The Miami Dolphins invested a second-round pick to draft cornerback Xavien Howard during the 2016 NFL draft, but they didn't get as much of a return as they would have liked in the Baylor standout's first season in the big leagues.
Injuries limited Howard to a total of only seven games, with a total of 40 tackles, six pass deflections and a forced fumble. He showed flashes of being an excellent boundary corner, especially when he shut down veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall against the Jets in Week 15, but he still had his moments of struggle as well.
But Howard is suggesting that those struggles were not necessarily a result of him not being ready for the NFL or a lack of talent on his part. Instead, the 23-year old corner is saying that his limited results were a result of limited health.
"My first injury I had, I couldn’t finish OTAs. The second one came from me just jumping up in the air and catching the ball and I came on the ground." Howard said on Tuesday. "So I really couldn’t just get to the level to get to 100 percent and play. Each game, I was just playing to play; but I just really couldn’t be 100 percent and perform how I know I can.”
With all that time he spent hurt, Howard was able to study some of the best in the league and mentally prepare himself for what he should do to improve his game. Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson and others were on his film study list, and according to safety Reshad Jones, Howard could one day put himself in the same conversation as those players.
“I think ‘Zay’ can be one of the top corners in this league." Jones said. "I think he still has a long way to go, but he’s progressing from last year until now. He’s learning different formations and how to handle different splits and things like that. I think he’ll be a tough guy to handle once he fully gets the whole thing and gets a couple more snaps.”
Now with a full offseason of healing behind him, Howard assures everyone that doctors have cleared his knee and that he's been told it will no longer be an issue for him.
All that's left to do is see if a fully-healthy Howard can take that next step in his game.
What does Howard say about that?
"I know what I’m capable of. I have confidence in myself so I know what I can do when I’m 100 percent.”
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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