The Dolphins enter the 2016 offseason with some reasons for encouragement about their 2015 draft class but also more questions than answers.
Will DeVante Parker be the elite receiver the Dolphins thought they were getting with the 14th overall pick or simply a pretty good one?
Are Jordan Phillips and Jay Ajayi good enough to be long-term starters? (That won’t be necessary in Ajayi’s case if Lamar Miller re-signs.)
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Will Bobby McCain or Tony Lippett become top-three caliber cornerbacks? And is Jamil Douglas anything more than an NFL backup?
The Dolphins cannot answer any of those questions definitively, but they can take solace in this: Parker and Ajayi have impressed over the past month.
“There have been some ups and downs, bumps in the road, but I feel like all of those guys have progressed,” interim coach Dan Campbell said of a rookie class that also includes undrafted punter Matt Darr, kicker Andrew Franks and linebackers Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt.
“I mean, you go down the list and start looking at them; those guys, they improved. I feel like it’s a good class. It’s one of the best ones that I’ve been around as a whole.”
Rounding up the Dolphins’ draft class and where they stand:
▪ Parker: The Dolphins might ultimately regret not taking cornerback Marcus Peters, who has eight interceptions and made the Pro Bowl for Kansas City, instead of Parker.
But the decision was a no-brainer for the Dolphins at the time, and few teams likely would have selected Peters ahead of Parker.
Parker’s stats (21 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns) are modest, and the Dolphins want to see improvement, especially with route running, something ESPN analyst Jon Gruden criticized about Parker during the Giants game.
“You’ve got to be consistent with your route running, and you’ve got to be dependable for the quarterback,” offensive coordinator Zac Taylor said. “So we’ll continue to stay on him. What he’s fortunate to have and why he’s been so successful is because he’s a big body. He can go up and highpoint a ball. He’s got strong hands. His catch radius is outstanding.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill likes what he has seen recently, saying: “If he continues on this track he’s going to be a dominant player in this league.”
▪ Second-round defensive tackle Phillips: He has 17 tackles, two sacks and at least five pass deflections, but Campbell’s comments Thursday suggest the Dolphins don’t believe he’s ready to become a starter.
“He has improved and has a bright future, but he’s got to be more consistent,” Campbell said. “I feel like over the last week, that improvement, we’re not getting the gains that we had hoped for. He’s kind of flashing right now, and you don’t want a flash player. You want somebody that’s always up there and producing.”
▪ Fourth-round offensive lineman Douglas: He surprisingly won a starting job over Billy Turner in training camp, then was benched after allowing the most quarterback hurries of any NFL guard over the first four weeks.
He subsequently struggled during a few fill-in appearances at center, including a critical error that doomed Miami’s comeback attempt against Indianapolis.
“It’s not easy,” Taylor said. “He did not play center at Arizona State.”
▪ Fifth-round running back Ajayi: Though the body of work is limited (42 carries since cracked ribs sidelined him early in the season), his 4.4-yards-per-carry average is very good. His role in 2016 will depend largely on whether Miller re-signs.
“I think he has gotten better every single week,” Taylor said. “He really runs hard.”
▪ Fifth-round cornerback McCain: He struggled when given a bigger role against the Giants and Chargers, then didn’t get any defensive snaps against Indianapolis.
This Dolphins staff has concluded he’s better equipped to play in the slot than on the boundary.
▪ Fifth-round cornerback Lippett: The Dolphins like his size (6-3) and how he attacks the ball but want to see better technique in his transition from receiver to cornerback.
“He reads route combinations pretty dang good,” Campbell said. “You love his size. I think he has a bright future.”
▪ Fifth-round safety Cedric Thompson: The former Minnesota safety, who whiffed on several tackles in the preseason, hasn’t been promoted from the practice squad because he hasn’t excelled on special teams, Campbell said.
Darr has been the best of the undrafted rookies. He’s averaging 47.6 yards per punt, which ranks third in the league.