Jaelan Phillips is the NFL’s next great edge rusher
The NFL is littered with talented young pass rushers, and players like Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa, and Maxx Crosby have become some of the most productive sack machines in the league by the time they were just 25 years old.
These guys are household names, and virtually every NFL fan knows who they are, but there is one edge rusher in the league today who is quickly becoming a dominant force but has received very little recognition for his incredible play; Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips.
Here is the remarkable story of how Phillips got to the NFL and why he might just be the next great pass rusher in the NFL.
How injuries nearly destroyed Jaelan Phillips’ football career
Jaelan Phillips’ college football career began in 2017 when he suited up for the UCLA Bruins. He was quite productive as a true freshman, recording 21 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in seven games. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to build off of this success as his sophomore season was cut short due to a concussion injury. His concussion was just the first of a slew of injuries that limited his ability to play football in 2018.
During the offseason after his sophomore year, Phillips’ career as a football player came crashing down when he was hit by a car while riding a moped. After multiple concussions and being hit by a vehicle, Phillips was forced to medically retire from football. Afterward, he enrolled at Los Angeles City College to study music production.
Eventually, he transferred to the University of Miami, where he resumed playing football. After sitting out in 2019 due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, he stepped on the gridiron again in 2020. He was excellent that season, racking up 45 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and eight sacks. After a productive junior season and a tremendosu performance at the NFL combine, Phillips was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the 18th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jaelan Phillips could’ve easily been a higher draft pick because he is 6-foot-5, 266 lbs., has elite athleticism, and was very effective in college as a pass rusher and a run defender. He had all the skill and physical tools to be a dominant edge rusher, but teams were worried about his injury history, and for good reason. He had already had four concussions throughout his entire life, making him a risky pick in the first round.
Making waves as a rookie
As a rookie in 2021, Phillips displayed his remarkable talent, recording 42 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. He ranked second among rookies that year in sacks, fifth in total pressures, and third in tackles for loss. Amazingly, he did all of this while only starting in five games.
He was pretty quiet during the first half of the season, recording just 2.5 sacks and one tackle for loss through the first ten weeks. He flipped the switch at this point, though, recording six sacks and eight tackles for loss in the final seven games of the season.
However, there were reasons to believe that his production was overestimating his actual talent. During his rookie season, Phillips had a PFF grade of just 53.7, with a pass rush grade of 61.3 and a run defense grade of 44.8. Those are underwhelming numbers, even for a rookie.
Even though Phillips’ film-based tracking metrics were nothing special, he would soon put the league on notice that he was here to stay.
Incredible sophomore breakout
Heading into the 2022 season, Jaelan Phillips became a full-time starter and broke out, becoming one of the most productive edge rushers in the NFL. As a second-year player, he started 15 games and recorded 61 tackles, seven sacks, and eight tackles for loss. His advanced stats were good as well, as he recorded 36 total pressures, which was ten more pressures than he had as a rookie.
Although his counting stats were good, they were just a bit better than they were in 2021. However, his PFF grades showed that he was truly a much better player. During his second season, Phillips had a PFF grade of 88.8 with a pass-rush grade of 90.1 and a run-defense grade of 74.8.
Jaelan Phillips was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, ranking 5th among edge rushers in PFF pass-rush grade, 9th in total pressures, and 9th in pass-rush win rate. He was also much better as a run defender. In 2021, he had just seven total run play stops with a stop rate of 4.8%, but in 2022 he had 24 total run play stops with a stop rate of 8.7%.
Jaelan Phillips’ production through his first two seasons has been extremely good, and it’s rare to see players be so productive as a pass rusher and run defender. Since 2018, only eight edge rushers have recorded 50 total pressures and 15 tackles for loss through their first two seasons:
- Nick Bosa
- Maxx Crosby
- Myles Garrett
- Harold Landry
- Micah Parsons
- Jaelan Phillips
- Montez Sweat
- T.J. Watt
I’d say that’s pretty good company to be associated with.
The future is extremely bright for Jaelan Phillips
Jaelan Phillips was an elite pass rusher last season and has taken huge strides as a run defender since entering the NFL. It’s impossible to deny that he is quickly becoming one of the top edge rushers in the league, as he provides a ton of value defending against the pass and the run, which you don’t see from a lot of players.
If Phillips continues to get better as a run defender, he could easily become a pro bowl caliber player. There’s even a chance he becomes an All-Pro, though it’s still early in his career to place those kinds of expectations on him. The point is he is a special player with a ridiculously high ceiling who deserves to be recognized as a superstar in the making. You better hop on the hype train before it’s too late.