The NFL Draft is in the distant past now, and the 2014 class is getting its first taste of pro football in OTAs and minicamps throughout the league. The season is inching closer and closer, and soon, we’ll get our first real glimpses at what many of these players are capable of on the gridiron.
The Miami Dolphins had an underwhelming draft this year, earning a C grade from Walter Football after the questionable selection of tackle Ja’Wuan James in the first round. But they made up for it in the later rounds with some intriguing selections of lesser-known prospects with great upside.
For many of these young athletes, this season will be an opportunity to prove they belong in the NFL. For others, it will be a time to learn and develop with their hopes set on making an impact in the near future. Let’s take a look at how each of these Dolphins rookies may perform in their first season.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
It’s tough to say something positive about someone so few have something positive to say about in regards to the former Tennessee Volunteer being a first-round caliber tackle. He just isn’t and right now, the Dolphins look like fools for this selection with better pro-ready tackles on the board in Joel Bitonio, Cyrus Kouandijo and Jack Mewhort.
Still, James could potentially start from day one. Pro Football Focus had him tabbed as a starter in their breakdown of the Dolphins’ depth chart, but that’s only because Miami really lacks talent at tackle beside free-agent acquisition Branden Albert.
James does appear to be a good fit in Miami. As The Sports Xchange noted, “The Dolphins needed a right tackle and James, a long-armed, athletic player, seems to fit the criteria for the Dolphins’ zone blocking scheme. James will be expected to start immediately.”
Projected Stats: 15 games, 13 starts
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
The Dolphins redeemed themselves with a huge pickup in the second round. Landry is a sure-handed playmaker who can play from a multitude of positions and deliver with the football in his hands.
He’ll bolster depth at wide receiver while proving to be a go-to target out of the slot when Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace are covered. He’s coming off an 1,100-yard, 10-touchdown season at LSU, where he garnered second-team All-SEC honors as part of a potent dynamic duo with Giants first-round pick Odell Beckham.
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco knocked the pick because Landry ran a 4.7 at the NFL Combine, but his performance on the gridiron shows someone much more promising in the passing game.
Projected Stats: 47 receptions, 463 yards, 4 touchdowns
Billy Turner, OL, North Dakota State
As to be expected, the Dolphins made sure to direct their focus toward improving the offensive line. They may have actually added a better player here in Turner than their first-round pick James.
He has the tenacity you want out of an offensive line with good instincts and intangibles. A small-school prospect, there are concerns about his competition but the game film shows a player ready for the NFL.
PFF has Turner listed as a starting guard already for the Dolphins, but I have a feeling he’ll sit for awhile until an opportunity opens up for him. He’d be best suited in a backup role while he adjusts to the pro game and the Dolphins’ offensive system. Miami does have some depth at guard, and Turner will likely compete with Nate Garner and Dallas Thomas for the second starting guard slot opposite Shelley Smith.
Projected Stats: 10 games, 3 starts
Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
Another big-time player from a small-time school, don’t be surprised if Aikens has a legitimate chance to compete for the second starting corner job opposite Brent Grimes this summer.
The Liberty standout is a natural athlete with great size, fluidity and ball skills.
Here’s what CBS Sports’ Rob Rang says about Aikens:
COMPARES TO: Keenan Lewis, New Orleans Saints – Aikens will have to work hard to develop into the consistent starter that Lewis has proven himself to be in successful stops with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Saints, but the aggression and athleticism are there to project him as a legitimate rotational player early in his career with the possibility of developing into a starter as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL.
Projected Stats: 36 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
The pick appears to be about depth more than anything after the big year Charles Clay had for Miami. However, Lynch has some qualities that could be of value to the Dolphins this season.
The former Bulldog is an adept run blocker with reliable hands in short-yardage situations. He’s not your athletic, game-changing type, but the Dolphins didn’t need that and made that evident with this pick.
Projected Stats: 4 catches, 22 yards
Jordan Trippi, OLB, Montana
Another small-school pick, Trippi is a versatile athlete who could do a variety of things for the Dolphins on defense. He might need some time to develop, but when he has, he can be a vital contributor for Miami.
Trippi should see some reps on defense, but he’ll be fighting for playing time on special teams. With his work ethic and attributes, however, he should excel in that role.
Projected Stats: 14 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina
A bit slender, Hazel has soft hands and great height to be a successful NFL wide receiver. He’s super raw and will mostly add depth to the receiving corps while filling a void on special teams. There should be at least five receivers on the depth chart ahead of him heading into the season.
Hazel had 70 receptions for 990 yards and nine touchdowns this past season at Coastal Carolina.
Projected Stats: 0 catches
Terrence Fede, DE, Marist
The Dolphins already have Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan and Derrick Shelby, but who knows? Maybe Fede can leapfrog Shelby and garner some defensive reps.
His college tape is good, but as a seventh rounder, he has a lot to prove before he can get meaningful opportunities on defense.
Projected Stats: 2 tackles