Even after signing Nate Allen and suspended T.J. McDonald in free agency, the Dolphins are searching for a young safety who could be developed as a longterm solution to play alongside Reshad Jones.
And we hear they’re using at least two of their 30 permitted visits on a couple of intriguing safety prospects: North Carolina State’s Josh Jones and Texas A&M’s Justin Evans.
According to sources, both have been summoned to team headquarters to meet with Dolphins executives and coaches in the coming weeks.
Josh Jones had eight interceptions in three seasons and 109 tackles last year. Evans had four interceptions last season.
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Here’s what Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said about Jones on the NFL’s draft site:
SUMMARY: Jones was not a household name outside of the Research Triangle during his time at North Carolina State, and was snubbed for all-conference honors by ACC coaches. League media recognized that he was an impact defender for the Wolfpack, however, giving him honorable mention notice in 2016 after he led the team with 109 tackles (four for loss) and three interceptions, also breaking up eight passes. Jones had started eight games as a true freshman, finishing second in the ACC with four interceptions (he also had seven pass break-ups for the year). In 2015, he was a solid starter but lacked many big plays (63 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one INT, two PBU).
STRENGTHS: Possesses prototypical combination of size and speed. Has acceleration and top-end speed to range all over the field. Plus athletic ability and reactive quickness. Has ability to disguise his coverage before sprinting back to centerfield. Has experience with both safety spots. Fluid in his movement and is an explosive leaper when challenging at the high-point. Has the ball skills to rake it or take it. Plays with eager eyes that stay glued to quarterback's intentions. Has the closing burst to challenge throws. Extremely aggressive. Bouncy feet can't wait to fire downhill and hit something. Accelerates through the collision. Does a good job of punching and playing off of blockers.
WEAKNESSES: His aggression is a double-edged sword. Will come in too hot looking to lay the lumber and end up missing his mark as a tackler. Needs to do better job of coming to balance as a tackler. From zone coverage, can be a little slow to anticipate routes and squeeze the throwing windows. Gets hyper-focused on quarterback and will lose track of his assignments. Will bite on play-action bait and get drawn out of position.
SOURCES TELL US: "This guy would just as soon hit you as look at you on the football field. Hey, it's fun to watch his tape because he's already got that NFL mentality to him, but he gets way out of control too. I saw that early on in the tape. You've got to rein him in a little bit." - AFC defensive backs coach
BOTTOM LINE: Jones is a height-weight-speed prospect to be sure, but he's not just a traits-based safety. Jones has the appetite for hitting that teams will want around the box and he has the speed and ball skills to range and help against vertical threats from a deep safety spot. The big area of concern will be Jones' ability to play with better discipline in coverage and as a tackler. He has the ability to become a good, long-time starter in the league.
And here’s what Zierlein said on NFL.com about Evans (who is pictured above running back a kickoff return):
STRENGTHS Tremendous athlete who was heralded as a baseball pitcher, and receiver and defensive back in football coming out of high school. Has feet and hips for easy toggle between backpedal and angled shuffle as high safety. Ball skills of a slot receiver. Plays with excellent passion for the game. Can snare at the highest point thanks to well-timed leaps, great arm extension and supple hands. Big accelerator to close out crossing routes and disrupt the passing lane. Very good plant-and-go twitch. Looks to make plays taking aggressive routes to the ball. Logged four interceptions and seven pass breakups as a senior. Fast with ability to range over the top from high safety. Seeks out collisions and doesn't shrink from contact. Completely laid-out Alabama's Derrick Henry during hit in 2015 game. Wrap-up tackler who explodes into target and runs his feet through the finish.
WEAKNESSES Needs improved eye-balance. Has issues splitting focus between ball and man. From second level, hyper-focuses on receiver keys and is late finding running back headed his way. Aggressive nature could make him a play-action target on pro level. Instincts dwindle the further away from line of scrimmage he goes. Inconsistent seeing and breaking on throws from high safety. Needs to come to balance in tackle-ready position more quickly on third-level stops. His heart is bigger than his body. Needs more bulk to withstand fallout from his physical play. Gets stuck to blocking tight ends from slot and struggles to unglue.
SOURCES TELL US "His interception against UCLA at the beginning of the year was one of those plays that not many safeties can make. But I'm worried about his missed tackles. Hard hits are great for Sportscenter or YouTube but getting guys to the ground is top priority." -- Front-office executive for AFC team
SUMMARY: Plays the game with an elevated sense of urgency and excitement. He is a little undersized, but has plus speed, is an extremely physical hitter and can play deep or near the line of scrimmage. Athleticism and ball skills might lead a team to test him out as a slot corner. Regardless of where he plays, he has the talent to become a plus NFL starter and a potential Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) draft selection.
Besides Jones and Allen, the Dolphins also have Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens at safety, though Aikens didn’t play a defensive snap last season.
McDonald, a former Rams starter who was signed by the Dolphins on Friday, isn’t eligible to return from his league suspension until game nine.