MIAMI — The 2020 NFL draft is more than six months away, but there are a handful of teams that should be looking forward to the offseason, most notably the 0-4 Miami Dolphins, a team that has been outscored 163-26 in its first four games.
There might not be a more important team come April than the Dolphins. Miami will have three first-round picks, a 73% chance at the No. 1 overall selection and a shot to land a long-term answer at quarterback. The Dolphins also will have an expected $100 million-plus in salary-cap space to use to add depth via free agency and trades.
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier promises to be aggressive in hopes of building a winner in Miami sooner than later. He said as much after making multiple monster trades this summer and jettisoning former first-round picks Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick in packages that returned four picks in the next two drafts. The most notable Miami acquisitions from those deals were 2020 first-round picks from Houston and Pittsburgh, respectively. Now, Grier has the assets to be the kingmaker of the draft.
“We can do anything we want, whether it’s free agency or draft,” Grier said following the Fitzpatrick trade. “We’ve positioned ourselves, we think, to do anything or get whatever player we feel that will help us as soon as possible.”
The Dolphins have to be pumped about how their Fitzpatrick trade with the Steelers (1-4) has worked out since they are in position to potentially have another top-five or top-10 selection. That pick could become a big-time playmaker to support their future franchise quarterback.
With the Dolphins coming off their Week 5 bye with less than 0.1% to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s Pro Football Index, it’s a good time to take an early October look at what would be the ideal use of the team’s first-round picks next April.
We used Scouts Inc.’s 2020 draft player rankings and Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent Big Board to give us a pool of players to choose from at this stage of the college football season. Then we used FPI odds to give us a projected draft order. From that, ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe selected an ideal pick at each spot based on team need, fit and draft tendencies.
No. 1 overall pick (own pick, 73% chance to secure this spot, per FPI)
Size: 6-foot-1, 218 pounds
Wolfe’s thoughts: The Dolphins have been on a two-decade search for a franchise-changing quarterback since Dan Marino retired in 2000. It would be a huge surprise if the Dolphins don’t come away with the man they believe could fill that role in the 2020 draft. The most likely candidate is Tagovailoa, who has captivated front offices and the Dolphins fanbase. Tagovailoa’s pinpoint accuracy, playmaking ability and NFL-ready game have him looking like the man who could help bring Miami back to prominence. He would immediately become the face of the South Florida sports market, and he seems to have the demeanor to carry that pressure. This should be the most common player-team connection from now until April’s draft. If the Dolphins land the No. 1 pick, smart money is on Tagovailoa.
Kiper’s player breakdown: Is it really possible for Tagovailoa to be more efficient than he was in 2018? So far, the answer is yes. The lefty is completing 76.4% of his passes — up from 69% — with 23 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s averaging 11.6 yards per attempt, and his 96.6 Total QBR is tied for first in FBS (with that of former teammate Jalen Hurts). He has been tremendous. Tagovailoa has elite accuracy and great footwork, and his arm strength looks improved in his second season as a full-time starter. Now, he and Bama haven’t really been tested yet; they have rolled through their first five games. If Tagovailoa keeps this up against LSU and Auburn in a couple of months, he’s going to be the surefire top quarterback in this class.
Backup option: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
No. 9 overall pick (via Pittsburgh)
Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds
Wolfe’s thoughts: If/when Tagovailoa is secured, Miami’s next goal should be protecting him and finding weapons for him. It’s unlikely that Miami will be able to redo its entire offensive line in one offseason, but a good start would be selecting a consistent, NFL-ready offensive tackle such as Thomas, who could slide in at left tackle or right tackle (protecting Tagovailoa’s blind side). Grier has shown a tendency to target experienced, versatile, big-school prospects, and Thomas checks all of those boxes as a three-year SEC starter who has started at both tackle spots.
Kiper’s player breakdown: There haven’t been many top-tier offensive tackle talents lately. The last time a tackle was picked in the top five was 2015 (Brandon Scherff). Could 2020 be the year of the tackle resurgence? I’m not going to go that far just yet, but there are some talented big men to watch, such as Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Thomas. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a couple of them in the top 10. Thomas, who started at right tackle as a true freshman in 2017, switched to the left side last season and has long arms and good feet. He’s a steady player who doesn’t make mistakes.
Backup option: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
No. 27 overall pick (via Houston)
Size: 6-foot-5, 262 pounds
Wolfe’s thoughts: The Dolphins rank 31st in sacks since the start of the 2017 season, trailing only the Oakland Raiders. There should be a huge “pass-rushers needed” sign in front of the Miami facility, which is why Gross-Matos would be great use of the Dolphins’ third first-round pick. With Chase Young and A.J. Epenesa taking an early lead as the draft’s top two edge rushers, per Kiper’s board, Gross-Matos looks like a better-than-OK consolation prize whose athleticism and skills could allow him to play 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker for Miami’s multiple defense.
Kiper’s player breakdown: When I rewatched the Penn State defensive line to get a feel for 2019 draft pick Shareef Miller‘s season, I kept coming back to Gross-Matos, who was the most productive player from the group. He had eight sacks and 20 total tackles for loss. Gross-Matos is a pure pass-rusher with a big frame — he wears size 17 shoes — and he still has room to grow. He’s raw, but he has a high ceiling. He has 5.5 sacks in his first four games and is dealing with a nagging injury.
Backup option: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU