Another year removed from Achilles tear, Nik Needham can give Dolphins a versatile DB

MIAMI GARDENS — Nik Needham has made his mark with the Miami Dolphins as a nickel cornerback since he first made the team as an undrafted rookie back in 2019.

He’s been a valuable member of the secondary, capable of moving from covering the slot to going out to the boundary and even once playing safety when one was needed.

A torn Achilles in October of 2022 put his production for the Dolphins on hold for a while.

He was still recovering through training camp ahead of last season and wasn’t activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list until late October, about a full calendar year from his placement on injured reserve the previous season.

He saw action in 10 games after that, but all in very limited snap counts off the bench, along with some sporadic work on special teams.

Miami, this offseason, could’ve felt Needham’s time with the franchise had run its course, but the Dolphins brought him back this offseason to compete for reps in what will be a little bit of a new-look secondary with new veteran starters in cornerback Kendall Fuller and safety Jordan Poyer slotted to slide in for Xavien Howard and DeShon Elliott, respectively.

As the team shifts defensive coordinators, from Vic Fangio to Anthony Weaver, Needham, 27, was viewed as someone who can still contribute given a fair chance another year removed from the Achilles tear.

“A whole 180 in the mindset,” Needham said at organized team activities the past week of being a healthy participant in offseason workouts this year. “Last year coming off injury, battling, keep getting injured while I was trying to come back, it was just messing my head up. I was kind of down and just wasn’t in the right headspace.

“This year, I’m back to myself, I feel confident. I’m not out hurting.”

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And he is not limited to merely playing cornerback this year.

Needham has progressively seen more practice reps at safety this offseason, presenting another backup option there behind Poyer and Jevon Holland, alongside special teams standout Elijah Campbell.

“At corner, it’s really your physical abilities,” Needham said. “It’s one-on-one, you verse the guy right in front of you. When you move to safety, you kind of control the whole defense. You have to understand how to put guys in certain positions and in certain situations what to do. I think that’s probably the hardest part, but I feel like I’m a capable guy and versatile enough that I can handle the workload and play corner, safety, nickel, linebacker.

“Whatever they need me to play, I’m going to play.”

Needham isn’t entirely new to safety. He played it some in 2021 after multiple injuries on the unit. Upon his return from rehab in 2023, he practiced at the position but would’ve only played it in a game in the case of an emergency.

Poyer, who comes over after 11 NFL seasons, the last seven with the rival Buffalo Bills, has been a resource for Needham in learning safety.

“He’s helped tremendously,” Needham said. “I told him he’s one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met in the league. Our first day, he was super open, wants everyone to learn from him. He’s not trying to act like, ‘I’m the big 12-year vet.’ He’s very open.”

Needham revealed that Poyer actually had the defensive backs over to his house for a dinner Memorial Day weekend.

“We haven’t done that as a DB group since I’ve been here,” Needham said. “Having that, I feel like, will create more camaraderie and have us be successful on the field, because we’ll really know each other. It’s not just going out and playing and, ‘see you at work.’ We can actually create a bond, and he’s the one that started that with everybody.”

At safety, the Dolphins also drafted rookie Patrick McMorris out of California in the sixth round. They have undrafted free agents Mark Perry (TCU) and Jordan Colbert (Rhode Island) competing for a roster spot.