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2021 NFL Draft Grades: Miami Dolphins first-round picks score well

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft is one-round into the three-day process, with the first 32 picks made last night. While the next two rounds will be completed tonight, we have some time to sit back and look at the first selections made. For the Miami Dolphins, they came away with two top-tier prospects last night, landing Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips.

How do the analysts think Miami did on Thursday? We take a look at the immediate draft grades being posted around the web to find out.

DraftKings Nation - Chet Gresham

Pick 6 - Waddle: The Dolphins have good receivers in Devante Parker and Will Fuller, but Waddle brings a Tyreek Hill vibe that you can’t teach. Last season Dolphins receivers had trouble separating, but Waddle should give them a new dynamic and help Tua Tagovailoa take the next step. Grade: A

Pick 18 - Phillips: Phillips adds some beef to the Dolphins pass rush and should be a full time starter by next season. This isn’t the best draft for pass rushers, so his talent level might not be 18th overall pick worthy, but it’s a position they needed to fill. Grade: B-


CBS - Pete Prisco

Pick 6 - Waddle: I think he has the Tyreek Hill type of ability. I think he will help Tua Tagovailoa a ton. It works. Grade: B+

Pick 18 - Phillips: If his medical stays clean, it’s a good pick. They address a need that had to be filled. He’s loaded with talent. Grade: B


Sporting News - Vinnie Iyer

Pick 6 - Waddle: The Dolphins reunited Waddle with former Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, taking a cue from the Bengals with Burrow and Chase the pick before. He was preferred in the end over DeVonta Smith because of ability to add a necessary big-play element, both using his speed to get downfield and using his quickness in the open field as a Tyreek Hill-style receiver. He is the ideal complement to top wideout DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. Grade: A

Pick 18 - Phillips: The Dolphins jumped on the best pass rusher available to help defensive-minded Brian Flores. They could have considered tackle/end hybrid Kwity Paye for freakish ability, but they ultimately went for another smooth athlete who proved himself worthy of delivering greater production in the NFL. Flores and his staff will mold Phillips into a star getting to QBs from different angles. He can be his version of Chandler Jones. Grade: A


Fox Sports - Rob Rang

Pick 6 - Waddle: It is difficult to discuss Waddle’s speed and playmaking ability and not venture into hyperbole. Comparisons to the Chiefs’ super field-stretcher Tyreek Hill are warranted. The Dolphins already boast the league’s most expensive receiving corps, however, and, like Hill, Waddle is a sportscar that needs to be finely tuned to run its best. Waddle has durability red flags at just 5-10, 180 pounds. Waddle’s upside is sky high but, quietly, his production slipped all three years at Alabama. Grade: B-

Pick 18 - Phillips: Pegged as one of this year’s biggest wild cards due to a history of injuries and other off-field concerns, Phillips might be even more of a roll of the dice than the Dolphins’ top pick, wideout Jaylen Waddle. Phillips’ upside is undeniable. He was viewed by many as this year’s top edge rusher, a position of concern for Miami. Of course, given the proximity of where he evolved in a college superstar, however, GM Chris Grier should know as much about Phillips and his track record as anyone. With multiple first round picks the next couple of years, the Dolphins can afford some gambles. It will be interesting to see if these moves turn out to eventually be viewed as franchise-makers or breakers. Grade: B


NFL.com - Chad Reuter

Waddle is an explosive player who becomes the first receiver 5-foot-10 or shorter to go in the top 10 since Tavon Austin in 2013. The ‘Bama wideout’s midseason injury did not affect his draft status, either, in part because he showed great heart by playing in the College Football Playoffs National Championship Game despite an obvious limp.

This choice may have been between two teammates: Waddle and DeVonta Smith. If not for the ankle injury he suffered against Tennessee on a kickoff return, Waddle likely would have been the one hoisting the Heisman Trophy, not Smith.

Waddle’s extreme quickness from the slot and speed in the open field will certainly help his former Alabama teammate, Tua Tagovailoa, fully develop in Miami. But there is risk in taking a smaller receiver coming off injury this early in the draft.

