The Buffalo Bills defense got hit hard with injuries, especially the secondary. Tre’Davious White is still out for at least this weekend, Dane Jackson is battling a neck injury, Christian Benford suffered a broken hand in the loss to the Miami Dolphins, Jordan Poyer is day-to-day, and Micah Hyde is out for the year with a neck injury. The Bills needed to add more depth to this position, and they did just that by signing Xavier Rhodes. Here is exactly the type of player they are getting in Rhodes.
Rhodes was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, that year Leslie Frazier was the head coach. With Rhodes coming to Buffalo, he has that familiarity with Frazier already. Rhodes in that first season had 41 tackles and 10 defended passes while playing in only 13 games. From 2013 to 2019 he put together a great career with the Vikings, playing in 104 games, accumulating 10 interceptions, 73 defended passes, and 318 tackles with 15 going for a loss. During those years, he was also selected to three Pro Bowls and had an All-Pro year in 2017. His final year with the Vikings in 2019 he was injury plagued, and tried playing through some of the injuries which led to a decline in his play.
What can’t be overlooked when it comes to Rhodes is his recognition skills. There is a reason he has deflected a total of 92 passes over his career, and this is why. On this fade route, he reads it, takes away the inside move, and is able to then recognize the receiver’s body language to know the ball is coming and creates the pass breakup.
Rhodes can play man with his physicality, but it is truly zone coverage where he thrives. Here in this clip, the Vikings are playing quarters coverage. Rhodes is able to get out of his backpedal quickly once he recognizes the ball is coming to Michael Thomas, and he uses his physical play style to make the pass breakup.
At the same time, though, towards the end of his career with the Vikings he did start to lose a step. When it came to trying to keep up with receivers downfield, especially ones that used double moves, he struggled. He would fall for the first step as he was very uptight when he went to go transition, and by the time he turns around it is too late when he recognizes the receiver is not going that direction.
Not all of this was on Rhodes though, granted he did have times when the big plays were his fault, but the Vikings secondary lacked communication putting more pressure on Rhodes than what was needed. This virtually left him on an island when that didn’t suit his strengths anymore.
The Vikings wanted to re-sign him, but he carried a 12.9 million cap hit as part of his contract that went until 2022 at the time. The Vikings just couldn’t afford to keep him. He ended up signing with the Indianapolis Colts in 2020 and revitalized his career.
From the 81.5% completion percentage for 791 yards he gave up in 2019, he turned that around in 2020 only allowing a 51.9% completion percentage for 563 yards. This season led to him going from one of the worst cornerbacks in 2019, to a top 10 cornerback in 2020.
How the Colts did so was with a zone heavy scheme. He doesn’t have the speed to keep up with explosive wide receivers downfield, but has good closing speed that allows him to break up passes. With the zone heavy scheme, it allowed Rhodes to pass receivers off and allowed him to play to his strengths again.
With the Bills, when it comes to corners, they have to make an impact against the run. Rhodes does that. He comes downhill quickly as he picks up on the run play, and fights through traffic to make the tackle.
It also helps that the Bills run primarily zone coverage at one of the highest rates in the league. When healthy, