Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins will have no chance in 2016 if they don’t draft a cornerback

Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell is the lone starter back from last year’s team.
Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell is the lone starter back from last year’s team.

The arching pass launched like a rocket from Ryan Tannehill’s right hand falls into the arms of DeVante Parker 40 yards away, and the gold at the end of this rainbow is a long practice touchdown that suggests good days and exciting plays are on the horizon for the Miami Dolphins pass offense.

Except for, you know, the part about this being practice. And as the Dolphins offense is working against the Dolphins defense, there’s a price to pay for this cool success.

And this play, the debt falls on young project cornerback Tony Lippett, who was badly beaten for the score.

Then there’s that other electric practice moment this week when Tannehill connects with Jarvis Landry on another deep pass that cuts a post-pattern slice through the heart of the secondary.

Another great offensive moment.

Except this time, Jamar Taylor is the victimized cornerback trailing a big play that he’s responsible for preventing.

These are only two snapshots that should mean nothing to the Dolphins once the regular season starts in Seattle almost five months from now. But these fleeting pictures of what troubling lows this defense is capable of should mean everything to the organization once the NFL Draft gets under way Thursday night.

The two otherwise meaningless plays are vivid reminders of how badly the Dolphins need to upgrade at cornerback during this draft.

And if that reminder has somehow faded in the minds of the men running the Dolphins’ draft the next three days, allow me to assist with a refresher:

The Dolphins last year allowed 4,000 passing yards. It was the 21st-worst mark in the NFL and was the fourth time in five years the club has allowed opposing quarterbacks to reach or surpass 4,000 passing yards.

The Dolphins allowed a 97.4 rating to opposing quarterbacks. It was the worst in franchise history.

The Dolphins last season gave up 31 passing touchdowns. That tied an inauspicious record set by the 1967 Dolphins for most passing TDs allowed in a season.

The Dolphins secondary was a slice of Swiss cheese in 2015, and the cornerback spot was the holes.

And if that is troubling, consider the cornerbacks on the team at this time last year were better than the current group. Last year, the Dolphins had a Pro Bowl player in Brent Grimes coming off a good season and Brice McCain coming over from Pittsburgh as a serviceable free agent.

This group? It has a (one) starting cornerback in Byron Maxwell.

Ask coach Adam Gase what the team has beyond Maxwell at this stage — months from the start of the season and just before this draft — and you get a lot of hoping for the best.

“I think the guys are competing right now,” Gase said. “And that’s all we can ask for. I just always look back in [2011 with the Broncos], we come out of the draft and no one knew who Chris Harris was. Everybody knows who he is now.

“He’s a $2,000 undrafted college free agent and now he’s one of the best corners in the league. So you let these guys go out, they compete, and then you’re going to find somebody that’s scrappy and figures out a way to get it done. And that’s what we’re looking for.

“And that’s why we have that large group out there. Somebody is going to step up. It’s the NFL. That’s the way it is. We’ll find somebody to play. I mean they’re not going to cancel a game. I know that.”

No games will be cancelled. But it says here if the Dolphins don’t add a starting cornerback in the next three days, the team’s brain trust is going to have to start considering forfeits.

Because in a passing league where teams throw the football 60-65 percent of the time and are in multiple receiver sets around 65-70 percent of the time, a team with a (one) solid starting cornerback is doomed. It gets exposed.

And, with all due respect to the men in the Dolphins cornerback room right now, none has the look of Chris Harris.

All the Dolphins have are guys trying to do the improbable, or guys fighting a negative career narrative, or guys trying to come back from a terrible season, or inexperienced guys trying to make themselves into a cornerback.

Lippett falls into that last category. He has the body (6-3, 200 pounds) and the athletic gifts to be excellent. But he spent most of his college career at wide receiver. So he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know yet.

The Dolphins have put him on a man-press island during the recent voluntary veterans’ minicamp to both give him as many chances to find his inner cornerback while they gauge his progress.

This is a fine way to develop a player. But it is also a terrible place to be if that’s the only plan for finding a starter.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be Miami’s only plan. The Dolphins can and have been scouring draft talent for a tall, physical cornerback who might join the competition or even be the presumptive starter if he’s picked early enough.

Eli Apple of Ohio State is one such candidate. So is Houston’s William Jackson III. Both are likely first-round picks and would starters right away.

Obviously, none of this accounts for the possibility of Miami trading up for linebacker Myles Jack or getting running back Ezekiel Elliott. If that’s what they do in the first round, good for them.

But that means the entire rest of the draft they better have a plan for adding a starting caliber cornerback. Because they need one desperately.

Related stories from Miami Herald