Roll Dolphins? Miami making use of its Crimson Tide connections

MIAMI — The dialog between Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, normal supervisor Chris Grier and Alabama coach Nick Saban exceeded 10 minutes as Senior Bowl gamers started submitting out of Hancock Whitney Stadium towards the buses following a Jan. 27 observe.

The visible was hanging. Flores had simply completed teaching a Nationwide group observe when Saban and Grier, strolling side-by-side, approached him on the 40-yard line. Upwards of 100 individuals — a mixture of gamers, coaches, employees, NFL personnel and TV media members — have been on the sector and sidelines speaking, however these three males shaped a huddle seemingly in their very own world.

Saban, arms crossed, appeared to do a lot of the talking, although Grier and Flores have been vocal. The small print mentioned would possibly solely ever be recognized by them and the turf beneath.

Perhaps they mentioned maximizing former Crimson Tide QB and Dolphins 2020 first-round choose Tua Tagovailoa after an up-and-down rookie season. Perhaps Saban supplied recommendation on how one can execute the co-offensive coordinator system the Dolphins are implementing. Or, possibly it was an sincere scouting report on Alabama prospects DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris. Maybe the entire above?

The Dolphins love Alabama gamers, they usually’re actually not the one ones. No group has had extra prospects drafted over the previous decade than Alabama (85). However over the previous 5 drafts, the Dolphins-Alabama pipeline has turn out to be more and more fruitful as Miami has chosen 4 Alabama gamers within the high three rounds — working again Kenyan Drake (2016), defensive again Minkah Fitzpatrick (’18), Tagovailoa (’20) and defensive deal with Raekwon Davis (’20). The Dolphins took Tagovailoa (No. 5 total) and Davis (No. 56) within the first two rounds final yr, and the pipeline has a superb likelihood to increase within the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-Could 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App).

In a scouting yr with a lot uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, trusted relationships and luxury would possibly flip the tide for Miami in the case of powerful draft choices. The Dolphins have 4 picks within the high two rounds, together with two within the high 20 (Nos. 6 and 18) and clear wants at positions the place Alabama has high prospects. The listing contains receiver (Smith, Jaylen Waddle), working again (Harris) and offensive line (middle Landon Dickerson, guard/deal with Alex Leatherwood and guard Deonte Brown).

Solely the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens have comparable or higher long-standing hyperlinks to Alabama than Miami does now with Grier, Flores and the remainder of its workers. Throughout Saban’s tenure as Dolphins coach (2005-06) Grier was the group’s assistant director of faculty scouting, and present co-directors of personnel — Adam Engroff and Anthony Hunt — have been Miami scouts. And the Dolphins’ assistant particular groups coordinator, Brendan Farrell, spent six seasons at Alabama underneath Saban as a particular groups analyst.

Ask Saban and he’ll downplay the connections.

“There is not any particular relationship. Chris Grier does an amazing job — he was there after I was there,” Saban stated. “We have now a longtime relationship, however I believe he’ll make all skilled choices relative to what they want and the way they consider our gamers as a corporation — not simply what he thinks.”

That is likely to be true, however the Dolphins-Alabama pipeline started when Grier took over as GM in 2016. Miami had gone 35 drafts (1981-2015) with out choosing an Alabama prospect within the first three rounds earlier than Grier was elevated to the lead position.

Saban’s success has been an element, as Alabama has had no less than one first-round choose in each draft since 2009 — his third yr as coach — exhibiting a major soar in expertise and improvement after this system had zero first-round picks from 2001-08.

One other issue appears to be the arrival of Flores as Miami’s coach in 2019. He does not have the identical longstanding ties to Saban as Grier, however spent a lot of the previous 20 years working for Patriots coach Invoice Belichick, who has an in depth friendship with Saban.

What’s much less glamorous however possibly as vital is the relationships these Dolphins staffers have with different staff contained in the Alabama program who inform them the unfiltered reality about their prospects.

Roll Fins? Choosing Smith, Waddle, Harris, Dickerson or every other Alabama prospect would mark the fifth Tide participant drafted by Miami previously six drafts.

‘Slim Reaper and Hurdling Harris’

The Alabama prospects to observe early are Smith and Waddle, two of the draft’s three greatest receivers and potential top-10 picks. Smith, particularly, seems to be a high contender for Miami’s choose at No. 6 total, together with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Florida tight finish Kyle Pitts, because the Dolphins search for a playmaker to assist Tagovailoa and the offense.

In a yr with no mix, no flying prospects to your facility and minimal in-person analysis time, the Dolphins spent practically every week with Smith in conferences and interviews after he accepted a spot on their Senior Bowl roster regardless of not with the ability to play due to a fractured finger.

