There is a prevailing sentiment among Miami Dolphins fans that head coach Joe Philbin hates rookies after the club’s 2013 rookie class played very little last season. That could be problematic for the 2014 Dolphins, who desperately need an immediate contribution from this year’s class.
The Dolphins’ 2013 rookie class played the fewest snaps among all rookie classes in the entire NFL last season. While every other franchise allowed their first-year players to accumulate at least 1,000 snaps, the Dolphins’ rookies only combined for 866.
There might be an explanation as to why the Dolphins’ rookies were often confined to the bench, though. Dion Jordan and Jamar Taylor, the team’s first two selections last April, both missed time last summer and in training camp with injuries. Neither got the necessary reps in practice to see more action on the field.
With that said, Dolphins fans should hold off on ripping Philbin for not playing rookies for now. That’s because the 2014 draft class should offer an immediate impact. The Dolphins will be in trouble if it doesn’t.
With two glaring voids along the offensive line, the additions of Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner should produce two Week 1 starters. With 49 collegiate starts, James was arguably the surest bet to be the plug-and-play right tackle the Dolphins coveted. There were linemen with higher upside, but James was perhaps the safest pick if Week 1 starter was the aim.
Turner might be a little more raw than James, but he possesses a potentially complete skill set. There will probably be some initial bumps, but he’s sound enough in pass protection and has enough upside as a run blocker to be thrown into the fire as a rookie. Let him figure it out. Let him grow.
If James and Turner aren’t ready to start from day one, the Dolphins probably aren’t ready to play a playoff-caliber brand of football. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs an offensive line that isn’t horrible in front of him to take the next step. If James and Turner struggle too much to start, there’s no guarantee he’ll have one.
Unlike the two linemen, second-round pick Jarvis Landry won’t have as much pressure to produce as a rookie. Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews give Miami capable options at receiver.
Landry, however, brings a toughness to the table the current corps lacked a year ago. He’ll make difficult, contested catches over the middle. His hands are reliable in key spots. While he probably won’t start immediately, he looks like a player who will contribute immediately as a No. 3 or 4.
Given the Dolphins’ current depth at cornerback, I wouldn’t expect much from fourth-round pick Walt Aikens, who was likely acquired to step in when Brent Grimes or Cortland Finnegan‘s play begins to decline, as a rookie. Both Grimes and Finnegan are on the wrong side of 30. Even with Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the fold, youth was needed at the position.
I wouldn’t expect much from sixth-round pick Matt Hazel or seventh-round pick Terrence Fede in year one, either. Both have potential, but both play positions — wide receiver and defensive end respectively — that already provide the Dolphins with impressive depth. Developing on the practice squad will serve the two well early on.
However, the two players taken ahead of Hazel and Fede, Aaron Lynch and Jordan Tripp, could produce in 2014. Both play positions the Dolphins need upgraded by Week 1.
While challenging Philip Wheeler for starting duties on the weakside might be a bit ambitious, Tripp has the range to at least steal some of Wheeler’s snaps. And after Charles Clay, the Dolphins don’t have much at tight end. Lynch can potentially be the traditional inline blocker the Dolphins were hoping Dion Sims would become in 2013.
While it would be unfair to assume Miami’s entire rookie class is ready to have an immediate impact, the group should have a much larger role than last year’s rookies did. Two Week 1 starters who address the team’s two biggest needs were nabbed. A pass catcher who brings something new to the table was acquired. Capable depth pieces were even added late.
For all the fuss regarding how little Philbin lets rookies play, the 2014 draft class should immediately — in the very first practice, in the very first game — make the Dolphins a better football team. If Philbin doesn’t give it that chance, complain away, Dolphins fans.
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