NFL Network analyst and former Eagles scout, Daniel Jeremiah, knows what not to look for in a defensive back. Since leaving the team, Jeremiah has been vocal about being against the drafting of Jaiquawn Jarrett in 2011. While it is unclear whether he is an expert when it comes to secondary players, he did tweet out something very interesting during last week's Combine. Jeremiah said "Xavier Rhodes just walked by our set on the field. That's what you'd like a CB to look like."
At 6'1" and 210 pounds, FSU's Xavier Rhodes is among the larger cornerbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft. He is largely (no pun intended) considered among draft analysts as the number two cornerback and number three defensive back in this year's class. At his size, Rhodes is bigger than Matt Elam (Florida) and Phillip Thomas (Fresno State), both of whom are linked to the top of the second round and are listed among the top safeties. This aforementioned size advantage also puts Rhodes in a rare category for young defensive backs, in that he is likely to excel at cornerback and safety.
Rhodes was recruited out of FSU as a running back, wide receiver, and defensive back. Rhodes got on the field as freshman but injured his hand early in the season, which led to a medical redshirt. He has been a starter for the Seminoles since 2010. He was named First Team All-ACC honors in 2012 after leading FSU with 3 interceptions (total of 8 career interceptions over 3 seasons). Those numbers were accomplished, despite a lack of testing by college quarterbacks.
To add onto his potential versatility, is his athletic prowess. Here is a look at Rhodes' Combine numbers:
At 4.43, Rhodes has an average 40-yard dash time for cornerbacks, which when you consider his size, is pretty impressive. As you can see though, his jumps are among the best for his position. With an ability to leap and clear space effectively, his work against larger NFL wide receivers and tight ends will be a bit easier.
Rhodes as a player is more than just height and athleticism, he is also a physical force. NFL.com praises Rhodes toughness and ability to smack a defender saying that he "flashes strength to throw receiver to the side when wanting to get in on piles. Improved against the run as the season went along. Can really lay into a hit if it is lined up on the edge." CBS Sports adds that "he loves to jam and get physical in press coverage, getting in the face of receivers at the line of scrimmage and staying aggressive through the whistle."
The issues most taller cornerbacks have is tight hips and trouble getting out of breaks, but scouts acknowledge Rhodes' superior fluidity and abilities. CBS says "Rhodes can flip his hips and easily change directions with a near-effortless transition, showing the ability to adjust and contort his body." NFL.com explains that he "stays with quick twitch cuts and release with equally fast movements."
Rhodes does have his shortcomings. He is primarily a press-corner, so as NFL.com notes, his "performance takes a step back in zone coverage, struggles to pass off and close on receivers entering or leaving his area. Looks sluggish or tight hipped when not asked to mirror movements." CBS Sports notes "Rhodes needs to show better discipline and is susceptible to play fakes and misdirection." Like Boise State CB Jamar Taylor, Rhodes is notably too aggressive at times.
Most analysts project Rhodes to be taken in the 15-25 overall pick range. Alabama's Dee Milliner is likely to be taken before him, as is Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. CBS Sports compared Rhodes to Aqib Talib, while NFL.com compares him to Brandon Browner (despite being 3 inches shorter).
FSU's Xavier Rhodes is a player with ample size and speed. He bullies college wide receivers and plays the sideline to his advantage. Unlike some taller CBs, Rhodes plays up to his size and uses his long arms to take tight ends and wide receivers off their routes. He is too physical at times, which is a concern, because his play could lead to quite a few penalties at the next level. Rhodes is a willing tackler and wraps up, and is successful for the most part in run support. Due to his size, he is likely a candidate to switch over to safety as his career progresses, much like New Orleans' Malcolm Jenkins and Oakland's Michael Huff. Rhodes has a nose for the football and can make a play when he is tested. He is not a spectacular blitzer but can do it. His inability to play zone will not help his value but good press corners are hard to come by. Chip Kelly has been rumored to want larger guys on defense and Rhodes uses his elite size effectively. While most Eagles fans are not likely to enjoy this comparison, Rhodes is similar in play to Philadelphia's own Nnamdi Asomaugha. Their size, preference for press and average speed are all similar, but Rhodes is a much more physical corner than Asomaugha, at any point in his career.
As always, don't just take my word for it. Take a look for yourself, with some of Rhodes' cut-ups:
With all you have learned about Rhodes, would you want the Eagles to draft him? Keep in mind, the team would likely have to trade back in the first or trade back into the later part of the round to get him.