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A path for Cam Smith to see playing time in 2023

Miami’s rookies didn’t do much in 2022 — will that change in 2023?

Clemson v South Carolina Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

After months of projecting which players the Miami Dolphins may select — it’s now time to project how much playing time they may see throughout the 2023 season.

Mike McDaniel took over as the team’s head coach ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft and Miami made only four selections after trading a war chest of picks to the Kansas Chiefs for Tyreek Hill.

While third-round pick Channing Tindell was active for 16 games, seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson was the only draft pick to log considerable action with the team after quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater suffered injuries. With that in mind, Marvin Allen, Miami’s assistant general manager, noted that both Tindell and fourth-round pick Erik Ezukanma weren’t expected to have much of an impact in 2022.

“I think when we selected them, we knew the progression for both of them would be in the future,” Allen said on April 19. “So you get guys and you want to give them a chance to sit back and learn and do some things on special teams, but knowing that their value would be much more down the line than it was immediately.”

Speaking to Allen’s point and removing injuries, here is a pathway for each of Miami’s 2023 draft picks to see playing time in 2023.

No. 51: Cam Smith, Cornerback

Miami Herald reporter Barry Jackson hit the nail on the head after noting that the Dolphins may not necessarily use the draft to address roster needs.

The Dolphins traded for Jalen Ramsey and even before adding Smith, he felt this was the best group of defensive backs he’s been around. On top of that, Vic Fangio mentioned that he spent the last year as a “college professor.”

“Basically what I did with all my time was I kind of treated it like a college professor on a sabbatical and was watching a lot of NFL tape, more from a situational standpoint rather than studying a team per se,” he said on Feb. 20.

With all this in mind, it’s hard to imagine Miami won’t have packages with four — maybe even five corners — on the field, but it’s an uphill battle for Smith to leapfrog a few players and see time on the field.

Nik Needham and Trill Williams are returning from injuries after missing the 2022 season and Kader Kohou out-performed his label as an undrafted free agent by playing in 15 games last season.

Since Needham, Williams, and Kohou are returning players, Smith may not get his chance to showcase his strengths until the pads come on in training camp and throughout the preseason.

A tough, physical, 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback, he has the traits to step in as a slot cornerback in Fangio’s zone system. Smith shined due to his anticipation and showcased the ability to read both quarterbacks and wide receivers. While he played 357 snaps out wide, he also played 196 yards in the slot.

At times, Smith panicked and grabbed receivers — resulting in 10 penalties throughout the 2022 season, according to Pro Football Focus. This could be an issue, especially early in his career, but Fangio’s off-ball defense could be the perfect opportunity to negate it early on.

In 2020, Fangio’s leveraged a nickel defense 66 percent of the time as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Looking ahead to 2023, Xavien Howard is the team’s top boundary receiver while Ramsey has lined up all over the field as a cornerback in the body of a linebacker.

Whether it’s injuries — or simply getting better week by week — Smith will have opportunities throughout the season. It will be a process, but if the 2021 second-team All-SEC cornerback showcases his instincts and limits penalties — Fangio could hypothetically play to everyone’s strength and unleash a defense that features the instincts of Smith and Ramsey inside while Kohou and Howard guard the boundaries.

The 2023 NFL Draft class featured just four players and with McDaniel entering his second year calling the shots, we’ll have to wait and see if Miami’s four rookies can hit the ground running, or if the franchise prefers to use 2023 as a metaphorical red-shirt season.