Optimists will say Xavier Rhodes can still be a top cornerback, but the Colts will quickly find out his decline is real.
Despite what is now a young, inexperienced cornerback group, it was a no-brainer for the Minnesota Vikings to cut Xavier Rhodes this offseason and they made the move quickly a the dawn of the new league year.
Rhodes drop-off in play over the last couple seasons was noticeable, with injuries a factor. What was once deemed as “Rhodes Closed” when teams threw his direction has yielded freeway speeds. The Indianapolis Colts, with a need at cornerback, signed Rhodes to a one-year deal.
As expected, everyone is saying the right things regarding Rhodes and his ability to have a rebound season with the Colts. NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund has projected Rhodes to be the Colts’ most improved player in 2020, as if there’s anywhere to go but up.
But the numbers don’t lie.
Rhodes allowed a 127.8 passer rating last season with the Vikings (third-highest among corners, min. 50 targets) and an 84.3 percent completion percentage, which was the highest for any qualified corner, per PFF. OK, that was then. But now, as a Colt, he has the potential to realize results more like his 2016 and 2017 output (he was a Pro Bowler in each season), meaning at least above-average production in coverage and helping against the run.
Pro Football Reference has slightly different numbers for Rhodes in 2019, with an 81.5 percent completion rate and a 123.8 passer rating against. But it’s truly a distinction without a difference in terms of bad numbers, even with a couple high points against Julio Jones (Week 1) and Michael Thomas (Wild Card Round) last year.
Xavier Rhodes is more name than game now
Rhodes is a big (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) physical corner, which has led to him drawing penalties even when he has been in peak form. Indianapolis’ defensive scheme should allow him to play more zone coverage, and in turn defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus can keep the opposing quarterback’s bullseye off Rhodes.
The Colts are putting together the pieces of a very good defense, and some may see Rhodes as a key veteran part of that equation this year. Never say never regarding a rebound season. But Rhodes has looked increasingly cooked over the last couple seasons. The Colts will quickly find out the decline phase is real, and hardly spectacular.