Why Jelani Jenkins Is Miami Dolphins' Most Overlooked 2015 Starter

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVApril 14, 2015

Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (53) runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Jelani Jenkins had a breakout year in 2014 for the Miami Dolphins, which under normal circumstances means he shouldn't be overlooked. 

Alas in this 2015 offseason, that's exactly where he is, not that he should mind. 

Jenkins had an uneventful 2013 rookie campaign, making most of his impact on special teams and recording 15 tackles. Going into the 2014 season, it didn't register with many that Jenkins would be a major defensive contributor. 

That all changed with injuries to Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. With Wheeler missing the first game of the season, and Ellerbe missing the whole season, Jenkins was elevated into the role as Miami's starting weak-side linebacker. 

He responded to the promotion with an incredible season: 110 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass deflection in 15 games (14 starts). 

Jenkins in Week 3 with the sack on Chiefs QB Alex Smith, scoring a safety for the Dolphins.
Jenkins in Week 3 with the sack on Chiefs QB Alex Smith, scoring a safety for the Dolphins.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

On his successful second season, back in December, Jenkins said, per Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "I think it's a big accomplishment. It definitely wasn't easy. I definitely am proud of myself. Looking back at training camp, it's something I probably didn't expect would happen that way." 

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Jenkins also said that his experience last season allowed him to "play a little bit faster," and he was "a lot more comfortable" on the field. 

A full NFL season under his belt should only further propel him in 2015, as well as the acquisitions Miami made on the defensive side of the ball. 

Jenkins should benefit from the presence of Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line, as should the rest of the Miami front seven. Suh's presence will allow the Dolphins to use a 3-4 alignment from time to time, which could thrust Jenkins into the role of pass-rusher, where Pro Football Focus graded him as the 14th-best pass-rushing outside linebacker in the league at 1.1. 

Look at how Jenkins got to the safety in the picture above.
Look at how Jenkins got to the safety in the picture above.Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Suh's presence would also assist with the one deficiency you could say Jenkins had (which was a deficiency for the entire Dolphins defense toward the end of the year), as Jenkins graded out at minus-3.9 against the run, according to PFF. 

Despite his issues against the run, there is this diagram of a play where Jenkins stuffed it well vs. Buffalo in Week 2.
Despite his issues against the run, there is this diagram of a play where Jenkins stuffed it well vs. Buffalo in Week 2.Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Here's Jenkins making the tackle on Fred Jackson in Week 2 vs. Buffalo.
Here's Jenkins making the tackle on Fred Jackson in Week 2 vs. Buffalo.Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Jenkins' most valuable asset is in pass coverage, something he'll be doing plenty of whether the Dolphins use a 3-4 or the standard 4-3 front they've used since 2012. In pass coverage, Jenkins grades out at 2.4, which was seventh-best in the league, per Pro Football Focus. 

Here's Jenkins covering New England Patriots RB Shane Vereen pre-snap in Week 1.
Here's Jenkins covering New England Patriots RB Shane Vereen pre-snap in Week 1.Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Take a look at the result of Jenkins' coverage on the Week 1 play pictured above.
Take a look at the result of Jenkins' coverage on the Week 1 play pictured above.Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The linebacker position had been a weakness in 2013, but with Jenkins' play in 2014, it became a strength and should only get stronger with more experience on Jenkins' part, along with the signings made on defense. 

Jenkins may be the most overlooked starter of 2015, but by the end of the season, he won't be overlooked by fans anymore, and you can be sure that the rest of the NFL will not overlook him this season.

Statistics provided by NFL.com unless otherwise noted.