MOBILE, Ala. -- It's not a coincidence Alabama Crimson Tide stars DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris accepted Senior Bowl invitations over the past week and were placed on the roster being coached by the Miami Dolphins' staff. They would be excellent fits for the Dolphins' offense, and a 2021 NFL draft that brings home both within Miami's first three picks would be an excellent one.
As the lead draft prospects on the Dolphins' Senior Bowl watch list, expect a lot of eyeballs on Harris and Smith -- the Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver who won't play much this week as he heals from a dislocated finger injury suffered in the national championship game.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores was ecstatic to coach the Senior Bowl, which looks to be the last significant in-person and on-field football evaluation teams will get ahead of the draft now that the NFL scouting combine has been made largely virtual.
Miami (10-6) is far from a finished team. With nine total picks, including two in the first round and four in the top 50, Flores and general manager Chris Grier will be busy.
"I didn't think they had a very talented roster last year. Outside of a couple of guys, they didn't have much special talent. Flo did a great job getting the most out of their players," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. "I can only imagine how good they are going to be once they add even more talent."
With Nagy's insight, here is a featured list, broken down by position groups and narrowed from the 136 participants, of Senior Bowl players who could be Dolphins' targets.
Smith will be a contender for the Dolphins with their No. 3 pick. While he won't be playing much (if at all), Miami will get a week with him in meetings and interviews, and that interaction will play a significant role.
Toney might be the best stop-and-start playmaker in this draft. He's going to be a fun player to watch if paired with the right offensive coordinator. Toney is in that second-tier wide receiver group behind Smith, LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and Alabama's Jaylen Waddle, and could land in the back half of Round 1.
Nagy lit up when talking about Eskridge, a true speedster who averaged morethan 20 yards per catch in each of his past three college seasons. "It wouldn't surprise me if he's a top-50 pick. He doesn't have the [same] short-area change of direction as Toney, but he's faster."
Similar to Eskridge, Stevenson has elite acceleration and special return skills. He could be a Day 3 target. Rodgers, who along with Eskridge is on the Dolphins' Senior Bowl roster, has special run-after-the-catch ability to go with his speed.
Harris racks up 3 TDs in Alabama's national championship win vs. Ohio State
Najee Harris scores three touchdowns as the Crimson Tide go on to dominate the Buckeyes 52-24 in Miami for the national championship.
Harris, the best running back prospect in Mobile, is expected to be a full participant in Senior Bowl practices as long as he is cleared by the medical staff. He will likely be drafted among the top-40 picks.
"Najee helped himself by coming back to school. He was running with more authority, showed himself in the passing game quite a bit," said Nagy, who was a longtime NFL scout before taking over direction of the Senior Bowl. "This is the best running back group I've ever seen down here in Mobile in my 23-24 years."
Nagy believes Harris, Sermon (who he described as an "absolute beast") and Stevenson will all be NFL starters. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Miami draft Harris, Sermon or North Carolina's Javonte Williams, who is not in attendance, to be its 2021 feature back.
Offensive and defensive lines
Nagy expected the center group to be one of the Senior Bowl's best, but Alabama's Landon Dickerson suffered a torn ACL and Ohio State's Josh Myers suffered a turf toe, so neither is participating. That leaves Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey as the best of the group, and he's one the Dolphins could use as a long-term upgrade.
"Awesome wrestling background. He's going to be able to start in Year 1," Nagy said of Humphrey, who is on the Dolphins' Senior Bowl roster. He's also left-handed, which could work well with left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Alabama's Alex Leatherwood, Tennessee's Trey Smith and Grambling State's David Moore are all mauling guards who are going to be fun to watch in one-on-ones. Watching them go up against Washington Huskies defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, who Nagy calls the draft's best three-technique, will be fun.
This is a deep Edge group with plenty of Dolphins' fits, including these six to watch: Wake Forest's Carlos Basham Jr., Houston's Payton Turner, Notre Dame's Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes, Pittsburgh's Patrick Jones II and Penn State's Shaka Toney. All are different types of Edge players who bring versatility (a Flores buzzword).
Linebackers and defensive backs
The focus here is on speed, athleticism and playmaking ability. When breaking down the linebackers, Nagy centered on two who seem like perfect Dolphins fits: North Carolina's Chazz Surratt and LSU's Jabril Cox.
"Chazz Surratt, super athletic guy in space. Exactly what the NFL is moving toward. Jabril Cox is the same way, three-down guys, sideline to sideline, can blitz, fast," said Nagy, who believes Surratt will be a top-40 pick. Cox figures to be available on Day 2 as he transitions from a big nickel to off-ball linebacker. Ohio State's Baron Browning and West Virginia's Tony Fields II are also worth watching.
UCF's Richie Grant and Florida State's Hamsah Nasirildeen, who are in Mobile, are the two best fits for the Dolphins at safety. Either could be an ideal Year 1 or 2 starter if Miami decides to move on from veteran Bobby McCain.
"Richie Grant is an interchangeable safety, ... strong, free, slot, he has good range, stick his neck in there and tackle. He's a playmaker," Nagy said. "Nasirildeen is a true positionless player, can play safety, linebacker, in box, deep."
Three others to watch: UCF's Aaron Robinson is an under-the-radar prospect who can play slot cornerback and safety, Michigan cornerback Ambry Thomas has the speed, athleticism and man-coverage ability the Dolphins love, and Illinois State's Christian Uphoff is a versatile, physical safety with plenty of special teams experience.