Dolphins Rookies Who Will Make Instant Impact in 2021 Season
General manager Chris Grier has done a great job of acquiring picks and engineering a Miami Dolphins rebuild. And the 2021 NFL draft will be one of the events that determines whether that rebuild is a success.
The Dolphins were in the unique position of coming off a successful season at 10-6 but also holding multiple premium picks. They selected four players in the top 100 picks.
There will be high expectations around the influx of talent. It's hard enough for a rookie to find their footing and contribute in the first year, but it's even harder when it's on a team with legitimate playoff hopes.
After just missing the playoffs last year, Miami will be looking to secure a berth this season. With the help of these three rookies, they should see an instant improvement and potentially take the next step as a franchise.
WR Jaylen Waddle
The Dolphins' draft trades show just how much confidence they have in Jaylen Waddle. When they traded out of the No. 3 slot and then back up to No. 6, they had to do it knowing they could miss out on Ja'Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts.
They liked Waddle enough to take him before his Heisman Trophy-winning Alabama teammate, DeVonta Smith.
"At the end of the day, they’re both really good players and really good kids and very competitive," Grier said in his post-draft press conference. "Just as we went through it, it's the explosiveness that Waddle gives you as well as the return game."
The pick was another example of an NFL team pairing up a receiving prospect with its quarterback from college. The Bengals gave Joe Burrow fellow LSU product Ja'Marr Chase to work with, while Grier has paired Tua Tagovailoa with Waddle.
The 22-year-old is a good fit with the quarterback. Tagovailoa's strength is his accuracy in the short-to-intermediate game. Waddle specializes in turning those types of passes into touchdowns. His run-after-the-catch ability has been compared to that of Tyreek Hill.
Waddle will immediately become one of the team's top targets, especially with Will Fuller V finishing out his suspension.
Early Stats Prediction: 55 catches, 782 yards, six touchdowns
Edge Jaelan Phillips
Jaelan Phillips doesn't come without risk, but the ceiling for the value of the 18th overall pick is high.
The 21-year-old's injury history, which includes multiple concussions and a brief retirement from football, was likely enough to make some teams avoid him. But it also tells you how talented he is that he still ended up being a top-20 pick.
Phillips has an NFL-ready body at 6'5½" and 260 pounds, and he was one of the most polished pass-rushers in the draft. He's a player who understands how to use his hands and makes up for any athletic deficiencies with strong technique.
The result last season was eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, an interception and three pass deflections with the Miami Hurricanes.
That's the kind of production that would have likely made him a top-10 talent if it wasn't for the injuries. That shouldn't hold him back from making an early impact as his skills clearly translate to the next level.
Phillips figures to slot in as the edge-defender across from Emmanuel Ogbah and should be among the team's sack leaders in Year 1.
Early Stat Prediction: 40 tackles, four sacks, eight tackles for loss
T/G Liam Eichenberg
The Dolphins may have waited until Day 2 to add to their offensive line, but the trade up to get Liam Eichenberg in the second round indicates how important they think the Notre Dame product will be.
With a normalized college football season coming, 2022 draft picks hold extra value, and the Dolphins gave up a third-rounder next year to move up from No. 50 to No. 42 to get the 23-year-old.
For that trade to make sense, the Dolphins have to be penciling him into the lineup from Day 1.
Eichenberg is a three-year starter at left tackle for Notre Dame, so Miami is getting a polished prospect who didn't give up any sacks in his 2019 and 2020 campaigns, per PFF.
His presence gives the Dolphins some positional flexibility. They could now move Robert Hunt inside to guard where he could have Pro Bowl potential or Eichenberg could move inside based on Hunt's final five games where he performed well at right tackle.
Either way, expect to see the former Nittany Lion on the field a lot in 2021.
Early Stats Prediction: 16 starts, three sacks allowed