MIAMI -- It would be a surprise if the Miami Dolphins don't leave the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL draft with at least one (and more likely two) playmakers to help quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the offense.
With the draft about two weeks away (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, ESPN/ESPN App), time is running out for projections. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. released a two-round mock Tuesday that has the Dolphins taking Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick (after a trade up with the Atlanta Falcons from No. 6) and Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye at No. 18. Kiper also has them taking North Carolina running back Javonte Williams at No. 36 and Michigan offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield at No. 50.
The latest mock by ESPN's Todd McShay had Miami taking Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith at No. 6 and USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 16 after a trade up. The "what I would do" mock by ESPN's Mike Tannenbaum had the Dolphins getting LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase at No. 6 and Vera-Tucker at No. 18.
We'll leave the full mock drafts to Kiper, McShay and Tannenbaum. But today, we lay out the best-case scenario and realistic projections for each of the Dolphins four picks in the top two rounds. Here's a look at some potential decisions Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores could face on draft day.
First round, No. 6 overall
Best case: Their preference between Chase and Pitts
A dream scenario? Several scouts that spoke with ESPN believe Chase is the draft's clear No. 1 receiver while Pitts is considered the best tight end prospect in at least a decade. That's a win-win choice.
The Dolphins trading from No. 3 overall to No. 12, then back to No. 6 tells us they likely have a small (maybe three to five) group of elite non-QB prospects graded closely together and would be ecstatic to land anyone from that group. An educated guess is that it includes Pitts, Chase, Smith and maybe Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell and Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Who would Miami pick in this scenario? I give the slight edge to Chase over Pitts here, but either would be a great pick, adding an infusion of rare playmaking ability.
Some consider a scenario where Atlanta drafts Pitts at No. 4 and Chase goes to Cincinnati at No. 5 with Smith falling to Miami at No. 6 a worst-case scenario for the Dolphins. I wouldn't.
The Smith disrespect has gotten out of hand. Yes, he's only 170 pounds, but the Heisman Trophy winner was very durable at Alabama, his smooth ability to separate and get open reminds some scouts of Hall of Famers Issac Bruce and Marvin Harrison, and he was more productive last year against SEC defenders than any pass-catcher in recent college football memory -- including Chase and Pitts. Football Outsiders projected Smith as the draft's most productive receiver over the next five years.
The top three picks this year -- by the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 1 overall), New York Jets (No. 2) and San Francisco 49ers (No. 3) -- are projected to be QBs. If Miami agrees with the general consensus that Chase and Pitts are the draft's top pass-catchers, it will hope a fourth quarterback and/or Sewell goes in the top-5 so it can draft the one who falls to them. The draft might go that way, but it also wouldn't shock me if Miami takes Smith over Pitts or Chase.
Also worth watching: Sewell, Waddle and Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater
First round, No. 18 overall
Best case: Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons
Early in the draft process Parsons was mentioned as a candidate for the Dolphins' top pick, but the influx of quarterbacks, playmakers and offensive linemen likely to be drafted early means defensive talent gets pushed down. You can make the argument that Parsons is the draft's best defensive player, so odds are against him being available at No. 18. However, he plays an off-ball linebacker position that has been devalued in recent years, so he could fall into the mid-teens.
Parsons fits the Dolphins' love for versatile defenders. He can cover sideline-to-sideline, defend mobile QBs and rush the passer as a blitzer and edge rusher. If Miami is comfortable with Parsons and he's available, he'd be a great pick.
Realistic: Paye or Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari
Alabama running back Najee Harris is also a strong possibility here and it could be a tough decision to pick him vs. waiting for a back, but teams tend to see more value drafting pass-rushers higher, so that's the way we go in this scenario.
Ojulari is my favorite EDGE prospect and fits as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Miami. He holds up well against the run for his size (6-foot-2, 249 pounds), has shown production with his speed rush, and there's upside if he diversifies his pass-rush moves. Getting him at No. 18 would be a win. Paye isn't as polished as Ojulari, but he has a size advantage, measuring 6-2 1/2, 261 at his pro day. Miami EDGE Jaelen Phillips' concussion concerns (he medically retired in December 2018 before transferring from UCLA) makes him risky for a first-round pick.
Second round, No. 36 overall
Best case: Harris
Run up the card. Harris is a perfect fit as a three-down complete back who could be a focal point of the Dolphins' offense, and he's got a great relationship with Tagovailoa. Odds are he's probably gone by No. 36, but running backs do tend to slip lower than they are projected. Only one back went in the first round in each of the past two drafts, and some scouts prefer Clemson's Travis Etienne to Harris this year.
The Dolphins need to land one of the top-three backs in the draft after striking out in 2020. We polled nine talent evaluators on the draft's top-three backs. The results proved this is a Big 3 group, not just a Big 2. Williams' physical running style is reminiscent of Las Vegas Raiders back Josh Jacobs or a more athletic Chris Carson (Seattle Seahawks). He would be a good fit.
Second round, No. 50 overall
Best case: Alabama center Landon Dickerson
If he had not suffered a knee injury in December, Dickerson would probably be a first-round pick. The Dolphins need a long-term center and Dickerson would be good value at No. 50. Even if he doesn't contribute much early in his rookie season coming off a torn ACL, he brings the toughness, leadership and run-blocking ability the Dolphins desire.
Realistic: Wisconsin-Whitewater center Quinn Meinerz
The Dolphins got a lot of value from coaching the Senior Bowl this year, and you should pencil them in to draft at least one player they saw during the last week of January in Mobile, Alabama. Meinerz was a practice-week star, having a lot of success against big-school defenders. He feels like a Flores guy. Fellow Senior Bowl center Creed Humphrey of Oklahoma is another worthy option.