The Miami Dolphins 2013 rookie class played the least snaps of any NFL team's rookie class. Miami's 2013 draft class played only 866 snaps collectively and led some to even remark that Miami is getting two draft classes in 2014. this year's and last's.
2014 is a new season for these once disappointing rookies and it provides a new opportunity to show how far they have come in the Dolphins program with a full season to get stronger and better acclimated with life in the NFL.
Which one of these nine sophomores will have the biggest impact on the Dolphins' 2014 season? First, let's review who was brought onto this team in that draft and how they will presumably influence the 2014 season:
Jordan is a supremely talented defender who has the ability to play multiple positions because of his rare skill set. However, Jordan say the field on only 338 defensive snaps in 2013 due to a lingering shoulder injury which nearly cost him his entire rookie campaign (coached considered putting Jordan on IR before the 2013 season). Jordan was also plagued by a lack of strength which resulted in an inability to lift weights due to the aforementioned shoulder injury.
Jordan is now healthy, has bulked up to 265 (he was listed at 248 at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine) and has committed to playing defensive end in the Dolphins 4-3 defense. Jordan's added strength should help him see the field more as setting the edge against running plays was a problem for him in his rookie year.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I said earlier this summer that if Jordan weighed 265 pounds he would be an absolute animal. I still believe that, and I believe Jordan will have a breakout season with double digit sacks. However, Jordan must win a starting job to put himself in position to take the league by storm this season. Even if Jordan comes in as a situational pass rusher, I still expect at least seven sacks from him this season.
Taylor was the second player drafted in former GM Jeff Ireland's last draft and was also the second who came to the team having already been bitten by the injury bug. Taylor had a nagging groin injury and eventually had to have sports hernia surgery in May of 2013. This set him back enormously and never allowed the rookie to get comfortable or receive any hands-on training.
Taylor's groin issues recurred throughout his disappointing rookie season in which he played in only 45 defensive snaps and allowed every ball thrown his way to be completed. Taylor had even considered quitting football due to the frustration of injuries and lack of playing time.
Fortunately, Taylor is healthy now and back on the right track after what has so far been full participation in the Dolphins off-season program. Taylor plans to challenge newly signed veteran Cortland Finnegan for the starting cornerback spot opposite of Pro Bowler Brent Grimes.
The organization has high praise and expectations of Taylor, but will he be able to beat out the once-dominant Finnegan who claims to have regained his edge and become an impact starter for this team? Will he be able to thrive and make plays when most of the passes are coming to his side of the field?
Thomas had maybe the most disappointing rookie year out of all the rookies specifically because the Dolphins were in desperate need of offensive line help last year and undrafted rookie Sam Brenner was placed into the starting rotation rather than Thomas (who played two offensive snaps).
Thomas had the same shoulder injury as Dion Jordan, a torn labrum, and had surgery to repair it in February of 2013. Thomas was also weak in the lower body so he lacked the power necessary to be an NFL offensive lineman. The coaches didn't know where to play him and he eventually settled in as the back up left tackle.
This year, however, a clear-cut plan seems in place for Thomas, who is noticeably leaner and stronger. Thomas has been the starting left guard throughout the Dolphins' OTAs and, though it's only early June, seems like the frontrunner to claim the job permanently.
Billy Turner, a 2014 third round pick, was presumed to be the starter at LG, but this unforeseen development from Thomas could halt the plans for Turner, who still has a huge adjustment to make to endure the challenge of facing NFL talent every day.
Davis seems to be the odd man out in the cornerback competition. Davis flashed more than Jamar Taylor in their rookie preseason, but neither did much of anything in the regular season. Davis' main problem, like many in the Dolphins' 2013 draft class, was a lack of bulk. Davis is currently listed at 186 which is still not ideal size. Davis has incredible athletic ability and instincts but he is not consistent enough to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
I like Davis and what he could eventually become with a little more technique in his game (a ball-hawk) but Davis will likely not see a lot of playing time unless he unseats Jimmy Wilson as the starting nickel cornerback or is able to beat both Finnegan and Taylor for the boundary job.
Jenkins was the first of three Florida Gators taken in this draft. Jenkins was faced with an uphill climb to earn playing time in his rookie season after the team had just signed linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe to big free agent contracts. However, Jenkins was able to earn himself 127 defensive snaps. Jenkins began taking snaps from Wheeler towards the end of 2013 and was one of the Dolphins best coverage linebackers.
Jenkins has a prime opportunity to earn himself some playing time during the next few months. Jenkins replaced Ellerbe as a starting outside linebacker for some reps during OTAs on Monday, and while HC Joe Philbin has said that this move isn't permanent and is nothing to look in to, its' clear that Jenkins will be given opportunities to unseat one of last year's disappointing linebackers. Jenkins will also likely be one of the linebackers on the field when the Dolphins are in the nickel package.
