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2017 NFL Draft: Bama WR’s speed could help Dolphins’ return game

ArDarius Stewart enjoys hearing some of the knocks on him from NFL Draft experts, especially the criticism that he’s too small. That makes him think of future Hall of Famer Steve Smith, who dominated at merely 5 feet, 9 inches.

“He is one of the guys I really look up to and admire,” said Stewart, who is two inches taller than Smith. “He’s got that grit and that toughness and he didn’t care what the defensive guys thought. That’s kinda how I play. I emulate him.”

Stewart’s ferocity has served him well and it’s a big factor in why he was good enough to leave the University of Alabama after his junior year. He was the Crimson Tide’s most productive receiver last season and is expected to go in the second or third round of this month’s draft.

Worth a shot at that draft spot?

Few thought the Dolphins would be eyeing receivers so early in the draft, but there are good reasons to consider Stewart if he’s around in the third round. His 4.49-second time in the 40-yard dash makes him an instant candidate in the return game, and Miami has no guarantee it’ll have Jarvis Landry beyond this season.

Landry, who posted back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons, is in the final year of his contract and there has been no indication he and the team are close to an extension. The Dolphins have Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker locked up for multiple years, as well as unproven backup Leonte Carroo.

Miami uses Landry on punt returns, something it would probably prefer to change if a better option emerged, as well as Jakeem Grant on kick and punt returns. Grant had an up-and-down season marked by explosive returns and ball-control issues.

The Dolphins want to be prepared for potential opportunities in the draft, such as last year when Laremy Tunsil dropped from a possible No. 1 to being available at No. 13. The Dolphins met with Stewart at the combine.

“I asked where they think I’d fit in,” he said. “They said they have a great slot receiver with Landry being there, but they told me I could also be a great outside receiver for them. That’s pretty much all they said about it.”

Production kicked in at Bama in 3rd season

Stewart arrived at Alabama as an all-purpose athlete who weighed about 185 pounds and muscled up to 204 by the NFL Combine. His 40 time was 18th among the 51 receivers who ran; he hit 34 inches on his vertical leap and 10-foot-4 in the broad jump.

He started slowly with the Crimson Tide, red-shirting his first season and playing sparingly the next. He broke through as a red-shirt sophomore, with 700 yards on 63 catches and four touchdowns, then followed it with 864 yards on 54 receptions and eight touchdowns last year. He’s also well-rounded.

“I think what makes ArDarius so good is that he not only catches the ball and makes great plays after the catch, but he blocks every down,” fellow Alabama prospect O.J. Howard said. “He’s one of the best blocking receivers you can see in the nation. Every time the ball is in somebody else’s hands, he wants to see them score just as bad as he wants to score.”

Stewart had six games of 90 or more receiving yards last season, highlighted by a monster game against Mississippi State in which he went for 156 yards and three scores. He led Alabama’s receivers in total yardage and yards per catch, and was third on the team in overall touchdowns.

ESPN ranked Stewart 12th at his position and the No. 98 prospect overall, though Draft expert Mel Kiper said he’d be surprised if he lasts past the second round, and draft website WalterFootball has him seventh among receivers.

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