The Miami Dolphins held three first-round draft picks in 2020, using the first to select quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the second to add offensive lineman Austin Jackson, and the third to pick cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. In the two seasons since being selected, Tagovailoa has appeared in 23 games, starting 21 of them, with 4,467 passing yards on 66.2 percent completions, 27 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, for an 88.8 career passer rating. Jackson has appeared in 30 games with 28 starts, working primarily at left tackle but appearing to be in the competition for the starting right tackle position this year. Igbinoghene has appeared in 23 games, starting just three times, with 19 tackles, two passes defensed, and two fumble recoveries.
All three players head into their third season - typically the season where a player establishes himself and potential turns into performance - with questions to be answered. None more so than Igbingohene.
As a rookie, Igbinghene played in all 16 games, starting twice, but he played like a rookie, making mistakes and trying to adjust to the speed of the game. In his second season, he found himself buried on the depth chart, often inactive on gameday, and limited to just seven games played, and only 78 snaps on defense. His stat total for the year was just six tackles. It was not the season Igbinoghene expected, and it was not the season expected from him.
Heading into his third season, the potential that had him selected in the first round has to turn into performance on the field. With Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and Nik Needham seemingly locked in as the top three cornerbacks on the depth chart, the 2020 first-round pick just needs to prove he is reliable as a depth option while growing toward a potential starting role in the future.
The good news is, there is time for that growth. Igbinoghene is only 22 years old; he turns 23 on November 27, with Miami hosting the Houston Texans that day. That game will include the return of former Dolphins first-round pick turned Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The Dolphins traded Tunsil to the Texans in 2019, receiving in part a 2020 first-round pick, a pick that was then traded to the Green Bay Packers as Miami moved back from the 26th position to the 30th spot, where they selected Igbinoghene.
The Dolphins currently have 17 rookies listed on their roster, including drafted and undrafted players. Offensive lineman Blaise Andries, defensive tackle Owen Carney, tight end Tanner Conner, offensive lineman Kellen Diesch, outside linebacker Cameron Goode, cornerback Elijah Hamilton, punter Tommy Heatherly, linebacker Deandre Johnson, cornerback Kader Kohou, wide receiver Braylon Sanders, defensive lineman Ben Stille, quarterback Skylar Thompson, running back ZaQuandre White, and defensive lineman Jordan Williams are all rookies this year, and all of them are older than Igbinoghene.
In fact, Igbinoghene is the sixth youngest player on the team, behind only rookies wide receiver Erik Ezukanma, safety Verone McKinley III, and linebacker Channing Tindall, along with second-year players safety Jevon Holland and cornerback Trill Williams.
Two years of NFL experience and younger than most of the rookies entering the league is not a bad place to be if Igbinoghene can put it all together this year. He sounds like he knows he has an opportunity to prove himself to a new coaching staff this summer.
“It’s starting off really good,” Igbinoghene said after practice this week. “We’re in OTAs right now. It’s an everyday process, so just keep going every single day and just get better. That’s really my main focus. If I keep working, it’s going to turn out in my favor.”
The Dolphins have been giving veteran players off time during the offseason workout program, including the organized team activities (OTAs) mentioned by Igbinoghene. Tuesday’s practice included cornerback Xavien Howard not participating, giving Igbinoghene an opportunity for more repetitions against Miami’s top receivers, including Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. “It’s big time because those are two really good receivers,” Igbinoghene said. “Just to be able to go against them, there aren’t a lot of guys like that in the league. Just to be able to go against them, a lot of receivers are not as good as them. Their speed and the way they catch the ball and stuff like that, just to be able to go against them is a blessing to have them on my team.”
“Noah has a high motor, super competitive,” Needham said after the practice. “Every day he’s bringing it, no matter what. If it’s a little drill, like I have to do a little receiver drill, he’s going to go full speed. You have nothing but to respect that. I respect his game and he’s getting more comfortable out there.”
Igbinoghene had one of the highlight plays of the practice, breaking up a pass when he undercut the route. “It’s a lot of confidence,” he said of how a play like that helps him continue to improve. “But like I said, I’ve got to come back and do it again the next play and do it again the next play and do it again. I’m not saying that play doesn’t matter, but I’ve got to be able to move on. That’s what playing corner is. You’ve got to have a strong mental as well as physical.”
As for what the first two years in the league, and the struggles associated with them, could teach him, Igbinoghene explained, “Approaching every day, just to get better every single day. And be present on that day and not worry about the past or future. Like you said, the past two years have been rocky for me. So not to worry about none of that, not to worry about my future. Just take today and worry about today and focus on today and get better today. Take that same plan and routine, take it to tomorrow and do the same thing as well.”
Those struggles are not going to beat Igbinoghene, however. “I’ve always had a strong mental, especially how I grew up with my parents. They’ve always been really hard on me discipline-wise. That’s not something I really worry about,” the corner explained. “Like coach said, football will humble you real quick. It’s really learning that. Being in the league is a whole different experience than being in college. You might not get humbled like that (in college). So in the league, you have to be able to wipe off the bad plays and wipe off the good plays because you have to come back again and do it again. It’s really been about consistency. It’s not really about doing it one play. That’s really what my focus is. It’s about being consistent on a day-to-day basis and a play-to-play bases. Just doing that time after time after time. If I do that, something beautiful will happen.”
The Dolphins and Igbinoghene are hoping his third season becomes that something beautiful.