Smith is shut with Tagovailoa and stated on the Senior Bowl that they “talked about [how] it might be good to run it again once more” in Miami. Each got here to Alabama in the identical recruiting class, and as freshmen they linked on the profitable landing within the 2018 Nationwide Championship Sport.

Tagovailoa gave Miami his public endorsement for drafting Smith on CBS Sports activities this offseason, saying the Heisman Trophy winner’s NFL transition will likely be “slim to none” and “they do not name him the ‘Slim Reaper’ for no motive.”

Like Tagovailoa, Flores dismissed the lingering questions on Smith’s 170-pound stature when requested on the Senior Bowl: “You’ll be able to nitpick all you need a couple of man’s measurement, however good gamers are good gamers. All of us can see that,” Flores stated. “This man is an excellent participant. He made quite a lot of performs in school. He made quite a lot of performs within the greatest video games of the yr. … It has been good attending to know him. He is a superb child, too.”

Although Chase and Pitts can be game-changing offensive weapons for Miami, it might be silly to dismiss the prospect of the Dolphins taking Smith at No. 6.

Harris is likely to be much more prone to land in Miami. The Dolphins are excessive on him, sources informed ESPN, and are out there to pick out a working again within the early rounds.

On The Adam Schefter Podcast, Harris stated the Dolphins have been one of some groups he had nice Zoom conferences with through the pre-draft course of. Like Smith, Harris was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster as he jumped on the likelihood to spend every week on the Dolphins’ roster regardless of nursing an ankle damage that prevented him from taking part in within the recreation.

Harris additionally impressed NFL groups at Alabama’s first professional day on March 23 when he drove in a single day 9 hours from Dallas to Birmingham, Alabama after his flight was canceled resulting from lightning, per Schefter. He did not work out due to the ankle damage, however needed to assist his teammates. Groups eat that up. Harris and Smith fought by their accidents to take part in parts of Alabama’s second professional day on March 30.

Harris was extraordinarily near Tagovailoa throughout their time at Alabama, however it’s his eagerness to show himself, enjoyable, pleasant character and a well-rounded recreation with energy and pass-catching skill that make him an intriguing possibility for the Dolphins at No. 18 — in the event that they’re keen to speculate a first-round choose on a working again. The Dolphins have not carried out so since taking Ronnie Brown No. 2 total in 2005. Additionally they have a choose at No. 36, however would possibly have to get fortunate to land Harris at that spot.

Past these three possible first-round prospects, Dickerson might be a long-term beginning middle if Miami is comfy together with his medicals (he suffered a knee damage in December) and may land him on Day 2 of the draft.

It is simple to image Smith, Waddle, Harris and/or Dickerson changing into a core piece for a Dolphins group constructing round Tagovailoa.

Flores’ subsequent ‘we obtained him’ prospect

Flores smiled broad with exuberance, rubbing his arms collectively, tapping his foot and spinning in his workplace chair because the Dolphins chosen Davis late within the second spherical of the 2020 draft. He later was seen on digital camera jovially placing his arm out, exhibiting the defensive energy that Davis has when he throws an offensive lineman within the trenches.

At that second, Flores expressed an pleasure not often seen publicly since taking up the Dolphins in February 2019.

“I used to be excited to get Raekwon. We obtained him,” Flores stated then when describing his uncharacteristic present of emotion. “He is most likely by no means seen me smile. He can return and have a look at that and spend time fascinated with whether or not it is the identical man he offers with every day.”

Flores may need recognized one thing the remainder of the league did not as Davis was the Dolphins’ most spectacular rookie and one of many NFL’s greatest rookie defensive lineman final season after being drafted No. 56 total.

Is there one other Alabama prospect this yr who will give Flores that very same type of pleasure?

“Miami, Baltimore, New England all have a good pipeline reference to Bama gamers,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. stated. “Trusting what Nick says a couple of participant, realizing they’re being coached in addition to anyone else and handled as NFL gamers in conferences and observe is essential.”

Added ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller: “Saban talked about it some time in the past like, ‘Why do not coaches name and ask me about my gamers? It is only some guys who do it.’ It is simple to determine who these guys are. While you draft Alabama, you already know there’s much less projection, so I believe it is simpler to simply plug them proper into what you are doing.”

If the warfare room cameras present Flores grinning ear-to-ear with pleasure as soon as once more or Grier flashing a large smile on draft day because the Dolphins choose one other Alabama participant, we could surprise if that January on-field dialog with Saban and subsequent conversations with different Tide sources performed a small position in main them to their favourite pipeline once more.

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