In my article of July last year, I released the potential dark horse players of the year for 2013. The list included Dion Sims, Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon, Michael Egnew, Rischard Matthews and Richard Marshall.
The result? Marshall got cut by the front office, Simms and Egnew didn't see much of the field to make an impact, Rishard Matthews made some nice contributions, Lamar Miller struggled and Olivier Vernon had a huge season. In fact, there are cases that both Vernon and Charles Clay deserve the joint award for dark horse player of the season last year.
But what about this year?
Just to clarify once again, a dark horse player of the year has to be someone who unexpectedly steps out of his shadow to become a major contributor on the team. So without further ado, lets check out the potential dark horses of 2014.
Jamar Taylor, Cornerback.
History tells us many cornerbacks struggle in their rookie season before having a breakout year the following season. Cornerback is one of the toughest positions in the NFL with players having to learn the terminology, how the opposition's defense will set themselves up, different coverage zones and far superior wide receivers. Taylor didn't have the best of starts to his professional career having to undergo a hernia operation three weeks after the draft. However, his college stats of 132 tackles, seven interceptions and four sacks at Boise State is evidence of his talent. Moreover, his ability to play both zone and man coverage should stand him in good stead for 2014. Having a year under his belt at learning the nuances of his position at a professional level could lead Taylor to becoming a starter in 2014.
Jelani Jenkins, Linebacker.
According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, Joe Philbin is very high on the second-year linebacker. In Philbin's own words, the third year head coach stated
"He's very bright guy and picked up the system well. He's athletic and has good zone awareness and has the skill set to run with receivers and play man-to-man. We hope he pushes for play time."
Should Miami's linebackers continue to underperform during training camp, don't rule out Miami searching in-house for a ready-made replacement. Jenkins flashed his ability in coverage in limited snaps, and could see his workload significantly step up with a strong preseason.
Lamar Miller, Running Back.
Miller made last year's dark horse player of the year list, and this year is no different. Many expected great things from the young running back in 2013, and in many ways Miller failed to deliver. However, Miller did show progression in his second year with a couple more explosive plays and improvement in pass protection. In fact, Miller has the potential to become the complete running back with his strong runs, improved pass protection and the ability to catch the ball. Can Miller make a massive jump in 2014?
Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver.
Another player that also made the list last season, Matthews would be among the top at the list if it weren't for the talent at the wide receiver position for the Dolphins. Ahead of Matthews is Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, making it tougher for Matthews to make his mark than other players in this year's list. However, when Gibson went down in Week 11 of last season, Matthews' role increased greatly. In fact, between November and December Matthews caught 20 passes for a first down, making him one of the more reliable receivers on the team for Ryan Tannehill. Should Matthews displace Gibson to become the third receiver on the depth chart, he could be a nice sleeper pick for a big season.
Don Jones, Safety.
Selected 250th overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 NFL Draft, many would forgive Jones for being happy at the prospect of spending the season on the team's practice squad. Instead, Jones fought his way onto the roster and actually made an impact on special teams. In Miami's first home game of the season against Atlanta, Jones made a game-changing play by forcing a fumble when he hit punt returner Harry Douglas. Down 20-13, the Dolphins recovered the football to score a touchdown and ended up winning the game. Should Jones continue to make good impressions on this coaching staff, it won't be long until he sees time on defense. But will making an impact be a step too far for the second-year safety?
With so many young players in contention for dark horse player of the year, it's anyone's guess who could have a breakthrough season in 2014. Are there any other players you feel should be a candidate? Lets hear your thoughts.