Your answer at first is, well, of course he is. With Dee Milliner seemingly assured of being a top ten pick, and he may even come off the board in the top five, at No. 12 the Dolphins will have a chance to address a key need following the departure of Sean Smith by selecting Xavier Rhodes.
He’s widely viewed as the second-best cornerback in the draft, and he’s the trendiest mock pick to the Dolphins. Now that we’re inside of two weeks in the slow, slogging march to April 25, consensus picks have very much emerged, which makes mocking the draft easy. We hear a certain player associated with a certain team so often that any other pick would be jarring.
Rhodes has either reached that point with the Dolphins, or he’s damn close. But while he’s talented, what if his talent doesn’t fit the scheme Miami would be jamming him into? Square peg, round hole, something something.
Rhodes has natural talent and skill, but he has another even more natural trait: size. He’s a pretty big boy for his position, standing at 6’2″, and weighing 217 pounds. That girth makes him nearly 20 pounds heavier than Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis, and it means he’s ideally suited for a defensive system predicated on press coverage and physicality.
That was his game at Florida State, and it’s how his skillset was shaped throughout his college development. And to be clear, being a press coverage freak isn’t bad. Far from it, as if Rhodes can continue to be an imposing presence physically at the next level, he’ll join a select group of NFL corners who can thrive in that role.
The problem? Miami may not be prioritizing a press coverage guy. They need a man coverage guy who won’t get burned in the open field.
During a press conference yesterday, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was asked about drafting an imposing and physical press corner, and his confidence in the fit was moderate at best.
From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
“Well it depends what kind of scheme that you run whether it’s important to get a press corner. We don’t play a ton of press, but we do play a lot of man-to-man. There is a difference. So, is it extremely important that we get a guy who plays 90% press? No it’s not, but it’s important that the guy we draft can play man-to-man.
“But also, we play some zone and we play some off-man. Off-man is very difficult. There is a different skill set to that, so finding a guy that can have a pretty good skill set that is not strictly one thing or the other is important.”
The skills which will make Rhodes a first-round pick — and most likely in the top half of the round — are his hands, and his ability to utilize his size to create positioning advantages. But while he’s still a fine cover corner in off-man coverage and zone, that’s not his main selling point.
Back in early February our very own Alen Dumonjic examined Rhodes. He wrote many glowing words, but these words had much less glow:
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.
Fans may not like it if they’re set on a specific player and his ability to address a specific need, but finding a player who fits is a real thing. The Dolphins are surely wondering whether or not Rhodes can be manipulated to suit their needs, and many hours have been spent watching tape to find an answer.
If he can’t, then addressing the need for a tackle after the loss of Jake Long is a better first-round focus.