The Miami Dolphins caused a mild buzz last season by drafting Noah Igbinoghene with the 30th overall pick. Could Miami trigger more surprise by selecting another cornerback early in the 2021 NFL Draft? Cornerback may not sit atop the Dolphins’ draft needs. Still, according to Pro Football Network’s Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline, they could swoop for another piece in the secondary sooner than expected.
On the most recent episode of Draft Insiders, Pauline stated: “Look for Miami to address cornerback in the draft, within the first three rounds. I think they’re going to address cornerback.”
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Why would the Miami Dolphins select a cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft?
At first glance, cornerback seems to be the least of the Miami Dolphins’ draft needs. Last season, their secondary snagged the third-most interceptions in the league. In cornerback Xavien Howard and his stablemate Byron Jones, they have two of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL.
The selection of Igbinoghene last season, coupled with the recent free-agency acquisition of Justin Coleman, means that the Miami depth chart currently sits at eight men deep.
Scratch a little deeper below the surface of the productive facade of the Dolphins secondary, and the draft need at cornerback becomes a little clearer. Miami gave up the 10th-most passing yards in the NFL last season. Additionally, they gave up the eighth-most yardage after the catch. Furthermore, they allowed the third-highest depth of target to opposing offenses in 2020.
Even if you account for facing Josh Allen twice a season, it paints the picture that teams weren’t afraid to test the secondary. When they did, they were often successful in extending plays. Suddenly, the Dolphins’ need to add a cornerback in the draft begins to make a little more sense.
Does drafting a cornerback mean an exit for Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard?
Even the mere mention of the Miami Dolphins selecting another cornerback in the draft elicits a flurry of questions about Howard. He was subject to trade rumors at the midseason trade deadline amidst a season where he emerged as the most productive cornerback in the NFL. Only two years into a five-year, $75.25 million deal, there is already the question of whether the Dolphins re-sign him or attempt to profit from a player who is arguably more valuable than he has ever been.
Does this sudden opinion that cornerback is a draft need for the Dolphins point to a parting of ways? According to PFN’s Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo, that seems unlikely: “There’s no reason for him to leave Miami, and there’s no reason for Miami to want him to leave. We’re talking about one of the best guys at what he does in the league.” Pauline concurred, adding: “I wasn’t told that it was to replace Xavien Howard.”
It may not be to replace either Howard or Byron Jones in the immediate future. However, with one eye further down the road, both cornerbacks have potential opt-outs for the Dolphins: Howard’s comes in 2022, with a possible opt-out from Jones’ contract in 2023.
Potential cornerback targets for the Miami Dolphins in the 2021 NFL Draft
Regardless of Howard and Jones, if the Miami Dolphins truly believe there is a need to address the cornerback position in the draft, where might that selection come? Furthermore, which cornerbacks might they be looking to target in the 2021 NFL Draft? Pauline intimated that the selection of a cornerback could come within the first three rounds for the Dolphins.
If they hold station with the third overall pick, it seems highly unlikely that the selection comes there. Although it would be highly romantic for the Dolphins to add Patrick Surtain II to continue the family tradition, third overall is exceedingly rich. Likely, he won’t be available with pick 18, and neither will South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
What about the Dolphins’ other roster needs?
The most obvious use of the two first-round picks is well-documented. It’s likely the Dolphins grab a wide receiver, presumably DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, or Ja’Marr Chase. With the other pick, running back Najee Harris is a firm favorite. Additionally, they could add a piece on the offensive line.
If we’re presuming that leaves a Day 2 selection, you’re potentially looking at slot-cornerback standouts Asante Samuel Jr. and Elijah Molden. Both players have the ability to play outside — particularly Samuel Jr. — which adds tremendous versatility. Other potential Day 2 guys for the Miami Dolphins include Georgia’s Tyson Campbell, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo, and even an under-the-radar guy like UCF’s Tay Gowan.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.