The Miami Dolphins are deep at cornerback, with nine players listed at the position on their roster, plus two safeties who are getting work as corners as well. It is a position where the team may have more talent than they are able to regularly get onto the field. It is a good problem to have, but does it accurately reflect the position group?
Specifically, does the depth at the position mean the team have boundary, field, and nickel cornerback positions covered?
Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard appear to be in position to remain the starting outside cornerbacks, likely with the team looking to add rookie Cordrea Tankersley to the rotation throughout the season. Third year cornerback Tony Lippett is coming into his own and should be a factor on the outside as well, while the team has been giving safety, and special teams ace, Walt Aikens snaps on the boundary during the offseason workouts as well. That gives Miami five players that could fill the position if needed, but it leaves one big question mark.
Who plays inside as the slot/nickel corner?
On Monday, the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero took a look at the nickel cornerback position, coming to the conclusion that Miami should be looking at free agent cornerback Darrelle Revis to upgrade the depth chart. Salguero wrote, “Miami’s slot cornerback job is unsettled because it’s not as easy as simply giving Lippett the job if he doesn’t win one of the two outside jobs. The slot cornerback has to be probably quicker and shorter than the 6-3 Lippett. Bobby McCain, last year’s slot cornerback, has the job for the time being.”
He also writes, “But the idea of the Dolphins benefiting somehow from having a Darrelle Revis is nonetheless interesting because it would improve the competition at the slot cornerback position — a position Revis has played during his career.”
Would Revis help the Dolphins at a position that is essentially a starter in the modern version of the NFL?
And, given Revis’ history of wanting money and lots of it, he is probably too expensive for any role the Dolphins would want to give him.
Do you remember how poorly Revis played last year? Nine months ago, Pro Football Focus started an article about Revis, writing, “‘Revis Island’ used to be a place no receiver could escape from. Right now, it’s become a tourist hotspot with package vacations flying there on a weekly basis offering all-inclusive deals...”
In a press-coverage defense like the Dolphins’, PFF’s analysis adds another damning paragraph, “Revis looks visibly slower than he has in the past, unable to react and mirror receivers like he used to. It seems that either he or the Jets—possibly both—are aware of that, too, and he tries to protect himself by lining up with softer coverage than he has in the past. Revis isn’t up in people’s face in press coverage nearly as often, and even when lining up in off-coverage, is often seen deeper than the other cornerbacks, as if buying himself an extra yard or two of protection against deep shots.”
Revis adjusted his game last year to add a larger buffer to prevent getting beaten deep repeatedly, which then allowed receivers to work underneath him. And, he is expected to cover the quicker, underneath-route running slot position?
"Because I'm old," Revis told the New York Daily News when discussing the decline in his play last year.
Salguero does list some of the reasons Miami is not interested in Revis - and he clearly states that there have been no discussions within the Dolphins’ front offices about bringing in Revis - including Revis not being in great shape last year, questionable (at best) desire to tackle, and the money. He then goes back to the idea of Miami bringing in Revis as competition for incumbent nickel cornerback Bobby McCain.
McCain played well last year, but there were inconsistencies that have to be improved. Entering his third year, McCain should be hitting his stride this season, which should improve his play, fixing those inconsistencies. Should is the key word there, so Salguero is right in trying to find a way to push McCain. Revis is not it, however.
Revis will be 32 before the start of the season. He clearly is not the shut-down cornerback he was. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are looking for their own players to develop into their potential. Adding Revis to, potentially, replace McCain adds an aging player who struggles in coverage now to replace a young player developing into a solid nickel cornerback. Why stunt McCain’s growth?
The Dolphins have options beside McCain that they can use to push him. Tankersley talked about playing in the slot during his press availability on Monday, telling reporters, “Yes, I’ve played some in the slot. Mainly man, basically wherever they need me to play. I’m an open book. But mainly if a receiver goes inside, I’ll match up with him. I wouldn’t necessarily call it the nickel. I’d just say I was the man, a corner in the inside slot. I did it a pretty good amount.”
They could also look toward safety Michael Thomas, who has played the nickel corner role in the past and feels like it is actually his natural position, though the Dolphins like him better at safety. “For me, nothing has changed," Thomas told the media last week. "As a restricted free agent, with everybody they brought in this year, with everybody they brought back, nothing has changed for ‘Mike T.’ I’ve got to go out there and compete. The coaches are mixing us up right now – safeties, nickels – throughout the whole scheme. So for me, nothing has changed. You have to be ready to play any position.”
He continued, "Obviously you’re guarding probably one of the quickest guys on the field [when in the slot]. You think about a guy like Jarvis [Landry]. He’s probably the best slot receiver in the NFL. You’ve got to be able to be quick. You’ve got to be able to play with leverage. When teams see that, they see a safety – a smaller, quicker guy – they try to put big guys on him. They try to scheme you up and get you out-leveraged. They might run the ball right at you, so you’ve got to be physical. You’ve got to be able to play with leverage. You’ve got to be able to get in and out of breaks and when you’re going against guys like Jarvis, it only makes you better. I love the challenge. You’ve got that linebacker mentality that you’ve got to be tough and physical; but at the same time, you’ve got to be able to run all day. That’s why I love the nickel position.”
Miami could also look to move Lippett or Howard inside in three receiver sets. Howard was expected to see some playing time inside last year, until injuries caused him to miss playing time. Having him start outside, then slide inside with Lippett (or Tankersley) playing outside of him along with Maxwell, could be an effective strategy.
Miami may be trying to find ways to push McCain while adding some flexibility to the cornerbacks group. Adding Revis, who has lost at least one step, may not be in the best shape, and probably wants more money than the Dolphins should be willing to pay, is not the right answer. Let McCain grow into his position in his third year, let the team look at options they already have like Tankersley, Thomas, and Howard. There are already players who can do the job on the roster.
Revis is not the right answer.