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Jakeem Grant’s offensive role in 2017 expected to expand for Dolphins

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NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NFL Draft featured the Miami Dolphins surprisingly selecting six offensive players out of eight selections. Heading into the Draft, nearly everyone expected the Dolphins to use the selection process as a way to upgrade the defense, something they waited until 2017 to actually complete. While players like offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil in the first round and Kenyan Drake in the third allowed the team to add players who seemed to fit holes in the offense - with Tunsil starting at left guard in 2016 and moving to left tackle in 2017 while Drake was initially envisioned as part of the team’s platoon of running backs before the emergence of Jay Ajayi - the sixth-round selection of Jakeem Grant both excited and confused.

Grant’s 4.38-second 40-yard dash immediately gets noticed when looking at his draft profile. He is a player who knows how to use that speed, both straight-line running and in-and-out of cuts. He is a danger with the ball in his hands and one Miami can use on offense and special teams. The problem is, he is not a great route runner - and the “Mighty Mouse” nickname is fitting, given his 5-foot-6 frame. The Dolphins struggled to find a way to get Grant on the field, especially on offense, last year, where he only took 19 snaps with one pass targeting him.

On special teams, Grant returned 20 punts for an 8.3 yards-per-return average, with one touchdown as well as 19 kicks for a 23.1 yards-per-return average.

It is on offense, however, that the questions of how Miami can use Grant remain. Asked last week if Grant can be a regular part of the offensive system, or if he is more of a gimmick player, Miami offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen explained, “I think both. I think he is going to be a gimmick guy. Gimmick is kind of a demeaning word but he’s so darn explosive. I think he should be a highlight film. His big plays per snap ought to be a huge number. We’re always looking for ways to get him on the field. Some of it we’ll learn how to use him better. Some of it he’ll become a better player and a more mature player and understand the offense better. We’re going to play him a little bit more outside. Just because he’s a little guy doesn’t mean you have to be a slot guy. Sometimes outside you can throw him a hitch out there and he can turn it into a 50-yard play. So we are looking for ways for him to be an every down player more.”

He continued, “I don’t know that he becomes a starter, but just to be able to stick him in for chunks of time and leave him. It’s really, really hard in this league to slip a guy in there and run a reverse. It sounds good but it’s hard to do practically, and so it’s important for him to be an every down guy and for us to be able to put him in, and if we do have injuries, that he could play chunks. There’s no reason he can’t, right? He’s a good football player. He’s an extremely good technique kid. He has good hands. He runs good routes. He has to learn the offense better and I think he’ll do that, but look to see him maybe a little bit more outside and mix it in. We can stick him out there away from trips and get some one on ones out there. He’s a scary guy one or one. So we’re experimenting with some new things. Or different things, not new. But just some different places for him just to find a little niche for him to get a bigger role. We see him having … I think we all see him having a little bit of a bigger role and getting more out of him than we did last year.”

Obviously, Grant’s value is not just in the snaps he plays on offense, but also in becoming a better returner. He never returned punts in college, so the Dolphins would put him on the field for some returns, but would replace him with wide receiver Jarvis Landry in situations where the ball was likely to be kicked deep or they needed to ensure a steady reception of the kick.

“With the way the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) is now with the rules, I haven’t worked with Jakeem since the season has been over,” Miami associate head coach and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said of Grant’s offseason work for the special teams portion of his game. “So I know all of the stuff that you know about how hard he has worked in the offseason. Here’s a guy that flew his punter down to Texas to make sure he got some extra work in. That’s pretty impressive, so that tells you how serious he is about it. Listen, usually, as a coach, you look for the biggest improvement from a player from year one to two in any phase, in anything that they’re doing – any position player, anybody. So I’m looking for a major improvement – we all are – in that phase. He knows the corrections he has to make. It’s great that he’s recognized that and he’s working on it. I’ll see when we get out there for the OTAs – for OTA No. 1 – really where he is and how much he has improved, and we’ll take it from there.

“The one thing you can’t deny is what he did with the ball in his hands when he did have the ball,” Rizzi continued. “We just have to make sure his ball security is a lot better, his decision making is better. Those are things that certainly have to improve. He knows that; we know that. But you can’t deny when he had in the ball in his hands, what he did. I think people forget that he returned another one for a touchdown that got called back for a questionable penalty. He actually had – in the Seattle game – another long return that got called back for a penalty. So his average – his numbers – were a little bit skewed. But I’m really, really proud of him and really happy about his work ethic here in this offseason, because you can tell that he’s taking this thing seriously.”

Ahead of Grant on the offensive depth chart are Landry, a Pro Bowl receiver; third-year receiver DeVante Parker; fifth-year receiver Kenny Stills and Grant’s 2016 draft mate Leonte Carroo. He is, however, a special player that, should Miami be able to get him into the offense regularly could add a different look for, and threat to, defenses.

Christensen added, “He has a unique set, a unique skill-set (and) a unique way of doing things that he brings to the thing that has … And some of them are really hard traits to find, as far his speed and his big play (ability), his confidence, his swagger, thinking he can score on every single play. Every time he touches the ball he thinks he can score. The other thing he has, he has to fix his protecting the ball. He has to become that also. I think the same thing as I’ve been kind of … The theme of this thing, I just think that second year through, all of a sudden you get it. You figure it out a little bit. And I think that will be the case with him. He’ll figure out a little bit. We’ll figure it out a little bit more and then I think you’ll see him play some bigger chunks and more snaps. He’s always going to be a little bit of a specialist but there’s no reason he can’t play some series and go for a series. There’s nothing that he can’t do. He’s a physical guy. He’s maybe the strongest guy on our team pound for pound. He’s not afraid, as you saw. There’s no reason he can’t play a bunch of snaps.”

Miami will definitely be looking to get Grant that bunch of snaps this year. Adding him into a four- or five-wide receiver set could give the Dolphins the match up advantage they want when Grant is on the field. Grant could be in danger of being buried on the depth chart this year if he does not come into camp showing improvements over last year, but the coaching staff seems to believe he will have those improvements and are already looking at ways they can better use Grant. Miami has a unique weapon they just need to find a way to properly use in 2017.