Although the 2021 NFL draft, at least at the top, will likely be remembered more for the players that the Miami Dolphins left on the board than anyone they selected themselves, this year’s crop of college talent, when viewed as a whole, was fairly impressive, in my opinion. From the eighteenth selection on, Chris Grier and Co. did a great job of matching available players to positions of need without reaching for guys or falling in love with workout numbers.
Jaelan Phillips was just a fantastic pick; if not for the injuries, he might have gone in the top five, ala Chase Young a year ago. That’s not to say he’ll be as good as Young, or even that his collegiate numbers were anywhere near what Young put up, but they’re similar players. Pass rushers that are drafted high are a lot like quarterbacks drafted high — in most cases you’re either going to win big or lose big. I want to talk a little bit about the Buffalo Bills today, and whether or to what extent the Dolphins have narrowed the gap between the two teams, and when you watch the highlights of either of the two games we played against them last season, the one thing that jumps out at you is how long Josh Allen was able to sit in the pocket and survey the field. For the Dolphins to have any chance whatsoever of beating the Bills this season, that must stop. Hopefully, Phillips can help in that area of need.
Quick, what’s the best thing about Dolphins head coach Brian Flores? There are a lot of things to choose from, but probably my single favorite thing about him is that he absolutely will not stand for having a bad secondary. Going all the way back to the Shula era (although the DB’s were great for a few years under Johnson and Wannstedt), this has been, to me, one of the main reasons the Dolphins have won so few playoff games — when they actually made the playoffs — since the mid-’80s. Sure, they’ve lacked a franchise QB for much of that time, but so has 75% of the rest of the league, too. We clamor so much for receivers, but when the Dolphin secondary, other than SS Reshad Jones, was a shambles for most of the 2010s, no one seemed to care. On the few occasions Miami did draft good defensive backs, they were traded away or allowed to leave in free agency so that we could keep stiffs like WR Brian Hartline. At least under Flores, you know that the Dolphins are going to have guys who can actually cover the opposing team’s receivers. If Miami did plan on selecting North Carolina RB Javonte Williams early in the second round, Denver may have done us a favor by trading ahead of us, because I have no problem telling you that I’d much rather have defensive back Jevon Holland than any running back in this class not named Najee Harris. The Dolphins’ secondary figures to be tough to penetrate in obvious passing situations this season.
Although he was by no means one of the top players in this draft, Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg was a fantastic pick in the top half of the second round, and it’s not hard to understand why Grier traded up for him. He played both right and left tackle in South Bend, as well as right guard, and is a smart, savvy technician — exactly the type of player you want protecting your quarterback’s blindside. I’m so glad that the Dolphins apparently aren’t going to make the same mistake the Indianapolis Colts did with Andrew Luck, and surround their QB with a bunch of big, brutish players who can bully the opposition but can’t protect the quarterback. Four out of five guys being big bullies is a good thing, but that one player who can keep the opposition’s speed rushers off your guy’s back is essential. I remember hearing about a radio interview former GM Bill Polian did a few years after he was fired by the Colts, and he said that, after his departure, the Colts ‘wanted to have the biggest, baddest offensive line on the block’. But they forgot to get themselves a pass-blocking left tackle, or in Miami’s case, right tackle since Tagovailoa is left-handed. This is a big reason why franchise QB Andrew Luck’s career lasted only 94 games. I believe that the Dolphins may have found such a player in Eichenberg, even if some fans are already referring to him as ‘Eichenburger’.
One thing that I think doesn’t get talked about enough is the problems a left-handed quarterback presents for opposing defenses — not in the passing game, but in the running game. Here’s why. Even though most teams move their best pass rushers around, to try and gain the most favorable mismatch they can find, that still leaves plenty of interior defensive linemen and linebackers who are used to lining up a certain way, and they’re used to their opponents running the ball to the strong side of the field, which most of the time is the right side (the defense’s left side). With a left-handed quarterback, if your best pass blocker is at right tackle, that leaves your best run-blocking tackle, in this case, Austin Jackson (assuming Robert Hunt moves inside to guard because he’s a good run blocker in his own right), at left tackle, presumably with a tight end lined up next to him. The result might be that opposing defenders who are used to rushing the passer most of the time end up having to face having the ball run down their throats a bit more often than they’d like. Of course, formations change all the time, both offensively and defensively, but this seemingly minor detail could prove to be advantageous for the Dolphins as their offensive line, and the running game, round into form.
Boston College tight end Hunter Long was another good pick, in my opinion, even though a lot of fans wanted a running back at that spot. He’s apparently a solid blocker, and also seems to have that sort of sneaky athleticism that results in big plays, when the defense thinks they have everyone covered and then the TE gets loose for a big play. The big question, of course, is whether the Dolphins did enough in this draft to prevent the Buffalo Bills from taking the AFC East crown two years in a row. I say they didn’t, but it probably wasn’t going to happen in one offseason, anyway. When you look at their first two picks, edge rusher Greg Rousseau and DL Carlos Basham, it’s clear that their defense will be even better this season, while their offense figures to be just as explosive as they were a year ago. Maybe we manage to squeak out a victory at Hard Rock Stadium if everything goes our way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they sweep us yet again, to go 6-0 against us in the first three seasons of the Flores era. One of these days hopefully we’ll catch up to them, but I don’t see it happening this season. Hopefully, I’m wrong. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.