NFL News & Analysis

Miami Dolphins' Jaelan Phillips on his way to becoming NFL's next great edge rusher

Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips (15) takes the field prior to the game against the Cleveland Browns at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins made a massive trade at the deadline, giving up a 2023 first-round pick to acquire Denver Broncos edge defender Bradley Chubb. He’s been fine in his first two games with the team, totaling six pressures and a sack while giving Miami three dynamic edge rushers: Chubb, Melvin Ingram III and Jaelan Phillips. Ingram was stellar in Week 10, totaling seven pressures and two sacks, and Chubb also added in a sack. 

But the real story from the contest was Phillips — and not because he stuffed the stat sheet.

He recorded three pressures — including a sack and a quarterback hit — en route to an 82.0 overall grade, the second-highest mark on the defense among players with at least 10 snaps. While those numbers certainly aren't eye-popping, the second-year Miami Hurricanes product continued to flash consistency as one of the league's most dominant edge rushers this season. 

Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins linebacker Melvin Ingram (6) and linebacker Jaelan Phillips (15) rush in to sack Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

What’s so impressive about Phillips is his growth from Year 1 to Year 2. Phillips had a fine rookie season, totaling 8.5 sacks on 402 pass-rush snaps, but there were some reasons to be concerned hiding behind that gaudy sack total. Several of his sacks in 2021 were of the unblocked or clean-up variety. Those types of sacks aren't repeatable and aren't all that impressive.

The opposite is true for Phillips in Year 2. He doesn't have the big sack totals (yet), but he has been a far better and more consistent player. He is now the one creating sack opportunities for other players and generating constant pressure on quarterbacks. Look at his overall improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, and you’ll see just how much he has grown as a player:

Dolphins EDGE Jaelan Phillips 2021 vs. 2022
Metric 2021 2022 (through Week 10)
Snaps 603 471
Overall Grade 53.7 82.4
Pass-Rush Grade 61.3 79.9
Run-Defense Grade 44.8 73.1
Win Rate 11.2% 20.3%
Pressure Rate 10.2% 15.6%
Pressures 39 40
Hurries 22 28
QB Hits 7 7
Run Stops 7 10

Phillips has already created more pressures, hurries and run stops through Week 10 of this year than he had all of last year despite playing 132 fewer snaps thus far. And if you dig into the numbers even further, you'll find that Phillips has really improved over the past month.

Since Week 6, Phillips has totaled 28 pressures and four sacks with a 25.4% win rate. That pressure total ranks second over that span, behind only Za’Darius Smith (32). Phillips is also the sixth-highest-graded edge defender in that time (86.0), ahead of Defensive Player of the Year favorite Micah Parsons, who was selected ahead of him in the 2021 NFL Draft. And if you look even further back, he’s the fifth-highest-graded edge rusher in the NFL (88.8) since Week 4.

Remember, this is only Year 2 of Phillips' NFL career. Most of the elite edge rushers in the NFL today made big leaps in Year 2. Here is how his performance this season stacks up against other top pass-rushers in their sophomore seasons:

Jaelan Phillips in Year 2 vs. Other Sophomore Pass-Rushers
Metric Jaelan Phillips Myles Garrett T.J. Watt Maxx Crosby
Overall Grade 82.4 86.9 75.7 57.8
Pass-Rush Grade 79.9 86.2 78.7 58.2
Run-Defense Grade 73.1 80.1 83.2 56.1
Win Rate 20.9% 18.5% 17.2% 11.2%
Pressure Rate 8.8% 7.3% 7.6% 5.5%
True Pass Set Win Rate 27.0% 26.7% 20.1% 11.3%
True Pass Set Grade 80.0 90.1 79.3 52.4

Phillips compares favorably to the likes of Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt and Maxx Crosby in their second seasons. And he also stacks up well against Nick Bosa, Khalil Mack and any other dominant pass-rusher in the league right now.

Phillips isn't in the same tier as Garrett, Crosby or Watt yet. But everything we've seen from him this year suggests he's not all that far away. Phillips is an exceptional athlete (9.87 RAS) with ideal size and length. Despite a scary medical history, he was a top-20 pick — and you can see why. He has all the physical gifts and athleticism to be a star in the NFL, and we are just starting to see his ceiling. 

The Dolphins' offense is Super Bowl-ready, too, as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill are each the highest-graded players in the NFL at their respective positions. Miami is averaging nearly 30 points per game in the contests that Tagovailoa has started in finished. But if the Dolphins want to keep their lead atop the AFC East and be viewed as legit Super Bowl contenders, they’ll need their defense to step up.

Luckily for them, Phillips' breakout in Year 2 provides a lot of hope that the unit will eventually get there. If he continues on this run, the Dolphins might actually be the team to beat in their division. Phillips has all the makings of a star in the NFL and is well on his way to becoming the league's next great edge rusher.

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