For more than a decade, the AFC East has ran through New England, where the Patriots have dominated their division rivals.
Now things are expected to change because the Miami Dolphins have made splashes in the offseason, adding multiple pieces to beat the Patriots and take the division once and for all. One of those pieces is this most recent draft's No. 3 overall selection, Dion Jordan.
Jordan, a defensive end and linebacker, is an intriguing athlete because of his uncommon blend of stature and athleticism. He's 6'6", 248 pounds but moves like a cornerback when asked to drop into coverage. He has natural fluidity, unreal athleticism and quality length (33 7/8" arms).
His length could become one of the biggest contributors to the Dolphins taking over the division and putting Tom Brady on his rear on Sundays.
Brady is not often sacked but teams that have managed to do so have managed to beat the Patriots. Sacks significantly disrupt the rhythm and pace of the Patriots offense—which is heavily based on timing and chemistry—and flusters Brady in the pocket. Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Ryan Clark alluded to this in a recent interview (via csnne.com):
When Tom Brady gets pressure and when you’re man-to-man and bumping those guys and making it hard for him to throw, he sees ghosts. Even when guys aren’t around him, even when he’s not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we’ll see him duck, we’ll see him flinch. When you get Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away.
Even when Brady hasn't been planted into the field, he's had difficulty throwing over long-armed defenders. This has been clear in recent years when, for example, Brady's faced the New York Giants, a team loaded with length along the defensive line.
New York's defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck know how to use their length and have done an excellent job in recent years in clouding Brady's passing lanes and making it look as if he's attempting to throw through trees. Throwing around such congestion is not an easy task for Brady, and now he faces the possibility of having that issue twice a year with the Miami's Jordan.
As noted, Jordan has long arms and great stature, making it difficult to throw over or around him. In addition to his length, he has very good athleticism that, at times, he's used to his advantage when rushing the passer.
Jordan flashed that ability against Arizona State last season. It was the seventh game of the regular season and, as usual, Jordan played both defensive end and linebacker. On one particular play, he was lined up as a weak-side linebacker in Oregon's 3-3-5 package.
When the play began, he sped off the line of scrimmage and looked to rush the quarterback from the outside. As he ran by the left tackle, he stuck out his left arm to keep him at bay. By doing that, he prevented the blocker from raising his arms up to engage him.
While he ran around the blocker, he released his left arm and moved his right arm to the right shoulder pad of the blocker. This was done to set up a "rip" move, which is when the rusher uses his inside arm to essentially grab or club the blocker and then uses his outside arm to uppercut the blocker's opposite arm.
Jordan's length makes it very difficult for the blocker to counteract this move. This is quite obvious in the image above, as the blocker is bent over at his waist, vulnerable to being thrown to the ground.
As he continues his pursuit for the quarterback, Jordan finishes his rip move and turns the corner. Despite his towering frame, he lowers his center of gravity by bending his knees and sinking his pad level and beats the blocker around the edge.
He didn't rush the passer often at Oregon and didn't show great strength or consistent knee-bend when he did. To his credit, however, he has the length that could enable him to cause problems both for the Patriot offensive tackles and Brady, provided he expands his pass-rushing arsenal.
If he's not rushing off the edge, his aforementioned length and athleticism could be a big factor in pass coverage. Jordan so excels in this area that it is arguably his greatest strength, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him line up over New England slot receivers, such as Danny Amendola.
In the same game against ASU, Jordan displayed his athleticism by mirroring the opposing slot receiver throughout a play.
Jordan was lined up over the slot, across the opposing receiver, and was set to cover him in man coverage. It was a form of "bracket" (double) coverage with Jordan covering inside and underneath while the deep safety behind him was responsible for the outside and over the top.
When the play began, Jordan slid toward the middle of the field and mirrored the slot receiver with an inside shade. He stayed inside of him and rerouted him as the route developed.
That is the benefit of having a versatile player like Jordan. He's able to disrupt the rhythm of the offense by rerouting receivers and then is able to cover them with great fluidity.
His versatility is particularly important against the Patriots who signed Amendola in free agency and appear to be moving to a more vertically based offense. If Jordan can cover smaller receivers so effectively, then maybe he'll also be able to cover tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez in the middle of the field.
Should Dion Jordan play outside linebacker or defensive end?
It's uncertain which specific position Jordan will play this season, but it would not be a surprise if the Dolphins use him at strong-side linebacker ("SAM") and then slide him down to defensive end (5-technique) in sub-packages.
Using him as a situational pass-rusher wouldn't put too much stress on him to produce off the edge, (though this is something that he'll be expected to do in the future), and using him in coverage is a strength of his. If the Dolphins choose to use him that way, and he develops over the course of the season, it could be a couple of long Sundays for Brady, who will be seeing ghosts as he looks to pass the ball.