Schad: Penei Sewell is rare, but Dolphins forecast Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt growth

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post

It's entirely possible that with the fifth pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Bengals do the smart thing — hey, we said it's possible they do something smart — and select Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell.

Anyone who watched Joe Burrow scramble around and eventually be taken out for the season as a rookie knows he could use a personal body guard at left tackle. And the consensus is Sewell is the player most likely to develop into another Anthony Munoz.

If for some reason Cincinnati gets more fired up about reuniting Burrow with his college teammate, receiver Ja'Marr Chase of LSU, then the Dolphins will have some talking to do. As much as Tua Tagovailoa needs weapons, would Sewell be too good to pass up?

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Oregon Ducks tackle Penei Sewell against the Arizona State Sun Devils (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

The thinking here is no. The thinking here is that Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores would think long and hard about the player Sewell might grow into, but find belief in the players Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt will become.

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Jackson was Miami's first-round pick, 18th overall, just a year ago. And Hunt was Miami's second-round pick, 39th overall, just a year ago.

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Jackson and Hunt must be better in 2021 than they were 2020, but there are reasons to believe they will.

"I think the first year, you learn a lot," Jackson said in January. "The second year, you kind of a handle more, so I would say I would expect to get a lot better next year, and then the year after that and then the year after that.”

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The Pro Football Focus rankings were not kind.

Jackson was graded 75th among 79 offensive tackles, Hunt 52nd.

"This is a game that you’ve got to grow, and I think we’re all growing," Hunt said in late December.

Sewell is considered far more of a sure thing entering this draft than Jackson and Hunt were entering the last one.

Some scouts questioned if Jackson needed to add strength and an edge. Some scouts questioned Hunt's level of competition at Louisiana-Lafayette and wondered if he was better suited for guard.

If the Dolphins were to select Sewell, they would have the flexibility to slide Hunt inside to right guard and play Sewell at right or left tackle.

The only drawback on Sewell is that he opted out of last season. But consider that in two seasons at Oregon, he allowed one sack. One sack.

"Generational player," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said on NFL Network on Friday, prior to Sewell's Pro Day. "And I would say the same about him as a human being. Leadership. Power. Football IQ.  His instincts can change an entire franchise. Massive frame. Explosive, powerful, heavy hands, but really light feet."

This all sounds enticing, and it is. But it seems more likely than not that Sewell is just a luxury the Dolphins cannot afford.

It seem probable Kyle Pitts, the Florida tight end, or Chase, the LSU receiver, will be available. And their value to Tagovailoa and the Dolphins may be immeasurable. More than anything, the Dolphins' top offseason priority is to add playmakers.

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If for some reason Pitts and Chase are gone, it would seem Grier and Flores will be comfortable reuniting Tua with one of his Alabama receivers, Heisman winner DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle.

Grier really needs to have been right about Jackson and Hunt.

Jackson allowed a reasonable four sacks and committed a reasonable five penalties as a rookie. But he did allow 38 pressures, according to PFF, which was 13th-highest in the league. That's an area he'll work to improve.

After his freshman season at USC, Jackson made marked improvement. He has the ideal frame, footwork and athleticism to develop into a highly-competent starting left tackle in the NFL.

In no way is Jackson, still only 21, fully formed.

Near the end of last season, Flores said Jackson "showed some mental and physical toughness" and "improved and developed."

It stands to reason that Jackson will be able to be more assertive and aggressive in his sophomore NFL campaign, as he has more familiarity with Miami's concepts and what defensive veterans and coaches are trying to do to him. 

Jackson should also benefit from on-field work in the spring, which was not an option in 2020. And he'll be one year further removed from having donated bone marrow to help his sister fight a rare blood disease.

At right tackle, which is of course Tua's blind side, Hunt committed eight penalties, but allowed only three sacks. He allowed 23 pressures, which isn't terrible.

Hunt really did improve late in the season. He showed in particular that he can be a positive factor in the run game. And he also demonstrated he can be a solid NFL tackle, erasing doubts from those who suggested he must slide to guard.

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The Dolphins have invested a lot of resources on rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines, which Grier had openly prioritized. Jackson, Hunt, guard Solomon Kindley (fourth round) and defensive linemen Christian Wilkins (first round) and Raekwon Davis (second round) are five young players expected to anchor Miami's trenches for years.

Penei Sewell's swell Pro Day

Sewell, 6-foot-6, 331 pounds, is a truly elite prospect. 

Sewell possesses all of the athleticism and footwork of Jackson and all of the aggression and power of Hunt. Sewell may be a Pro Bowler for years to come.

"l like to be physical,” Sewell said Monday. “I like to get under your chin. I like to show I come off the ball every single play with violent intentions.”

The Dolphins were reportedly present as Sewell did 30 reps on the bench and then ran 40 yards in 5.11 seconds. They surely reported back that Sewell's athleticism and power was impressive.

But the feeling here is still that on April 29, Miami will prioritize players who can make plays with the ball in their hands on Sundays. The feeling here is that Miami believes it also has two linemen ready to take sizeable steps forward next season.

NFL Draft

April 29-May 1

Cleveland; ESPN, NFL Network