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Can Dolphins’ secondary become a top five unit in league?

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The Dolphins secondary could be on the verge of becoming a special unit, led by the return of safety Reshad Jones.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

NFL.com analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor recently released his list of the top five secondary units in the league heading into the 2017 season. He also included two “just missed the cut” teams, with the Miami Dolphins not appearing anywhere in the seven teams mentioned. Taylor has the Denver Broncos in the top spot, followed by the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, and Atlanta Falcons, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings in the honorable mention positions. Taylor explains his selection of each of the top five teams in the article.

Can the Dolphins break into that group in 2017? They come into the season with a grouping that has the potential to become something special. The headline of the group is the return of strong safety Reshad Jones, who missed most of the season last year with a shoulder injury. Jones controls the defense and seems to be everywhere on every play. He can cover, he can play centerfield, and he can get into the box and be a punishing run stopper. Jones is one of the elite safeties in the league, and his return to the Dolphins defense should help the team take a giant leap toward being recognized as a team with a top five secondary.

Paired with Jones this year will likely be Nate Allen, the former Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders safety who signed with the Dolphins as a free agent this year. Allen has primarily played strong safety in his career, but he should fit with the Dolphins’ idea that either safety should be able to play in either free- or strong-safety role on any play. He does have free safety experience, and earlier this year, Levi Damien from Silver and Black Pride gave us a quick look at Allen, including a look at his 2016 contributions to the team:

Last season, Allen backed up first round pick, Karl Joseph. Allen appeared in all 14 games, mostly on special teams, but stepped in as a starter late in the season due to Joseph suffering a toe injury and Allen played well, finishing the season with 2 interceptions, 3 passes defended and 26 combined tackles (20 solo).

Overall, however, his signing wasn’t a success. He is a fantastic team guy, leader, and locker room presence along with being a smart player on the field, but the injuries ruined his chances of living up to the player the Raiders hoped he would be.

If Allen can stay healthy, he should be able to provide the Dolphins’ secondary with a solid supporting role next to Jones. The Dolphins also have T.J. McDonald this season, the former St. Louis / Los Angeles Rams safety who signed with the Dolphins despite an eight-game suspension to start the season. Another player who primarily has played strong safety, the Dolphins will be looking to see if McDonald can come in and provide a spark mid-season when he is eligible to return.

Poll

Does T.J. McDonald become a starting safety when his suspension ends?

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  • 85%
    Yes
    (359 votes)
  • 14%
    No
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419 votes total Vote Now

The safety group also includes Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens, and A.J. Hendy, with Thomas and Aikens also able to play cornerback as well as being exceptional special teams players.

The Dolphins’ cornerbacks start with Byron Maxwell, who came to Miami last year in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles. He struggled early in the season, ultimately being benched for a game, but once he settled into his role in the defense and understood the system, Maxwell turned into a really good cornerback for the Dolphins. He should remain one of the outside starters this year, though he is going to be challenged by some young players who seem to be developing into a highly talented group.

Second-year cornerback Xavien Howard appears to be on the verge of breaking out this year after a knee injury slowed him last year. In the early workouts this year, Howard has shown the potential to be a shut-down type of cornerback. It will have to continue as pads come on in training camp and into the preseason, but Miami could have two really strong cornerbacks playing on the outside in Maxwell and Howard.

The depth of the Dolphins cornerbacks does not stop there, however, as third-year cornerback Tony Lippett, who came to the Dolphins out of Michigan State needing to convert from wide receiver to cornerback, has continued to impress and could be nearing the point where he is pushing for a starting role. The Dolphins also have rookie third-round pick Cordrea Tankersley to factor into the cornerback rotation as well.

At nickel cornerback, Bobby McCain appears to be set in that role as well, though Thomas and Aikens could both make a push there, as well as Lippett - despite being the biggest cornerback on the roster - using his receiver skills to shadow the slot receiver of opposing teams.

Miami’s cornerback group also includes Lafayette Pitts, Jordan Lucas, and Torry McTyer. Pitts, who has spent time on both the practice squad and the active roster in Miami, has shown some flashes of being another young, developing cornerback talent in the group, with the Dolphins hoping to see that growth continue this year.

The Dolphins have a ton of young talent all across the secondary, with Jones the star in the group and a few players looking like they are ready to breakout into more prominent roles. Is it enough for the Dolphins to push themselves into the top five secondaries in the league?

Poll

Will the 2017 Miami Dolphins secondary become a top five unit in the league?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Yes
    (279 votes)
  • 41%
    No
    (199 votes)
478 votes total Vote Now