Phillips was an excellent pick in terms of his on-field value. If not for his injury issues at UCLA that caused him to retire from football briefly before heading to Miami, he would have been picked earlier. He’s a powerful pass rusher who uses his strength to stack edge blockers and chase in the run game. Phillips is an all-around player who, if healthy, can be a quality starter immediately. Grade: A-


Yahoo! Sports - Eric Edholm

Pick 6 - Waddle: Miami gets another weapon for Tua Tagovailoa in the electric Waddle, who can attack every part of the field and change the way teams defend them in the same way that Tyreek Hill does for the Chiefs. Waddle’s ankle injury isn’t considered serious anymore, and pretty soon he will be adding some major speed — on returns as well — to the roster. Getting our No. 5 overall prospect and landing trade-down assets in the 49ers deal is a win-win. Grade: A-

Pick 18 - Phillips: A really big swing for the fences. Phillips is the most talented edge player in this class, but there were some major concerns about his health after he was advised to medically retire following multiple concussions at UCLA. Transferring to Miami brought out Phillips’ pass-rush juice, as he was arguably the best edge defender in college football for a stretch last season. But Brian Flores’ no-nonsense approach could go one of two ways for a player who had some character questions. Grade: B


NBC Sports Boston - Nick Goss

Pick 6 - Waddle: The Dolphins selected an impressive wide receiver prospect in Jaylen Waddle, who played with Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama in 2018 and 2019. Waddle is a fantastic route runner with game-breaking speed and excellent hands. He’s also a versatile wideout with the ability to line up in different spots and beat defenses on the sidelines or over the middle. Expect the Dolphins to use Waddle a lot like the Chiefs use Tyreek Hill. Grade: A-

Pick 18 - Phillips: Can Jaelan Phillips stay healthy? His injury history is a bit concerning, but when he’s on the field, Phillips can rush the passer extremely well. He has double-digit sack potential and gives the Dolphins some much-needed speed off the edge. Grade: B+


The Ringer - Danny Kelly

Pick 6 - Waddle: Well, one thing is certainly clear: The NFL hasn’t lost its love of pure, blazing speed. Waddle brings plenty of it, possessing the field-tilting explosiveness and playmaking talent to score every time he touches the ball. I love the Crimson Tide star’s fit with the Dolphins, too. He’ll mesh well with DeVante Parker, Will Fuller V, and Mike Gesicki in the team’s passing game, giving quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a familiar face to throw to downfield. But when factoring in the price Miami paid to move back up from no. 12 to no. 6 to make this pick (mainly a future first-rounder), I don’t love the value here. Waddle, who lacks size, is coming off a major ankle injury that forced him to miss most of the 2020 season, and ranks lower than Heisman winner DeVonta Smith on my board. Waddle will need to turn into an unguardable go-to guy and true no. 1 in the Dolphins offense to justify this price. Grade: B-

Pick 18 - Phillips: I love this pick for the Dolphins, who nab my top-ranked edge rusher at the no. 18 spot. Phillips comes with concerns about his prior injury history (he briefly retired from football after battling wrist and head injuries), but he’s big, fast, and disruptive. He has the skill set to emerge as a double-digit sack producer early in his career. Grade: A-


