Indianapolis will be the center of the NFL universe this week with the 2020 NFL scouting combine. But by the time the 2020 NFL draft arrives in Las Vegas, the center of power will actually be several time zones away in Miami.
The Miami Dolphins are this year’s power brokers in the draft, armed with a trove of high picks both this year and next. And before we even arrive at the draft, there’s free agency, where the Dolphins are as well-positioned (with around $90 million in salary cap space) as any of the 32 teams to make a splash.
The Dolphins own three picks in Round 1 — Nos. 5, 18 and 26 overall. They also have two more in Round 2, giving them five of the first 70 overall selections. They currently own five more picks in Rounds 5 through 7, and are expected to earn at least one fourth-round compensatory pick, plus a later selection, that will be allocated later this month.
Throw in the fact the Dolphins also own the Houston Texans’ first- and second-round picks in 2021, and there’s almost nothing they can’t go after this offseason that they see fit.
“They’re set up to control the draft,” a former GM told Yahoo Sports back in January. “It’s a front office’s dream to have this much ammo. They can take almost any route they want to filling those holes.”
What the Dolphins’ combine focus will be
With this much flexibility in the months to come, it’s a great birthday gift for Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who turns 39 on Monday. He helped coach up a shorthanded team to a strong finish in his maiden season, going 5-4 down the stretch — including a shocking Week 17 upset against his former New England Patriots team in Foxborough — after starting 0-7.
General manager Chris Grier also has to be excited, if not daunted, by the possibilities. After surviving several iterations of a Dolphins front office that has been in near-constant flux over the past 13 years, he’s emerged as the chief decision-maker and has helped position his team to have a massive offseason.
The top need is at quarterback. The Dolphins have Ryan Fitzpatrick in their proverbial back pocket as a bridge option if they want to bring him back as a spot starter and shepherd for a draft choice this year. And even if they can’t find a way to move up for LSU QB Joe Burrow, there are several interesting options — including Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — this year.
And if the right 2020 draft QB doesn’t tickle their fancy, there’s always the option for the Dolphins to go the veteran route at the position (Cam Newton might come free, for instance) and punt on a draft QB until 2021, when Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields might be the two most coveted options.
Outside of QB, there are several needs. It’s possible the Dolphins could draft two offensive linemen this year. They also are seeking help in the secondary, at linebacker, receiver and running back. A pass rusher also would figure to be high on their priority list.
“I think it lines up pretty well for them,” the former GM said. “If they determine it’s not a great year to draft a guard, let’s say, they can put that position in the crosshairs in free agency and pretty much blow away any other team’s offer on a certain player, like [Washington’s Brandon] Scherff, for instance.”
Even though this is a team that has several needs, the Dolphins might not hang onto every one of their dozen picks this year. If they want to move up for a specific prospect, there is not much holding them back.
How the Dolphins could approach the QBs
But make no mistake, the Dolphins’ combine focus will be on scouring the fairly talented 2020 QB crop and trying to hone in on one or two prospects they could feel good about handing the keys of the franchise.
Assuming Burrow is a pipe dream, Tagovailoa is the name most Dolphins fans feel drawn to. The team certainly knows about Tagovailoa’s football skills, but the combine efforts will be geared with a two-pronged approach on him: determining the Alabama QB’s health following hip surgery (and two prior ankle surgeries) and also figuring out if he can be the face of their franchise.
The franchise has also done extensive work on Oregon’s Justin Herbert. His health concerns are minimal at worst. Herbert possesses top-notch physical traits and terrific personal character, so those are non-issues.
The biggest questions about Herbert center around his seemingly plateaued development over the past two seasons with the Ducks and whether his bookish smarts can adequately translate into the quick-processing ability that all great NFL QBs possess. There’s also some chatter in league circles about whether Herbert can be an alpha leader, although some of those fears appear to be a bit overblown.
Significance of NFL combine week for Dolphins
This is the most important week for the Dolphins franchise in many years. The promotion of Grier, the hiring of Flores and the stockpiling of resources have all led the team to this launching point. The opportunity is too good to let pass this time.
The last time the franchise faced a similar crossroads, back in 2012, it didn’t quite work as planned. Led by former GM Jeff Ireland, Miami selected Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick that year. Although he had a few solid moments in aqua and orange, Tannehill didn’t really emerge until after he was traded — for quarters on the dollar — to the Tennessee Titans last offseason.
What the Dolphins determine at the combine this week is going to help shape their offseason plan with the hope of turning around a franchise that has a mere two playoff appearances in the past 18 seasons and hasn’t drafted a true franchise QB since Dan Marino in 1983.
If the Dolphins are to end their moribund trend, the hands-on groundwork for that revival will begin in earnest this week.
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