Alabama corner back Dee Milliner has impressed scouts across the country and is a lock to be the first corner back off the board in April. Right behind him is Florida State corner back Xavier Rhodes who could fall to the Saints with the 15th pick in the Draft.
The trend in the NFL has been towards bigger, faster and more athletic wide receivers. At 6-foot-2 and a solid 217 pounds, Rhodes is perfectly suited to cover those receivers. He is a physical corner, who can play bump-and-run, and has the length to make plays on the ball.
One of the reasons Rhodes is great in coverage is because he played wide receiver and running back along with playing at defensive back in high school. He earned first-team All-ACC Honors his junior year and finished his career with eight interceptions and 31 passes defended.
He has good instincts in knowing when to flip his head around to find the ball and great timing and leaping ability to intercept or deflect the ball away.
Rhodes’ physical play makes him perfect for a press-heavy defensive scheme. He has quick feet and can seamlessly change directions in coverage. His size helps him take away fade passes and challenge for the ball when it is in the air. A good comparison to Rhodes would be defensive back Aqib Talib or Charles Tillman.
Rhodes also does a good job in run coverage. He is patient on stretch plays and waits for the right moment to wrap up the ball carrier and drive him into the ground. He recorded 140 tackles and seven for a loss at Florida St.
Rhodes can play too physical at times, with his hands and excessive contact with the receiver in contesting for the ball when it is in the air. He needs to be more aware of his contact with the receiver or he could attract pass interference penalties.
Rhodes does not take too many gambles on the field but he is still susceptible to play fakes and misdirection. While he ran a 4.39 40-time at the combine, I’m not sure he has the top end speed to keep up with elite speed receivers in the NFL.
If the New Orleans Saints lacks anything in their secondary, it is an elite size defensive back that can match up against big physical receivers. Seattle proved last year that upgrading your size in the secondary can produce better pass coverage and turnovers. I expect Sean Payton and Rob Ryan to take a long look at Rhodes if he drops to them in April.