Kelly: Falcons will dictate the direction of Dolphins’ first pick in 2021 NFL draft | Commentary

Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

In 2008 a conservative decision chartered a troublesome course for the Miami Dolphins franchise, which could have benefited from a decade of steady play from Matt Ryan as the team’s starting quarterback.

Instead, the franchise picked left tackle Jake Long with the No. 1 overall pick that draft. Long had five injury-plagued seasons in Miami, whose decision to shun Ryan led to a steady diet of mediocre-to-average quarterbacks while Ryan led Atlanta to seven winning seasons and six postseason appearances in 13 years.

Would it comfort you if I said the fate and future of who Miami selected with the No. 6 pick this year is yet again connected to Ryan?

The NFL draft starts at pick No. 4 for the Dolphins because no matter what the Falcons do it will have a snowball effect on Miami’s first draft pick, unless Atlanta takes a quarterback.

Doesn’t matter which quarterback, but the Dolphins decision-makers would be shedding tears of joy if four quarterbacks were taken before Miami gets on the clock with the sixth pick on April 29.

If the Falcons are comfortable heading into next season with the 35-year-old quarterback, which his recent contract restructuring leads us to believe, they could trade the pick to a team in pursuit of the draft’s fourth-best quarterback.

Maybe that’s Denver, Detroit or New England, which all have murky situations at quarterback heading into the 2021 season.

Or the Falcons could trade pick No. 4 to a team intent on getting ahead of Cincinnati (pick No. 5) and Miami, a move that would likely be done for a skill position player, or an offensive lineman (seems like Dallas might be interested).

If the Falcons’ give Ryan the protection (Oregon’s Penei Sewell) or playmaker (Florida tight Kyle Pitts) needed for him to regain his status as one of the NFL’s top-10 passers, then Cincinnati’s No. 5 pick is impacted.

The Bengals need to improve their offensive line considering quarterback Joe Burrow, last year’s No. 1 pick, was sacked 32 times in 10 games, before one of those hits led to him tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, ending his rookie season.

But giving Burrow better playmakers might also be in play for the Bengals, who are coached by former Dolphins offensive assistant Zac Taylor, who owns a 6-25-1 record as a head coach and should be viewed as a coach on the hot seat.

Pitts, who ran a 4.44 40-yard dash time, benched 225 pounds 22 times, produced a 33.5 inch vertical while measuring in at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, is the type of player that fits in every offense. That justifies why he’ll likely become earliest drafted tight end since Vernon Davis was taken sixth overall in the 2006 draft.

Pitts is likely Miami’s top target in the 2021 draft, but moving back from pick No. 3 to pick No. 6 in a package of trades with San Francisco and Philadelphia makes it questionable that the Dolphins will end up with the former Gators standout.

The Falcons haven’t had a good tight end since Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez retired in 2013, and Pitts could help Ryan regain his mojo by providing that release valve all quarterbacks need.

If Atlanta goes elsewhere, or trades the pick, its likely that the Bengals will be tempted to take Pitts, or former LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who was Burrow’s favorite target during his Heisman Trophy winning season, and wait to address the offensive line later.

Like the Falcons, the Bengals could also select Sewell, which would be ideal for Miami because the offensive lineman being among the draft’s top-five picks sets the table for Miami to land one of the draft’s top two playmakers.

The Dolphins likely vetted this situation thoroughly before trading down, and back up, so it is safe to conclude they are comfortable wherever the No. 6 pick leads.

Miami’s decision-makers wanted to be within the realm of first-round elites, and they are.

Either Miami gets the leftover of Pitts and Chase, or DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, two Alabama standouts who each would add a missing dimension to Miami’s offense.

The Dolphins could also possibly select Sewell, who should also be considered because of his unique movement skills as a 300-pounder. Sewell would be a finishing piece to an offensive line that’s young, unpolished, and hopefully improving.

Of all the first-round picks Miami has made the past two decades, selecting an offensive linemen — Vernon Carey (2004), Long (2008), Mike Pouncey (2011), Ja’Wuan James (2014), Laremy Tunsil (2016) and Austin Jackson (2020) — has been the safest route.

Safe isn’t always sexy, but running the football effectively, and protecting the quarterback is, and Sewell can help Miami do that.

Either way the Falcons go, and the subsequent dominoes fall, the Dolphins will be in position to add a cornerstone piece for the offense.

Hopefully this decision is better than the one that was made in 2008, and the Falcons preparing for Ryan’s NFL swan song somehow benefits the Dolphins a decade after missing out on yet another franchise quarterback.