ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay published his first 2021 NFL mock draft this week and it included a somewhat shocking first-round scenario for the Miami Dolphins, who begin their offseason with two selections in the top 32: No. 3 and No. 18 overall.
At No. 3, McShay sends Alabama WR Devonta Smith to Miami, reuniting him with his former college quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa.
“Smith, who caught 83 passes from Tagovailoa over three years at Alabama, is the real deal,” McShay wrote. “He is quick off the line, excellent on vertical shots and able to haul in anything thrown in his direction. Miami managed just 7.1 yards per attempt when targeting a wide receiver this season (27th in the NFL), whereas Smith piled up more than 1,600 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in 2020.”
This is an awfully high draft slot for Smith, whose 175-pound frame is going to give NFL decision-makers anxiety over whether his college success — 1,641 yards and 20 TDs in 2020 — will translate against pro cornerbacks who are faster, bigger, and stronger than any player Smith’s faced in the SEC. Smith is an elite route-runner with a slippery and smooth skill set, but next-level wide receiver play requires a level of physicality that usually results in teams targeting Julio Jones-types in the top five.
That said, I won’t have a problem with a team valuing Smith in this range. The wide-open nature of today’s passing game allows for smaller receivers to have success. And remember: Smith isn’t ‘small,’ he’s just skinny. He’s 6-1 and has really good length to snag balls away from his frame. This pick wouldn’t be a devastating failure.
The same can’t be said about McShay’s strategy for Miami’s second first-rounder.
At No. 18 overall, McShay sends the Dolphins Rashod Bateman, the supremely talented pass-catcher from the University of Minnesota.
Look, Bateman is a stud. He’s a first-round prospect, and get ready: there will be draft outlets that have him as the WR1 by the time April rolls around. The value — Bateman going 18th overall — isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s McShay sending Miami two wide receivers in the first round.
Even he knows it might be a crazy idea.
“I’m giving the Dolphins two first-round wide receivers, something no team has done in the common draft era,” wrote McShay. “DeVonta Smith starts that process at No. 3, and Bateman continues it at No. 18. Among 33 qualified quarterbacks, Tagovailoa ranked 31st in QBR when targeting a wide receiver (60.8) this season. Bateman would provide him with a tenacious middle-of-the-field presence, and he has great hands.”
Dolphins fans can’t be happy with this mock draft. Two wide receivers in Round 1? Gross.
Miami would be better off trading out of one of those picks in an effort to continue stockpiling draft capital. Yes, invest in Tua and get him the weapons he needs. But don’t exhaust two first-round picks in the same draft to do it. Instead, grab a Day-2 wideout (there will be plenty of quality options available to the Dolphins in the second round in 2021).
If McShay really wants to juice things up for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ offense, he could’ve sent Alabama RB Najee Harris to South Beach. Harris comes off the board 10 picks after Miami’s selection, No. 28 overall, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Alabama triplets (Tua, Smith, Haris) would be a fantastic storyline to follow and their familiarity with each other would provide an ancillary benefit of an expedited learning curve and adjustment period.
Don’t draft two first-round wide receivers, Miami. Just don’t do it.