INDIANAPOLIS – Miami has its safeties Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald under contract for at least the next four years, as both players signed new contract during the 2017 offseason. Jones and McDonald are both hard-hitting safeties, who enjoy coming downhill and lowering the boom on ball carriers, but the coaching staff has explicitly expressed they are more than versatile enough to thrive together.
Following the Dolphins Week 9 loss to the Raiders, defensive coordinator Matt Burke reaffirmed his belief that Jones and McDonald have the requisite athleticism to patrol the backend of Miami’s defense.
“You see a 6-foot-3, 225 pound safety and you assume [he can’t play deep],” Burke said. It was probably a bias I had when we signed him. … I thought that was one of the pleasant things about him we noticed in the spring. He’s a tall kid that can range back there too. … It’s just human nature to say ‘lets put this big guy in the box and that’s where he is.’ But we try to find safeties that are multidimensional; multitalented that can do different things that don’t hamstring a play-caller or defensive scheme. So I don’t have any reservations about putting those guys back in the backend.”
When offenses find mismatches against Miami’s defense, they’re able to go up-tempo preventing the defense from substituting. At some point a team has to line up and play, which is why finding versatile players this offseason will be critical to their success in 2018.
While speaking to the media during the first day of the 2018 NFL Combine Gase underscored the importance of finding players on defense capable of playing multiple positions.
“We’re always looking for [versatile players] just like everybody else is, especially this time of year,” Gase said. It’s just finding the right guys that fit what we’re looking to do. I know [defensive coordinator] Matt’s [Burke] always looking for ways to tighten down our defense. What do we do well? That’s really what we’ve been talking about. We’re just going to keep working on that as we go through the offseason.”
There’s no reason to believe Jones and McDonald won’t be the Dolphins’ starting safeties in 2018. However, if the team chooses to find versatile safeties with greater range and pattern-matching ability than the incumbent, there are five in attendance at the NFL Combine:
Holton Hill, Texas
Hill is labeled a cornerback but he’d be a tremendous fit as center-fielding safety who can drop down into the slot and cover when necessary. Due to suspension, Hill started just nine games in his junior season, but in those nine games he collected three pick-sixes. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, evaluators are fawning over his above average size for the cornerback position, but due to his range, ball-skills tackling ability, he could become a perennial Pro-Bowl safety sooner rather than later.
Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin
Former wide receivers who make the transition to the defensive side of the football have a tendency to always be around the football, and that’s exactly what Jamerson brings to the table. When asked to cover receivers, he stays glued to his man and he also is not afraid to come downhill and bring down opposing running backs. Jamerson graded out as Footballgameplan.com’s No. 1 free safety because of his range and versatility, and rightfully so.
Justin Reid, Stanford
Reid is one of the cleanest prospects in the 2018 NFL draft, as there isn’t much he’s not capable of. Reid has the range to be a center fielding safety, but he can also cover in the slot, and is physical enough to play in the box. In 11 games, Reid posted 99 tackles, five interceptions and six pass breakups. Outside of, Hill Reid is the best blend of range, ball skills and intelligence at the safety position.
Kelly Kameron, San Diego State
Kameron is another former wide receiver tremendous length, ball skills and range. He began his career with the Aztecs as a safety but made the transition to cornerback in 2017. Kameron picked off three passes last season, and his play at cornerback is intoxicating, for teams that value size at the cornerback position. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he has the range, pattern recognition and physicality to be an impact safety.
Armani Watts, Texas A&M
At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, many believe Watts to be undersized, but he certainly doesn’t play like it. In his final season at Texas A&M, Watts was in on 87 tackles (10 for loss) and pulled down four interceptions. Watts has a knack for finding the football and despite his perceived lack of size, he is capable of pestering tight ends and larger receivers as they typically have difficulty separating from him. He also is an outstanding athlete who has the ability to compete for 50-50 balls.