Five months ago there was no guarantee Nolan Carroll would be a member of the 2013 Miami Dolphins. After the team signed Brent Grimes to a pricey one-year deal and used two early-round draft picks on the cornerback position, Carroll projected to be on the roster-fringe entering training camp and in need of a strong exhibition season to make the team.
13 games into the year Carroll has started all but four contests and will be a key component to any Dolphins’ playoff push during the final three weeks of the season.
It should be noted that Carroll was only given a starting gig because of an injury. The original starter opposite Grimes, Dimitri Patterson, injured his groin back in Week 1 and re-injured it multiple times attempting to make a return. Patterson was officially put on the shelf this week when the Dolphins placed him on injured reserve after he couldn’t finish this past Sunday’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But just because Carroll was given a starting job as opposed to winning one doesn’t mean he is any less deserving. In fact, Carroll has arguably been the Dolphins’ most-improved player not named Charles Clay in 2013.
Take these shocking stats, for example: Only five cornerbacks of those who have played at least 25 percent of their defense’s snaps in the entire NFL have conceded a lower quarterback rating in coverage than Carroll has, and only former Dolphin Sean Smith has allowed a lower completion percentage. Opposing passers have a 64.2 quarterback rating and have completed just 46.5 percent of their passes when targeting Carroll this year, which is much improved from the 87.6 rating and the 56.9 competition percentage he allowed in 2012.
Grimes’ elite play on the opposite boundary has improved Miami’s pass coverage immensely as the defense has jumped from ranking 27th against the pass a year ago to 13th defending it through 13 games this season. But lost in Grimes’ stardom has been the development of Carroll, who also deserves a great deal of credit for enabling the Dolphins to field a stingy pass defense.
Carroll will now face a different type of pressure heading into the final three weeks of the year and potentially the playoffs. He no longer has to worry about Patterson recouping his spot but will still have an ample amount at stake from here on out in what could serve as a tryout of sorts.
Carroll will be a free agent in 2014. With rookie cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis waiting in the wings, there’s no guarantee Carroll will be re-signed by Miami this offseason. Also, Patterson still has one year remaining on his deal so the Dolphins might feel comfortable letting Carroll walk in free agency even if they don’t trust Taylor and Davis to be ready for significant roles next season.
But Carroll has been here before. Look back to July once again when Carroll was slotted as the team’s fifth cornerback on many depth-chart projections and completely off the roster on others. He had something to prove then, and although the stakes are amplified five months later, he still has something to prove now.
If Carroll can continue blanketing receivers in coverage for the remainder of the year his price tag will climb. The question of whether or not the Dolphins should retain him this offseason will become an obvious one to answer.
There’s a possibility that Carroll will not only be the starter at cornerback on Sunday against the New England Patriots but on the first Sunday of the 2014 season as well.
Not bad for a guy who entered training camp on the roster bubble.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.