Nik Needham spent his college playing career at the University of Texas at El Paso developing his football skills. The cornerback finished with 213 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and three interceptions. He added a school record of 33 passes broken up in 41 career games.
However, that wasn’t enough to land a spot on Miami’s 53-man roster as the Dolphins waived him on Aug. 31, the final day of roster cuts.
“He came in here, worked hard, got cut – we knew the work ethic was there but got cut,” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. ” [Josh Boyer, cornerbacks coach, told him] you’re going to have to transform your body. You’re going to have to – in terms of just how important it is to you, that’s a decision you’re going to have make.”
Needham signed to join the practice squad the following day. He earned a spot n the 53-man roster right before Miami’s game against Washington. Since then, the rookie has made the most out his opportunity.
He tallied a team-high nine tackles in Miami’s win over New York. One of those tackles was a sack of quarterback Sam Darnold, the first of Needham’s career. In Sunday’s win over the Colts he added his first-career interception.
Not only did Needham listen to Graham’s advice, but it is quickly paying off.
“He’s starting to see really the fruits of his labor in terms of the success on the field and he knows he still has a long way to go,” Graham said. “This week [against Buffalo] is going to be a huge challenge with the receivers we’re going to see when they play down here from Buffalo. He’s making steps in the right direction.”
Needham has started four of the last five games for the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday he contributed three passes defended against the Colts.
“Nik played well [against the Colts],” coach Brian Flores said on Monday. “We brought him in as a free agent and he did some good things in OTAs and had some struggles like most rookies do in the preseason and wasn’t quite ready, so we put him on the practice squad. It’s part of their journey, I should say. He spent a few weeks on the practice squad. I think getting released and going through that process took him through a little bit of the reality of what the National Football League could be. He’s turned some things around and he’s still got a long way to go, but all of those things play a role in kind of how we performed yesterday and hopefully he continues to do that.”
Needham’s stock has grown over the last few weeks, but his goal is to help the team.
“It just felt good to contribute to the old guys and help get a win,” Needham said. “That is all I am really worried about – I just want to win. It felt great.”
The Dolphins are working to build on a perfect 2-0 record in November.
“I think over the weeks we are just building chemistry and really play for each other,” Needham said. “Game changing plays happen out there and we don’t back down or give up we just go back out there and fight. That’s the main goal every week.”
Miami will look to make it three-straight wins this Sunday. The Dolphins have a divisional match against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium.