The Dolphins enter the 2016 offseason with some reasons for encouragement about their 2015 draft class, but also more questions than answers.
Will DeVante Parker be the elite receiver the Dolphins thought they were getting with the 14th pick, or simply a pretty good one?
Are Jordan Phillips and Jay Ajayi good enough to be longterm starters? (That won’t be necessary in Ajayi’s case if Lamar Miller re-signs.)
Will Bobby McCain or Tony Lippett become top-three caliber cornerbacks?
And is Jamil Douglas anything more than an NFL backup?
The Dolphins cannot answer any of those questions definitively, but they can take solace in this: Parker and Ajayi, in particular, have flashed over the past month.
“There have been some ups and downs, bumps in the road, but I feel like all of those guys have progressed,” interim coach Dan Campbell said of a rookie class that also includes undrafted punter Matt Darr, kicker Andrew Franks and linebackers Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt. “You go down the list and start looking at them; those guys, they improved. I feel like it's a good class. It's one of the best ones that I've been around as a whole."
Rounding up the Dolphins’ draft class and where they stand after nearly one full season:
### Parker: The Dolphins might ultimately regret not taking cornerback Marcus Peters, who has eight interceptions and made the Pro Bowl for Kansas City, instead of Parker. But the decision was a no-brainer for the Dolphins at the time, and few teams likely would have selected Peters ahead of Parker.
Parker’s stats (21, 388, two touchdowns) are modest, and the Dolphins want to see improvement, especially with route-running, something ESPN’s Jon Gruden criticized about Parker during the Giants game.
“You got to be consistent with your route running and you’ve got to be dependable for the quarterback,” de facto offensive coordinator Zac Taylor said. “So we’ll continue to stay on him; attention to detail and being crisp with his routes.
“What he’s fortunate to have and why he’s been so successful is because he’s a big body. He can go up and highpoint a ball. He’s got strong hands. His catch radius is outstanding.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill put it this way: “He started off making a play here and making a play there and now he’s making several plays a game. I know if he continues on this track he’s going to be a dominant player in this league.”
### Second-round pick Phillips: He has 17 tackles, two sacks and at least five pass deflections, but Campbell’s comments Thursday suggest the Dolphins don’t believe he’s ready to become a starter next season.
“He has improved and I think he has a bright future, but he has to work on being more consistent,” Campbell said. “I feel like over the last week, that improvement, we're not getting the gains that we had hoped for. He's got to be more consistent. He's kind of flashing right now and you don't want a flash player. You want somebody that's always up there and producing."
### Fourth-round pick Douglas: He surprisingly won a starting job over Billy Turner in training camp, then was benched after allowing the most quarterback hurries of any NFL guard over the first four weeks. He subsequently has struggled during a few fill-in appearances at center, including a critical error that doomed Miami’s comeback attempt against Indianapolis.
But Taylor said: “He’s a player that’s got a bright future here. It’s not easy. He did not play center at Arizona State. The one thing that happens when you go into the NFL and you play guard is that you need to be able to snap the ball.
“So Jamil is a guy that’s versatile. He could play multiple positions so he’s going to be a productive player here in the future."
### Fifth-round pick Ajayi: Though the body of work is limited (42 carries since the early-season cracked ribs), his 4.4 per carry average is excellent. His role in 2016 will depend largely on whether Miller re-signs.
“I think has gotten better every single week,” Taylor said. “He really runs hard.”
### Fifth-round pick Bobby McCain: He struggled when given a bigger role against the Giants and Chargers, then didn’t get any defensive snaps against Indianapolis. This Dolphins staff has concluded he’s better equipped to play in the slot than on the boundary, but they trust veteran Brice McCain more in the slot.
### Fifth-round pick Lippett: The Dolphins like his size (6-3) and how he attacks the ball but want to see better technique in his transition from receiver to cornerback.
“He brings a unique skillset to us in that he’s long in both height and arm length,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “He led the Big Ten in receptions last year, [so] he obviously has good hands and he can play the ball when it’s in the air. There are some things that he's going to have to still figure out.”
Dan Campbell likes how he played against the Colts: “He reads route combinations pretty dang good. You love his size. I think he has a bright future.”
### Fifth-round pick Cedric Thompson: The former Minnesota safety, who whiffed on several key tackles in preseason, hasn’t been promoted from the practice squad because he hasn’t excelled on special teams, Campbell said.
Darr, meanwhile, has been the best of the undrafted rookies. The Tennessee product ranks third in the league with a 47.6 yard average on punts.
### The Dolphins listed center Mike Pouncey (foot) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ankle) as doubtful for Sunday's regular-season finale against New England.
Five Dolphins players are listed as questionable: right tackle Ja'Wuan James (toe), guard/center Jamil Douglas (ankle), defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (calf), receiver Kenny Stills (thigh) and receiver Rishard Matthews (ribs). The Dolphins need Douglas to fill in for Pouncey at center.
Matthews said he does not expect to play Sunday.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL RATINGS PLUNGE
Ratings for the semifinal games in the College Football Playoffs plunged, not surprising considering the games were played on New Year’s Eve (traditionally a poor TV night) and had lopsided scores in the fourth quarter.
The Clemson-Oklahoma semifinal at the Orange Bowl produced a 9.7 overnight rating, equal to 9.7 percent of homes in 56 of the nation’s largest TV markets. The Alabama-Michigan State semifinal at the Cotton Bowl produced a 9.9 major-market rating.
Those ratings are down substantially from the 15.5 and 15.3 major-market ratings for last season’s two semifinal games, which were played on Jan. 1.
The ratings for Thursday’s game were even worse in South Florida. Both games produced a 6.1 local rating, which ranked Miami-Fort Lauderdale 50th among the 56 metered markets for the Orange Bowl and 51st for the Cotton Bowl. That 6.1 rating equals 6.1 percent of Dade/Broward homes with TV sets.
ESPN had implored College Football Playoff officials to move this season’s semifinals from Dec. 31 to Saturday, Jan. 2, but the CFP refused.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock had said college football planned to “change the paradigm” of how Americans celebrate New Year’s Eve. But that attempt was largely unsuccessful.
Ten years remain in the CFP’s deal with ESPN, and of those 10 years, the semifinals are scheduled for New Year’s Eve seven times and on Jan. 1 on three occasions. As of now, the semifinals will be on Jan. 1 only when they are played in New Orleans and Pasadena, Cal.
### New UM coach Mark Richt is not retaining assistant Andreu Swasey, according to footballscoop.com and Fox Sports. Swasey had been in charge of the football team's strength and conditioning program since 2001.