Grading the Dolphins 2021 rookie class after their first year

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The Miami Dolphins finished their 2021 season with a 9-8 record and just outside of the postseason for the second straight year.

While a lot of the attention since then has been on ownership and the front office with the firing of Brian Flores, and rightfully so, there still needs to be some reflection about the play of the guys on the field.

We’ll be going through different positions over the next week or so and reviewing how they played in 2021, but we’re starting with the young guys. These are the grades for the Dolphins rookies after their first season in the NFL.

WR Jaylen Waddle: A

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dolphins traded up for Waddle there were definitely a lot of skeptics. Now, after a record-setting rookie season, Waddle has shown he can be a great receiver in this league. Going for 100 receptions and 1,000 yards is something that veterans are excited to do, and Waddle accomplished that in his first season.

His combination of quickness, speed, and route-running allows him to get open easily and give Miami’s quarterbacks an open target. Everything he did this year earned him a spot on PFF’s All-Pro Second-Team.

LB Jaelan Phillips: B-

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins’ second selection in the first round set franchise records as well. Phillips’ 8.5 sacks were the most for any rookie in Miami’s history, passing Bill Stanfill.

Phillips was solid in all aspects of the game in his rookie year, despite not getting a lot of credit through the first half of the season. One of the most impressive things about his play is his drive. It’s evident that he wants to be out there and getting after the ball.

S Jevon Holland: A-

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Holland, Miami’s second-round pick, had an exceptional first year in the NFL. He started off slow in the first few weeks, but as he got adjusted to the speed and physicality of the game, he played like one of the better safeties in the league.

The former Oregon Duck finished his rookie season with 69 tackles, 10 passes defended, seven quarterback hits, three fumble recoveries, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions. That performance was good enough to make PFF’s All-Pro Second-Team with Waddle.

OT Liam Eichenberg: D

Mandatory Credit: Greg Lovett via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Eichenberg had a hectic year. The Dolphins drafted him in the second round and he ended up playing left tackle, right tackle, and left guard at different points in the season. That may have affected his development a bit because he never really looked comfortable at any point during his rookie year.

According to PFF, he was the second-worst tackle in the league, receiving a 50.7 grade. He’ll need to spend all offseason training and working if he wants to have a guaranteed job next season because that ship is getting ready to sail.

TE Hunter Long: INC

Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dolphins drafted Long in the third round, they probably envisioned his first year going a little better than it did. The tight end position was pretty full on Miami’s roster, so Long didn’t get much playing time. He appeared in nine games, playing just 90 total snaps on offense.

With Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe set to be free agents, Long will likely find more opportunities next season.

OT Larnel Coleman: INC

Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Coleman was a seventh-round pick for Miami in the 2021 draft. He suffered a knee injury during the preseason that resulted in the offensive lineman being placed on injured reserve. Coleman missed the entire 2021 season.

RB Gerrid Doaks: INC

Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Doaks was Miami’s seventh-round pick in this year’s draft. He was released during roster cuts but ended up back on the team’s practice squad. Even with all of the issues the Dolphins had at running back, Doaks remained on the practice squad.

There could be a couple open spots at the position this offseason, so Doaks could make the jump from developmental back to a role on the active roster.

OL Robert Jones: INC

Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Miami signed Jones as an undrafted free agent this past offseason, and he was given limited opportunities in his rookie year. He got the start at right tackle in the team’s season finale, and he actually looked decent replacing Jesse Davis. There will likely be a shake-up on the offensive line for 2022, so Jones has a chance to earn a larger role.

CB Trill Williams: INC

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Williams went undrafted but was signed by the Saints before being waived with a failed physical designation. Just three days later he signed with the Dolphins. The cornerback was active for only four games this season and played in just one.

With changes potentially coming to the position in the offseason, Williams could earn some playing time next year.

LB Darius Hodge: INC

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After going undrafted, Hodge signed with the Bengals where he played four games. He was waived back in November but was claimed by Miami. He was unable to get onto the field and was actually suspended for two games.

OT Kion Smith: INC

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Smith was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Falcons but was released during their final cuts. He was added to the Dolphins practice squad in the first week of September and remained there all season. He was part of the group that Miami signed to reserve/futures contracts for next year.

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