Football fans love the draft because of the hope that accompanies it. Rookies bring the promise of a better tomorrow for teams. If you ask most fans, they will say that they love their team's draft class. That appears to be no different amongst Dolphins fans. But what we must ask ourselves is: how much immediate impact will this draft class? If you listen to some fans, you would think that each player has to play at an extremely high level in order for the Dolphins to be successful. If you listen to others, they will say that most of the rookies will be backups and special teams guys and won't have a large impact, if they even make the team. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Most team's draft classes produce one or two immediate starting players. Any more than that and it's considered a great draft. Odds are the Miami Dolphins will get about two players from this draft that will start this season. The others will be part time contributors as backups and special teamers. Here's a look at each draftee and what fans should expect from them in 2013.
When you are a first round pick, there are high expectations for you. When you are a top 5 pick, those expectations are higher. When a team trades up for you, those expectations go through the roof. When the commissioner announced that Miami had traded up for Jordan, visions of he and Wake having a ‘meeting at the quarterback' danced in our heads. It's a fair expectation for fans to have of Jordan. His athleticism, ability, and potential warrant that. However, should that be what we expect from him in his rookie year?
I think a fair expectation of Jordan in his rookie year is as a third down pass rushing specialist and tight end coverage specialist. I don't think it's a good expectation to envision him as a full time defensive end yet. Jordan still needs to add about 10-20 pounds of muscle to fill that role and the recovery time from his shoulder surgery is limiting that. Plus, the Dolphins already have Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon who are more polished pass rushers and have that advantage over him right now.
In terms of production, I think anywhere from 5-8 sacks is a good expectation, Yes, some players had better production as rookies, but we shouldn't let that be our expectation for him. A good comparison for Jordan is his defensive end running mate, Cameron Wake. In Wake's rookie season, he amassed 23 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He was a part time player, which will be how Jordan starts out. If Jordan steadily improves over the season, his role as a full time player will increase. I think Dolphins fans should let the coaching staff use this season as a developmental year for Jordan and then let him wreak havoc in 2014. At that point, we can start thinking about 10+ sack seasons for Jordan.
Taylor was drafted with the pick gained from the Vontae Davis trade, essentially making it a Davis-for-Taylor trade. Taylor will have ample opportunity for playing time as the cornerback position was the weakest group on the team heading into the draft. Brent Grimes is likely penciled in as one starter, but even he has question marks coming off of an injury. When healthy, Grimes is an All-Pro talent. Everyone else though is much less impressive. Richard Marshall will be the guy that Taylor will have to beat out for a starting job in training camp. Marshall has starting experience and could be a better player is a more zone based scheme than a man scheme. However, Marshall is by no means a world beater and Taylor has the talent to unseat him. Dimitri Patterson, Nolan Carroll, and everyone else is fighting for the nickel role and special teams spots.
Dolphins fans should reasonably expect Taylor to be in the running for the second starting position. He may not earn it at the start of the season, but he should definitely drop no further than three on the depth chart. Some might Taylor playing the nickel as a disappointment, but nickel corners have an increased role in the pass happy NFL today. The nickel corner plays anywhere from 60-70% of the snaps.
I think the right expectation for Taylor is to win the nickel corner spot at first and then work into the starting role as the season progresses. By 2014, Taylor should be the starter. As far as production goes, if he can generate a few turnovers, that will be a positive. The biggest concern for me is his development in coverage. Once he becomes better at communicating in the secondary, understanding assignments, and facing NFL receivers, then I'll start to expect more in the turnover department.
If the cornerback position was the weakest position going into the draft, the offensive line was the weakest position after the draft. All we can say with certainty about the line is Mike Pouncey will be the starting center and Richie Incognito will play one of the guard spots. Everything else is in flux. Jonathan Martin is slated to be the starting left tackle right now. The right tackle spot is up for grabs with any number of players, including potential free agent acquisitions in play for that spot. John Jerry's spot on the line is in jeopardy with the Dolphins bringing in Lance Louis in free agency and now the Thomas pick.
With the line in such disarray right now, Thomas has a real shot to earn any one of four open spots on the line. Having played left guard and left tackle in college, he will get his chance to play on that side in some capacity. Some believe that Thomas is better fit at guard than tackle, but others disagree. I've watched some tape on Thomas and still need to watch more before I get a better feel for his best position. However, Thomas played tackle well in college. He moved to guard because Tennessee had a better tackle prospect that beat him out in camp (same thing happened to Branden Albert at Virginia and he turned out alright).
I think the best expectation fans can have regarding Thomas is that he'll compete in camp for a starting spot. The line has openings and there will be plenty of battles in camp for the remaining two starting spots. Thomas has the skills to play guard or tackle and will be in the running for any of those positions. It's not a bad thing if Thomas doesn't earn a starting job immediately, because he will provide excellent depth. But right now, he's probably in the best shape of all the rookies (not counting specialists) to earn a starting job from day one.
The Dolphins continued to rebuild the secondary by adding the athletic corner from Utah State. Being a third round pick, Davis doesn't have he same level of expectations as Taylor. However, he will have his chance to become a contributor. His biggest asset to the team is his aggressiveness in press situations. Miami will still play some man coverage this year and Davis excels when he can press. He is violent at the line and tries to jam receivers into oblivion. This will come in handy in red zone situations where Davis may be allowed to use that skillset against bigger receivers.
