The Miami Dolphins defensive end unit is one of the strongest units on the team. The group features All-Pro Cam Wake, third-year pro Olivier Vernon, the 2013 NFL Draft's top defensive prospect in Dion Jordan, and unheralded, undrafted Derrick Shelby.
Cam Wake is a former CFL standout and the pride of Jeff Ireland's GM career. Wake has been the Dolphins' best defensive player for the past four years and has been to three Pro Bowls in that time frame. Wake is one of the most universally liked Dolphin players amongst the fan base. Wake is a gamer who has one of the strongest motors in the NFL, meaning he will never quit on a play.
Wake was slowed by an MCL sprain in the early weeks of the 2013 season but still managed to provide one of the highlights of an overall disappointing 2013 season when he sacked Cincinnati Bengals' QB Andy Dalton in overtime for a "walk-off" safety to provide the difference in a 22-20 victory. Wake is still the Dolphins best defensive player, but at 32 years old the Dolphins will likely want to keep him on a snap count to keep his body from deteriorating.
Olivier Vernon is entering his third year in the NFL and with the Dolphins. Vernon eclipsed the double-digit sack mark for the first time in his career in 2013 during his breakout season. Vernon's season started off slow and even saw him ranked as the NFL's worst 4-3 DE according to PFF's rankings early in the season, but he bounced back to not only provide the Dolphins with a solid starter opposite Wake, but also finish as the 2013 team leader in sacks.
However, there is a catch with this former Miami Hurricane.
Vernon led the team in sacks last season, but he was not always effective on pass rushes and didn't apply consistent pressure on QBs. Vernon, as stated before, started the season off slowly, consistently being enshrouded by LTs on both passing and running plays. Vernon needs to get better at setting the edge to keep runs from getting to the outside of the field and must find a way to consistently bother QBs as they try to throw to become a complete DE. Overall, Vernon is an undersized DE so he must always strive get stronger and play with proper technique.
Dion Jordan may be the most interesting guy on this list. Jordan was drafted third overall then played in only 338 defensive snaps in his rookie season. Jordan is a 6'6" athletic freak who has the attributes of a LB and a DE and reminds some people of Dolphin-great Jason Taylor. Jordan, as previously mentioned, was the best defensive prospect in the 2013 draft, and his talent was clear when he found his way onto the field.
Jordan missed time in his rookie offseason due to a shoulder injury and classes he had to finish at Oregon. The shoulder injury was the most damning as it kept Jordan, whose biggest fault was his lack of girth, from lifting weights and adding muscle to his slim frame. Jordan's lack of playing time was mainly due to the fact that he didn't have the strength to effectively set the edge, and this is can be directly traced back to the shoulder injury. Jordan also was bumped out of the line-up due to the emergence of Vernon.
Jordan is a key component in Dolphins' DC Kevin Coyle's "speed" package, which features all of his best pass rushers on the field at the same time. Jordan as a bit of a wildcard in this package, sometimes rushing the passer, sometimes covering the opposition's best TE and sometimes shadowing the QB.
Jordan has the most potential out of the Dolphins' three young DEs and, after a full offseason in the Dolphins program, I expect Jordan to provide double-digit sack numbers next season.
Derrick Shelby is a former undrafted free agent out of Utah who has found a home in Miami's DE rotation. Shelby can come in and provide little to no drop off in run support while another DE rests. Shelby's ability to set the edge earned him playing time in the DE rotation over Jordan, and he played well in his opportunities, recording 34 tackles, two and a half sacks and two forced fumbles on the season.
The Dolphins and their fan base have heard Dion Jordan's name mentioned time and time again in trade rumors involving the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles reportedly offered a second-round pick and Brandon Graham for Jordan, who played under now-Eagles HC Chip Kelly when the two were both at Oregon.
The Dolphins, according to reports, turned down this trade, and rightly so. Jordan's potential isn't something you give up on after one year, not to mention the Dolphins would lose a chunk of change if they traded Jordan. The Dolphins should also be able to receive better compensation for Jordan, whose dynamic abilities are coveted by some of the more creative defensive minds.
For the record, I am firmly against a Jordan trade.
The Dolphins only have four DEs on the roster so drafting one this May is likely, but not until the later rounds as the pick would mainly be for depth. Cassius Marsh from UCLA, Oregon's Taylor Hunt, Ethan Westbrooks from West Texas A&M, Virginia's Brent Urban and South Florida's Aaron Lynch are all good late round options. All are projects as well, which means they will benefit from playing sparingly and having time to learn behind the four-man DE rotation that's already in place in Miami.