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Tyreek Hill named fifth-best wide receiver in NFL; Xavien Howard fourth-ranked cornerback

Miami Dolphins OTAs Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

ESPN is currently running through their annual best players in the NFL list, breaking the rankings into the top ten players at each position. The rankings are created, according to author Jeremy Fowler, through a survey of more than 50 league executives, scouts, and players. Through Wednesday, the edge rushers, defensive tackles, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, interior offensive linemen, quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers have been released; Thursday will add the tight ends and Friday will conclude this year’s list with the offensive tackles.

Thus far, the Miami Dolphins have had two players rank in the top ten at their respective positions, while two more are closing in on making the lists. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill, for whom Miami traded this offseason, came in at number five on the list. He follows Davante Adams from the Las Vegas Raiders, Cooper Kupp from Los Angeles Rams, Ja’Marr Chase from the Cincinnati Bengals, and Justin Jefferson from the Minnesota Vikings. Hills was ranked fourth last year and has been as high as second on previous versions of the listing and as low as ninth. Of Hill, Fowler wrote:

People around the league understand why the Dolphins gave up several high picks via a trade with Kansas City for the right to sign Hill to a massive four-year, $120 million deal. He changes everything an offense can do.

“I’m so glad he doesn’t play for the Chiefs anymore,” said an AFC personnel evaluator. “I know they will still be good, but I don’t think they will be the same. You can’t be. That level of speed, he’s like Steph Curry in that he keeps you in every game, keeps you honest, keeps you scared.”

Over his past three healthy seasons, Hill averaged 95 catches, 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. And since 2020, he totaled 15 catches over that time in which he hit at least 20 miles per hour, more than double any other receiver (per NFL Next Gen Stats).

His splash plays were down slightly in 2021, with 13 catches of 20-plus yards and just three catches of 40-plus yards (compared to 19 and five, respectively, the previous year), and he also dropped a career-high seven passes. But Hill also upped his reception total from 87 to 111 as the Chiefs had to adjust to defenses trying to take away Hill’s length-of-field explosion.

“If you can pair him with the right quarterbacks, he can be No. 1 or 2 and justify it,” the evaluator said. “Very underrated route runner. People don’t talk about how good he is at running routes and how good his hands are. Extremely natural and extremely strong. He’s a different level. Not sure if you can do anything against him.”

At corrnerback, Xavien Howard landed at fourth on the listing after being third last year. He has previously been as high as number one and as low as 10th. He falls behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, New Orleans Saints’ Marshon Lattimore, and Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander. About Howard, Fowler explains:

Voters who love physical man coverage all game long have no problem putting Howard No. 1.

“Lockdown man-to-man player but high football IQ,” an NFL coordinator said. “When you play as much man as the Dolphins play, you shouldn’t or wouldn’t expect to have all of the ball production he does.”

Added a high-ranking AFC executive: “I’ve seen him make too many plays on the ball over too many years not to have him high.”

Howard is staking his claim as the King of Ball Production. Consider that over his past three seasons with at least 12 games played — he missed most of 2019 — Howard is averaging an interception every two games. That’s 22 picks in 44 contests. So any time Howard walks into a season, expect eight takeaways. And coaches are impressed he can do that in man coverage, with his back to the quarterback most of the time and featured in a blitz-heavy defense.

“His pre-snap awareness of the offense, how the wide receiver stems and overall awareness of alignments tell him when to take his shots,” the coordinator said.

Howard’s 16 passes defended last season tied for sixth in the NFL, and per NFL Next Gen Stats, he allowed a completion on 51.9% of the throws in his direction.

At safety, Miami’s Jevon Holland claimed the top honorable mention position, with Fowler writing:

Holland was excellent as a rookie, pushing for the top 10 after two interceptions, 2.5 sacks and 11 pass breakups last season. Players making the jump to the top 10 after one NFL season are top-billed talents who matched the hype, and Holland was close to joining them. “Given what he’s asked to do, he’s elite,” said a high-ranking NFL exec, citing his ability to hold down the back end for a blitz-heavy Miami attack. “Really high upside, can find the ball, redirect in space,” an NFL personnel evaluator said. “I want to see him do it again before saying he’s a top-10 guy.”

For the defensive tackle position, Dolphins’ lineman Christian Wilkins did not make the honorable mention listing, but was included in the “also receiving votes” category. Both Holland and Wilkins could continue to move up with respective strong seasons this year.

The lists will likely have to be revisited over the next couple of days as tight end Mike Gesicki and offensive tackle Terron Armstead could both land on their respective position rankings as they are released.

Miami is starting to build a team that should receive national attention. The team just needs to start having success based on the individual exceptionalism they are starting to show.