With training camp underway for the Miami Dolphins one the most interesting positional groups will be cornerback, the position was almost baron towards the end of the 2019 season. With Xavien Howard missing most of the season the Dolphins were forced to start journeymen and practice squad players for most of the year. With Howard returning soon, a big-time free agency commitment to Byron Jones, and the first-round selection of Noah Igbinoghene the influx of talent looks to be there. These three combined with others who gained valuable playing time last season should make the Dolphins cornerbacks one of their best positions in 2020.
Howard’s health is a major key to the Dolphins cornerbacks in 2020
Howard parlayed his strong 2018 season into his first Pro Bowl trip, and the Dolphins rewarded him with a lucrative contract extension. Howard’s discipline and patience in press coverage are as good as it gets, he stays in the hip pocket of the receiver and doesn’t fall for head fakes or false cuts. Howard also uses his length very well to either break up or intercept passes as well as being one of the better tackling corners in the league.
Unfortunately, over his first four seasons in the league, Howard has missed 24 games, an average of six per year. With his knee still a question and Howard yet to have hit the field this season, the Dolphins really need his services for this group to meets its expectations in 2020
The biggest free-agent cornerback landed in Miami
Byron Jones had many suitors this off-season as a free agent but Miami gave him an offer that worked out well for both parties, making Jones the highest paid CB at the time (for about a week). Jones played his first three seasons for the Dallas Cowboys at free safety, and while he played well he was moved back to cornerback for the 2018 season. One of the most athletic players ever at the position, Jones excelled in his final two years with the Cowboys.
He’s never been one to produce many turnovers but his coverage has been sticky whether at safety, outside cornerback or even in the slot. He proved to be a better tackler at cornerback than at safety, where he would get lost in the wash at times. If Howard is healthy, it will allow Dolphins coach Brian Flores to use Jones anywhere within the secondary in man coverage depending upon the threat.
The Dolphins continued to invest heavily in the cornerback position for 2020
The Dolphins used the 30th pick in the 2020 NFL draft to select cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. The pick is based on potential, as Igbinoghene only played two years as a cornerback at Auburn, and the fact he won’t turn 21 until late November.
This summer he’ll need to work on technique, as he is physical off the line of scrimmage but sometimes uses the wrong hand to punch with or takes an incorrect step. He’s got the speed to recover and is physical at the point of attack, so he should not be a liability. However, his tackling versus the run still needs work. He comes up hard and takes the right angle’s but he needs to work on not lunging at runner’s lower extremities.
With Howard hopefully staying healthy and the addition of Jones, Igbinoghene may be asked to play more in the slot. His arms, 31.75 inches in length, should serve him well there along with his seeming enjoyment of delivering a blow to his opposition. Measuring at 5’10” and 200 pounds his body size fits the role as well.
In a lost year, an undrafted free agent demonstrated promise
In a season where the Dolphins were lacking talent week in and week out they had a player step-up at cornerback in Nik Needham. Brought off the practice squad in mid-October Needham showed he belonged, often drawing the assignment of the opponents’ top receiver in island coverage. Needham didn’t test very well during his draft process but his solid three-cone drill of 6.9 showed-up on tape, as he was able to stay with his assigned receiver.
He led the Dolphins cornerbacks in interceptions and passes defensed as well as being a physical tackler who showed the ability to fight through would-be blockers. More tools have been added to the room but Needham’s all-around play in 2019 should have him seeing playing time in the nickel and dime at the cornerback position for the 2020 Dolphins.
Rounding out the cornerback room
Jamal Perry, formerly Jamal Wiltz, saw his first NFL playing time in 2019. Perry isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty even though he’s listed under 190 pounds. He still needs to work on attacking at the line of scrimmage, his lack of bulk doesn’t help. He has good long speed but if he can learn to open up his hips better it would put him in a better position to make plays on the ball. If Perry can turn his experience from 2019 into improvement in 2020 he should find a way to stick on the 53 man roster.
Ken Webster was another rookie who saw time at cornerback in the 2019 season, with the reviews mixed. Webster has all the athleticism and long speed, combined with a good burst to have success. In man coverage, he needs to translate his athletic ability onto the field. Webster needs to play with more consistency when it comes to staying with the receivers hip. In zone coverage, he needs to shift his attention faster to who is next entering his zone.
Tae Haynes and Breon Borders are also in camp with the Dolphins. Neither have had any real reps on defense in the NFL. Maybe they hang on with special teams play, but with the number of resources the Dolphins used on their cornerbacks for 2020, there doesn’t appear to be a chance for either of these long shots.