The defending Super Bowl champions are an example of how a strong draft class can solidify a team's contending status.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered last year's draft with Tom Brady in tow, but they needed someone to protect him on the right side of their offensive line. The Bucs used the 13th overall pick on tackle Tristan Wirfs, and he would go on to allow just one sack all season. With their second-round pick, Tampa added safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who would record six tackles and an interception in the Super Bowl.
These five clubs could make a similar leap and become contenders with a great draft performance.
The 2020 Dolphins needed to win their last regular-season game to clinch a playoff berth. They lost in blowout fashion and missed the postseason at 10-6.
Last year's team was perhaps a bit ahead of schedule. The Dolphins' preseason total was set at six wins after finishing 5-11 the year prior, and the team made a five-win improvement.
It's reasonable to expect the Phins to climb another rung in 2021. But they'll be without Ryan Fitzpatrick, who captained the club to four victories last season. The Dolphins are now Tua Tagovailoa's team. Tagovailoa said he was "below average" as a rookie, so he'll need to improve substantially to keep Miami progressing toward the playoffs.
Tua will benefit from a couple of extra weapons around him following the offseason additions of speedster Will Fuller and running back Malcolm Brown. And he should expect even more help after the draft.
The Dolphins pick sixth in the first round, and with reports suggesting quarterbacks might go off the board in the first four spots, Miami could be able to choose from many top skill-position players, or even one of the premier defenders.
The Dolphins also own the 18th overall pick, and two picks in the second round thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade. Miami holds enough draft capital to remodel the franchise into a major player in the AFC.
Washington Football Team
Washington may already be considered a contender following its free-agent spending spree.
The defending NFC East champions were aggressive, signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, Curtis Samuel, William Jackson III, and retaining Brandon Scherff.
But Washington won just seven games last season (four of which came against division opponents), and Fitzpatrick is a 38-year-old stopgap signed for only one season. If the club envisions itself as a long-term contender, Washington is best served using its draft capital to find a franchise quarterback.