up to the rigors of pro football, then you think Ohio State's defense is going to have a lot of NFL players. There's something special about DeVonta. Can Smith be sustainable? With a player like him and his character, I won't bet against him."

AFC scout: Both have upside, but one is elite

One non-Dolphins AFC scout closely watched both wide receivers and gave the edge to Chase, citing primarily size and traits. He told ESPN he would draft Chase in the top-5 if he had a reliable quarterback, and would draft Smith in the top-15.

"Ja'Marr is the best WR in this class and would've been the best in 2020 draft as well," the scout said. "He's a do-it-all WR with dynamic ability after the catch. Very natural and strong! Makes plays at all three levels. I think he has a chance to develop into an All-Pro guy.

"DeVonta is a great football player. He's tough -- stronger than his frame and size indicate. He's very deceptive. Not sure what his 40 is, but he closes cushion and consistently gets behind the defense. Similarly in his routes, he has slip and he's quicker than you think, always getting separation without stressing. But Chase is bigger, faster, stronger and better after the catch. Both will be good rookies."