Monday, March 1, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2010 Offseason Preview: Cornerback

The offseason will officially kick off with the signing and trading period March 5, and as I always do prior to the mayhem, I'll be looking at each position on the Dolphins' roster in depth.

I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.

This article focuses on the cornerback position.


Under Contract
  • Jason Allen (through 2011) — A first-round bust, Allen has developed into an excellent special teams player, and actually held his own on defense in 2009. With Nathan Jones heading to free agency, he appears likely to stick around as the Dolphins' fourth cornerback and a core special-teamer.
  • Will Allen (through 2011) — Allen has been an excellent cover corner since joining the team in 2006, though his 2009 season was derailed due to a torn ACL and he's already earned a black mark with a DUI this offseason. He's not guaranteed a starting role with two rising stars at corner, though he's still very capable and gives Miami excellent depth.
  • Vontae Davis (through 2013) — The Dolphins' first-round pick in 2009, Davis was forced into extensive playing time as a rookie, and held his own for the most part. He's a sound tackler and has shown he has the ability to cover the NFL's best receivers, so he should only get better.
  • Evan Oglesby (through 2010) — Oglesby appeared in one game for the Dolphins in 2009 as an in-season signing, and will get a chance to beat out Jason Allen for a reserve cornerback job. He's 28 though and hasn't done much in his career to date, so he could end up just being a camp body.
  • Sean Smith (through 2012) — Smith struggled with the big play and failed to record an interception during his rookie season, but part of that was due to poor safety help from Gibril Wilson, and Smith's overall coverage was actually fairly solid. He has a lot of upside and should continue to get better, so he should continue to start in 2010.

Free Agents
  • Nathan Jones (unrestricted) —Jones has proved to be a valuable nickel and dime corner, situational blitzer, and an outstanding special teams player since arriving from Dallas in 2008, recording 77 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and 10 pass deflections. He is reportedly unlikely to return, as he stands to make more money on the open market after his recent play, and the Dolphins have three much more capable corners under contract.

Strengths
  • The Dolphins are set for quite a while at starting cornerback, with two rising stars in Davis and Smith. It wouldn't be surprising if those two comprised one of the best cornerback tandems within the next few years.
  • Assuming his recent arrest doesn't get him booted off the team and that he fully recovers from his knee injury, Will Allen is still a starting-caliber cornerback in the NFL and is a great guy to have around, whether he starts or serves as the No. 3 guy.
  • I don't believe Jason Allen will ever live up to his draft status or be a starter in the NFL, but he's turned into one hell of a special-teamer. That should keep him around through the life of his contract, and he's a good guy to have on the team as someone that can contribute there and has been around the defense for a while now.

Areas of Need
  • Whether or not Will Allen stays or remains happy with a potentially-reduced role will affect the Dolphins' need at corner. If he does leave, the Dolphins may need a legitimate No. 3 corner for the 2010 season, but even if he stays, it seems likely the team will at least add a young guy as the No. 5 corner to develop long-term.

Free Agency Outlook
  • Houston Texans' cornerback Dunta Robinson is the biggest name on the free agent market, although the Patriots' Leigh Bodden might be the best cover man available. Nevertheless, the Dolphins don't need a starting cornerback and won't be shelling out big money for anyone.
  • If the Dolphins wanted a No. 3 or 4 cornerback via free agency (although it seems unlikely they'd go that route), they could look at veteran Anthony Henry (Lions), who has a history with the coaching staff from his time in Dallas, or a fairly inexpensive option like Stanford Routt (Raiders), Benny Sapp (Vikings) or DeMarcus Faggins (Texans).

Draft Outlook
  • The Dolphins probably won't draft a cornerback early after using first- and second-round picks on the position in 2009, although Florida's Joe Haden is thought to be the best in this year's class and should go somewhere in the Top 15. The Dolphins would only consider the position in the second round if the guy could contribute in another area like the return game, making Rutgers' Devin McCourty someone to consider.
  • Morel likely, the Dolphins could look in the mid-to-late rounds for someone to develop as a reserve cornerback and special-teamer in replacement of free agent Nathan Jones. Someone like Javier Arenas (Alabama) could draw strong consideration in the fourth round and could also double as a punt returner, while Myron Lewis (Vanderbilt) has the size (6-2, 205) the Dolphins love at the position and could probably be had in the fifth round.
  • While they might not do it early or even in the draft at all, I do expect the Dolphins to add at least one rookie corner either in the draft or afterward, and probably one or two more as undrafted free agents. The Dolphins will likely keep five cornerbacks and I see only four on the roster that will remain (with Oglesby the odd man out), so it's the perfect time to add a project at the position.

Conclusion

The Dolphins' pass defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in 2009, but a lot of that can be attributed to the horrendous play of safety Gibril Wilson and two very inexperienced starting cornerbacks.

The outlook for 2010 is much brighter, as veteran Will Allen should be back and the two youngsters should continue to grow. I fully expect the secondary's performance to jump quite a bit in 2010.

The Dolphins will eventually need to address the nickel spot with Will Allen's age, injury, and arrest all possibly coming into play, but it's not something that needs to be addressed this offseason, outside of a very inexpensive free agent or low draft pick/undrafted rookie.


What do you think about the Miami Dolphins' cornerbacks heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!