Omar Kelly: Forget needs, Dolphins should take best-player approach in 2020 draft

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The beauty of what the Miami Dolphins accomplished in free agency last month, courtesy of the team’s $240 million-plus spending spree, is that the franchise didn’t leave any glaring holes on the roster.

Two pass rushers with edge-setting capabilities were signed. Two starting-caliber offensive linemen were added.

Two safeties who can contend to become starters in 2020 were picked up. A tailback with starting experience was thrown onto the pile.

Miami added an elite cornerback in Byron Jones and signed two versatile linebackers — Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts — familiar with coach Brian Flores’ complicated scheme.

General manager Chris Grier and Flores used proven veterans to address areas of need where the draft was weak — pass rusher, offensive guard and cornerback — and left voids where the draft class is strong, such as tailback, receiver, and safety.

That’s right, Grier showed what 20 years of experience with one organization can deliver, putting the Dolphins in a healthy spot heading into the NFL draft.

This approach will likely keep the Dolphins from being desperate on the first day of the draft, which is important because drafting for needs is generally where most teams make their biggest mistakes.

Quarterback, tailback, offensive tackle, safety and defensive line remain areas of concern for the Dolphins. Those spots would benefit from an upgrade, but Miami already has a player who can start now.

It would be ideal for the Dolphins to select a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft. However, with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the team’s 2019 Most Valuable Player, expected to be the team’s starter next season and backup Josh Rosen still on the roster, taking a quarterback early isn’t mandatory.

Tailback Jordan Howard, who signed a two-year deal worth $9.75 million, is the second-most accomplished starting tailback in the AFC East, only behind the New York Jets’ Le’Veon Bell. Howard can certainly carry the run game for a season or two.

Jesse Davis is Miami’s most reliable offensive lineman. He can start at any spot outside of center and hold the line. Julien Davenport struggled most of last season when healthy, and most of his NFL career, but the offensive tackle improved in the final month of the 2019 season.

Maybe Davenport continues to make strides.

And the same can be said about Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe, two cornerback converts, who spent last season learning how to play safety.

Upgrading all those spots — adding young players with upside — would be ideal for the Dolphins, who hold an NFL-high 14 selections in the draft’s seven rounds. But Miami’s decision-makers don’t need to feel pressed about taking a quarterback, offensive tackle, running back or safety, because they have created draft synergy in the second offseason of the franchise’s massive overhaul.

This approach will allow the Dolphins to take a best-player available — or BPA — approach with the team’s three first-round picks.

Every team is guessing during this process in the best of times, but the new coronavirus pandemic has canceled pro days, prospect workouts and team visits, which are key in evaluating players. That means the odds of hitting on draft picks just decreased.

How do you counteract this problem?

Make sure you have a good college scouting department. Luckily, the Dolphins are solid here, because of the addition of assistant general manager Marvin Allen, one of the nation’s most-respected college evaluators, and Adam Engroff, a well-respected college scout who was recently promoted to co-director of player personnel.

Most importantly, a team can pick prospects the organization believes are sure things and safe selections.

That means draft elite players at their position who possess few, if any, medical or character red flags.

That’s why in my second mock draft, which took a BPA approach to the first-round, I used the No. 5 pick to take the draft’s highest-rated receiver: Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, an elite route runner from Deerfield Beach who is often compared to Antonio Brown.

Receiver is a need, but it wasn’t the year Miami drafted Jarvis Landry early.

With the No. 18 pick, I selected Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who has inconsistent film, but possesses an elite arm with a Dan Marino-like quick release.

Picking Love instead of Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas was a tough decision. But my reasoning was that there are plenty of second-tier offensive linemen I also like, and Love would have likely been selected before pick No. 26 arrived.

Then instead of snagging a leftover offensive tackle like USC’s Austin Jackson or Houston’s Josh Jones, I used the No. 26 pick to draft Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift.

Swift is as polished as the draft’s tailbacks come. He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of mileage on his legs, but does have natural hands and the ability to make defenders miss.

If the Dolphins do take this BPA approach with the three first-round picks, Day 2 of the draft could be used to address remaining needs.

There’s a batch of talented safeties — Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr., California’s Ashyn Davis and Utah’s Julian Blackmon and Terrell Burgess, Michigan’s Josh Metellus — who should be available on Day 2.

And adding any two of these offensive linemen — Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, Georgia’s Isaiah Williams, Louisiana’s Robert Hunt, Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho, Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland, Connecticut’s Matt Peart, St. John’s Ben Bartch, LSU’s Damien Lewis and Lloyd Cushenberry, Temple’s Matt Hennessy, Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz and Oregon’s Shane Lemieux — would instantly improve Miami in the trenches.

Because of Miami’s free-agency approach, needs can wait, because the foundation has been built. This upcoming draft presents the Dolphins the ideal opportunity to find difference-makers, and the best approach to doing so is sticking to the BPA method.


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