Reading tea leaves on Miami Dolphins' draft: Tension surrounds whether Bengals take Ja'Marr Chase at No. 5

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post
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As the Dolphins have moved up, down, back up and said they’re open to moving back down yet again, the temptation is to throw up your hands and wonder what they’re going to do in Round 1 of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Doubly so, given that even without all that jockeying for position, we’d still be in the height of smokescreen season.

Will it be Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who blew everyone away April 1 with the kind of pro day that men his size aren’t supposed to have? Will it be LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase, whose opt-out in 2020 did nothing to make people forget the kind of game-breaking talent he possesses?

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While Miami fans are largely fixated on the two sexiest names on the board, the Dolphins are not. That’s one of several conclusions that can be drawn based on what general manager Chris Grier has said and done over these past few months.

First, what should be obvious: If Pitts or Chase fall to the Dolphins at No. 6, they’ll be as delighted as fans at their draft party at Hard Rock Stadium, where cheers are sure to echo months before the rookie takes his first NFL snap.

Gators tight end Kyle Pitts is considered a generational talent.

The Dolphins once were assured of having their choice of either player with the third overall pick but conceded that when they made the first of two blockbuster trades March 26 to stockpile picks, changing the complexion of the draft. While we know quarterbacks will go 1-2-3 to Jacksonville, the New York Jets and Miami’s trading partner, San Francisco, the tension for South Florida revolves around what comes next.

Falcons seem locked onto Pitts

More and more, the bandwagon is loading up with those who believe Atlanta, picking fourth, will grab Pitts. At that point, all eyes would shift to No. 5 Cincinnati, which will have to decide what’s more important: giving QB Joe Burrow another weapon on the outside (Chase) or protecting his blindside (Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell).

Suddenly, the concern for Burrow’s well-being among Dolphins fans will soar to an all-time high. 

The Bengals would have no difficulty justifying either line of thinking. If it’s Chase, he and Burrow know one another from their time at LSU. If it’s Sewell, the Bengals would be addressing an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked third-worst in the NFL, one that allowed Burrow to be sacked 32 times in 10 games.

While Cincinnati is on the clock, the Dolphins won’t be the only ones on the edge of their seats. If Pitts and Chase are off the board, teams looking to move up will know the chances of Miami making a deal would increase.

“As the draft falls and gets towards our pick, if someone wants to call and they make an aggressive pitch to us, we’ll evaluate it, look at the board, and look at our options,” Grier said.

Meaning: Notice the slight shift in Miami’s thinking there? Grier praised San Francisco and Philadelphia for making bold, early trades with the Dolphins and said, “There were a lot of teams that wanted to wait.” Now, the Dolphins don’t mind playing the waiting game.

Perhaps the Dolphins tipped their hand Tuesday when they traded guard Ereck Flowers to Washington. ESPN reported that the move is saving only $2 million in cap space. If that’s not the inspiration for the move, could it be a precursor to drafting Sewell?

If landing another offensive lineman lets the air out of the Dolphins’ draft party, so be it. If, come the fall, Chase makes an instant connection with Burrow and Pitts validates the thinking he’s a generational talent, Grier said he could live with it.

“When we made our move, we had targeted a number of players that we liked, we’re comfortable with getting,” Grier said. “So I think with us, when you make a move like we did and doing what we did to get back up, we’re very comfortable where we are. …  We won’t have any regrets.”

Meaning: It’s hard not to take this as an endorsement of Sewell as well as the depth at receiver in this draft. Oddsmakers agree. updated its over/under Wednesday, listing three players teetering on where the Dolphins select. Chase, Pitts and Sewell are all listed at 5 1/2. 

Right behind Chase are two Alabama receivers: DeVonta Smith, the Heisman winner, and Jaylen Waddle. But Waddle is 5-feet-9 and 182 and Smith is 6-0, 166.

Not only would Smith be the lightest player on the Dolphins, he’d have trouble posting up against kicker Jason Sanders, who outweighs him by 29 pounds.

Meaning: That won’t stop Grier, who points to smaller players proliferating thanks to rule changes.

“I think these smaller players are given more room and freedom to showcase their talents,” Grier said.

Players who opted out no concern

There are plenty of prospects in this draft who haven’t showcased what they can do in more than a year. They opted out because of the pandemic. As Grier pointed out, even some players who did suit up played only a handful of games in a shortened season.

“For us to sit here and judge players on opt-outs for their reasons why, it’s unfair and I think it’s unrealistic,” he said.

Meaning: In Miami’s eyes, opting out doesn’t count as a strike against Chase, Sewell or Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who could be in play with Miami’s second first-round pick, No. 18 overall.

Another area in which the Dolphins need improvement is running back. But wait: Wasn’t that the case last year? It was, yet the Dolphins passed on multiple opportunities to pick a back. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed emerged as good backs, but a featured back?

“This year’s class, there’s good players at that position throughout the draft, just like last year,” Grier said.

Meaning: The Dolphins might be hoping Clemson’s Travis Etienne is still there Friday night, when Miami has two second-round picks (Nos. 36 and 50).

Last year marked the first time the Dolphins had four picks among the top 50. This year will mark the second time.

If Grier is correct about the depth of the talent pool, he has the ammunition to capitalize.

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