Barry Jackson

Examining one smart thing the Dolphins are doing to add talent to their roster

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Thursday night:

▪ Here’s one smart thing the Dolphins are doing: Scooping up rookie draft picks cut by some of the league’s best teams.

When Miami claimed receiver Gary Jennings off waivers this week, it marked the third time the Dolphins have done that this season.

So Miami now has Jennings (Seattle’s fourth-round pick), cornerback Xavier Crawford (Houston’s sixth-rounder) and cornerback Ken Webster (New England’s seventh-rounder). These are all low risk moves, and if any pay off, they will look brilliant in retrospect.

The Dolphins, of course, have also claimed slightly older previous first-round picks who were dumped by the teams that drafted them, with Taco Charlton working out well so far but jettisoned Robert Nkemdiche not paying dividends.

Jennings - who caught 54 passes for 917 yards and 13 touchdowns at West Virginia last season - is the most intriguing of the Dolphins’ three rookie draft picks from other teams. ESPN’s Mel Kiper calls him “big and fast” and thought he would become a “legit downfield target for Russell Wilson.”

That never happened, because of Seattle’s depth at the position. And Jennings was cut days after Seattle signed Josh Gordon.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jennings had the second-highest passer rating on targets in 2018 for this past year’s year’s draft class: 144.7.

Webster, before sustaining an ankle injury, had made a decent early impression.

The Dolphins were intrigued by the athleticism. He ranked first among cornerbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine in the vertical jump (43 inches), tied for second in the bench press (18 reps) fourth in the broad jump (133 inches) and sixth in the 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds).

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Webster produced 11 pass breakups and one interception as a sophomore at Mississippi in 2015, but he suffered a severe knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season. He was not as productive upon his return, totaling two picks and seven PBUs in 17 games over his final two collegiate seasons. He didn’t make the Patriots out of camp because of their defensive backfield depth. But the Dolphins took a chance and might have something with Webster.

At the very least, he’s competitive and has been around the ball. Eight of the 14 passes in his coverage area have been caught, for 93 yards.

Here’s the book on Central Michigan’s Crawford, who played a handful of snaps in his Dolphins debut last week and could get a longer look in the weeks ahead.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein assessed Crawford thusly before this past April’s draft: “Long, thin press corner with the agility, foot quickness and balance to allow for stickier coverage. Crawford’s average speed and slim frame could make him a target downfield. His ability to hound routes underneath is impressive, but he doesn’t have the size or demeanor for frequent run support. Crawford’s athleticism and ability to stay connected to routes gives him a shot as a backup cornerback either outside or from the slot.”

▪ In half a season, tight end Mike Gesicki already has surpassed his rookie numbers in receiving yards (248 to 202). He has 21 catches, one fewer than he had all of last season.

“Mike continues to get better,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said, noting “that in the past maybe he hasn’t produced or he hasn’t lived up to whatever people thought he was supposed to be....

“He knows there’s a million things he can get better at, but the last few weeks have been nice to see that some of that hard work we’re putting in throughout the week is really paying off on Sundays. He’s... become a really reliable target and he’s got a skill set in terms of his length and his speed and his size that is something you can’t really coach.”

Gesicki said this week: “I think I’ve got a lot left to prove.”

Tight ends coach George Godsey has done a good job with Gesicki, and credit Gesicki for working diligently to improve his route running and getting off press coverage.

▪ As Dolphins blogger/podcaster Chris Kouffman noted, linebacker Vince Biegel ranks first among 3-4 edge rushers in quarterback pressure per snap.

“He’s only going to get better in my opinion because any guy that has a motor that burns hot like that is – you’ve just got get it pointed in the right direction,” linebackers coach Rob Leonard said.

Biegel is one of those under-the-radar success stories this season.

▪ Of DeVante Parker’s 28 receptions, 22 are for first downs. He’s 27th in yards per catch (14.3) and 49th in receiving yards (400).

“I’m very proud of where DeVante is right now because he’s one of those guys that really hasn’t been getting a lot of attention in terms of from a notoriety standpoint, but he has quietly done his job effectively each and every week,” receivers coach Karl Dorrell said.

“His confidence is tremendous right now in terms of what he thinks he is as a player. He’s making things happen for us offensively. I do think that you’re seeing the best of him. He is trying to be a good leader by his work ethic, doing everything in practice, trying to take care of himself so that he’s ready to perform each week. He’s growing and maturing in a lot of different ways and I think I think that’s been noticeable by everybody.”

Parker’s role will only increase with Preston Williams’ season-ending knee injury.

▪ Defensive line coach Marion Hobby likes what he has seen in UM rookie Gerald Willis, who’s on the practice squad: “He has done some good stuff. He is getting welcomed to the system. I think he responds to coaching. I think he does a lot of natural things. I think he likes rushing that quarterback. You can tell that about him.

“Guys have done a great job with him at the University of Miami. When he talks football, you like what comes out of his mouth, so I have been pleased with his progress and stuff like that.”

▪ Quick stuff: Myles Gaskin said he has remained on the scout team Wednesday, even after Mark Walton’s suspension. So it looks like Patrick Laird will get first crack at backing up Kalen Ballage... NBC’s Tony Dungy, speaking about the Jets to colleague Mike Tirico: “It’s got to be bad knowing the Dolphins are much better than you are.”... The Dolphins will have multiple representatives at the LSU-Alabama game this weekend. We wrote about LSU quarterback Joe Burrow here....

New Dolphins return man Marcus Sherels ranks second among active players in punt returns for touchdowns with five, behind only Darren Sproles’ seven. “We just felt like we needed another set of hands out there in an ‘in-case’ situation,” Flores said of having another option behind Jakeem Grant.

Please click here for my three other Thursday posts, including one on the Dolphins, a Miami Hurricanes six-pack and media notes on the NFL, NBA and college football.

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