Expectations for our rookie cornerbacks - Vontae Davis and Sean Smith

We've now had about a week and a half to digest what the Dolphins did on draft day.  We also got to read about how these new players performed at their rookie minicamp this past weekend.  And from what I gather, there seems to be a lot of excitement building over our two new rookie cornerbacks - Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.

Don't get me wrong - I'm just as excited as all of you are.  I honestly think that these two kids (and they are kids - Smith will be 22 in July and Davis just turned 21 in March) have the potential to be the best cornerback duo in the league in 2 or 3 years.  Their ceiling is that high and this coaching staff is that good.  But we do need to temper our 2009 expectations for these two kids a little bit.

Yes - we heard some good things from minicamp about these two.  But David Neal said it best when he wrote:

And you want to know what we've learned from this thing called ``Dolphins rookie minicamp?'' Nothing of substance. Because there is little of substance to be learned.

It's a minicamp, people. It's shadowboxing compared with the sparring sessions that are preseason games and the weekly Thrilla in Manilas that are NFL games.

So what should we expect from these two rookies in 2009?  It's premature to even make a guess at this point.  Ideally, I'd love to see Vontae Davis win the starting job opposite of Will Allen and Sean Smith win nickelback job right out of camp (with Will Allen moving inside to the slot when Smith is in the game).  But their jobs won't be handed to them, that's for sure.

So what if neither of these two kids win a starting job right out of camp?  Would we have to classify them as disappointments already?

Of course, the answer to that question is a resounding "no."  But I'm sure some Dolphin fans and/or media personalities will press the "panic" button.  So I'm here to tell you that, in fact, the two corners who made up the best cornerback tandem in team history both did not start as rookies, either.

Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain were both 2nd round picks.  In fact, both were the 44th overall pick - Madison in 1997 and Surtain a year later.  And neither beat out the veterans on the roster when they were rookies.

Madison started three games his rookie season - but that was only because the Dolphins started those three games in a nickel defense.  Terrell Buckley and Calvin Jackson were the starting corners in '97 - both starting all 16 games.  That's right - Sam Madison was unable to beat out the "great" Calvin Jackson - player who began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent and who was out of the NFL following the 1999 season at just 27 years of age.

Patrick Surtain didn't start any games as a rookie.  But he has a better excuse - he was behind Terrell Buckley and Sam Madison on the depth chart and those two started 16 games and each intercepted 8 passes that season.  It was late in Surtain's second season - 1999 - when Patrick finally passed T-Buck and took over as the week to week starting corner opposite Madison.  Surtain started the final five regular season games that season as well as both playoff games.

Beginning in 2000, Madison and Surtain would start every game they played in for the next 5 years - when Surtain was traded to Kansas City for a 2nd round draft pick.  The following offseason, Sam Madison departed via free agency to New York - winning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants.

What's my point to all this?  My point is that it would be unfair to expect either Vontae Davis or Sean Smith to start as rookies in 2009.  It just isn't that easy.  In fact, some of the game's top corners didn't start their rookie season.  Nnamdi Asomugha, Antoine Winfield, Cortland Finnegan, Al Harris, Asante Samuel, Antonio Cromartie, and Ronde Barber all were not full-time starters until at least their second NFL season.  In fact, the game's top corner - Asomugha - didn't start a full 16 game season until his third season in the league.

Do I hope that our two rookie corners find a place in the top three on the depth chart right out of camp?  Of course.  But don't worry if neither cracks the starting lineup in week one.

After all, the two corners who made up this franchise's top all-time cornerback duo did not start as rookies, either.  But they turned out to be pretty good, didn't they?

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