When Mike Mayock prepared for the 2019 NFL Draft, during which the Raiders’ rookie GM would have the opportunity to make three first-round picks, he felt more nervous than he had in many years. “That’s why I got back into [football],” the former Giants safety told NFL.com afterward.
Mayock’s anxious moments made perfect sense, and not only because it was his first time making selections, after many years predicting and analyzing them for NFL Network. The Raiders had plenty of needs, and the 2019 draft was being looked at as a significant step forward for a franchise that had won four games the previous season and had played in just one playoff contest in the previous 16.
“Whether you want to admit it, or people like it or not, we’re building our team,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “We need building blocks. We have some in place, and we needed these three first-rounders to come in here and inherit that responsibility. That’s a tough job. This franchise is moving to Las Vegas [in 2020]. It’s very, very challenging. You’ve got to have a lot of maturity, and we wanted guys that weren’t only great football players and talents, but guys who could handle the circumstances of being frontline players, leaders, and also having a lot of maturity to handle the move of the franchise. It’s a tough league to play in to begin with, so we did a lot of work on their character. Mayock and I truly believe that’s the winning edge in all the great players that we’ve been around.”
The Raiders could have traded up or down, gained more picks or surrendered one or two. Instead, they stuck in their spots and chose Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell fourth overall, Alabama running back Josh Jacobs 24th and safety Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State three spots later. As Gruden said, the Raiders needed players, and sticking with their three first-rounders was how they thought it best to get them.
This year, Miami is filling that role. Thanks to a pair of trades and a 5–11 season, the Dolphins have the fifth (their own), 18th and 26th overall picks and the opportunity to add talent to a roster that has been stripped down in an NBA-style tank job. Pick No. 18 arrived in the trade that sent safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, while the Fish shipped tackle Laremy Tunsil to Houston for the 26th choice and other picks. Miami is the 22nd team in NFL history to have three picks in the first. If they keep them all, the Dolphins would be just the 13th franchise to choose a trio of players in the opening round.
“I like the flexibility and potential they have to move up or down,” an NFL executive says. “When you have all the cards, you can go up and get someone like a quarterback. There are a bunch of things you can do. You can go in with a plan or with versatility. You can trade down and end up with a bunch of good picks.”
There are a lot of things the Dolphins can do in this draft, which is rich with wide receiver talent and has several quarterback prospects beyond LSU’s Joe Burrow, who is expected to go to Cincinnati. If Miami wants to move up to thwart another team from grabbing a QB it covets, it has the assets, especially since the Dolphins have 10 other picks, including two seconds, and three across both the fifth and sixth rounds. That haul provides some tremendous opportunities to move around the seven-round affair, with the three first-rounders as valuable chips.
But don’t be surprised if Miami uses all three of its opening-night selections. The Dolphins have plenty of needs, and there are strong prospects throughout the first round.
“There are good players at most position groups,” an NFL scout says. “Would it surprise me if they move up or down? No. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they stay and take three good players.”
It’s entirely possible the Dolphins could end up with three starters and perhaps even some Pro Bowlers from this first-round haul. Even though nothing is guaranteed, it is important to remember that the vast majority of Hall of Famers were drafted in the opening round. There are three times as many first-rounders in the Hall as there are players picked in the second round. And the disparity just grows from there.
Perhaps the best haul by a team with three first-round picks came in 1965, when the Bears selected Dick Butkus third overall and Gale Sayers in the next spot. At number six, Chicago chose Steve DeLong, who signed with the AFL’s Chargers and had a strong eight-year career along the defensive line. In ’73, the Patriots chose future Hall of Fame guard John Hannah, Pro Bowl running back Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley, who was a five-year starter before a savage hit left him paralyzed. New England did well again in ’76 when it chose future Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes and long-time starters Pete Brock (center) and Tim Fox (safety).
Twelve years later, the Raiders chose wideout Tim Brown (who is enshrined in Canton), five-time Pro Bowl corner Terry McDaniel and seven-year Raider linebacker Scott Davis. In 2000, the New York Jets grabbed the largest first-round haul in NFL history, scoring four picks. Included were eventual defensive line stalwarts Shaun Ellis (two Pro Bowls) and John Abraham (five Pro Bowls overall, three with the Jets); QB Chad Pennington, a five-year starter for New York who topped 3,000 yards passing twice with the Jets and a third time with Miami; and reliable tight end Anthony Becht.
Having three first-rounders doesn’t always work out quite so well. In 1984, the Bengals drafted OT Brian Blados, nose tackle Pete Koch and linebacker Ricky Hunley in the first round. Blados and Koch didn’t distinguish themselves, and Hunley held out, forcing a trade to Denver. In ’69, the Rams chose running back Larry Smith, receiver Jim Seymour and tight end Bob Klein. Smith and Seymour washed out, and Klein wasn’t a star.
So, what will the Dolphins do? There is a clear need at quarterback, and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa could be available at five — if his health checks out — provided the Lions don’t decide to move on from Matthew Stafford and take the Crimson Tide star. The extra picks could allow Miami to jump up to number two and preempt a Detroit move. Having the 18th and 26th selections could provide some help for a defense that was 30th in the league in yards allowed last year. Or, the Fish could work to fortify a running game that produced just 3.3 yards per carry in ’19. It’s important to understand that the team’s glut of later-round picks can help the team maneuver.
“Miami’s going to have some options,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper says. “If they see a guy they really like, they can go up and get him. If they only end up with two first-round picks as a result, but they are two guys they really want, that’s a good thing.”
And Miami sure needs some good things these days.
— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon's 2020 NFL Draft Guide. With in-depth scouting reports on 230 of the top prospects, position-by-position rankings of 526 draft-eligible players, NFL depth charts and personnel needs, features, and more it's the most complete preview of the upcoming draft. Click here to get your copy.