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NFL Draft

Why Robert Jones Can Make Dolphins Roster As UDFA

  • The Draft Network
  • August 1, 2021
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Undrafted free agents often become an unexpected source of optimism across the NFL. On any given year, a handful of rookies who slipped through the cracks manage to not only stick on an active roster but will eventually parlay that opportunity into a starting role. And, from time to time, a picture-perfect fit yields an ultimate bonus addition to a rookie class. The Miami Dolphins know a thing or two about such success stories in recent years; the team added cornerback Nik Needham and wide receiver Preston Williams in the free agent frenzy after the 2019 NFL Draft and have gotten plenty of snaps and flashes from each. Williams has been a starting wide receiver for the past two seasons (although his first two years of NFL play have been cut in half by injuries). Needham has served as the team’s primary nickel defender and took approximately 60% of the defensive snaps in 2020. 

2020 brought more UDFA success to South Florida in the form of running back Salvon Ahmed (initially a San Francisco 49er). Ahmed averaged 63 yards from scrimmage in six games played in 2020 and provided some life to a struggling running game in the back half of the season. 

Opportunities for such an impact in Miami are dwindling, however. The team is well into their rebuilding process and entering into their third season under the direction of Brian Flores and Chris Grier. The roster is young, talented, and filled to the brim with early NFL draft selections. And yet despite it all, there appears to be a glimmer of hope for one more undrafted free agent in Miami for yet another season. 

Offensive lineman Robert Jones has been given an edge: the Dolphins placed veteran lineman D.J. Fluker on injured reserve this week after an arthroscopic procedure. He’s presumably done for the preseason. The Dolphins have five draft picks from 2019 through 2021 on the offensive line that were top-125 selections: Austin Jackson, Solomon Kindley, Michael Deiter, Robert Hunt, and Liam Eichenberg. That has, conveniently enough, been the group Miami has reportedly been running with as the starters in the first week of training camp. Beyond them, versatile linemen like Jesse Davis and Jermaine Eluemunor figure to make a strong case for roster spots. 

But Fluker appeared to have an inside track for a roster spot after starting the second half of the 2020 season in Baltimore at right tackle. If Miami becomes comfortable with Davis and Eluemunor as the depth pieces, the team may opt to simply cut Fluker with an injury settlement and attack another lottery ticket via Jones. He’ll also need to beat out seventh-round rookie tackle Larnel Coleman for a spot, but I like his chances. I evaluated Jones as a sixth-round talent ahead of this year’s NFL draft and viewed him as a strong day-three target for teams that covet power up front. 

“Middle Tennessee State offensive lineman Robert Jones projects as an offensive guard at the NFL level despite the time he’s spent at offensive tackle at the collegiate level. Jones is a mauler who offers heavy hands and a thick frame—exactly the kind of build and profile you routinely see make ends meet on the interior. Jones does not have a great deal of functional athleticism, but his pass sets are sufficient and he offers plenty of power in his hands and mobility in the run game. Prior to his time at MTSU, Jones was one of the top JUCO tackles in the country at Highland Community College, where he played left guard. That exposure to the interior will help fortify a projection to the pro game, where his athleticism won’t allow him to thrive on the perimeter and in isolation. Teams looking for a low-cost investment inside for a potential power starter can look for Jones ideally on Day 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft.”  

Jones is raw, but he’s big, physical, and had the chance to make an impression on the Dolphins’ coaching staff as a member of the North roster under the direction of Flores and company at the 2021 Senior Bowl. And Miami has gravitated towards players of his stature up front with consistency under this regime. He fits the mold. And with his competition for a final spot on the offensive line being absent Fluker for the time being, now is Jones’ best chance to sell himself to the team. 

Assuming Miami keeps the five young projected starters, Davis, and Eluemunor, they’ll need a backup center and likely one more player up front. Matt Skura will take the backup center role, leaving one potential roster spot to be settled between an injured Fluker, Coleman, Jones, Adam Pankey, and Timon Parris. 

As an undrafted free agent, the chance to win a job is all you can ask for. And in my opinion, Jones has the most appeal of any of the talents competing for a ninth roster spot along the line. We’ll see if he can do what several undrafted Dolphins before him have been able to do: seize the opportunity and ride the wave onto the active roster.

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