In Jevon Holland, the Dolphins have a locked-in safety starter. The 2021 second-round pick has become one of the NFL’s better back-line defenders. As Vic Fangio prepares for his first training camp as Miami’s defensive coordinator, a key question will involve the other safety position.
The Dolphins did not operate aggressively in free agency here, likely for multiple reasons. One of them: a belief in Brandon Jones. The fourth-year safety is coming off a torn ACL, but the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson notes the team is high enough on the returning starter it did not pursue a high- or mid-level contract with a veteran safety.
A 2020 third-round pick, Jones has started 24 career games — including 20 over the past two seasons — and formed a promising tandem with Holland. But the Dolphins did not stand down entirely in free agency. The team did not make a notable offer to Jordan Poyer, per Jackson, despite the Bills safety being intrigued by a warm-weather city with a friendlier tax code. (Poyer re-signed with the Bills.) But Miami did sign former Baltimore and Detroit safety DeShon Elliott, adding the fifth-year veteran for just $1.77MM.
These two will vie for the position alongside Holland, per Jackson. Both players are coming off injuries. Jones’ ACL tear occurred in Week 7, while Elliott played through a shoulder injury to close his 2022 Lions run. The shoulder problem limited Elliott this offseason as well, but the former sixth-round pick is expected to be fine for the start of Miami’s regular season. As such, he poses a threat to Jones’ job in the latter’s contract year.
Jones, 25, and Elliott, 26, were teammates at Texas in the late 2010s. The latter has started 35 career games, earning a job alongside Chuck Clark. Elliott started 16 games for the Ravens in 2020 and six in 2021; the Lions gave Elliott 13 starts last season. Of course, Detroit struggled on defense for much of the season and has since overhauled its secondary. This will lead Elliott — Pro Football Focus’ No. 45 overall safety last season — into Fangio’s scheme.
PFF rated Jones 64th overall in 2022, though his coverage stats revealed improvement in that area. Prior to the knee injury, the plus blitzer (five sacks in 2021) held a 62.5% completion rate allowed as the closest defender and allowed a 78.0 passer rating. Both marks were significantly better than Jones’ 2021 coverage performance, though Fangio’s zone-based system will mark a change from a Josh Boyer scheme that capitalized on Jones’ blitzing skill.
The Dolphins have Holland signed to his rookie deal through the 2024 season. With two big-ticket cornerback contracts on their books (for Xavien Howard and trade acquisition Jalen Ramsey), that will prove important. The team also used its top draft choice (No. 51 overall) on former South Carolina nickel Cam Smith. With big investments at four of their five DB spots, the Dolphins will count on low-cost production from the other post. The loser of the ex-Longhorns’ competition will represent quality depth.