Throughout the years, the Miami Dolphins have many had elite cornerbacks. Guys like Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Brent Grimes, and more recently, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, have been stars of the defense. But while many of those players were highly touted, the Brian Flores regime has found a diamond in the rough in former Undrafted Free Agent Nik Needham.
Coming out of college, Needham wasn’t looked at as a high round prospect. He lacked refinement, often over-extending in press man and taking too long to process in zone. But what he lacked in technique, he made up for in athleticism, running a 4.3 40 yard dash and displaying a high motor.
The raw traits weren’t enough for Needham, however, who went undrafted in 2019. But Dolphins head coach Brian Flores saw something that others didn’t, signing him as a UDFA. Profiling as a high motor player with a high ceiling, Miami looked to develop the former UTEP prospect.
Needham’s rookie season started off rough, as he was on the wrong end of many big plays in preseason. Showing many of the same issues that he did in college, he was consistently being targeted. This prompted many to question his role on the team, but Flores continued to give him playing time.
As the season progressed, Needham got better and better. Working on the outside, he was often matched up with number 1 receivers, and he didn’t disappoint. Over the last 9 games of the season, Miami went 5-4, mainly behind their young defense led by their stud CB. Needham was constantly getting pass-breakups and was grading highly on sites such as Pro Football Focus.
After a pleasantly surprising rookie campaign, Needham had a change of scenery. After Xavien Howard came back from injury and the team signed Byron Jones, Miami figured that Needham would be best used in the slot. Allowing him to be on the field for over 59 percent of defensive snaps, Needham shined in his new role.
Although Miami drafted CB Noah Igbinoghene in 2020, Needham was starting and playing at a high level on the inside. He consistently covered the league’s top slot WR’s, and found himself being targeted heavily (due to the elite talents on the outside).
But even with his new position, he remained a constant on this defense, snagging 2 INT’s and 7 pass defenses. Needham’s play continued to improve, as he showed that he has star potential in Miami.
Over the past offseason, Miami brought in several corners, most notably Jason McCourty and Justin Coleman. Both of which have plenty of experience on the inside, where Needham played last year. Despite his play in 2020, Needham has been listed as an outside cornerback, behind DPOY nominee Xavien Howard.
But in the Brian Flores regime, we know that the depth chart doesn’t always portray what is on the field. For instance, Needham was starting on the inside against the Bears last Saturday (with Howard and Jones out). In the same spot that he played in 2020, Needham showed why he started last year over his competition. He was the 3rd highest graded Dolphins player, per PFF. He logged impressive stops, pass breakups and tackles, showing his elite potential
No matter where Needham lines up, players, coaches and fans know that he is a weapon. His ability to perform at a high level on the inside and out is a rare one among corners, and Miami has definitely relied on him in key spots.
From an undrafted player to a rising star, Needham’s development has been fun to watch, and Dolphins fans should be excited to see how he continues to progress throughout his NFL career.