Perhaps no position on the Miami Dolphins presented as many challenges as cornerback did in 2009.
Reliable veteran Will Allen was lost to a season-ending injury just six games into the season, forcing two rookies—Vontae Davis and Sean Smith—to start the rest of the way.
The Dolphins' defense struggled as a result, ranking just 24th against the pass.
These are my individual and overall grades for the Dolphins' cornerbacks in 2009:
Will Allen: B+
Since joining the Dolphins in 2006, Allen had been one of the best cover cornerbacks in the entire league. That is exactly why the season-ending torn ACL he suffered in Week 7 was such a blow to the Dolphins' defense.
What games he did play, however, he was as good as ever. In the six games prior to his injury, Allen intercepted two passes, knocked down six others, and held opposing quarterbacks to a 49.8 passer rating on passes thrown to his receivers—third-best in the NFL behind the Jets' Darrelle Revis and Dwight Lowery.
Vontae Davis: C+
Expectations were high for Davis, who was picked 25th overall in 2009 and was slated to serve a large role in the Dolphins' secondary as a rookie.
As one one expect, Davis did have his share of struggles at one of the game's toughest positions for rookies, allowing six touchdown passes.
However, Davis also shined brightly at times. He finished the season with 11 pass deflections and four interceptions, including two in which he out-jumped New England Patriots' star receiver Randy Moss.
Nathan Jones: C
Forced into a larger role on defense in the second half of season due to Will Allen's injury, Jones made a few nice plays but was overall mediocre in the Dolphins' secondary.
Jones did have two interceptions on the season, including one against the New Orleans Saints' Marques Colston, as well as a sack and two forced fumbles.
However, he often struggled in coverage, allowing three touchdown passes and an 85.4 passer ratings against his assigned receivers.
Where Jones really excelled was on special teams, where he finished first on the Dolphins and tied for third in the NFL with 16 special teams tackles.
Jason Allen: C
The 16th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, there's no argument here that Allen hasn't been a disappointment as an NFL cornerback.
That being the case, I decided to assign the seemingly high grade I did for one reason—special teams.
That is the one area where Allen has really excelled the last few years, and 2009 was no exception. He finished second on the team with 14 tackles and was one of the team's most reliable players when it came to tackling, slowing returners, and downing punts.
Sean Smith: C-
I had high hopes for Smith, whom I actually wanted the Dolphins to draft in the first round of the draft last offseason.
I wasn't surprised when Smith earned the starting job opposite Will Allen over first-rounder Vontae Davis, because I knew he had talent. Despite some rookie struggles, my opinion remains.
Smith failed to record his first career interception as a rookie despite starting all 16 games, and allowed a 116.1 passer rating to his assigned receivers.
Smith did seem to have good position quite often though, even if he did out-jumped at times. Some of the other positives I took from his play, however, include the 12 pass deflections and four touchdowns allowed—two fewer than Davis allowed, despite playing more than 100 fewer snaps.
Evan Oglesby: n/a
Oglesby had two stints with the roster, appearing in one game on special teams and not recording any statistics.
Overall Position Grade: C
The Dolphins' pass defense was below average in 2009, so why the "average" grade of a C? Well, a few reasons.
First, the performance of Will Allen brings things up a bit in my view, as he was very good in the six games he played. The same can be said for the special teams performances of Nathan Jones and Will Allen.
Furthermore, safety Gibril Wilson provided almost no support over the top and routinely got sucked toward the line of scrimmage, meaning the cornerbacks' numbers likely would have been much better had the Dolphins had someone halfway decent behind them.
Finally, despite some struggles, I was impressed overall with the play of rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Cornerback isn't an easy position to play for a 10-year veteran, and it's certainly not easy for two rookie cornerbacks, no matter how good they were in college or how high they were drafted.
The Dolphins' secondary was a weak link in 2009, but there is a lot of room for improvement, and Davis and Smith haven't even begun to reach their ceilings.
How would you grade the Dolphins' cornerbacks in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!