Today, the news broke that the Miami Dolphins 2013 3rd overall pick Dion Jordan had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs as part of the NFL's routine PED testing. Jordan immediately put out a statement admitting to the use of "stimulants" and accepting responsibility for the failed test. News like this has many implications, in the short, medium, and long-terms.
In the Short-term
Right now, the NFL is in the lull between OTAs/minicamp of May/June and training camp/preseason in August. Even though Jordan is suspended for the first four regular season games, Jordan is eligible to fully participate in training camp and pre-season. Last year, Jordan missed much of the offseason training program due to the combination of his final exams at the University of Oregon not ending until June and his slow recovery from offseason shoulder surgery due to a setback suffered during training camp. This year, despite the suspension, he'll be able to continue practicing with the team and developing his technique.
In the meantime, though, this suspension raises several concerns. First, Jordan has noticeably bulked up since being drafted when he weighed just 248 lbs at the NFL combine. Earlier this offseason, Jordan claimed he had put on a lot of muscle and weighed "a little over 265 pounds" barely a year after he was drafted. Although he admits to the use of a "stimulant," that term is quite vague. He could be referring to a concentration stimulant like Adderall, prescribed to people with ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), or he could be referring to muscle growth stimulants. Even his use of the word "stimulant" could be a complete lie because the NFL is not allowed to officially explain which specific PED a player tested positive for due to the rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Regardless of what PED he's referring to, the use of PEDs calls into question Jordan's character as well as his ability to perform well in the future once he's (hopefully) no longer using PEDs.
Given the steep competition Jordan has at defensive end (an All-Pro in Cameron Wake and a potential young star in Olivier Vernon who had 11.5 sacks as a sophomore), it's understandable why Jordan would feel pressure to improve his performance by any means necessary. Ultimately, though, his choices have left his team in worse shape. He's completely unable to play if any of the Dolphins' defensive ends are injured in the first 4 weeks, and that limits his ability to generate plays that help his team win.
In addition, head coach Joe Philbin singled out Jordan for praise earlier this offseason, specifically because he's "playing faster" because he's doing "less thinking." If Jordan was using a mental stimulant like Adderall, it's fair to wonder if his mental speed drops once he's no longer practicing with a boost from PEDs, so for now, any praise he's received during offseason practices so far have to be discounted as potentially influenced by PEDs.
In the Upcoming Season
Dion Jordan, to the angst of many fans including myself, didn't see the field very often last year. Despite promises by both defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and head coach Joe Philbin that Jordan's snaps would increase during the year, that didn't happen. Jordan averaged 19 snaps per game the first 3 games of his rookie year compared to 21 snaps per game the final 3 games of the 2013 season. He finished his rookie year having played just 29.0% of the Dolphins' defensive snaps, or 339 snaps total (21.2 snaps per game).
An unexpected bright side to Jordan rarely seeing the field last year is that it's not hard for us to imagine how the Dolphins' defense would play this year without Jordan being available for 4 games. So long as Wake, Vernon, Shelby, and perhaps rookie 7th round pick Terrence Fede stay healthy for the first 4 games, the Dolphins' defensive end rotation should look mostly unchanged compared to last year, with Jordan's "missing" 21 snaps per game easily being split among 3 or 4 players. Jordan will still be available after week 4 to be part of the defensive end rotation and to start games if Wake or Vernon are injured, so Jordan missing games doesn't make the Dolphins' defense worse compared to last year.
Instead, the loss of Jordan for 4 games simply limits how much the Dolphins' defense could potentially improve from last year since Jordan was the defensive end with the greatest chance of making a leap this year compared to last year. Two of the first four upcoming Dolphins' regular season opponents had above-average offenses last year - the Patriots in week 1 and the Chiefs in week 3 - and the loss of Jordan from the rotation will limit the defense's options when it comes to getting after Tom Brady or covering Rob Gronkowski against the Patriots.
(Gif courtesy of Pro Football Focus)
To me, what you see above is the real loss for the Dolphins. Wake and Vernon can likely replace any pass pressure Jordan would have generated in his 21 snaps. Wake, Vernon, and Shelby can likely replace the run-stuffing Jordan would have generated in his 21 snaps. However, few players on the Dolphins' roster possess Jordan's combination of size, speed, and agility when dropping into coverage. As fans, we saw some flashes of Jordan's potential dropping into coverage last year, but we'll have to wait until after the week 5 bye for the week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers to see Jordan on the field in a game that matters.
In the Long-term
Dion Jordan is now a "marked man," in the sense that any future failed tests would lead to even longer punishment, and this four game suspension is pretty significant in a league where the average team's season is just 16 games total. Jordan won't have any benefit of the doubt from either the NFL or fans, so he'll have to be very, very careful about what substances/supplements he takes in the future. Jordan's development as an NFL player has hit several roadblocks so far, including his offseason shoulder surgery that took a long time to fully heal, the position switch from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE, limited snaps as a rookie due to playing behind Wake and Vernon, and now 4 games of lost potential experience as a sophomore due to this suspension.
Suffice to say it's going to be very hard for Jordan to start producing up to his draft status as a sophomore when he's only allowed to play in 12 regular season games next year - definitely not impossible but clearly difficult.