First Round: 25th Pick
Behind Alabama's Dee Milliner, there remains a small group of cornerbacks worthy of a first-round selection, which includes Florida State's Xavier Rhodes. Coming from a school known for producing excellent NFL defensive backs, Rhodes has all of the tools to be a successful longtime starter at the next level.
Let's take a look as to what exactly makes Rhodes a first-round prospect as well as what will prevent him from being the first corner taken in April's draft.
+ Excellent height and length for the position
+ Very physical in press-man coverage
+ Adequate speed
+ Good ball skills
- Can be too physical in coverage at times, making contact far beyond five yards
- Lacks ideal hip flexibility
- Can lose track of his receiver, especially when passing off responsibility in zone coverage
- Appears sluggish at times when not engaged with a receiver downfield
More so than anything else, Rhodes' size is what is going to help get him drafted in the first round. Measuring at 6'1", 210 pounds with 33 3/4" arms, he has the ideal build of an NFL-ready press-man corner.
Earlier in the draft process, there were concerns about Rhodes' deep speed, but he was able to ease those concerns with a solid 4.41 at the combine—impressive considering his 210-pound frame.
Rhodes is also an explosive runner, boasting an impressive 40.5" vertical jump. This is a terrific measurement by most standards, but it was perhaps a bit disappointing with this story in mind:
FSU folks told a story that Xavier Rhodes jumped 40" in flip flops during a visit. Always thought it was embellished. Guess not. 40.5" today— TomahawkNation.com (@TomahawkNation) February 26, 2013
Rhodes has no off-field incidents to speak of. However, he has missed significant time because of various thumb and knee injuries, which brings his durability into question.
Despite his physical gifts, Rhodes is a bit limited as a strict man coverage corner with some experience in the slot. He lacks some natural zone instincts when "passing off" players, but he could possibly make a transition to safety later in his career because of his length and ball skills.
Playing the Ball
Rhodes is not particularly known for his ball skills, but he is an explosive jumper (evidenced by his vertical jump numbers) with solid hands, nabbing three interceptions in 2012.
He does tend to turn his head a beat or so late, but his length allows him get to some contested passes few other players would even think of getting to.
This snapshot is perfect evidence of him timing his jump well and using his size advantage to break up the pass.
Against the Run
Rhodes is a bit of a mixed bag in this area. While he has the size advantage that would usually allow him to get off blocks easily, he tends to struggle doing so and has a hard time setting the edge.
Effort is not the issue; rather, Rhodes has a tendency to want to run inside and play up in the box, allowing too many runs around the edges on his side.
He also has a tendency to lunge, leading to missed tackles and occasional facemask penalties.
Rhodes is the premier man-coverage corner in this draft, specializing in press coverage. His combination of length and upper body strength allows him to control the receiver without overextending, allowing him to maintain balance throughout.
Here is an example in which Rhodes is able to shut down a fade route into the end zone on his own using press-man technique.
The receiver takes a stutter-step inside before exploding outside, but notice how Rhodes remains square with both his feet and shoulders. Rhodes is relying more on his length, which prevents him from over-committing.
Rhodes turns with the receiver, using his hands to turn him and control his route.
There was arguably pass interference on the play as there is contact beyond five yards (an area of his game that needs to be cleaned up), but the pass falls incomplete nonetheless.
Rhodes does not have the ideal hip flexibility to turn and run, but his flexibility is adequate and any deficiencies are compensated for by his ability to control routes with plenty of distance between him and the receiver.
Rhodes' weaknesses in zone are generally mental. He lacks the natural "feel" for playing in zone, as he does not know quite when the time is right to pass off a receiver or pick one up.
In this play, Rhodes is in a deep zone coverage. He is exposed by the fact that he cannot get a hand on the receiver, and does not have the fluidity to turn and run.
To be fair, Rhodes was a victim of a terrific catch and throw, but he was still beat sitting in a zone where he could not use his hands to direct the receiver.
Rhodes can be very explosive when breaking on the ball, but when he is sitting in a zone, everything appears to slow down. He looks sluggish and hesitant to make a false move—he clearly is more comfortable playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
Rhodes does tend to rely on his length a bit too much at times. He needs to drop his hips and get lower in his stance.
Still, he gets a good "punch" at the line of scrimmage and has the strength to control his receiver down the field. He is disciplined in his footwork, despite his limitations in terms of his flexibility.
Xavier is also excellent in how he uses the sideline, using his shoulder to "pin" the receiver and limit his route. His length and leaping ability take care of any contested pass thrown his way.
However, Rhodes does have a tendency to continue his contact well beyond five yards. This will go away with experience and coaching, but it will be an issue for him early on.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Whoever drafts Rhodes would be doing him a disservice if used as anything other than a press-man corner. Rarely do college defensive backs enter the NFL with such tremendous tools to excel in this area, even if he does have some technique issues to iron out.
However, Rhodes does have some experience lining up n the box as a safety, and a possible move to the safety position later in his career is possible.
Still, for the foreseeable future, Rhodes is meant to be used almost exclusively as a man-to-man corner who gets more comfortable the closer he is to the line of scrimmage.