There can be no question now that the new Dolphins regime likes its corners the same way Americans like their value meals:
Cornerback-needy Miami didn’t mess around Friday, trading up four spots to select Baylor corner Xavien Howard with the 38th overall pick.
The Dolphins traded their fourth-rounder (the 107th pick overall) to Baltimore to make sure they didn’t miss out on a weeks-long target.
Howard expects to live up to their expectations. He told Miami reporters Friday that his mind-set is he’ll be a starter in 2016.
“They’re expecting me to come in and make plays,” Howard said.
He fits the template: 6-foot, 201 pounds who can play physically at the line of scrimmage.
“I love to press,” he added.
He better. Howard won’t be able to rely on his speed. He ran a 4.58-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Howard was a two-year starter in Waco, where he led the Bears in interceptions (five) and passes defensed (15) en route to first-team All-Big 12 honors.
The Dolphins settled on Howard after the Jaguars snapped up Miami’s first choice for the second round, Myles Jack, with the 36th pick.
After Jack was gone, they zeroed in on Howard, who became the sixth corner off the board this weekend.
The front office sensed a run on corners was about to begin, so it moved up four spots to make sure it didn’t miss out.
“This is a prototype player,” general manager Chris Grier said.
“It’s a core position — premium need for us. This guy checks all the boxes in terms of height, weight, speed, competitiveness, toughness. This was a player that was a target player for us and when the opportunity arrived for us to make a play to get him, we jumped at it.”
Grier added: “This guy is ultra competitive. He’s an alpha. ... We hold this guy in high regard.”
In the end, the run on corners never materialized. No other cornerback went before the team’s original pick, 42nd overall. That doesn’t mean Howard would have been available if the Dolphins stayed put, however.
It wasn’t worth the gamble for Miami, which had the franchise’s worst-ever pass defense in 2015. Opposing teams had a passer rating of 97.4 against the Dolphins last year, the highest mark in team history.
With Howard in the fold, the team’s offseason secondary makeover is all but complete.
Brent Grimes, Brice McCain and Louis Delmas are out. In are Byron Maxwell, Isa Abdul-Quddus and now Howard, who will compete with Tony Lippett, Jamar Taylor and Bobby McCain for the starting job.
Before Friday night, Lippett had the early edge, but none of the three was overly impressive during this week’s voluntary minicamp.
That’s why Howard was so important to the team.
If all goes according to plan, he and Maxwell (6-1) together will give the Dolphins their biggest cornerback tandem in recent memory.
New coordinator Vance Joseph prefers it that way. No longer will the Dolphins play off-man. Any receiver who gets separation will have to earn it.
The Dolphins see similarities between Maxwell and Howard.
The rookie corner does, too.
“Being physical and being pressing a lot, I could see that,” Howard acknowledged.
And how does he expect to contribute as a rookie?
“With my ball skills and being physical,” he said.
“I’m working on my technique and stuff like that. I’m sure the coach is going to get me better in my technique and stuff like that. I got faith in myself that I can do the job.”
▪ The Dolphins finally got their running back.
And he came cheaper than anyone they missed out on in free agency.
Miami took Alabama running back Kenyan Drake in the third round Friday, adding a career backup who averaged a gaudy 6.4 yards per carry in four seasons at Tuscaloosa. The Dolphins selected Drake with the 73rd overall pick.
“This was definitely a surprise,” said Drake, who visited the Dolphins before the draft. “A real dream come true.”
Drake was never the featured back at Alabama (he was behind Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry), but has a chance to become the starter in Miami.
The Dolphins weren’t done, moving back into the third round to take Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo.
The 6-foot, 211-pound wideout went over 1,000 yards receiving as a junior and caught 10 touchdown passes as a senior.
They traded with the Vikings to get back into the third round, taking Carroo with the 86th overall pick.