This week, Between the Hash Marks examines Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier’s bold trade and why it could backfire in the NFL Draft, executives predict who will be the first non-quarterback chosen.
Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier aggressively took a leap of faith earlier this offseason.
When Grier executed a pair of trades with the San Francisco 49ers, to move back to No. 12 overall from the No. 3 pick, and then a second with the Philadelphia Eagles to jump back to No. 6, the fifth-year general manager added an additional choice in the first and third-rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft and positioned the Dolphins to add a playmaker to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s arsenal next week.
Through league conversations, it has become clear that Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is the No. 1 player on the Dolphins’ board and he is the player Grier most wants to add to Miami’s vertical passing game that already includes Will Fuller, Preston Williams, and DeVante Parker.
But Grier might not have climbed high enough on the board to come away with the player he’s coveted most all along.
One NFC South head coach tells FanSided it’s a lock Pitts is the first non-quarterback chosen.
It’s highly unlikely Pitts makes it past the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 4 overall pick because as I reported on Friday’s episode of The Matt Lombardo Show Podcast, multiple league sources tell FanSided that owner Arthur Blank has his sights set on Pitts.
Blank remembers Tony Gonzalez’s impact and believes Pitts has an even higher ceiling in an offense with quarterback Matt Ryan, future Hall of Famer Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley at wide receiver.
“Atlanta at No. 4 feels like where Pitts winds up going,” an AFC East personnel evaluator tells FanSided. “Even if the Falcons decide not to take him, they could get a bounty to trade out of that spot to someone who wants him.”
There’s always the chance that Grier isn’t done maneuvering and could invest future draft capital to move the Dolphins up to No. 4 to take Pitts. Especially, if Blank decides that now is the time to draft Ryan’s replacement and can add a couple of picks to move back two spots to do so.
Regardless, if the Dolphins stay put, Grier is gambling he can still add a top receiver — or Pitts — because if Pitts goes off the board at No. 4, and hypothetically the Bengals choose LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, one has to wonder if the Jaylen Waddle/DeVonta Smith juice is worth the squeeze of the Dolphins’ trades.
The sense here is Grier has moves yet to make, which will make the top five picks all the more fascinating.
Who will be the first non-quarterback off the board?
This has the chance to be an unprecedented NFL Draft when it comes to quarterbacks, with as many as five passers possibly being chosen in the first 10 picks, leaving several teams potentially in line to add a game-changing talent elsewhere.
So, as Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones potentially going off the board in the top-10, who’s next?
“I think it will most likely be a receiver who goes first after the quarterbacks,” a league source tells FanSided. “I’d add Pitts to that position group, and my guess is Pitts will be the selection because he’ll be best available after the quarterback run at the top.”
Pitts is certainly a favorite among executives and coaches to be the first non-quarterback picked, but not the unanimous selection.
FanSided surveyed various coaches, evaluators, and league sources to get a sense of who the decision-makers inside the NFL expect to be the first non-quarterback chosen.
Each league insider was granted anonymity to speak freely about the prospects, and their expectations for how they believe the top of the draft will play out:
AFC personnel executive:
“It’s going to be Kyle Pitts. He is a FREAK. End of story. You can make an argument he plays his position better than Trevor Lawrence plays his. He has Hall of Fame potential, and is a game-changer at a position that keeps growing in importance.”
NFC head coach:
“Ja’Marr Chase is going to Cincinnati, he’ll be the first non-quarterback. Joe Burrow is pounding the table for him.”
NFC personnel executive:
“Kyle Pitts. You can create some big-time mismatches with him, and if you look around the league, offenses are trending towards using flex tight ends like him or even more two tight end sets.”
NFC East coordinator:
“It will be one of the wide receivers. Those guys are special talents, good kids, Louisiana kids that are just built different. It’ll be a receiver because it’s the most talented position group in this class, that’s really hurt by there not being one dominant pass rusher.”
