The Miami Dolphins suffered a blow during their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when cornerback Trill Williams went down with an injury late in the fourth quarter, with reports indicating Williams had torn his ACL.
Based on training camp practices and the preseason opener, Williams certainly appeared to have the inside track to become the team's fourth cornerback behind Xavien Howard, Byron Jones and Nik Needham.
The battle for the fourth cornerback spot always was important considering the player who had that role in 2021 played 33 percent of the defensive snaps. That was veteran Justin Coleman, but he's in Seattle now after signing with the Seahawks as an unrestricted free agent.
And things have become more pressing for the Dolphins in light of Williams’ injury and the fact that Jones is still on the PUP list.
Here’s a breakdown of some of Miami’s options.
CORNERBACKS ON THE DOLPHINS ROSTER
Miami’s depth at cornerback consists of unproven young players and veterans who have struggled to stick on NFL rosters, and they did not have a strong showing Saturday night.
Former first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene was targeted twice against the Buccaneers. On those targets, he gave up a first down and was at least partly responsible for the Buccaneers’ first touchdown of the game.
Igbinoghene has struggled in coverage the past two seasons and was inactive for six games last season. It doesn’t seem like things have clicked for him during training camp either.
D’Angelo Ross was picked on in man coverage from the slot a couple of times. He struggled to find the ball in the air in contested situations, which led to Tampa receiver Jarreth Sterns plucking a 19-yard touchdown, essentially, right off of Ross’ helmet.
Tino Ellis and Elijah Hamilton had their own mishaps during the game Saturday. Elijah Campbell made an interception by catching a ball that slipped through the legs of a Tampa Bay running back, but he’s more of a safety than an every-down cornerback.
The one possible bright spot might be Keion Crossen. He is one of the most experienced members of this group (he played 441 snaps with the Texans from 2019-20), and he had an impressive pass breakup early in the second quarter deep down the right sideline against Scotty Miller and Kyle Trask.
Crossen also has made some quality plays during training camp thus far, meaning he’s likely the front-runner for the fourth cornerback spot right now.
Veteran safety Eric Rowe also could become a fall-back option given his experience at cornerback, the position he played when he first joined the Dolphins in 2019. But McDaniel seemed cool on that idea when he was asked Sunday.
"He’s been getting pretty involved in the defense in a good way," McDaniel said. "I kind of like where he’s at in terms of his play. There’s a new side of him that was kind of displayed in the joint practices. I was talking to the team about the salty side of Rowe. He was getting competitive and it was really cool to see. I like where he’s at right now at his position. I think he does have versatility that you could go down that road if need be. But right now we’re just evaluating a couple of guys and then as (GM Chris Grier) and his department always does, for the cornerback position, we’ll be in discussion on how to handle some of these injuries and moving forward what we need to continue to develop and not over-do the other existing corners on the roster.”
FREE AGENT OPTIONS AROUND THE NFL
Given how Miami’s depth cornerbacks have performed, Williams’ injury and the uncertainty of Jones’ situation, the Dolphins would be wise to at least consider some free agent options.
It’s important to note there is a reason players are unsigned this time of the year, but it’s worth taking a look regardless.
Chris Harris Jr.
Harris spent the 2021 season with the Chargers. He played in 14 games (11 starts), recorded one interception and had six pass breakups. Harris had his best seasons in the slot, but he did play outside for the Broncos in 2019, so he has experience doing both.
Harris is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and former first-team All-Pro selection, but he’s also 33 years old. Additionally, his coverage grades have dropped dramatically since the 2018 season and he’s given up seven touchdowns in the past two seasons.
For reference, Nik Needham has allowed just three touchdowns in the same time period while playing roughly 100 fewer snaps than Harris.
Harris isn’t the player he used to be, but he could provide Miami with some veteran leadership and stability.
Haden is in a similar situation as Harris. He’s also 33 years old and a three-time Pro Bowl selection. Haden started 11 games for the Steelers last season and recorded six passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Age is obviously an issue, and he did miss time with a foot injury last season, which doesn’t bode well for the future.
However, Haden did have some strong seasons recently. In 2020, he allowed just 51.5 percent of his targets to turn into completions, according to PFF. That same season, Xavien Howard allowed 52.2 percent of his targets to turn into catches.
Haden’s allowed reception percentage rose to 65.3 percent in 2021, but if he could land somewhere in the middle of his 2020 and 2021 performances for Miami, that would be solid for a fourth cornerback.
Bouye, who is 31 years old, is another veteran option Miami could consider. He never reached the success of Harris and Haden as he’s only been voted to one Pro Bowl in his career.
He played in 10 games with the Carolina Panthers last season, making seven starts. He recorded three pass breakups, one forced fumble and two tackles for loss.
Like Haden, he missed time with a foot injury last season as the Panthers placed him on injured reserve in December.
Bouye should have some financial appeal given he’ll likely cost the Dolphins less than players like Harris and Haden. The veteran cornerback allowed zero touchdowns last season, but he also allowed 80.5 percent of his targets to turn into catches.
To be fair, Carolina used a lot of zone coverage, so that number is likely inflated a bit, but it’s still not a good sign.
Bouye might cost less money, but that comes with its own price.
Deayon (28) is on the right side of 30 and actually saw a considerable number of reps with the Super Bowl champion Rams last season. He played in 10 games, made one start and recorded a single pass breakup.
Deayon is a smaller player, so he’d probably have to move into the slot, but Miami needs help there too. He allowed completions on 65.3 percent of his targets, which is much lower than Needham’s 72.2 percent allowed completion percentage in 2021 (per PFF).
Needham played significantly more snaps and is definitely better than Deayon, but still, Deayon isn’t too far off from Miami’s current projected starter in the slot in that important category.
Williams (25) is another young player who has some traits worth considering for a depth position. Williams played in six games for the Giants last season, making two starts.
His sample size is incredibly small, but the returns are promising. He made 14 tackles and was charged with zero missed tackles by PFF. In coverage, Williams allowed a completion percentage of 47.1. It was only 17 targets, but it’s encouraging for a young player.
Williams reportedly ran a 4.28 40-yard dash at the University of Albany's Pro Day in 2020, but numbers reported by schools should not be taken as fact, especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, even if a tenth of a second was added to his time to compensate, Williams is still fast.
He’s not a household name, but Miami might end up getting a steal if Williams’ 2021 performance is a sign of things to come.
Other options: Xavier Rhodes, Janoris Jenkins, Desmond Trufant and Pierre Desir.
POTENTIAL NEW CORNER ON THE ROSTER?
The Dolphins plan on working out rookie Raleigh Texada from Baylor on Monday, according to Pro Football Network reporter Aaron Wilson.
Texada, whose older brother played cornerback at TCU and whose younger brother is a cornerback at North Texas, went undrafted in 2022 before signing as a rookie free agent with the Green Bay Packers, who waived him right before the start of training camp.
Based on that information, it probably would be fair to suggest that Texada isn't necessarily the answer to the cornerback depth problem.