Davis can get in on the starting mix, and will battle against Taylor for that spot. However, I think the most reasonable expectation for Davis is as special teams contributor and as the fourth corner on the depth chart. He will be used as a contributor in dime packages and in special situations like the red zone scenario I mentioned. In 2014, Davis will get in the mix to be the other starting corner is Grimes is not retained.
Jenkins was one of my favorite picks from this draft. He has good coverage ability and could be a dynamic outside linebacker in a 4-3 set. He will need some development though and will unlikely earn a starting spot this season. Miami picked up Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler in free agency this offseason and Koa Misi was solid in the OLB spot last season. Barring a phenomenal camp from Jenkins, he will not unseat those three players. He may replace Misi on passing downs for coverage purposes, but Dion Jordan may also be used in that role.
Expectations for Jenkins should be that of special teams contributor and backup. Jenkins should excel on special teams and will provide much needed depth at the linebacker position. As he develops, he should begin competing for a starting spot in 2014 or 2015.
Another solid pick for Ireland, Sims will compete with Egnew for the second tight end spot (don't sleep on Egnew becoming a contributor this year. Word is he has worked really hard this offseason to get better). Sims, though more than just a ‘blocking' tight end, excels as a blocker and will get playing time because of it. How much playing time will depend not on blocking, but on his receiving ability. Sims has big, soft hands and good speed for a bigger tight end. He will need to develop in this regard and as he does, he will be worked into the offense more.
I personally have high expectations for Sims. I think he was a very good pick and may become the Dolphins' best red zone threat (possibly by default). However, I think the best overall expectations for him would be that of a number two tight end. He'll be used to block mostly and will contribute some as a receiver. I think 20-30 receptions, 350-400 yards and 3 touchdowns would be a good rookie campaign for him. Looking forward to 2014, Sims should be to a point where he is in consideration for the number one tight end spot.
What may end up as the best pick of the draft, Gillislee can provide another dynamic weapon out of the backfield. Gillislee has good speed and excellent vision. He is a willing blocker and can catch the ball well out of the backfield.
Gillislee will battle for a starting spot at the running back position, but we should expect him to fall into the second running back spot. Miller, though not completely entrenched as the starter yet, will most likely become the starter. Gillislee will battle Daniel Thomas for the second spot and the role as the third down back. He will provide depth at the position. As the second running back, 300-400 yards on the ground, 200-300 yards through the air, 2-4 touchdowns would be acceptable stats for a rookie.
Sturgis will have the easiest chance to become a starter out of all the rookie, simply because he only has to beat one player. Dan Carpenter has become a fan favorite for the Dolphins, earning the nickname DC$ on this site due to his ability to nail big time kicks. Last season however, Carpenter missed some kicks that could have won some games (of course if our secondary was better, we still would have won those games anyway). He was less than stellar from beyond 45 yards and the Dolphins felt he needed some competition. He is also set to make over $3M this year.
The bottom line is this: kickers are necessary, but aren't impact players. If you look at the stats, pro kickers are pretty even across the board. Carpenter's stats fall in rank with every other kicker. In other words, kickers are a dime a dozen. We could have replaced Carpenter will any other kicker last season and that kicker would have almost certainly averaged about the same.
Having said that, the biggest factor in this, in my opinion, is the money. Sturgis may or may not be a pro caliber kicker. But if he is, then he'll likely win the job away from Carpenter. He'll look as good as Carpenter in training camp and that will mean Carpenter and his $3M+ salary will be cut. The Dolphins can save $2.7M by cutting Carpenter and Sturgis' contract likely won't even count due to the ‘top 51' rule.
So expectations for Sturgis: If he performs well in camp, the job is his. If he doesn't, he was just a fifth round pick. This was a very low risk, high reward move.
Jones is a safety prospect from Arkansas State who the Dolphins said they envision possibly playing as a slot corner. But as a seventh round pick, Jones will have to really stand out in order to make the roster. The Dolphins have Reshad Jones entrenched at one starting safety position and Clemons, Wilson, and McCray battling it out for the other starting safety spot, where Clemons has the upper hand. Jones will have to outperform Wilson and former college teammate Kelcie McCray (whom the Dolphins appear to be very high on) for the back up starting safety spots. There is also a possibility that one of the corners like Carroll or Marshall could enter into the safety battle as well. As for the corner position, Jones will have to battle against Taylor, Davis, Patterson, and Stanford for the nickel and dime spots. Needless to say, he's got an uphill battle in a secondary that has suddenly become crowded.
The expectations for Jones is simple: we should expect him to make the practice squad unless he really stands out in camp.
So there you have it. I'm sure all fans want this draft class to be filled with superstars that will propel the Dolphins back into the Super Bowl and back into prestige. However, while it's nice to want some immediately breakout stars, it's better if we temper our expectations and let these players develop at the pace they should. Putting too many high expectations on them is unfair and unrealistic. Maybe Taylor can become a shutdown corner. Maybe Thomas can become a Pro-Bowl caliber offensive lineman. Maybe Jordan becomes Jason Taylor 2.0. But expecting that to happen in their rookie season maybe be asking too much of them (or any rookie for that matter). Miami has enough veterans in place at key positions to allow the rookies a smoother transition into the pros and time to develop their craft.