Dolphins CB Xavien Howard poised to prove himself as ‘top corner’

Xavien Howard needs to be a true No. 1 cornerback. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Xavien Howard knows it’s time.

The Dolphins took him No. 38 overall three years ago with the thought that he’d be a star cornerback, and there are no more qualifiers as he works toward the upcoming season. There won’t be explanations that he’s still learning or doesn’t have enough game experience. He’s been around, he’s been very good at points and now he needs to put it all together.

“I believe I can be a top corner in the league just going out there and really just playing,” he said after today’s Organized Team Activity session. “So, I’d just say just going out there and doing me.”

Howard has good reason to be confident after a sophomore season that was full of promise. He stayed healthy, which was big after playing just seven games as a rookie, and had four interceptions, 13 pass breakups and 42 tackles.

The way he finished the year prompted optimism throughout the organization, and his most memorable performance came during Miami’s biggest win over the season. In the Monday Night Football upset of the Patriots, Howard played through a case of the flu and intercepted Tom Brady twice.

A big part of that progress was getting better at press coverage and jamming receivers at the line, something defensive coordinator Matt Burke has been imploring his corners to do more often.

As Howard starts to look like more of a veteran cornerback, his emergence would be a huge breakthrough for the rebuilt Dolphins defense.

“He’s getting after it,” safety Reshad Jones said. “He’s out there trying to make plays for us. He’s getting more knowledge of the game and seeing things different. He is recognizing formations and different things like that.”

Howard said he’s much quicker at reading offensive schemes than he was as a rookie and has a better understanding of how to study quarterbacks.

“Stuff that I was doing in college I can’t do in the league,” he said. “You see different receivers and stuff like that. Really, I’m just learning the game and knowing what I can do, knowing what I’m best at and just sticking to that instead of trying to do everything else.

“In college, I wasn’t really watching film and stuff like that. I was just going on my athletic ability; but in the league, it’s a different level.”

The cornerback crew of Howard, Cordrea Tankersley, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett could develop into an above-average unit, and there’s a lot to like about safeties Jones, T.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tightening up the secondary would solve a lot of Miami’s defensive issues.

That starts with Howard, who has to be capable of handling the opposition’s best receiver. If the Dolphins can’t trust him with that responsibility, the whole plan looks shaky.

They also need some evidence from Howard that he’s worth investing in beyond the next two seasons. His rookie contract ends after 2019, which puts him in position to earn an extension after this year.

“It’s a big season for me and the team,” Howard said.

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