Why Aren't the Miami Dolphins Playing No. 3 Pick Dion Jordan More?

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Why Aren't the Miami Dolphins Playing No. 3 Pick Dion Jordan More?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Thumbs-up from Jordan after a big game against the Falcons. Thumbs-down to the Dolphins coaches for not using their player nearly as often as they should.

Mind-boggling.

That's the only way to describe the Miami Dolphins' unwillingness to give defensive end Dion Jordan a real crack at making an impact for their defense.

His light workload was understandable early in the season, as Jordan battled through a shoulder injury in the preseason and training camp, and the Dolphins may have been managing the situation to avoid aggravating the injury. He was last listed on the injury report Sept. 19—nearly a month ago.

Who knows if the shoulder injury is still bothering Jordan—maybe the team is being mum on the severity of the injury. How he performs off the bye week, and how the Dolphins use him, will be telling in that regard.

For a team that seemed so set on winning in 2013 (see offseason spending spree), trading up to draft a developmental defensive end who's barely playing is certainly mind-boggling—especially given some weaknesses that have become all too apparent already in this young season.

The Dolphins traded up to the third overall pick to select Jordan, but have yet to give the stud pass-rusher the kind of playing time that normally comes with such a lofty draft status. He has not played in 43 percent of the defensive snaps in any game this season, and has played only 26.9 percent of the snaps in 2013 so far.

It's clear he knows how small his role is.

"Just trying to maximize my opportunities," Jordan said, via the Associated Press. "That's pretty much what it is, especially when you get the amount of reps that I've been getting, just trying to maximize those opportunities."

Despite his limited opportunities, Jordan has been making an impact.

Dolphins defensive ends, 2013
Player Games Starts Total snaps Run def. Pass rush Pass cov.
Olivier Vernon 5 5 322 118 196 8
Derrick Shelby 5 1 191 97 85 9
Cameron Wake 4 4 140 38 96 6
Dion Jordan 5 0 101 22 70 9

ProFootballFocus.com

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jordan ranks eighth in pass-rush productivity among qualifying 4-3 defensive ends, with eight hurries, two hits and a sack this season. The Dolphins have used Jordan primarily as a pass-rushing specialist; yet, he has rushed the passer 126 fewer times than starting defensive end Olivier Vernon.

If the Dolphins truly feel Vernon is the better player, it's their prerogative to start him.

That, then, begs the question of why the Dolphins would trade up for Jordan in the first place. The Dolphins knew what they had in Vernon—they drafted him in the third round in 2012, just a year before drafting Jordan third overall.

Even 2012 undrafted free-agent Derrick Shelby has more snaps than Jordan.

Star defensive end Cameron Wake was injured for the Dolphins' Monday night blowout loss to the SaintsJordan played just 23 of 71 snaps that night.

"The fact is we want to expand his role," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said of Jordan just less than a week ahead of that Monday Night Football contest, "and he showed things in the game [against the Falcons] which lead us to believe that we can continue to keep feeding him more."

Feed him more? Jordan might starve if they won't even feed Jordan with Wake out and after coming out and publicly saying they believed they could do so.

There's no law saying that a rookie must play a certain number of snaps if drafted in a certain spot, but Jordan's workload is exceedingly light even by comparison to other players who were limited in their role as a rookie.

Other first-round pass-rushers, since 2008
Player Year Team Pick Snaps Snap %
Chris Long 2008 STL 2 733 70.3
Vernon Gholston 2008 NYJ 6 167 19.2
Brian Orakpo 2009 WAS 13 922 86.2
Clay Matthews 2009 GB 26 858 84.9
Brandon Graham 2010 PHI 13 482 55.1
Jason Pierre-Paul 2010 NYG 15 410 39.6
Von Miller 2011 DEN 2 1016 85.5
Aldon Smith 2011 SF 8 616 50.8
Bruce Irvin 2012 SEA 15 533 46.3
Quinton Coples 2012 NYJ 16 516 47.4
Dion Jordan 2013 MIA 3 101 26.9
Ezekiel Ansah 2013 DET 5 288 67.3
Barkevious Mingo 2013 CLE 6 280 75.1

ProFootballFocus.com

There's a long history of examples in both directions, of rookies stepping in and immediately being key contributors, and of developmental players who have a limited role to begin their career.

Of course, those examples set the bar impossibly high for Jordan, but speaking simply on the size of his workload, the difference is too great to justify. 

"I can see myself progressing every week, but I expected more out of myself," Jordan said. "But it's still a long season. The more comfortable I get out there, the more reps that I get, the better I'll end up doing."

Jordan's rookie season is off to a slow start, but it could be off to a much quicker start if he was getting the opportunities. If it's injury related, his role could increase soon. If he's simply not able to beat out Vernon for the starting job, then the question is why the Dolphins would even draft Jordan in the first place.

 

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.

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