2 1/2 months from now, the 2016 Miami Dolphins training camp will commence. Competition will be plentiful. Gather around the campfire. It's story time. Today's story: the epic battle of Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett. Remember to pass it to the left.
Winning competitions is the name of the game in the NFL, and the 2016 Miami Dolphins training camp will be no different. This is the first installment of the "Training Camp Battle" series, and it will look at players that will be vying for starting positions. We swing for the fences right off the bat with one of the more volatile positions on the Dolphins roster: CB. Who emerges as the boundary corner opposite Byron Maxwell? Is it Xavien Howard or Tony Lippett? (The potential for a Leon Hall signing would obviously sway the nature of this battle.)
Why Xavien Howard Will Win:
We traded up to get him. I think that adds ammunition to prove that it was a successful move, and you do that by starting him early. If the competition is close, you go with Howard, and hope that pressure molds him into a seasoned star as it does coal into a diamond. He has the measurables; he was the "prototype" the front office spoke of in terms of size and movement. Here's the ball of clay for Vance Joseph to put his stamp on the secondary, and to begin concocting that evil potion of slaying opposing offense.
For a glimpse into what this guy can do, look no further than my man Josh Houtz's Phinsider article.
He's long and athletic. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Sammy Watkins are AFC East targets that demand that combination. The 3 aforementioned receivers each inflicted havoc in our secondary last year, and it's clear we needed to matchup better. The question will become if he can consistently have good technique to prove a worthy adversary to these AFC East WR's.
Why Tony Lippett Will Win:
Xavien Howard is just as "raw" as Tony Lippett, so that argument doesn't separate the two. If the rumors are true about the Dolphins' willingness to trade up for Myles Jack, then you have to deduce that they were willing to go into 2016 with Tony Lippett as starting cornerback, or at the very least a competition between him and a (presumably) 3rd or 4th round pick (depending on what they gave up in hypothetical trade).
Vance Joseph has mentioned this guy's name in press conferences already. He's not a forgotten man. His tape at the end of 2015 justifies an increase in his floor AND ceiling: most notably, the outstretched lunge deflection he made in Week 17 against the New England Patriots***. If you're interested in PFF rankings, if Lippett qualified for the minimum snap count (Lippett had 137 snaps), he would've been our highest ranked corner, with a better pass coverage grade than Brent Grimes - he would've been a top 50 NFL CB, if ranked, and he barely missed the minimum snap threshold.
If it's a true competition, and with a year under his belt, Tony Lippett might nudge his way into the starting lineup with his own blend of size and athleticism. Lippett is 6'3", 192; Howard is 6'0", 201. Although it was a small sample size, Tony Lippett showed me enough to think he's not only capable of the transition back to CB and play it at an NFL level, but he can also become an important member of this defense and create better matchup scenarios going against taller WR's.
I think this competition will be closer than some think. They both have size and length. They're both considered raw, and too young to confidently project. A 2nd round pick is considerable draft value, not to mention a trade up - but in this league, even that doesn't guarantee you a starting gig. The difference in money in their respective contracts doesn't put pressure on the organization to start any particular person - they can feel comfortable going with the best player without any public relations paranoia, as a 2nd round pick waiting in the wings wouldn't be the worst worst case scenario because it will be because a Day 3 pick has outperformed his worth in draft capital and, hopefully, earned his position there.
SUTTON's Probability: 55% Howard/45% Lippett
What are your thoughts? Who will be starting opposite Byron Maxwell: Xavien Howard or Tony Lippett? Or is it neither, and we try to sign Leon Hall more aggressively? My gut says no, but we'll see! Let's hear it in the Comments section everyone.
Phins up from the SUTTON family!