Jordan Phillips’ NFL journey began Friday with equal parts potential and uncertainty.
But whatever life throws at the Dolphins’ newest defensive tackle, taken with the draft’s 52nd pick Friday night, it won’t come close to what he survived as a child.
Phillips, the Dolphins’ surprise second-round pick, was an orphan by age 2. His grandparents tried their best to raise him, but tragedy kept stalking. Grandma Irene had a stroke, and her pre-teen grandson was too much for his grandfather to handle.
He ultimately moved in with family friends Shelley and Kody Kinder, who helped get his life on track. Blessed with freakish athleticism, Phillips earned a scholarship to Oklahoma.
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But even there, bad luck returned. A chronic back injury led to season-ending surgery in 2013. And even when he returned, the production never matched the ability.
In other words, he is the very definition of a second-round pick. Flawed but full of hope.
“It’s tough, but I’m happy that everything happened to me happened,” Phillips said. “It’s helped me get to where I am today.”
And where’s that? The perfect place for an unfinished product. Phillips, listed at 6-6 and 334 pounds, doesn’t have to be a star at defensive tackle. The Dolphins already have that — Ndamukong Suh.
For this year, at least, he just has to do what he does best.
“I’m a great run stopper,” Phillips said.
The Dolphins’ coaching staff apparently agrees.
“There was an earthquake by our defensive coaches, trying to break down the wall,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said, describing the reaction to the pick.
It will be up to Terrell Williams, the Dolphins’ first-year defensive line coach and Phillips advocate, to get the most out of the player.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay called Phillips “one of the biggest, most athletic defensive linemen” he has ever evaluated on tape.
That’s the good news. The bad? The production never matched the hype. Phillips blamed it on how he was used at Oklahoma — as a space-eating nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He will operate more freely in Miami’s 4-3.
“You’ll see a lot more plays out of me, coming up soon,” vowed Phillips, a second-team all-conference player in 2014.
He better. The Dolphins not only traded back to take Phillips, they passed on several players who would have filled needs to do so.
The Dolphins took him with the 52nd pick, which they acquired in a trade-down with the Eagles. The Dolphins packaged their second (47th overall) and sixth-round picks for the Eagles’ second and two fifth-rounders (picks 145 and 156).
The Eagles used the pick on cornerback Eric Rowe. The Dolphins, meanwhile, effectively passed on University of Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, whom the Chargers took with the 48th pick.
Cornerback Ronald Darby and offensive linemen Jake Fisher and Ali Marpet were also available to Miami at 47. They all went in the second round.
“You always want more picks,” Hickey said. “Are we still going to like the board wherever we trade down to? We felt that way. We were fortunate the board pretty much stayed the same. Jordan was the best player on the board.”