“It’s going to be Pitts. He’s just an absolute athletic freak.”
NFC East position coach:
“I think you could see one of the two tackles — Sewell or Slater — get picked a bit earlier than people expect them to.”
Top 10 picks
Here’s where I believe things stand, eight days before the NFL Draft begins:
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB ClemsonNew York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB BYUSan Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota StateAtlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, FloridaCincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSUMiami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, AlabamaNew England Patriots (TRADE!): Mac Jones, QB, AlabamaCarolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, OregonDenver Broncos: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio StateDallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain, CB, South CarolinaQuotable
“There are so many different things I can improve in my game,” Mahomes said Monday, via Nate Taylor of TheAthletic.com. “Being able to kind of restart, and start from [the] injury with the feet, I can really improve my footwork. I’ve dealt with ankle injuries in my career and being able to teach myself how to hit in the right spots with my feet. Teaching myself just how to get back from this injury will help me out in the long run.”
Patrick Mahomes has already shown the world what he can do when fully healthy, but if he is vowing to improve while recovering from injury, the rest of the NFL might officially be being put on notice.
In the AFC Championship Game alone, after sustaining his foot injury and a concussion in the previous week against the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional round, Mahomes still managed to pass for 325 yards and three touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills.
Just imagine how much more prolific Mahomes can be if he refines and improves in 2021.
Tuesday was a good day for the American criminal justice system. When a 12-person jury in Minneapolis convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in the police-involved murder of George Floyd, the system worked.
But, it was a harrowing day for Black people and people of color across the nation in anticipation of what the verdict might be, despite the civilian video captured by a 19-year-old girl of Floyd’s life slipping away as he took his last breath with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes. In broad daylight.
That is how we know that Tuesday’s verdict was a piece of individual justice, for George Floyd, as a result of Chauvin’s actions, rather than systemic justice and tangible change.
The Minnesota Vikings struck the right chord, and once again underscored how sports; be it teams, leagues, or athletes are taking a leadership role in bringing about the kind of change that holds law enforcement truly accountable for their actions and tips the scales back towards neutral justice.
Teams like the Vikings stepping to the forefront is encouraging in the fight for an America built on the idea of true equality for all, and the advancement of civil rights.
But, it is the athletes who are using their platform in hopes of making this country a fairer, more equitable, and better place that truly deserves commendation rather than criticism.
They might also be best suited to lead the conversation.
“I think what bothers me the most is when people say ‘shut up and dribble,’” Detroit Lions linebacker/fullback Jason Cabinda told me during an appearance on The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “Athletes should just stick to sports, and it’s just like, the more I think about it … Who is more suited or used to working with people no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from, no matter their background, and trying to reach a common goal, who lives in a world where that is what they do, more than athletes?
“That’s what we have to do … All the time. Coaches change. Players get traded. It doesn’t matter who your receiver is, your quarterback, whoever. None of that matters, you have to move forward and win. If we can find a way to work in an environment where we have to be with each other physically all the time and hit each other, and still be cool with each other after, there’s no reason why we can’t as a society work together and get better. I don’t think there’s anyone more suited than athletes to speak on that kind of stuff going on.”
Athletes, teams, and leagues advocating for equality, sponsoring legislation to advance the cause of social justice reform, at the risk of alienating or making some of their fans uncomfortable underscores just how important they believe this fight to be.
Change won’t occur overnight.
But, Perhaps following Chauvin’s conviction, a police officer might think twice when it comes to the use of force. Perhaps through legislation, real reform over the way communities, and particularly communities of color are policed will come to pass.
As the Vikings said in their statement tweeted Tuesday, the fight against injustice hasn’t ended with Chauvin’s conviction.
Rather, it is only just beginning. And it is apparent that sports will play a very real role in forging the nation that awaits us at the end of this fight.
Tuesday was one good day for justice and equality. Hopefully, many more are still to come.
Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.