Dolphins have an apparent starting secondary in place, but Miami could look for depth at defensive back

You probably weren’t finding many people predicting the Miami Dolphins’ first 2023 draft choice would be a cornerback. Not after acquiring the elite talent of Jalen Ramsey earlier that offseason.

They used that first pick, a second-round selection, on South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith.

Even as it’s once again unlikely the Dolphins would go defensive back the first time they’re on the clock in 2024, the possibility can never be counted out due to general manager Chris Grier’s propensity to take who he believes is the best player available at a given point in the draft, regardless of position.

Miami has what appears to be a set starting secondary before it heads into the draft, which runs April 25-27.

Ramsey is back for what could be a first season where he enters healthy for the Dolphins. He tore the meniscus in a knee early in his first training camp, and it cost him the first seven weeks of the regular season. Ramsey made the Pro Bowl nonetheless, as he has in each of his seven seasons since his rookie year, to go with three All-Pro selections.

The pairing of him and longtime Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard was limited to just a handful of games between injuries that each sustained last year. Now, Howard has been released, designated as a post-June 1 cut, meaning the $18.5 million the team freed up from the move becomes available at that time.

As the cornerback slated to start opposite Ramsey, the Dolphins signed Kendall Fuller in free agency. He has 16 interceptions in eight NFL seasons, was mostly strong in coverage for the Washington Commanders last year, but also gave up some deep touchdowns, including in his December meeting with Miami and star wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

At safety, the Dolphins have 2021 second-round pick Jevon Holland entering his fourth and final season on his rookie contract. The team will have a decision to make this offseason on whether they can extend his deal or play out the final season.

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DeShon Elliott and Brandon Jones, both who started alongside Holland in Miami’s secondary, moved on in free agency — Elliott to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jones to the Denver Broncos.

The Dolphins took from a division rival to find their next starting safety, Jordan Poyer, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. He brings a Pro Bowl, an All-Pro and 11 seasons of NFL experience with him, but he turns 33 later this month. He also can be instrumental in the continued development of Holland while being a fountain of knowledge on the team the Dolphins are trying to catch in the AFC East.

Some expect Miami, under new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver, to deploy some three-safety looks. The team doesn’t have that clear-cut option for such formations on the roster yet, so drafting a safety at some point could be in play. Another safety would be needed regardless for depth, with special teamer Elijah Campbell also a capable backup defensively in that role.

When the Dolphins go into the nickel, they still have Kader Kohou for that role. He could use a bounce-back year after teams seemed to attack him successfully when avoiding Ramsey and Howard in 2023. But Weaver should also be more willing to move his “ultimate chess piece,” Ramsey, around to shadow an opponent’s top receiver than last year’s coordinator, Vic Fangio, was. That should, in turn, put Kohou in better spots.

Under Fangio in 2023, Smith was basically a no-show on defense, trusted to play just 20 snaps defensively. It’s a key offseason for his development to start to become a defender worthy of playing time.

Nik Needham was brought back for a sixth season in Miami, and he’s a candidate to get back into the mix for defensive snaps as he’s now another year removed from the Achilles tear that cut his 2022 campaign short. Eli Apple, depended on largely by Fangio in 2023, was not re-signed and remains a free agent.

Joining Poyer as former Bills secondary mates turned Dolphins this offseason is Siran Neal, who comes in primarily as a special teams ace but could provide cornerback depth.

Ethan Bonner, who ended up playing more defensive snaps than Smith last season as an undrafted rookie, spent most of the year on the practice squad and will get a chance to compete for a roster spot.

The Dolphins are sure to be adding both cornerbacks and safeties to the offseason and eventual training camp roster.

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