Rookie Watch: Can Linebacker Jerome Baker Help Solve The Miami Dolphins’ Pass Coverage Issues?


The Miami Dolphins struggled in pass coverage in 2017. The Dolphins hope the additions of linebacker Jerome Baker as well as well as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will help solve those struggles.


The Miami Dolphins had one impactful linebacker in 2017. Kiko Alonso played over 96% of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps. He accounted for 115 tackles. The next highest snap percentage by a linebacker was 75% by Lawrence Timmons.

Timmons, however, went AWOL before a game and struggled through the season. The next highest snap percentage was undrafted free agent Chase Allen. This was largely due to the loss of the Dolphins 2017 second round pick, linebacker Raekwon McMillan. McMillan was lost to a torn ACL in the 2017 preseason.

McMillan, however, would not have helped with the Dolphins issues in pass coverage. He was a good run defender in that struggled in pass coverage coming out of Ohio State. Last season, the Dolphins ranked 29th in DVOA against the pass. They particularly struggled against the tight ends, ranking 28th in DVOA. The Dolphins also gave up the most receptions to tight ends and second-most receiving yards in the league to tight ends in 2017.

Despite his the high number of tackles, Alonso struggled in 2017. PFF had Alonso outside of the top-65 at linebacker overall. Alonso was even worse in pass coverage, ranking 79th among linebackers. With questions surrounding McMillan’s recovery and with the poor pass coverage over the middle, the Dolphins went into the 2018 NFL draft with a plan.

To help with their coverage woes the Dolphins took Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round. Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker was taken in the third.

College Production

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Despite only starting for two seasons, Baker put up big numbers at Ohio State. Second, to only his now Dolphins teammate McMillan, on the team in tackles in 2016, Baker led Ohio State in tackles in 2017. Among the tackles in those two seasons were 17.5 tackles for loss. Baker was also able to sack the quarterback seven times, intercept two passes, knock down four passes, and force one fumble over his career.

Baker’s strength is his athleticism. Baker was able to make plays both against the run and pass because of his speed. In particular, Baker’s speed gave him the ability to stick with wide receivers in coverage.

Baker also has extreme range and the ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline.

Baker is also able to make plays against the run. He shows the ability to avoid blocks with his agility. He also has some ability to work through blocks.

NFL Preseason

Baker was taken as the 73rd overall pick in the third round by the Dolphins in the 2018 NFL draft. Linebacker was probably the Dolphins’ number one draft need. Especially a linebacker who is good in coverage.

Baker received high praise from Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke, comparing him to Ryan Shazier. Baker was also given the opportunity to compete for a starting position early on in the offseason. He entered training camp on the second team. That would not last long.

Baker saw some snaps with the first team defense in the Dolphins first preseason game against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers. In the game, Baker played 50% of the defensive snaps. In those snaps, he produced five tackles, two solo, and one tackle for loss. Baker tied for the team lead in tackles. He also led the team PFF’s pass coverage grades. He also demonstrated his speed. Baker’s performance earned him a promotion to the first team the following week in camp.

Despite the promotion, the Dolphins put Baker on the second team on the depth chart prior to their second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. Baker continued to impress. Playing in 25 defensive snaps, Baker accounted for four tackles. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Backer accounted for six tackles, four solo.

Because of his play in the preseason, Baker named as a starting linebacker after the Dolphins third preseason game.

NFL Regular Season

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Baker was officially listed on the Dolphins week 1 depth chart as the starting strongside linebacker. Against the Tennessee Titans in week 1, Baker played in 61% of the defensive snaps. Baker had a productive NFL debut, accounting for six tackles, three solo. He also caught the Titans onside kick at the end of the game to seal the win for the Dolphins.

Baker only played in 15 total snaps against the New York Jets week 2. He accrued two solo tackles.

The Dolphins week 3 game against the Oakland Raiders was Baker’s “breakout” game. Baker played the most snaps of his short career, 46. This was more than the previous two weeks combined. Against the Raiders, Baker had nine tackles, seven solo. If that was not enough, he had a phenomenal game underneath those surface numbers.

Though he gave up six receptions on the seven times he was targeted, Baker minimized the damage with only 32 yards given up. Baker’s speed was on full display. On one play he pulled down tight end Jared Cook short of the goal line. On another, working through a block, Baker was right in Nelson’s face if the ball had been caught.

Baker also did a great job of not giving up on a 61-yard catch and run. Baker ran down Nelson to save a touchdown.

In the Dolphins week 4 game against the New England Patriots, Baker had his best statistical game in the NFL. Baker saw 80% of the defensive snaps, producing 10 tackles, six solo. Baker tied for second on the team in tackles. This makes 19 tackles in the past two games. Though it was a bad game for the Dolphins defense as a whole, Baker is becoming a productive linebacker.

Summary

The Miami Dolphins have improved greatly in pass defense over 2017, with a seventh-ranked DVOA against the pass overall and ranking 12th against tight ends. This is thanks in part to rookie linebacker Jerome Baker.

Baker still has a lot to learn, but he is getting more responsibility and snaps as the season wears on. Against the Oakland Raiders in week 3, Baker gave us a glimpse at what kind of linebacker he can be in the NFL. As baker earns more snaps, he will continue to make plays.

Baker is a stash candidate currently that is startable during bye weeks. I advise you to pick him up now and watch as he develops into a startable linebacker in all IDP leagues.

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Started playing fantasy football with my dad 15 years ago. Still have no idea what I am doing. Just trying to pass on any analysis I can to help you win.

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