Omar Kelly: Dolphins need a bolder approach in NFL draft to improve team’s talent base

Omar Kelly: Dolphins need a bolder approach in NFL draft to improve team’s talent base thumbnail

Do you want high-ceiling, or a high-floor player with your NFL draft picks?

That’s a simple question that will likely produce some convoluted answer from the executive in charge of restocking your favorite NFL team’s talent base.

He’ll probably dance around the question, sprinkling in some draft jargon like BPA (best player available), and discuss where runs are projected at particular positions, and then bore us to death with talk about finding players who (insert yarn) “love football.”

I’ve heard it for a decade-plus from former Miami Dolphins’ executives like Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, Dennis Hickey, Mike Tannenbaum, and now general manager Chris Grier, who has been here for the past two decades of lackluster drafts, watching and learn from all of his predecessors.

Drafts belong to the general managers. The players they select are what goes on their NFL resumes. During the past two decades the Dolphins have selected a ton of decent players — safe players — and not enough elite ones.

That needs to change with this draft, and to do so Grier needs to use Miami’s early picks to select players with high-ceilings, talents who can help transform this franchise into a title contender by 2023.

That means no more offensive linemen taken early. While it pains me to write that because Miami’s one athletic lineman away from having a forceful line, it’s time to go bold, not big.

Even though offensive linemen have been this franchise’s safest, and most successful first-round picks going back to 2004, like Grier said during his 2020 end-of-the-season press conference, the Dolphins need “playmakers.”

That’s a pass catcher who can take a quick hitch the distance by juking a defender, Florida’s Kyle Pitts, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle all fit that description, and would be excellent choices with the No. 6 pick.

And yes, they are in order of preference.

That’s also a tailback who consistently puts the Dolphins offense in second-and-5 or better because he routinely gains more than half the yardage needed for a first down on each carry where a defense doesn’t stack the box.

Alabama’s Najee Harris personifies what I want an NFL back to look and play like, and that’s why I wouldn’t hesitate to select him with the 18th pick, and pray the Arizona Cardinals don’t beat Miami to the Crimson tide’s all-time scoring leader.

Miami needs a pass rusher who can disengage from an offensive tackle and hunt down the opposing quarterback the way Jason Taylor, Joey Porter and Cam Wake did.

Miami’s Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari and Washington’s Joe Tryon have the biggest upside as top-50 picks.

Miami should swing for the fences this draft and take one early.

The Dolphins don’t need safe picks. This franchise has had a steady diet of those for two decades, which explains why Miami has qualified for the postseason twice since the 2001 season, and haven’t won a playoff game since December 30, 2000.

The Dolphins need bold picks. Bold choices, like when the franchise selected Jarvis Landry in the second-round of the 2014 draft despite having a stable full of capable receivers like Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline.

Landry wasn’t a need, but Miami couldn’t pass up adding a dog to their roster, and the team benefited from that choice for four years.

Or when Grier advocated Miami’s selection of Reshad Jones in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Jones’ me-first personality turned off quite a few teams, leading to his slide into the later rounds of that draft.

Miami ended his free fall, and as a result Jones produced the closest thing this franchise has to Ring of Honor worthy career this past decade.

I’m not saying players with serious character risks need to fill Miami’s roster. But the Dolphins need to stop avoiding players who might be more difficult to coach than others.

Landry and Jones became starters at the end of their rookie seasons, and stars in the seasons that followed. They were both game changers, impact players who single-handedly won this franchise games.

Along with Wake, they were the type of talents that keep offensive and defensive coordinators up at night, the ones who eventually required pace-setting contracts.

Miami has drafted a couple of those players in recent years, but far too few.

And it doesn’t help that the Dolphins traded away elite talents (Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick) and didn’t re-acquire the same caliber of players with the draft picks they received for them.

Nobody said keeping high-ceiling players would be easy.

Some of them aren’t easy to coach. Many are motivated by money, or fame. But they certainly do make their coaches look better with their play.

There’s usually a trade-off when it comes to high-ceiling players, and its time the Dolphins stop taking the safe approach to building a team, and started focusing on upside instead of worrying about the possible downside.

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