Bleacher Report - Brent Sobleski

Pick 6 - Waddle: Jaylen Waddle might have played alongside Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith, but the former never played in the latter’s shadow. In some ways, Waddle is as exciting of a prospect, if not more so, than Smith. Waddle brings a different dynamic to an offense because he’s such an explosive target. His releases and breaks off his stem are so sudden and smooth that collegiate defensive backs never stood a chance. When Waddle was on the field—whether as a receiver or returner—he forced opponents to account for him at all times. He became a big play waiting to happen. The special teams standout produced at least one scoring play of 90 or more yards in each of his collegiate seasons. Today’s NFL favors the offense. Defensive backs can’t be as physical. Once Waddle is in space, he’ll leave plenty of defenders in the dust, as long as he stays healthy. Currently, he continues to recover from a fractured ankle he suffered in October during a contest against the Tennessee Volunteers. He tried to play through the injury during the National Championship Game, but it clearly hampered his performance. The Miami Dolphins chose Tua Tagovailoa’s former target. Maybe the team didn’t choose the prospect many expected. Waddle immediately adds yet another playmaker in the passing game to complement DeVante Parker and Will Fuller V. All three are different types of targets, though. Parker is more of a true X-receiver with his size and body control. Fuller is a speed demon. Waddle’s quickness and burst allow him to create ungodly separation. The only issue with this selection is whether Miami chose the correct Alabama wide receiver. The Dolphins had their choice between Waddle and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. The two will be compared for the rest of their careers. Miami better hope it chose wisely. Unlike the Bengals, the Dolphins are further along in their building process with an offensive line that’s not Swiss cheese. Receiver was Miami’s biggest need entering the offseason. Grade: B

Pick 18 - Phillips: The only thing really holding back Miami’s Jaelan Phillips is the unknown. In an offseason when the accumulation of important medical data was more difficult than ever, Phillips’ injury history and how it’s assessed from a team-by-team perspective became one of the biggest sticking points among the draft class. Physically, the 6’5”, 266-pound edge-defender is impressive. No one can deny his get-off, length, explosiveness to beat an offensive tackle off the snap, the flexibility to turn the corner and his final burst toward opposing quarterbacks. In Phillips’ only season with the Hurricanes, he registered 15.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and 42 quarterback pressures in 10 games. Concerns begin with the start of his career, not its ending. Phillips signed with the UCLA Bruins as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, as rated by 247Sports. He then medically retired after dealing with concussions. He also underwent multiple wrist surgeries after a scooter accident. Questions about ability don’t exist for Phillips, but a clear projection based on his past injuries certainly raises red flags. Because of his natural ability, Phillips became the first edge-rusher off the board to the Miami Dolphins with the 18th overall pick. Purely from a talent perspective, the selection is a home run. The team now has an elite rusher to play opposite Emmanuel Ogbah, who experienced a breakout campaign in 2020. The Dolphins also traded Shaq Lawson to the Houston Texans this offseason. Natural pass-rushers bring a premium. If not for Phillips’ vast injury history, there’s no way he would have been on the board for the Dolphins. His selection was well worth the risk. Grade: B


Pro Football Network - Ben Rolfe

Pick 6 - Waddle: It is tough to believe the Miami Dolphins were not disappointed to see Pitts and Chase go off the board. Still, Jaylen Waddle is a pretty nice consolation prize. Waddle brings game-changing explosive speed, good hands, and the elusiveness to make a man miss in the open field. A combination of Waddle and Will Fuller gives Tua Tagovailoa two extremely explosive weapons. Grade: A

Pick 18 - Phillips: Jaelan Phillips makes it another good selection for the Dolphins in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Phillips addresses the Dolphins’ second-biggest need for a pass rusher and allows them to enter Day 2 with their focus on their remaining needs. Phillips has a desirable combination of speed, strength, and weapons to succeed as a pass rusher in multiple ways. Grade: A


Walter Football

Pick 6 - Waddle: The Dolphins couldn’t really go wrong as long as they went with one of Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith and Penei Sewell. That said, I would have preferred the other two options, especially Sewell. With Will Fuller and DeVante Parker on the roster, receiver wasn’t a huge need, while the offensive line continued to be. The Dolphins need to protect Tua Tagovailoa, which they could have done incredibly well with Sewell. Grade: B

Pick 18 - Phillips: This is such a difficult grade. Based on talent alone, Jaelan Phillips is worth an A+. He’s a tremendous athlete and a devastating pass rusher. He could be a star for the Dolphins. Unfortunately, he has a long medical history, and one or two concussions could knock him out for a long time. This is such a risky choice. It could easily pan out, but it could also be a huge bust. Players with injury worries typically fall, so I’m surprised that Phillips went this high. Grade: B-