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Dolphins’ 2021 NFL draft choices at RB: Najee Harris at No. 18 or wait?


MIAMI — Because the second Alabama working again Najee Harris leaped over a Notre Dame defender en path to a 53-yard run throughout January’s Rose Bowl, Miami Dolphins followers have been dreaming of the 6-foot-2, 232-pound playmaker carrying aqua on Sundays.

There was loads of debate in regards to the Dolphins’ No. 6 choose within the 2021 NFL draft, which is predicted to be a pass-catcher with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Florida’s Kyle Pitts as Miami’s more than likely choices.

However let’s give attention to working backs, which might be a goal for the Dolphins’ different prime picks at No. 18 in addition to two second-round picks (Nos. 36 and 50).

The Dolphins are taken with drafting a characteristic working again, sources instructed ESPN, with added intrigue in greater, full backs.

Harris, who’s listed by ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay and Matt Miller as this draft’s top-rated working again, was linked to Miami when he was a late add to the Dolphins’ Senior Bowl roster. Harris appears prone to be obtainable at No. 18, however a lot much less prone to be there at No. 36. The dilemma is whether or not the Dolphins ought to make the leap at No. 18, or see if there may be higher worth in drafting a extra premium place similar to pass-rusher with Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Miami’s Jaelan Phillips and Michigan’s Kwity Paye among the many prime choices.

We begin by taking a deeper take a look at the draft’s prime choices. ESPN requested 9 soccer analysts who their top-three prospects are so as, and the panel contains Kiper, McShay, Miller, three NFL scouts or personnel executives, a NFL working again and Working Again Academy draft prep coaches Jerry Seymour Jr. and Torri Harmon.

All 9 listed the identical three names, however in several orders — Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. Past that, there was little consensus on order (see chart for full breakdown).

The outcomes illustrate it’s a pick-your-flavor sort of working again class, so is Harris, Etienne or Williams well worth the Dolphins’ mid-first spherical choose?

“I do not suppose any of those backs are value a first-round choose,” mentioned the AFC scout, who listed Etienne because the top-rated working again. He had larger grades on Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire final 12 months than the 2021 class.

Our ESPN draft analysts all chosen Harris as the highest working again, with Kiper noting, “he is a whole working again. He is good at the whole lot — run, catch, block and he does not fumble.”

Miller mentioned Harris’ “potential to run with energy is phenomenal at 230 kilos, however the agility, potential to create laterally and make individuals miss contained in the sort out field stands out extra.” Miller additionally talked about Williams “runs extra violently than any again on this class.”

Etienne acquired the very best vote whole amongst our panel, and people who favored him pointed to his superior velocity and explosiveness. The NFC personnel government anxious how Harris’ lack of lengthy runs would translate to the fashionable NFL, and famous Etienne might be efficient in an Alvin Kamara-type of position.

Miami has carried out its homework. Dolphins co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville led Etienne by way of drills at Clemson’s professional day. Etienne mentioned he would like to be coached by Studesville. Dolphins normal supervisor Chris Grier and Studesville watched Williams at North Carolina’s professional day. The Dolphins’ employees spent per week with Harris on the Senior Bowl.

If Miami misses out on one of many prime three rushers, a few our evaluators talked about North Carolina’s Michael Carter and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon as main the subsequent tier of working again prospects. Each have limitations, although Sermon is the higher match when paired in a two-headed backfield with promising receiving again Myles Gaskin. Sermon is probably going a third- or fourth-round choose.

The Dolphins did vital analysis final 12 months with the concept of probably deciding on a characteristic again, sources mentioned, however with Taylor, Ohio State’s J.Ok. Dobbins (Ravens) and Florida State’s Cam Akers (Rams) on the board, they drafted developmental cornerback Noah Igbinoghene at No. 30 and proper sort out Robert Hunt at No. 39. All three backs went in Spherical 2.

Taylor went No. 41 to the Indianapolis Colts, then completed third within the NFL in speeding with 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns. Akers and Dobbins went No. 52 and No. 55, respectively, and each had profitable rookie seasons. Igbinoghene struggled considerably as a backup exterior cornerback and didn’t play a lot after September.

It is too early to provide a ultimate analysis, however the determination to bypass Taylor seems like an early mistake. The Dolphins can’t afford to make the identical mistake once more.

Final season Miami tried to construct up its backfield piecemeal by signing Jordan Howard to what amounted to a five-game, five-million deal and buying and selling a fifth-round choose for Matt Breida. Each strikes failed, although Gaskin, a 2019 seventh-round choose, had a surprisingly sturdy season (584 yards and three touchdowns).

Conclusion

The Dolphins ought to use one in every of their 4 top-50 picks on Harris, Williams or Etienne to assist second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and full the offense. Harris could be a little bit of a attain at No. 18, however he is well worth the likelihood if the Dolphins love the participant.

In our ballot, there wasn’t an enormous hole separating the gamers, so I might opine that relying on how the draft board falls there could be higher expertise and positional worth at No. 18 for the Dolphins to draft reasonably than apply it to Harris there. Miami deciding on Williams at No. 36 appears extra like the best answer. Although if Miami is eyeing Williams or any working again early in Spherical 2, it must probably commerce forward of the working back-needy New York Jets (No. 34) and Atlanta Falcons (No. 35).