By: Jason Sarney
On this weekend leading into the free agency signing period, NFL teams are taking the necessary steps to trim their salary cap in preparation for the acquisition and drafting of a new crop of players. As seen in Miami last week, young players performing above their pay grade like linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was likely a precursor to the decision to attempt to trade veteran Kyle Van Noy. A move didn’t materialize, leading to Van Noy’s release and Van Ginkel’s obvious snap count increase headed into 2021. This should lead to an extension in the future for the high-motor, versatile fan favorite.
Van Ginkel made a quantum leap in his limited time as a rookie; his season was abbreviated by a foot injury in the beginning of 2019, but he showed late-season sparks of progress. Last season, Van Ginkel exploded onto the scene, and even became a national media darling with a huge fan-base on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football.
The 2020 stat-line for the linebacker was impressive in his limited snaps. Playing both defense and special teams, his defensive snap count on the season was 46%.
In less than half the team’s overall snaps on defense, AVG recorded 48 tackles, 7 of them for loss, forced 3 fumbles, took a recovery to the house for a 78-yard touchdown, and sacked the quarterback 5.5 times. Throw in four passes defended and 10 QB hits, and you have a third-year player ready to step into a larger role, currently on tap for a 2021 salary of just $850,000.
It is with this mindset that one should look around the Miami roster, and see what second-year player potentially is similar to AVG. Is there another player ready to surprise pundits and Miami’s coaching staff pleasantly enough to create options on the overall roster with their ascension up the depth chart?
Miami had a loaded draft class in 2020, and there is a defensive back drafted that I expect a major leap from in 2021. And no, it was not the first-rounder.
I’m looking at Brandon Jones, the safety out of Texas whom Miami made their third round, 70th overall pick in last April’s draft. Jones played sparingly in 2020, due to veterans Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe in the safety slots.
Jones appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, starting four of them. Studying him on film is a joy, and reveals a simple fact; he’s lightning quick on the field.
His stats in 37% of the defensive snaps were pedestrian at first glance, with 62 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 PD, 1 FF, and 1 sack. Throw in work on special teams, as Jones accounted for just over 50% of that unit’s work on year.
For me, the play that showed me a ton from Jones was something unregistered in a box score. In Week 9, when Miami beat Arizona, a key play was Shaq Lawson’s 36-yard fumble return in the first quarter to open the scoring and set the tone.
Lawson was heading to the endzone in what was relatively smooth sailing for the defensive lineman, but towards the last several yards, there was a slight chance a Cardinal could have caught him.
Out of nowhere, Brandon Jones appeared as a last-second, emergency blocker-if-needed. A free safety, sprinting down the field and clocking what easily could have been a 4.3 40-yard dash IN-GAME, with pads. This was a play that showed me tremendous heart, effort, and football IQ. Miami increased Jones’s usage throughout his debut season, clearly due to his effort such as in that Cardinals game, a 34-31 Miami victory.
This analysis of Jones isn’t necessarily saying he could take the spot of a Rowe or McCain, or even prevent Miami from bringing in more safety talent one way or the other. This is simply a call to action to keep an eye on Jones in 2021.
Prior to doing that, keep an eye on movement in the safety market in free agency for Miami. With the heavy contract of McCain being a potential cap-cut, Miami may or may not address the position in Free Agency. If they don’t, it could be a sign they like what they see in Jones, and could give him an opportunity to secure a starting job while potentially filling in depth and competition via the NFL Draft.
Jones is one of those players for Miami who is young and cheap; his salary for 2021 with his $831,504. This allows the Dolphins to grow in other areas of the field if Jones can do his job ahead of schedule. This is a theme that has become popular when talking about Miami’s rebuild, and the progress and development of their assets. Brandon Jones is clearly a major part of those assets.