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Miami Dolphins Depth Chart Projections: Cornerback

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Which cornerbacks will be on the Miami Dolphins roster when week 1 of the 2017 NFL season comes around, and where will they place on the depth chart?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is a magical time in the NFL. All players are “in the best shape of their lives” and every single coach is going to “create a winning culture.” All teams are “poised to make a playoff run,” and perennial losing teams are “finally ready to turn things around.”

That being said, the offseason is also a time when coaches need to make the tough decisions about who is going to make their team’s roster. No matter how much talent a team brings in through free agency and the draft, cuts are inevitable. An offseason roster of 90 players will eventually have to be trimmed down to the best 53, and outside of the team’s top performers, there are never guarantees as to who will make the team.

This offseason, I am running a series of depth chart projections, breaking down Miami’s roster by position, and predicting who will make it to week 1 of the 2017 season. Today, we review the cornerback position.

Roster

Byron Maxwell

Xavien Howard

Tony Lippett

Bobby McCain

Jordan Lucas

Lafayette Pitts

Cordrea Tankersley (R)

Larry Hope (R)

Torry McTyer (R)

Roster Locks

Byron Maxwell

Byron Maxwell joined the Dolphins last season after a successful stint with the Seattle Seahawks and a short stay with the Philadelphia Eagles. Miami acquired him in a trade with the Eagles in which the Dolphins moved back five slots in the 2016 NFL Draft in exchange for Maxwell and Kiko Alonso, a trade that’s been very fruitful for the Dolphins.

Maxwell had a shaky start to his 2016 campaign, during which he rarely looked like the top notch member of the Legion of Boom that he was back in Seattle. However, after he was given some time to settle in and find his footing, Maxwell’s comfort level with Vance Joseph’s defense rose, leading to much better play and even a few shutdown games. Over the course of the season, Maxwell accumulated 53 tackles, 15 passes defended, 2 interceptions, and a staggering 4 forced fumbles. He projects to be a starting corner in Matt Burke’s defense this season, and should build off of the second half of his 2016 performance provided he stays healthy, something he’s struggled with over the course of his career.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Xavien Howard

The Dolphins drafted Howard out of Baylor with the seventh pick in the second round of the 2016 Draft with the expectation that he’d blossom into a reliable starting corner. Unfortunately, Miami was only given a small sample size of Howard’s capabilities due to a litany of injury issues that limited him to 6 starts over just 7 games last season.

What should keep the organization and fans excited though, is the fact that when Howard was on the field, his potential to be a top tier corner was on display. During Miami’s week 15 matchup against the Jets, Howard was forced into an every down role when teammate Byron Maxwell went down with an ankle injury. Howard did so admirably, shutting down the talented Brandon Marshall while racking up a game high three pass breakups.

Should Howard avoid the injury bug that plagued him last season, he will have the opportunity to continue to develop as the likely starter across from Maxwell on the boundary. The Dolphins are putting a lot of faith in the second year corner, and he’ll have to deliver to keep his starting job from the large group of young talent behind him.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Probable Backups

Tony Lippett

Lippett was drafted by the Dolphins in 2015 and was moved to the cornerback position despite playing out most of his college career as a full time wide receiver. That transition, while difficult for many players, has given Lippett the ability to see the game from both an offensive and defensive perspective, something Lippett has said he tries to use to his advantage during games.

Lippett stepped up in a big way last year, starting 13 times over 16 games due to the injuries suffered by Maxwell and Howard. Despite struggling at times with some of the NFL’s better receivers, Lippett managed to use his own wide receiver experience to come up with 4 interceptions, all of which he made look easy and natural due to his possession of ball skills that most corners simply don’t possess.

Despite the presence of Maxwell and Howard, Lippett should contribute regularly next season, whether it be in the slot in nickel packages or as part of a rotation on the boundary. As he learns the position better and further hammers down the finer points of being a defensive back, his physical ability will give him the opportunity to become a solid starting corner in this league. In fact, whether or not the Dolphins jettison Maxwell after this season due to his hefty $10 million cap hit in 2018 should be heavily reliant on Lippett's development this season.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 95%

Bobby McCain

McCain has gone through a roller coaster in his performance level during his two seasons in Miami. While at times he’s looked like a feisty slot corner who pesters receivers and locks down the middle of the field, he’s also, at times, been regularly beaten by bigger pass catchers and more accurate quarterbacks.

McCain’s slight frame is one of the primary reasons for his difficulties, as he sits at just 5’11” and 192 lbs. That size disadvantage has allowed larger receivers to abuse him at the line of scrimmage and gain separation, something McCain will have to work on if he wants to retain his starting duties in nickel packages.

In fact, the Dolphins are already exploring other options just in case the third year corner does not develop as planned. Safety and special teams ace Michael Thomas has taken reps at nickel corner during training camp, and has even expressed a desire to continue gaining more experience at the spot. A McCain and Thomas battle will be one of the more under the radar, but still intriguing storylines to watch out for come training camp. If Thomas impresses as he has during OTAs, he might have a chance to push McCain into a rotational depth role.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 90%

Cordrea Tankersley (R)

Tankersley started at cornerback on a very high profile team (Clemson) during his college career, and his film shows the type of ability that should give coaches and fans confidence about his capacity to develop at the next level.

