How Can Dion Jordan Avoid Being Labeled a 'Reach' as a Rookie?
The onus is now on Jordan to prove that their faith is well-founded, but it is also on the coaching staff to put his talents to good use.
There's no denying that Jordan is talented, but some players might crumble under that kind of pressure, while others will rise to the occasion. It also may not be a one-year process. For instance, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill took steps toward proving that he wasn't a reach as the No. 8 overall pick in last year's draft, but there are still considerable question marks around his future.
The pressure will be similar for Jordan as it is for Tannehill, and while Jordan doesn't play the game's most important position, expectations around the Dolphins are considerably higher across the board than they were last year at this time.
That being said, Jordan's situation is specific to himself, so here is what he needs to do in order to avoid the dreaded label of a 'reach'.
Get to the Quarterback
Jordan won't be asked to carry the burden of the Dolphins' pass-rush on his own. He joins a talented front seven that already includes one of the game's best pass-rushers in Cameron Wake, as well as talented defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, who will both help by eating up space in the middle of the trenches.
If we look back at recent defensive ends and outside linebackers taken in the top half of the first round, we can get a good feel for a baseline of expectations:
Typically, the results have not been immediate. In fact, a majority of edge defenders drafted within the first 16 picks failed to log five or more sacks in their rookie seasons, as 12 of the 18 players on this list failed to reach this total.
A few players have excelled right out of the gate, though, including recent examples like Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin, 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith and Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn came out of his shell in his second year by logging 10.5 sacks.
Perhaps the focus on the sack total is subconscious, but my question is: In a hypothetical situation, would Jordan be better served in coverage on Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, or by bringing the heat on quarterback Tom Brady? He has natural talent to rush the passer, and it goes to waste every snap that he's in coverage.
He's not on the list since he's not a true "edge" defender, but think about Denver's Von Miller, another player who was projected to be an edge defender in a 3-4 but has since been utilized primarily as a blitzing linebacker in a 4-3 front. The Dolphins will find a way to get the most out of Jordan's pass-rushing ability.
Which brings me to my next point.
Coaches Must (Correctly) Utilize His Versatility
It seems that the Dolphins have drafted Jordan to fill their need for a pass-rushing defensive end in their 4-3 front. Dolphins defensive end Jared Odrick clearly was a fish out of water at the position last year, and although he could be a role-playing defensive end against the run, his pass-rushing skills are at their best use on the inside.
If that's what the Dolphins want, they could certainly plug him in there.
If Jordan can play at his new weight of 245 pounds, the 4-3 defensive end spot wouldn't be a bad fit for him. However, if there's one thing we learned about Jordan in the pre-draft process, it's that he was used a variety of ways. He was asked to drop into coverage often at Oregon, even lining up at nickel cornerback at times against slot receivers.
He was moved around quite a bit at Oregon, and Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio outlined some of the alignments that we could see from the Dolphins this season. He pointed out that Jordan could be the key that unlocks a plethora of possibilities for the Dolphins defense:
Drafting Jordan has opened up all sorts of possibilities, but he must live up to his potential. Part of the reason his draft stock was so high was upside; he is not quite the polished pass-rusher some of his peers were heading into the draft. He can indeed be a jack of all trades defensively, so long as Dolphins fans prepare for the possibility he might be the master of none.
He is highly versatile indeed, but as stated in the previous section, his addition to the defense should be all about getting to the passer. Even with that narrow scope on his rookie season goals, the Dolphins still have some options.
As mentioned above, he can rush the passer with his hand in the dirt, but he was even more explosive when he rushed from a two-point stance.
He showed that he can rush the passer from an upright position on the edge of Oregon's defense with regularity.
Here, he used his quick burst to get upfield against the offensive tackle, and the two engaged each other rather quickly.
Jordan ripped the arms of the blocker away, and made his way around the tackle to get the sack.
He didn't just bring the heat off the edge, though.
Here, we see Jordan's keen ability to shoot a gap and get pressure from various directions.
He once again lined up on the edge in an interesting defensive alignment from Oregon's defense. Three edge players lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, and all three rushed in different directions.
The formation gave the look of an overload blitz, which caused the offensive line to account for the extra rushers with their blocking assignments. They compromised their lane integrity to compensate for the overload, but Jordan simply looped around, shot the A-gap (between the center and guard) and logged the sack.
If there's one thing we can take away from the offseason moves at linebacker, it's that the Dolphins wanted to improve their athleticism at the second level and expand their pass-rushing possibilities at linebacker. When it came to blitzing, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler were considerably better than Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, respectively.
Adding Jordan to that repertoire could be the final piece to the defensive puzzle, which will be a puzzle for opposing quarterbacks to figure out with all their versatility.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from the Sports-Reference.com network, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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