Dolphins rookie defensive end Dion Jordan played more snaps during Sunday’s win over the Falcons than the first two games of the season combined. And wouldn’t you know it, a player with an elite skill set played quite well.
Miami has apparently been easing the third-overall pick of April’s draft along, as Jordan was nursing a shoulder injury for the majority of the preseason. But when Cameron Wake went down with a knee injury in the first half of the home opener, the Dolphins didn’t have a choice but to increase Jordan’s role.
After playing a combined 24 snaps in Weeks 1 and 2, the former Oregon Duck was on the field for 31 plays on Sunday. With those 31 snaps, Jordan was able to pressure the quarterback four times and hit Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter to force an underthrown ball and a Jimmy Wilson game-sealing interception.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jordan graded out more efficiently than every 4-3 defensive end in the entire NFL in Week 3. There was a reason Jordan was almost unanimously considered the top defensive player of this year’s draft. He’s just too talented not to have an impact on a football game. Too talented to be kept on the sideline.
It’s time for the Dolphins to start Dion Jordan at right defensive end. His performance on Sunday against Atlanta made that quite clear. And even in the first two games, despite playing only 24 defensive snaps, Jordan should have produced two sacks.
He did manage a sack in Cleveland, but squandered an easy opportunity to bring down Andrew Luck after mistakenly thinking the Colts’ quarterback had already thrown the football. It was a huge mistake, yes. A huge mistake that could have came back to haunt the Dolphins in a close game. But Jordan is getting to the quarterback at an alarming rate, and the sacks will come with a starting role.
The reasons why Jordan shouldn’t be starting have obviously been discussed. There’s his shoulder injury, which can’t be reaggravated. Truthfully, we don’t know the extent of that injury or whether Jordan is even completely finished with his recovery. But if the Dolphins are comfortable enlisting Jordan on special teams, which he played on 19 snaps in Week 3, he’s certainly ready for a larger role as a defensive end.
There’s also concern about Jordan’s ability to set the edge against the run on early downs. The rookie hasn’t been on the field for a big enough sample size to dispel those notions, but he certainly doesn’t look overmatched in the slightest playing the run.
Jordan managed a positive grade defending the run on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, which was propelled by a key third-down stop in the red zone that forced the Falcons to kick a field goal in the first half. The Dolphins probably don’t win on Sunday without that defensive stand.
And, frankly, Miami isn’t getting enough production from Olivier Vernon to justify starting him over Jordan. Vernon, who has also been outplayed by former undrafted free agent Derrick Shelby, has only managed 0.5 sacks, and he’s been on the field roughly 80 percent of the time for Kevin Coyle’s unit. I’m not suggesting Vernon is a lost cause after three games, but I am saying he hasn’t been good enough to hold off a potentially dominant rookie pass rusher.
Cameron Wake, who is arguably the Dolphins’ best player on both sides of the ball, could miss Monday night’s game in New Orleans with a nicked up left knee. Miami will be in need of another consistent rusher to be on the field as much as possible.
Led by Drew Brees, the Saints own the league’s fourth ranked passing attack. The Dolphins’ secondary is considerably improved from the unit that finished the 2012 season 27th against the pass, but it isn’t ready for this quarterback with a depleted pass rush. And even if Wake is able to tough it out and play, why not field what has the potential to be one of the league’s top one-two punches?
Jordan hasn’t arrived after playing well in 31 snaps, but he has earned the right to prove himself with an expanded role. He clearly has the most ability of any Dolphins defensive end not named Cameron Wake. And if he’s healthy enough to play special teams, he’s healthy enough to start on the right edge. Starting him on Monday night could be the boost the Dolphins’ defense needs with Wake banged up.