About a year ago today, a certain undrafted free agent rookie was struggling in adapting to his training camp opportunity with the Miami Dolphins. Cornerback Nik Needham, who did not hear his name called during the 2019 NFL Draft, was eventually cut last summer, yet was given a chance to prove his worth on the team’s practice squad.
Never giving up, and forever grinding to hone his craft, Needham changed study habits, training regiments, and even his diet. The California kid, with a smile as bright as the Pacific coast sun, did not become discouraged, yet only ready for his next opportunity.
The journey of Needham is one of inspirational and cinematic quality; a tale I implore you to do your own homework on, as you will find a young man who is literally impossible to root against. A football player who does all the little things off the field, in his tireless effort to be the best he can be at the sport he was truly born to play.
The son of a college football player, and current trainer of several NFL and NCAA players in Steve Calhoun, Needham has football in his DNA. It is with Calhoun in which Needham spent countless off-season hours with at his Armed and Dangerous West coast football camp, running infinite reps against some of the league’s elite.
Calhoun has mentored quarterbacks, wide receivers as well as cornerbacks of course, which all correlate to the overall goal of his camp. Make each of those players the best they can be, while going up against the best. Iron certainly sharpens iron, and the apple does not fall far from this family tree.
Needham spent the winter shadowing and learning from one of the league’s most elite targets in Los Angeles Charger, Keenan Allen. As receivers and corners will tell you, timing is everything, and certainly this is the case as just last night on HBO’s Hard Knock, Allen was featured as one of the NFL’s most uncoverable receivers. Ironically mixed with the timing, was the fact new Charger and former Allen rival in Chris Harris Jr. is now a teammate.
Chris Harris Jr. is one of the league’s best cover-corners. He has earned four Pro-Bowl trips, and is not only a 2-time All-Pro, he was named to the 2010’s All Decade Team.
He went undrafted in 2011. Not bad for a UDFA. And before anyone says how rare success for an UDFA is the last few decades, they have a solid point. Just do not tell that to Malcolm Butler, Brandon Browner, A.J. Bouye and former Miami Dolphins legendary island, Brent Grimes.
The following is a research study done by yours truly a few months ago, after a look at Needham’s stat-line. The UTEP pass-defended record holder (shocking, right?) has accomplished something no other human being in the NFL has officially done.
Nik Needham is the NFL’s only cornerback to be undrafted, and record at least 50 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception in that rookie season. The other 70 undrafted corners since 1982 did not accomplish this.
Heading into 2020, Needham realizes he has another uphill battle for playing time, with free agent Byron Jones and rookie Noah Igbinoghene added to the defensive backfield.
As he meet with Miami reporters via Zoom press-conference on Wednesday morning, he said,"it’s been a real competitive camp for you for sure," he said as he was dripping with practice perspiration and looked as if he worked as hard as any of the guys out there.
Conditioning is something the slimmer Needham has said was his focus in the off-season, telling reporters a story of motivation from last season.
"I failed my 1st conditioning test which was very embarrassing for me. It was a little team joke everybody calling me fat...so it was pushing me the hardest."
In what looked as if a self-reflective inner-promise, Needham confidently said, "Never again was I going to let that happen."
Needham is seeing things clearer now, and even stated, "the difference for me coming into my second year, things are slowing down a little bit; not a little bit, a lot"
A competitive person to begin with, the cornerback room is full of motivational battles to help the individual components equal group success. As a group, Needham says, "we got a push-up contest, at the end of the year." This is adding to a bit more spice from the West brought in by new defensive backs coach, Gerald Alexander. To paraphrase Needham in detailing the split room for competitive sake:
Byron [Jones] is captain of the Burbs and Bobby [McCain] is captain of the hood in the defensive backs Hood versus Burbs mini battle in camp.
The point is to create a point system all with the goal of creating turnovers. Needham adds, "it's about getting to the ball, forcing as many turnover's as we can."
On top of all the right ways Needham approached questions, most far and standard while a choice few just a tad tougher to point out depth chart placement, or where some may see him… Needham says, “I am not really worried about positions, wherever they need me I am going to give it my all."
Know this…nobody has seen his “all.”
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