It’s probably fair to say that when Noah Igbinoghene’s name was called out as the 30th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, more than a few eyebrows were raised. I had certainly not come across his name before (well I might have done but I guarantee I was saying it wrong). The majority of fans were expecting a much-needed Wide Receiver or Running back to be called at this point, but alas, another Cornerback was added to the roster along with X and a newly signed Byron Jones.
Noah has taken a lot of criticism during his Rookie campaign, something I think is rather harsh. He was thrown in at the deep end very early on in the season when Byron Jones suffered a groin injury in week 2, having to cover Stefon Diggs, arguably the best receiver in 2020 and without question one of the top receivers in the league.
Put simply, Noah Igbinoghene just wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of covering such a formidable weapon in Diggs, and to this day I wonder why the coaching staff didn’t switch X over to cover him. It’s highly unlikely that the plan was to expose Noah to this level of competition so early on in his career. Coach Flo has already stated that he sees him as a boundary Cornerback rather than a Nickel, so sitting and learning behind two of the game’s best would have seemed the obvious route to take.
SOCIAL MEDIA WASN’T FAIR TO NOAH IGBINOGHENE
As always, social media tends to react to such things in an extreme way, claiming he was a wasted pick and the Dolphins should move on. It’s fair to say that he was probably drafted slightly higher than even he might have expected, but when you look at how far the defence came on last season, the pick actually make sense for the longevity of the team. When it’s time to move on from the likes of X or Jones, what could be better than already having a star waiting in the wings.
By any standard, this was a season like no other and there are multiple factors which would have impeded Noah’s ability to step up from the college level.
Firstly, let’s look at the position he’s playing, Cornerback. This is arguably the hardest position to play in football and try to bear in mind that before Noah Igbinoghene joined the Dolphins, he had only been playing on the defensive side of the ball for a mere two seasons. Now, why is playing Cornerback harder than playing Quarterback, the most important position on the field? Well, in the modern NFL the rules very much lean in favour of the Offense and are designed to protect the Quarterback. On the other side of the ball, you’re relying on instinct and the ability to read the game, something that comes with experience.
Cornerbacks also have to defend against whatever is thrown at them, be it a 6’3” 256lb receiver like Julio Jones, a 6’6” 265lb Tight End like Rob Gronkowski or a 5’10” 185lb speedster like Tyreek Hill, their skill set has to account for all of these scenarios. Throw into the mix bubble screens and you could find yourself matching up against a 350lb lineman! The key to dealing with these players is through experience, something Noah is lacking at this stage of his career.
Secondly, let’s look at the situation all rookies found themselves in at the start of the 2020 season, massively disadvantaged. No mini-camp or pre-season, it’s difficult to give a fair evaluation of any rookies from last season. Some rookies obviously rose to the challenge, Burrow, Herbert and Young to name a few. But there were equally highly rated prospects who struggled in their rookie campaigns such as Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Simmons and fellow Cornerback Jeff Okudah.
All of these players flashed brilliance at some point in the season and without doubt there is a huge expectation that with a full preseason, these players will be at a much higher level.
When you combine Noah Igbinoghene’s lack of playing experience (in the hardest position in the NFL) with only limited ability to learn the system and get used to the team, it’s hardly surprising that he struggled in his Rookie year. He was also the youngest player to be drafted so hasn’t even fully grown into his body.
Noah has all the prerequisites to be an outstanding Cornerback. His speed and agility are superb and his acceleration is simply incredible, it’s no surprise that he was a multi-state track champion and both of his parents were Olympic athletes. When assessing him as a draft prospect coming out of college, all signs pointed to him being a project, with a very high ceiling but a learning curve to go with it.
As recently as the last few months Heisman Trophy winner (and potential future Dolphin’s draftee) DeVonta Smith stated that Noah was the best Cornerback he went up against in college.
There is no doubt that Noah Igbinoghene has got the potential to be an outstanding Cornerback in the NFL and when you look at other great Cornerbacks, in most cases it took them multiple seasons to find their feet. Next season, expect Noah to surprise you!