The Miami Dolphins selected Noah Igbinoghene in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft because of his big upside, and the hope is that he can start fulfilling his promise in his second season.
It could end up being a key to the success of the defense.
The Dolphins currently have one of the best starting cornerback tandems in the NFL with 2020 All-Pro Xavien Howard and one-time Pro Bowl selection Byron Jones, but Howard's absence from minicamp has put a cloud over that position some five weeks before players are scheduled to report for training camp.
As detailed previously on this site, there are four potential scenarios when it comes to how the Howard situation — you could call it an impasse or standoff or showdown — plays out and two of them involve him not being around.
One is the Dolphins end up trading him, another is Howard holds out because the Dolphins don't want to trade him but don't want to adjust his contract.
That's where Igbinoghene comes in.
Look at the Dolphins roster and the list of cornerbacks at the moment includes Nik Needham, Justin Coleman, Jamal Perry, Tino Ellis, Jaytlin Askew, Terrell Bonds and Trill Williams.
Needham, Coleman and Perry all figure to battle for the slot corner job, and of those three Needham would be the one who conceivably could move outside to replace Howard. Before anyone mentions Jason McCourty, he's listed as a defensive back (and not cornerback) on the roster and appears a lot more likely to line up at safety than cornerback.
So, yes, Igbinoghene most definitely would look like the logical candidate to start opposite Jones in the event the Dolphins don't have Howard.
And that's obviously why the Dolphins need him to step up. Their style of defense — at least how it was in 2020 — relies on corners able to cover one-on-one so they can throw all sorts of blitzes and pressure packages at opponents.
Igbinoghene was thrown into the fire in Week 2 last year after Jones was injured early in the game and started the following two games. He sandwiched rough games against Buffalo and Seattle around a solid performance against Jacksonville, and ended up getting very few snaps on defense after Jones returned in Week 5.
After averaging 62 defensive snaps in the games from Week 2 to Week 4, Igbinoghene played a total of 64 snaps the rest of the way. That included 22 against Cincinnati when the only pass was thrown his way was incomplete and he also recovered a fumble.
By all accounts, Igbinoghene progressed after that rough first month, but he also wasn't tested the way he'd be tested if thrown into the starting lineup.
But again, there was a reason the Dolphins drafted Igbinoghene with the 30th overall selection in 2020 after trading down four spots in a deal with the Green Bay Packers.
Or were there two or three reasons?
The first is obviously what the Dolphins thought of the Auburn product's potential.
The second deals with Howard's previous knee issues, which have allowed to pull a full season only twice since he got to the NFL in 2016.
But maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins also drafted Igbinoghene to protect themselves against the exact scenario that's playing out right now: an issue with Howard and his contract that maybe they foresaw once they gave Jones a more lucrative contract less than a year after signing X to his contract extension.
In retrospect, it then would make a lot more sense for the Dolphins to have passed up the opportunity to take one of the six running backs who ended up being selected in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft — all of whom showed great promise as rookies.
Let's face it, it's not likely the Dolphins would have spent a first-round pick on a cornerback without thinking that player could become a quality NFL starter.
Just maybe, the time for the Dolphins to need that from Igbinoghene will come sooner rather than later.