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Dolphins Rookie Deep Dive: Jaelan Phillips

"I liked his tape the most, I liked his traits the most."

NFL Draft Analyst Greg Cosell says the Dolphins hit it out of the park when they made defensive end Jaelan Phillips the 18th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft Thursday night. Phillips will be putting heat on opposing quarterbacks in the same building from his college days as the University of Miami product turns in the green and orange for aqua and orange.

The 2020 season put Phillips' name on the map…again. The nation's No. 1 rated prospect out of high school in 2017, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end began his collegiate career before eventually rerouting to South Florida in 2020.

Phillips excelled in every defensive metric last year for the Hurricanes. He racked up eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and defensed four passes including his first career interception. He collected 42 pressures on 286 pass rush snaps – one pressure for every 6.8 drop back snaps.

Heavy hands, grip strength, a well-rounded arsenal of moves and exceptional bend once he gets on the up-field shoulder of the offensive tackle – that's been Phillips' route to constant disruption in the backfield. Like his bookend counterpart on the other side – Emmanuel Ogbah – Phillips comes equipped with length and big hands (33.25-inch arms and 9.75-inch hands). The matchup conflicts this pair could create for opposing offensive lines, and the opportunities it generates for blitzing linebackers or one-on-one situations inside for Christian Wilkins, Adam Butler, Raekwon Davis and Zach Sieler should have the Dolphins defensive staff chomping at the bit.

The pro day workout for Phillips opened eyes of scouts, coaches and draft pundits alike.

Table inside Article
Testing Metrics Phillips' Record Percentile Among DEs
Shuttle Run 4.13s 96th
40-yard Dash 4.56s 93rd
Broad Jump 125" 90th
10-yard split 1.59s 88th
3-Cone 7.01s

The tape confirms those numbers – this is an explosive player with pop upon initial contact and the lateral agility to operate with counter moves both inside and out.

Phillips' motor never stops. No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence made a habit of running away from safeties in the open field, but when Phillips had the Clemson quarterback in his crosshairs, he ran Lawrence down in backside pursuit.

Far more than just a pass rusher, Phillips' aggressiveness against the run and ability to set a hard edge offers immeasurable value to a Dolphins defense that places a high priority on funneling the ball-carrier back inside.

Phillips essentially matched the number of splash plays he made as a rusher in the run game. His 15.5 tackles for loss were sixth-most in the country. He made 18 total run stops (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage on run downs) and that figure landed Phillips in the 90th percentile in Pro Football Focus run-stop grade.

Finishing near the top of the class is a consistent feat for Phillips across multiple PFF metrics. He was in the 80th percentile or better in the aforementioned run-stop grade, as well as pass-rush grade, true pass rush grade and pass rush win rate (20.3 percent).

“The more I watched Jaelan Phillips from Miami, the more I think he’s not just the best pass rusher in this class, I think he stacks up well against all of the other alpha pass rushers that have come out in the last six or seven years.” Brett Kollmann, NFL Film Room on YouTube

Kollmann listed three elements of Phillips' game that earned the aforementioned high praise.

1. Aggressive, penetrating style of play against the run.

2. Versatility as a pass rusher and how he sets up tackles with certain moves that then open up opportunities to counter off of those moves later in the game.

3. How he adapts his technique against tackles that kind of have his number so he can have more and more success against them as the game goes on.

There's that buzz word again – versatility. He played a fairly even split of lining up with his hand in the dirt or as a stand-up, on-ball linebacker off the edge. He took snaps wide of the tackle, head up over the tackle, in the b- and a-gaps and as an off-ball 'backer in his career.

The fit in Miami's multiple defense is apparent, but he also gives the Dolphins more juice in four-man fronts when Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer dials up a coverage-based call and only brings four rushers – sometimes a preferred approach to defending the likes of Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, quarterbacks with premier pocket mobility.

NFL Network Lead Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah agrees that  Phillips has all the traits.

"Phillips is a tall, explosive and bendy edge rusher. He splits his time between playing with his hand on the ground and standing up on the edge. As a pass rusher, he has an excellent get-off and possesses the ankle flexibility to bend and corner smoothly at the top of his rush. He has an explosive inside counter move and he also uses his length to pop/separate to generate sacks and pressures. He has speed/burst to quickly close from the back side."

Coaches and scouts agree with Jeremiah's assessment. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman's gathered quotes from anonymous sources in the league regarding the potential of Miami's newest edge rusher.

"He's got a chance to be really special. He's explosive and really smooth. He's athletic enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He can bend. He's versatile. He's strong. I think he should run in the 4.6s or maybe in the 4.5s."

"As big a year as Miami's Greg Rousseau had in 2019, Phillips' 2020 performance was even more impressive. He's more stout than Rousseau at this point, and the level of tenacity he plays with is ridiculous. His motor never stopped. He's such a freak athlete in the way he can move and how explosive he is, but he's really completely reworked his body. He's extremely powerful."

Phillips, who called the opportunity to resume his career in South Florida like an "out-of-body experience," had the following to say about his circuitous route to the Dolphins:

Phillips' breakout 2020 season was far from an accident. Rather, it was the result of a lot of hard work and offseason training

"All Jaelan did was… do everything right," Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said. "He's completely transformed his body since arriving on campus and you can forget about his talent, his talent was on display today, his effort, desire, and want…. he set the tempo for our program and he had a great year because of it."

-         Manny Diaz, Miami Hurricanes Head Coach

Bringing it all together, Phillips' position coach agrees with the quote we used to open this profile.

"I would put Jaelan Phillips in the 99th percentile of any player I've ever coached as far as physical attributes. He weighs 270 pounds now and he runs like a safety. His ability to run, jump and twitch is exactly what you want at that position. The athlete meets the hype."

-         Todd Stroud, Miami Hurricanes Defensive Line Coach