Sims seat got a little hotter in May when the Dolphins brought in Arthur Lynch from Georgia to perform basically the exact tasks that Sims was brought in to handle, the main one being in-line blocking. However, Sims is still the Dolphins' number two tight end behind Charles Clay as Lynch works with trainers due to an injury.
Sims is fighting with Lynch, Michael Egnew and Kyle Miller for two spots on the roster. The Dolphins new offense, under OC Bill Lazor, is said to utilize tight ends similarly to how tight ends are utilized with the Philadelphia Eagles. This means lots of motions and plays designed specifically for the tight ends.
Sims could thrive in this offense but must first establish himself as someone who deserves to earn playing time and targets by being a reliable in-line blocker.
As we get further down this list, the odds of the player being the most impactful to the 2014 Dolphins become much more slim. I'll give you a quick hint to the end of this article, it won't be Gillislee. If Gillislee can earn himself a few carries in 2014 then he will be happy. Gillislee played nine snaps in 2013 and ran the ball only six times.
Gillislee has talent but must first focus on even making this team in a now-crowded backfield. Gillislee will likely need to play some special teams to make that happen. If Gillislee is the surprise of the 2014 season you can all come back to this article and torch me, but don't get your hopes up.
Sturgis was one of the most reliable kickers in Gators history, reliable enough to be hear his name called in the fifth round of the 2013 draft (most kickers don't even get drafted). Sturgis beat out incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter, whose large salary the Dolphins couldn't live with, and got off to a hot start in 2013, making all six of his field goal attempts in three wins to open the 2013 season.
However, the Dolphins then lost four straight games in a stretch that saw Sturgis hit only five of his nine field goal attempts. That's 12 points in four games. Considering that two of those games were lost by three points or less, Sturgis' struggles were much more damning than hindsight may tell you.
Sturgis currently has no competition, but he needs competition. Sturgis hit only 76.5 percent of his field goals. Delivering only three fourths of the time leads to unemployment for kickers in the NFL.
Jones will also not be the most impactful of these sophomores. Jones is mainly a special teams contributor and a back up cornerback/ safety. Jones main focus is on making the team after controversial remarks regarding Michael Sam on Twitter.
I've had a few strong opinions about Michael Sam situation and the punishment of Jones, but the bottom line is it was not smart of Jones to say what he did (which wasn't much, but the Dolphins have a right to choose how they are represented). The oddest part of the remarks are that they came after Walt Aikens was drafted to basically replace Don Jones.
Instead of choosing who will impact the team more from this class, I will rank them in order from most impactful to least impactful. Keep in mind that none of these players are locks to start in 2014.
Dion Jordan- Jordan is a pass rusher, one of the most premium positions in football. If he has the type of season I think he will then big plays will be regular and a few of his big plays will likely lead to wins.
Dallas Thomas- Thomas is in position to have a huge turnaround in 2014. After playing only two offensive snaps last year, Thomas could be the opening day starter at LG. If the Dolphins running game is revitalized with Thomas starting then a large chunk of credit must be given to Thomas.
Caleb Sturgis- Sturgis must improve and be more consistent in 2014. If the Dolphins don't have a reliable kicker then they will lose a plethora of games as this is a team that finds itself in many close games (nine games decided by three point of less over the past two seasons).
Jelani Jenkins- Jenkins could unseat Wheeler or Ellerbe as a starting outside linebacker, but I think it is much more likely that Jenkins finds the field as a role player. Jenkins could find himself as a nickel linebacker due to his coverage skills.
Jamar Taylor- Taylor will be huge if he wins the starting CB job opposite of Grimes but I simply don't see that happening right now (I believe in Finnegan). He may enter the starting rotation due to injury, but he will likely only play against four receiver sets unless he can unseat Jimmy Wilson as the starting nickel CB.
Dion Sims- Sims, unless unseated by the dynamic-but-disappointing Michael Egnew or Arthur Lynch, will play a respectable amount of snaps. However, whether Sims offers more impact plays is questionable.
Will Davis- Davis will likely see the field very little and will need to play more special teams. He will be in the mix for a starting spot, whether on the boundary or the nickel, but I don't see Davis winning either due to inconsistency and lack of strength.
Mike Gillislee- Gillislee will definitely see some special teams work this season. If he manages to wrestle away twenty carries from Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno then his season will be a success. If he manages to do something big with these few carries.... Well you all might be back here to say "I told you so" in a few months.
Don Jones- Jones has gone through his sensitivity training and now faces the uphill battle of impressing the coaches enough to keep his roster spot. Jones must be more impressive in his cornerback/ safety role in training camp and must be smarter on and off the field. He will likely not have an impact on the 2014 season unless he produces an important special teams play or miscue (he had one of each in 2013).