The conundrum with Dolphins’ first-round pick, and why best case scenario could be dashed

While the Dolphins could justify taking a player at any of five positions with the 21st pick in Thursday’s NFL draft, there’s only one position that screams a need for a starter, in our view: defensive tackle.

And therein lies the quandary.

Texas’ Byron Murphy III would be a no-brainer pick at 21. But there’s a growing conviction among evaluators that Murphy will be off the board before 21, perhaps well before.

NFL Net’s Daniel Jeremiah has Murphy as a sleeper top 10 pick. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Field Yates have him going in the mid-teens.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this week that while most mock drafts have Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner as the first defensive player to be drafted, some executives believe the first defensive player selected will be Murphy, perhaps at picks 8 or 9.

“Murphy, who had five sacks last season, is talented, plays a coveted position and has gotten clean character reports,” Schefter said.

Murphy is exactly what Miami needs to replace Christian Wilkins. But barring a major surprise, he won’t be there at 21.

Drafting for need is traditionally risky business, and Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said last week that he never drafts for need in the first two rounds.

In spite of that comment, defensive tackle should worry the Dolphins more than any position on the roster. They’ve lost a top-third-in-the-league starter at the position in Wilkins and replaced him with two backups in Neville Gallimore and Jonathan Harris.

Teair Tart could play some in Wilkins’ spot, but he’s more of a nose tackle, and Grier was non-committal about whether Tart would play anything beyond nose tackle.

The Dolphins replaced a serviceable defensive tackle, Raekwon Davis, with a nose tackle (Benito Jones) that Pro Football Focus rated as one of the league’s worst starters at his position last season. At least they added a better player in Tart three weeks later in free agency.

The fear, at least here, is that the Dolphins are at risk of being gouged against the run at times, even though they still have two front seven defenders (Zach Sieler and David Long Jr.) who are very good against the run. (Tart can be too, when he’s on his game.)

That’s why finding a highly skilled player to replace Wilkins dwarfs other needs, in my view.

Yes, the Dolphins could use a right guard, but they have three serviceable internal options in Jack Driscoll and Rob Jones and Liam Eichenberg, and it’s easy to find a cheap guard well into the summer.

Yes, they could use a succession plan at tackle to prepare for a post-Terron Armstead era. But if they draft Georgia’s Amarius Mims or Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton at 21, would either even play if Armstead or Austin Jackson is injured? Kendall Lamm could still be first off the bench.

Yes, they need another edge rusher, and you could easily justify taking UCLA’a Laiatu Latu or FSU’s Jared Verse. But they don’t need a starting edge rusher when Jaelen Phillips and Bradley Chubb are healthy.

Yes, they need a No. 3 receiver, but there are still more than a handful of those available in free agency, and the Dolphins -- on June 1 -- will have the cap space to sign any of them (Odell Beckham Jr., Tyler Boyd, DJ Chark) if any is available and if they choose to offer more than they would ideally like to spend at that position.

Defensive tackle is different. There’s no sure-fire starter available in free agency.

Some Dolphins fans take false comfort in the notion that defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will use a rotation or “by committee” approach. But that doesn’t assure you’ll get quality snaps from rotation parts.

The problem is there’s not really a no-brainer defensive tackle option at 21 if Murphy is gone, as now expected.

“Murphy has some traces of Christian Wilkins in his game as a disruptive interior defender,” ESPN’s Yates said in mocking Murphy to Miami last month, before moving him up five spots in his latest mock draft.

“Murphy had a great season in 2023 with five sacks, but the stats are far from the full story of his impact. He has a unique ability to torque and hold up against the run, and he makes life easier for the players around him.”

If Murphy isn’t there at 21, the other options at defensive tackle at No. 21 would be Illinois standout Jer’Zhan Newton and Missouri’s 285-pound Darius Robinson, who can “play inside or outside,” according to NFL Net’s Bucky Brooks.

Miami might be able to land either with a trade-down or simply address defensive tackle at 55.

Kiper has Robinson 29th and Newton falling all the way to 49th.

In our view, taking Newton at 21 could easily be justified. Per PFF, his 102 quarterback pressures since 2022 are 24 more than any other FBS defensive tackle during those two seasons.’s Lance Zierlein said Newton’s “skill level and athleticism should create additional playmaking opportunities for him as a three-down 3-technique with early starting potential.”

Zierlein said Robinson “lacks potent moves and counters as an edge rusher, leaning heavily on force. Robinson’s power and motor increase the chances he becomes a good starting base end who reduces inside on third downs.”

If Miami takes an offensive lineman or edge rusher or LSU receiver Brian Thomas Jr. or Texas receiver Xavier Worthy at 21, then the Dolphins probably need to consider taking a defensive tackle at 55, whether it’s Clemson’s Ruke Orhorhoro, LSU’s Maason Smith, FSU’s Braden Fiske, Ohio State’s Michael Hall, Michigan’s Kris Jenkins or Texas’ D’Vondre Sweat.

If there’s no defensive tackle worthy of taking at No. 21 in Grier’s mind, then the pick -- in our view -- should be an edge rusher, whether it’s Verse or Latu. At least an edge rusher would get snaps at a position where depth is lacking, especially if Chubb is sidelined early in the season after his Dec. 31 torn ACL.

You can sign a good third receiver and serviceable right guard in free agency. Unless you have concerns about the defensive tackles or edge rushers on the board at 21, defense remains a far bigger need than offense on this team.

Even though Grier says need never drives his selections in the first or second rounds, he can’t ignore defensive tackle. Simply hoping that backup players become effective starters isn’t really a plan.


The Dolphins began free agency with 28 free agents.

They ended up re-signing 10 of them: offensive linemen Jones, Isaiah Wynn and Lamm; receivers Braxton Berrios and River Cracraft; defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand; defensive backs Nik Needham and Elijah Campbell; running back Salvon Ahmed and punter Jake Bailey.

Seven signed elsewhere: Wilkins with the Raiders; guard Robert Hunt with Carolina; safety De’Shon Elliott with Pittsburgh; safety Brandon Jones with Denver; receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. with New Orleans; defensive lineman Davis with Indianapolis and linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel with Minnesota.

More than a half dozen others remain unsigned: receivers Chase Claypool (who has negotiated with a CFL team) and Robbie Chosen; cornerbacks Eli Apple and Justin Bethel; tight end Tyler Kroft; and edge players Melvin Ingram, Bruce Irvin and Justin Houston, linebacker Calvin Munson and center Jonnothan Harrison.

Center Connor Williams remains unsigned because of a serious knee injury that might sideline him for the 2024 season.

Among Dolphins who were cut, Jerome Baker (Seattle) found work, while Xavien Howard, Emmanuel Ogbah and Keion Crossen are still looking.