The Miami Dolphins had five selections in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, meaning the team has several rookies who are in line to be key contributors this season. Each week of the 2021 season, I’ll be reporting on the progression of said first-year players and their impact on the team. Let’s take a look at how the young bucks fared in their first NFL action against the New England Patriots.
Jaylen Waddle, WR (Round 1, 6th overall) - Moving on up
Waddle played on 43 offensive snaps (80%) on Sunday and flashed the tantalizing connection with former college teammate Tua Tagovailoa that Dolphins fans were waiting for when the team drafted Waddle this past April. The rookie wideout hauled in four receptions on six targets for 61 yards, including Tua’s first touchdown pass of the season. Waddle also had a highlight-real grab that earned him an illustrious spot on Miami’s rotating office elevator door mural.
Jaelan Phillips, LB (1st round, 18th overall) - Staying put
Phillips managed just 22 defensive snaps (29%) against the Patriots and had a tough time making a significant impact, though that could be for good reason. Belichick lauded the former Miami Hurricanes standout in the days leading up to the contest, and his words proved to be more than empty praise. The Patriots offensive line routinely double-teamed Phillips off the edge, and the rookie still found ways to apply pressure on several snaps. It’s likely we see Phillips’ role grow over the next few weeks as he gets acclimated, especially given that Miami’s coaching staff may be easing him in after he missed so many training camp practices due to injury.
Jevon Holland, S (2nd round, 35th overall) - Moving on up
I know it’s only been one game, but Holland is a budding star. The playmaking defensive back was PFF’s highest graded rookie player in the entire league on Sunday. He was also the second-highest graded defender on the Dolphins. Holland only logged 24 snaps (32%) due to the presence of veterans Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe, each of whom played well in their own right, but after this performance, head coach Brian Flores is sure to find more ways to get the rookie involved. Just look at his hit on Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith to force a fumble. Holland displayed a nose for the ball during his collegiate career (nine interceptions in two seasons), and that ability is already making its way over to the pros.
Liam Eichenberg, OT (2nd round, 42nd overall) - Moving on up
Eichenberg and the rest of Miami’s starting offensive line played all 54 offensive snaps this week. When Miami traded up to snag the former Notre Dame standout this past April, fans envisioned him becoming a foundational piece of Miami’s front five. That may still happen, but it appears he’s still the 6th man for now. Eichenberg was only starting due to Austin Jackson’s recent removal from the COVID-19 list. The rookie protector played well, for the most part. He yielded two holding penalties and was thrown to the ground a sack, but the latter was only due to his feet getting tangled with left guard Solomon Kindley. Otherwise, Eichenberg was sturdy in the run game and held his own in pass protection. Flores already said that Jackson will resume his left tackle duties moving forward, but Eichenberg is too talented to stay off the field for long.
Hunter Long, TE (3rd round, 81st overall) - Staying put
Long played on 18 snaps (33%) and was used mostly as a blocker. He was not targeted in the passing game (though neither was star tight end Mike Gesicki). Durham Smythe (one target, one reception) was the only tight end to see a look from Tagovailoa in this contest. Barring an injury to Gesicki or Smythe, Long is unlikely to see a featured role in the offense.
Larnel Coleman, OT (7th round, 231st overall) - Moving down
Coleman was placed on injured reserve on August 31st due to an undisclosed injury.
Gerrid Doaks, RB (7th round, 244th overall) - Moving down
Doaks failed to make Miami’s 53-man roster and signed with the team’s practice squad earlier in September. Should an injury strike the team’s running back corps, he’ll likely be called up for action.
Trill Williams, DB (Undrafted Free Agent) - Staying put
Williams was easily Miami’s most impressive undrafted free agent signing in training camp. He was inactive this week, but the fact that he made Miami’s 53-man roster shows that the coaching staff sees potential there.
Follow Justin Hier on Twitter @HierJustin.