Former UTEP Cornerback Nik Needham Plays Key Role for Dolphins Defense
El Pasoans look toward Aaron Jones as their closest tie to the NFL, but another former Miner football player is starting to make a name for himself in the league.
Miami Dolphins cornerback and former UTEP standout Nik Needham is coming off another solid performance in a 20-3 beatdown over the Jets. He registered five tackles, a pass breakup and a key interception that sent social media singing his praises.
As a four-year starter for the Miners (2015-18), Needham became UTEP's all-time pass-breakup leader (33). Though, the Miners endured some rough patches during Needham's time at the program, going 10-38 during his collegiate career.
Out of UTEP, Needham went undrafted to the Dolphins following the 2019 NFL Draft. The California native had to go from making the practice squad, to finally being promoted to the 53-man roster and finally getting a chance to start for Miami last year. The Dolphins finished 5-11 last year. He totaled 54 tackles (41 solo), 1 sack, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions in 12 games played through 2019.
Now, Needham is playing meaningful football with a team in the mix to make the playoffs out of the AFC East. Miami is now 7-4 and one game behind first-place (Bills, 8-4). This year has been a fight for playing time. Needham has been in and out of the lineup all year long but now has been playing a consistent role in the defense. Last month, head coach Brian Flores had this to say about the second-year cornerback:
"Nik is a second-year player," Flores told SI. "He’s made a lot of strides. I think as we move forward, he’s improving and I would expect to see him out there a little bit more consistently, to be honest with you. I think he’s kind of earned that. But at the same time, he has to be productive when he gets out on the field. I know it’s kind of been up and down, but I think it’s game plan related. It will continue to be that way. I think he’s definitely making some improvement."
Through 11 games thus far into the 2020 season, Needham has racked up 29 solo tackles, 1 sack, five pass breakups and one interception.
In the postgame interview, Needham was excited about intercepting a pass from Jets QB Sam Darnold in Sunday's win.
"It felt good," Needham told reporters. "I've been talking about it with the coaches that I needed to get [an interception]. Definitely felt good to get out there, get the hands on the ball. We know that 82 is one of their go-to target and Sam [Darnold] ended up throwing the ball, trying to force it, so I ended up with the pick.
For now, Miner fans will continue to watch Needham and the Dolphins continue to make a playoff push.