NFL picks leader Xavien Howard earning more than respect

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- For the past few weeks, Andre Branch has served as Xavien Howard's unofficial hype man.

"Y'all need to go talk to Xavien Howard. Y'all need to go talk to the best corner in the league," Branch yelled to reporters in the locker room after Sunday's 21-17 win over Buffalo.

Howard sat slumped in his locker, scrolling through his phone as reporters talked to safeties T.J. McDonald and Reshad Jones. He's confident but unassuming. He rarely seeks attention.

Dolphins defensive backs coach Tony Oden describes Howard as a quiet, careful processor who is extremely deliberate with his words. But make no mistake: Howard wanted the whole world to hear how he feels about where his game is as he nears the end of his third NFL season.

"I don’t feel like I get recognized enough," Howard said. "I want to let them know I’m the best corner in the game. ... Watch my stats, watch my game."

Howard, the NFL's leader in interceptions with seven, wants respect. It's coming soon -- likely in the form of Pro Bowl honors, All-Pro recognition and eventually a big paycheck.

Miami (6-6) has been one of the NFL's best teams in interceptions (19, second) and takeaways (25, third).

McDonald (four), Kiko Alonso (four) and Jones (two) are the other Dolphins defenders with multiple takeaways this season.

"We pride ourselves on being the NFL's best secondary in takeaways. We're pretty close, right," McDonald said. "We are a tight group. We are all playmakers when the ball is thrown our way."

Howard added: "That's what we preached all offseason. I see it paying off."

That doesn't even include rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has the potential to quickly join Howard as one of the best playmakers on the team. Fitzpatrick's versatility has made a difference, as he has been forced to start at outside cornerback because of the Dolphins' lack of options there.

Takeaways and interceptions have kept the Dolphins in the AFC playoff race despite a struggling offense. Howard has been the leader of the ball-hawking bunch.

Howard has five career games with two-plus interceptions, which is the most since 2016, when he entered in the NFL. That total is also tied for third-most in Dolphins history.

The Dolphins need to build around Howard, and it would be wise to start discussing a contract extension with him this offseason.

Howard has one year left on his rookie deal, but Miami's best value might be securing him long-term before he gets closer to free agency. An argument can be made that Howard is already the Dolphins' best player. He still hasn't hit his ceiling, and he looks to be well on track to become one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.

There's a good argument to be made that he is already there. Howard has 11 interceptions in the past 17 games, since Week 13 of the 2017 season. That's the most in the league in that span.

"I never really see X get beat. He just does his job. The ball just finds X," Fitzpatrick said. "Back-to-back weeks with two picks? Special players do that."

Howard will soon be able to check off each box on his respect chart. With the way Branch and the rest of his teammates feel about him, Howard will have plenty of hype men showing him love along the way.