Jaelan Phillips may have taken an unconventional route into the NFL, but now that he has arrived, the young linebacker aims to make the most of his opportunity. With the offseason draft now complete, it’s been confirmed that the 22-year-old has put pen to paper on a four-year rookie contract with the Miami Dolphins.
At one stage, his college football career had looked to be over, but Phillips has recovered from serious injury and will finally get a chance to focus on his dreams in 2021.
Miami Move to Strengthen
Phillips has signed on at the Hard Rock Stadium for four years with an option to extend for a fifth season. That package is said to be worth $14 million dollars and, to sweeten the deal, the player is set to receive a $7.5 million signing on bonus.
He’s a linebacker with a strong college record and Phillips was the 18th pick in the first round of the draft. Phillips looks a solid acquisition for the Dolphins who will be looking to build on their showing in 2020.
Miami needed a significant improvement on their 2019 campaign when they finished the regular season 5-11. Coach Brian Flores had inherited an underperforming side and the initial aim was to turn that poor record around. In that sense, Flores and the Phins succeeded as the 2020 regular campaign finished 10-6.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough for Miami to make it into the playoffs. Buffalo Bills edged them into second place in AFC East as the Dolphins became the first franchise since 2015 to be eliminated after 10 wins or more.
Nevertheless, there was enough to suggest that Miami fans should be confident of going one step further in 2021. This was their first winning season in four years and some shrewd player trades and drafts could be key to making the playoffs this time around.
Miami may be an improving team, but neutral observers don’t rate their chances for Super Bowl success at the end of the upcoming season. There are now ‘more than 100 sports betting sites’ accepting wagers and they all point to the Kansas City Chiefs as favorites to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Following on from the Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers are among those in the chasing pack. By contrast, Miami Dolphins are mere 13th favorites for Super Bowl success this time.
Based on that verdict, it’s not looking hopeful, but could Jaelan Phillips be the difference maker that Miami need to get over the line?
Reinforcing a Strong Line
Phillips will slot into Miami’s defense but, in all fairness, this is the strongest part of the Dolphins’ game right now. The turnaround that was witnessed in 2020 started at the back and the stats showed the most improvement in this part of the field.
In 2019, Miami conceded more points than any other team in the NFL. A season later, only five teams allowed fewer points per game than Brian Flores’ franchise.
There’s always room for improvement and Jaelan Phillips’ college record suggests that he can make the Dolphins even tighter as he takes up his linebacker role.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Defense is Miami’s strength and that would suggest that they need to boost their offense if they are to overcome the Bills and head the AFC East at the end of the 2021 regular season. One issue for Flores was to find a consistent running back and that was a key question ahead of the draft.
Wide receiver was another weak area for the Phins and one to assess in the close season. In fairness, most outside observersrecognized the need for Miami to pick up a new linebacker and they’ve acted on those calls with the acquisition of Jaelan Phillips. Overall, the offensive line needs a boost, but Phillips will slot in and aim to make that defense even stronger.
A Circuitous Route to the top
A promising college football player, there was a point in Jaelan Phillips’ amateur career where it seemed he would be denied the chance to follow his dreams. While at UCLA, he suffered a number of concussions and other injuries. Luck wasn’t on his side, and he even sustained further injury as a result of a road traffic accident.
Phillips medically retired from the game in 2018, but he came back a year later to feature for the Miami Hurricanes while undertaking a music scholarship. Seemingly fully healed, he’s now one of the brightest prospects in the NFL.
It’s an important season for coach Flores and his Miami Dolphins team. Last year was all about turning that dreadful 2019 campaign around and there was no real pressure to make it through to the playoffs.
Having come so close to claiming the AFC East title, 2021 will be different. Expectations have risen and a tilt at the postseason will be the aim for the franchise owners this time around. There are more concerns at the front of the pitch for the coach to address and the signing of wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in the draft will be just as important.
The new men can offer fresh energy and a boost to the roster and, if Miami can squeeze out the Bills this season, there’s no reason why they can’t go much deeper.