Earlier in the offseason, Miami made a trade with the Eagles moving back five spots in the 2016 NFL draft. The trade helped the Dolphins secure three starters; Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso and Laremy Tunsil. Soon after the trade, the team released cornerback Brent Grimes who ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Swapping Maxwell for Grimes was fine, but the team still had a need for a starting cornerback to play opposite of Maxwell.
As the draft approached, it seemed fairly obvious the Dolphins were going to select a cornerback in this year’s draft. After Jacksonville moved up to select Myles Jack, the Dolphins turned their attention to Xavien Howard. Miami’s intel believed Chicago had similar interest in the Baylor cornerback, so the Dolphins traded their fourth-round draft pick to Baltimore. This allowed Miami to move up four spots, adding Howard to Vance Joseph’s attacking defense.
Who is Xavien Howard?
Xavien Howard is a six-foot cornerback from Houston, Texas, where he attended Wheatley High School. Here, Howard earned All-State honors at cornerback. He also played quarterback for his high school team. During his senior season, Howard recorded 9 interceptions, including two for touchdowns. He also recorded 32 solo tackles and 33 pass break ups. After his senior year, Howard committed to Baylor University. Not only was Howard staying in his home state, he would get the opportunity to play under head coach Art Briles. Howard was a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com.
In 2012, Howard participated on the team’s practice squad, red shirting as true freshman. He would record his first career interception vs Buffalo. The following year, Howard played in all 13 games as a reserve cornerback, a majority of his reps came on special teams. He finished the 2012 season with five tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.
As a sophomore in 2013, Howard started all 13 games for the Bears. He amassed 51 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a team high four interceptions. Howard finished the 2013 season ranked 11th in the nation with 17 passes defensed. The Bears would go on to win the Big 12 Championship, Howard's interception would seal his team's fate. He recorded a season high 9 tackles against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
During his senior season, Xavien Howard once again started all 13 games. He recorded 42 tackles, 5 interceptions and 10 passes defensed for the Baylor Bears. Howard would be nominated to the first team All-Big 12 team, by players and coaches alike. Baylor would go on to defeat North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. In this game, Howard recorded five tackles and a pass defensed. After the game, Howard would announce his intent to enter the 2016 NFL Draft.
When watching film on Xavien Howard, the first thing that stands out is how well he does in coverage. Very rarely does Xavien Howard get beat and when he does, he uses his 4.58 speed to regain his position. Howard possess the skill-set to succeed at the next level. He's big, he's physical, and he has no problem laying a hit on an opposing wide receiver.
In this play, Howard is in perfect position to stop the receiver for a minimal gain. Instead, Howard uses his left hand to toss the wide receiver to the ground. This play shows just how physical Xavien Howard can be. Whether he uses one hand or two, he has no problem being physical with an opposing wide receiver.
Here, Oklahoma State's quarterback is given entirely way too much time to find the open receiver. Despite being beat on the underneath curl, Howard instinctively breaks on the receiver. Though he is a step late, he does enough to break up the pass, resulting in an incompletion.
Here, Howard reads and reacts to the screen simultaneously. He is able to slip between two blocks, leaving a lasting hit on the receiver. Howard shows off his football IQ , in addition to his ability to change direction. He breaks off his designated receiver to make the play.
Below is another example of Xavien Howard's ability to read and react to a play.
In this play, Howard maintains good coverage for the duration of the play. With pressure mounting, the quarterback has no choice but to throw the safe pass to the underneath wide receiver. Howard is in great position to make the play for a short gain.
Here, Howard is in off-man coverage. As soon as the ball is snapped, the quarterback takes a shot deep to the intended receiver. Howard remains in perfect coverage through the duration of the play, breaking up the pass in the end zone. Great coverage.
Although it appears the wide receiver made the reception, the result of the play should have been offensive pass interference. Howard has good position on the receiver, who uses his right arm to create separation. Bad break for Howard and the Baylor Bears.
In this play, the quarterback buys enough time to take a shot deep. Unfortunately for Texas Tech, Xavien Howard breaks off of his intended wide receiver, timing the interception perfectly. With the ball in his hands, Howard showcases his 4.58 speed, moving the ball deeper into Texas Tech territory.
Here, Xavien Howard is in poor position to make a play on the football. Not only does he give the wide receiver a free release from the line, he takes a poor angle on the intended pass. The end result? A 70+ yard touchdown as a result of Howard's poor coverage.
Here is another example of Howard giving up an easy underneath completion.
Though Howard is in great coverage to make the play, he gets a bit too hands on with the wide receiver. The end result is a costly pass interference penalty against Howard.
Thankfully for Howard, the quarterback was unable to complete the pass.
Despite the great coverage, Howard is unaware of how close to the sideline he is. By the time he turns around to locate the football, Howard is already out of position. He makes one last effort to break up the pass, before being turned inside out by the intended wide receiver.
Whether or not Xavien Howard begins the season as the Dolphins’ starting cornerback, the team expects the second-round draft pick to outwork his fellow teammates, eventually earning the starting job. Howard is an ideal fit for the scheme Vance Joseph and Co. intend to implement in Miami. His physicality on the outside will make life hard on opposing wide receivers, giving the defensive line more time to attack the quarterback. If Howard wants to succeed at the next level, he will have to do a better job of locating the football. In the end, the Dolphins like what they see in Howard. They believe he’s a perfect fit opposite of Byron Maxwell and will give him every opportunity to succeed. If Howard can cut back on the mental mistakes, the Dolphins may have found their cornerback of the future.