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Why the Dolphins drafting a wide receiver early wouldn’t be a surprise

It was just a year ago that the Dolphins were on the clock with their first pick in the 2023 Draft when they were faced with a common conundrum for NFL teams.

Do you stick to your board and take the top prospect, even if it’s not a perceived position of need?

Miami did so by taking cornerback Cam Smith with the No. 51 overall pick, despite having two Pro Bowlers in Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard on the roster.

The Dolphins could face a similar decision in the 2024 Draft, with a deep wide receiver class and an opportunity to strengthen a top-heavy position group.

Miami has arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but there’s little depth behind them for the upcoming season.

Cedrick Wilson Jr., Braxton Berrios, River Cracraft, Chase Claypool and Robbie Chosen are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year on March 13. The only other wide receivers under contract for the 2024 season — 2022 fourth-round pick Erik Ezukanma, Braylon Sanders, Anthony Schwartz and Matthew Sexton — have a combined 17 career catches.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) run through warmups before the start of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA on Sunday, October 22, 2023.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) run through warmups before the start of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA on Sunday, October 22, 2023.

No receiver tandem combined for more yards in 2023 than Hill and Waddle’s 2,813. However, the Dolphins limited their snaps throughout the season, and Miami failed to find a consistent No. 3 option. The team’s depth issues were only magnified when Hill and Waddle dealt with injuries late in the season.

While the team’s search for a tight end with an all-around skill set remains a point of conversation, the 2024 draft class is one with several intriguing wide receiver options.

In NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s latest top-50 prospect rankings released Monday, there are 11 wide receivers listed.

“I think if you are going to take a receiver, there’s a bunch of them,” he said on a conference call last week.

The top options — Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., Washington’s Rome Odunze and LSU’s Malik Nabers — are unlikely to be available for Miami with the No. 21 overall pick. But there will be several talented prospects on the board late in the first round and when the Dolphins are back on the clock in the second round with the 55th pick (Miami forfeited its third-round pick as part of punishment for its tampering violations).

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Miami has met with multiple Day 2 and Day 3 prospects who could make an offense that finished No. 1 in yards even more dynamic.

Mar 1, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson (WO39) talks to the media during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson (WO39) talks to the media during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Among the wide receiver prospects the Dolphins have spoken to this week include Michigan’s Roman Wilson and Texas A&M Ainias Smith. Florida’s Ricky Pearsall also said he met with Miami during the Senior Bowl last week.

Wilson and Pearsall were both standouts at the Senior Bowl. Wilson, 5-10 and 186 pounds, was a first-team All-Big Ten selection this past season. He led the national champion Wolverines with 48 catches, 789 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Wilson, who also met with the Dolphins at the Senior Bowl, was a big-play threat for a run-heavy Michigan offense.

Pearsall, 6-1 and 190 pounds, could give the Dolphins a bit more size in the wide receiver room. He might not align with the Dolphins’ preference for speed on offense, but he gained a reputation for making tough, contested catches. and Jeremiah called him a “real loose, fluid, excellent route runner.”

The Dolphins had great success with running back De’Von Achane, who totaled almost 1,000 scrimmage yards as a rookie, and could find a similarly dynamic player in Achane’s former college teammate Ainias Smith.

Smith, 5-9 and 191 pounds, led the Aggies in catches (53) and receiving yards (795) in 2023 and was also an electric returner with two punt return touchdowns in college. He said Friday that teams have not only talked to him about contributing as a returner but using him as a running back in certain situations; he had four rushing touchdowns in his college career. The Dolphins have used their receivers in the backfield under head coach Mike McDaniel.

Smith said it was “pretty crazy” to meet Dolphins wide receivers coach Wes Welker, who said Smith reminded him of himself. Smith said he is “real tight” with Achane and that they grew up in the same area in Houston. He also has a relationship with Waddle, who is from Houston, too.

The Dolphins are always thinking long-term when making moves. And though Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said this week that Waddle is a big part of the team’s future, Hill, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2023, is entering his age-30 season.

What needs the Dolphins address in free agency in two weeks will largely impact their draft process in late April. Offensive line, defensive line and cornerback are currently more pressing needs. But as Grier noted after taking Cam Smith last year and again at the Combine this week, depth is paramount in the NFL.

“I think at the end of the day, we pick at 21, you’ll always take the best player,” Grier said Wednesday. “I don’t want to speculate any position, but if it’s a position people think we’re stacked at, you never know. Like last year, everyone said our outside linebacker group was really deep, and then things happen. And then the receivers, Waddle went down a little bit, Tyreek got banged up.

“So in this league, the way that injuries happen, you need depth everywhere. You can have the safe pick, but if there’s a guy that you truly believe is a supremely talented player and loves football and will work to reach that ceiling, then it’s up to us to spend the time and invest in them, to find out and then you make that decision you feel is best for the roster, not just short term but long term as well.”