Tankersley is a prototypical size, speed corner. He measures in at 6’1” and 199 lbs, giving him the type of range and length that allows him to excel on the outside. At the combine, Tankersley ran a 4.40 40-yard dash, showing that he can keep up with some of the game’s fastest receivers.

His production in college doesn’t disappoint either. Over two years as a starter, the former Clemson Tiger accumulated 20 passes defended and 9 interceptions. However, the one aspect of his game that needs real improvement is in run support. During the 2017 NFL Draft, college scouting expert Mike Mayock was quoted as saying the following after Miami selected Tankersley, “He's the least interesting defensive back in this entire draft in supporting the run. He was directly for support on two Dalvin Cook touchdowns and did not get involved at all."

While that may sound harsh, it certainly speaks to how important it is for Tankersley to develop his run defense skills. The Dolphins have put plenty of onus on improving in defending the run this offseason, and if Tankersley wants to see significant playing time, that is one facet of his game that he must develop in. The fact that Maxwell, a former Clemson Tiger himself, has enthusiastically offered to mentor the young rookie should only help in that area.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 85%

Must Impress

Jordan Lucas

Lucas was drafted out of Penn State in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He contributed very little during his first season as a Dolphin, showing up in 8 games while earning a measly two tackles. During training camp, he will have to show significant improvement in his skills at the position if he wants to cement his spot on the roster. Due to the fact that Lucas lacks any eye popping physical traits, his best case for making the team will be a display of deep understanding of the defense and an ability to be a primary contributor on special teams.

Lucas can also work his position versatility to his advantage. The underwhelming defensive back has experience at both safety and corner, and therefore could sway the coaches to hand him a spot because of his ability to provide depth at both positions.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 50%

Lafayette Pitts

Lucas’ primary competition will come from fellow second year cornerback Lafayette Pitts. Pitts went undrafted last year and signed with the Dolphins before later being waved by the team. He was then brought back as a practice squad player and was eventually promoted to the active roster due to injuries that Miami endured at the position.

What Pitts brings to the table is experience as a defensive leader. The former Pittsburgh Panther started 51 of 52 games during his college career and was a senior captain during his final season. Over four seasons, he racked up 29 passes defended and 4 interceptions, two of which he returned for over 30 yards.

What will most likely be the deciding factor in Pitts’ odds of making the team will be whether or not he showcases more special teams value than Lucas during training camp. The more impressive player will likely take the team’s final spot on the depth chart. The less will be relegated to the practice squad, or possibly cut altogether.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 40%

Training Camp Bodies

Torry McTyer (R)

McTyer joined the Dolphins this offseason as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV. In his final two seasons with the team, he started 22 games at cornerback and amassed 22 passes defended on top of 3 interceptions.

The young rookie has experience working his way up a depth chart, as he earned playing time at UNLV by carving out a special teams role for himself. His play there and development as a defensive back won him a spot as a starter at corner, something McTyer will look to accomplish with the Dolphins as well. His path to a roster spot will be difficult considering the team’s depth at the position, but he’ll have an opportunity to beat out Lucas, Pitts, and Larry Hope during training camp and preseason football.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 15%

Larry Hope (R)

Hope is a Miami, Florida native who started his college career at the University of Miami, but later transferred to Akron. He played two seasons there and piled up 11 passes defended over 22 games while also adding an interception. During his college tenure, Hope displayed a keen eye for jumping routes against teams like Wisconsin and Kent State, but offenses at the NFL level get far more complex and quarterback talent is far superior than at the college level. Whether or not Hope’s talents translate to the pros will be something to watch for.

In reality, Hope is a longshot to make the roster due to the amount of competition he will have at the position in Lucas, Pitts, and McTyer. Like his teammates, he’ll have to show an affinity for special teams if he wants a shot at the 53.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 15%

Projected 2017 Cornerback Depth Chart

  1. Byron Maxwell
  2. Xavien Howard
  3. Tony Lippett
  4. Bobby McCain (starter at nickel corner)
  5. Cordrea Tankersley (R)
  6. Jordan Lucas

Current Depth Chart Projections

As we move through this series, I will keep a running list of past projections. By the time roster cuts roll around, we will have a full depth chart projection for the 2017 season.

Quarterback

Running Back

  1. Jay Ajayi
  2. Kenyan Drake
  3. Damien Williams
  4. De’Veon Smith

Wide Receiver

  1. Jarvis Landry
  2. DeVante Parker
  3. Kenny Stills
  4. Leonte Carroo
  5. Jakeem Grant
  6. Isaiah Ford (R)

Tight End

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Linebacker

WLB

  1. Kiko Alonso
  2. Neville Hewitt

MLB

  1. Lawrence Timmons
  2. Mike Hull

SLB

  1. Raekwon McMillan (R)
  2. Koa Misi
  3. Deon Lacey

Cornerback

  1. Byron Maxwell
  2. Xavien Howard
  3. Tony Lippett
  4. Bobby McCain (starter at nickel corner)
  5. Cordrea Tankersley (R)
  6. Jordan Lucas

Safety

  1. Reshad Jones
  2. Nate Allen
  3. Michael Thomas
  4. Walt Aikens
  5. (Suspended)* T.J. McDonald

Special Teams

Current Roster Spots Occupied: 27

*Suspended players do not occupy a spot on the 53 man roster until their return to the team following the end of their suspension.