NFL draft season is upon us, even if it's more virtual than anyone expected. Draft news usually dominates the news this time of year, and even more so in the sports-less existence we're in now. This also means it's the season of smokescreens, and there's no more obvious draft smokescreen than the rumors linking Justin Herbert to the Miami Dolphins.
Justin Herbert Dolphins
Last week, Bleacher Report draft insider Matt Miller reported Miami isn't "convinced" by Tua Tagovailoa and could target Herbert at the fifth overall pick. On Sunday, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler talked about how both the Dolphins and Chargers liked Herbert for his leadership skills. The noise around Miami and Herbert should only get louder as the draft approaches. But we've seen this story before. It's just a classic draft ploy to ensure Miami gets their man: Tagovailoa.
Everyone knows Miami will be drafting a quarterback with the first of their three first-round picks. It would be a massive surprise if they didn't. Everyone also expects the Chargers, who lost Philip Rivers over the offseason and did nothing to replace him, to pick a quarterback with their first-round pick, slotting in just behind Miami at six. Even with his hip injury and the inability to see how he's recovering in person, Tagovailoa is widely considered the second-best QB prospect in the draft behind presumptive No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. Herbert and his fellow first-round prospect Jordan Love have physical tools that Tagovailoa does not, but their games have holes that Tagovailoa's has covered.
The Chargers are a complication in Miami's plan. It was clear from the get-go in 2019 Miami was looking to land a chance at an elite quarterback via high draft position. They didn't end up first overall, but it worked nearly as well as they hoped; Burrow emerged as an unexpected second elite prospect, and the Bengals are the only other team in the top five who need a quarterback. But Los Angeles needs one, too, and could very well trade up to leap the Dolphins and have their pick of Tagovailoa, Herbert, and Love. Miami didn't... um... work this hard to be left with whoever the Chargers don't want.
So, how do they discourage the Chargers from doing that? By leaking info like they want Herbert. It's a win-win situation; either the Chargers want Tagovailoa and they'll sit tight with the belief Miami will take Herbert, or they want Herbert so badly they trade up to ensure he's theirs and Miami gets to stay where they are without burning assets to get their man.
Loaded with first and second-round picks, the Dolphins have the ammo to do just about whatever they'd like in the first round. It wouldn't be a huge loss if they burned, say, a second and a third to move up to the third spot and make sure they get the guy they want. But this is the game within the game when it comes to the draft. Spread misinformation and make your opponents' jobs as difficult as possible to try to let the pieces fall in a way that fits your plan. That's all these Herbert rumors are.