Florida State University has a mixed history when it comes to producing defensive backs. The most recent top defensive back they’ve produced is New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was drafted in 2006 by the San Diego Chargers. But they’ve also produced Patrick Robinson, a struggling cornerback for the New Orleans Saints. Prospects aren’t generally evaluated on past players, though scouts certainly factor it in when gathering data. But it’s hard to ignore the Seminoles’ recent history of producing technically and fundamentally poor cornerbacks. That same lack of proper play by the cornerbacks is a concern with the most recent Seminoles prospect: cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
The junior cornerback is one of the most interesting prospects in this draft because of his combination of length, physicality, and size.
He’s 6’1″, 217 pounds, and has very long arms that serve him well at the line of scrimmage and in run support. He has played a significant amount of press-man coverage, which features him at the line of scrimmage and re-routing wide receivers. This is an interesting area of his game, simply because few DBs can play this style of football. Although he has the talent to do it, he tends to be overly aggressive. He takes false steps, opening his hips up too early, and he fails to consistently slide his feet when jamming, sometimes even grabbing receivers. When in soft zone coverage, he’s also sometimes too aggressive and bites on various fakes administered by quarterbacks and receivers. These are all issues that must be cleaned up at the next level, because Rhodes doesn’t have the foot speed to catch up to receivers if he’s beaten.
An example of the above came against the University of Miami in Week 8 of the college football season. He was in off-man coverage, giving a cushion of roughly 10 yards before the play. The Hurricanes receiver, sophomore Rashawn Scott, was going to be running a sluggo route, which is a double move combination of the slant-and-go.
At the snap, Rhodes stepped back, shuffled his feet, and read the route. The slot receiver ran a three-step slant, and the outside receiver followed a similar path, making an incision after three steps. What Rhodes was expecting here was a slant pattern as part of the frequently used double slants concept. However, Scott had different plans, as he stuck his left leg into the ground and exploded back to the outside and vertically. Rhodes took a couple of false steps and was forced to change directions, which he did adequately because of his quick feet.
Despite the change of direction, Rhodes fell behind in coverage. His lack of foot speed reared its ugly head on the play when Scott ran right by the cornerback before making a diving catch at the 40-yard line.
Mistakes like the above are the same ones that Patrick Robinson has been making as a member of the Saints. Even though Rhodes has more physical talent than Robinson, his techniques issues could prohibit him from becoming a top player at the next level.
One characteristic of his game that will give him a chance in the NFL are his ball skills. He does a good job of attacking the football in the air, showing anticipation, strong hands and instincts. On a play against Wake Forest, Rhodes showed this ability by swatting away a high-arching pass.
After falling behind when attempting a jam of the receiver at the line of scrimmage, Rhodes had to fight his way back into the picture. His quick feet and constant hand-fighting enabled him to accomplish that, and he also didn’t turn his head early on the play, something many young cornerbacks do which results in them falling further behind the receiver.
When he finally got shoulder to shoulder with the receiver (“in-phase”), he turned his head around to locate the football. This was a good time to do that because he had inside positioning and was step-for-step with the receiver.
With the ball in the air, Rhodes leaped up and used his long left arm to deflect the pass away from the receiver.
This length and Rhodes’ physicality will appeal to scouts and general managers who are looking to find big cornerbacks that prevent smaller receivers from picking up yards after the catch. Although these two physical traits are very impressive, there should be concern over Rhodes’ technique and fundamentals, which he must improve. He often makes mistakes in these two areas of the game, much like Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots, who he compares to favorably.
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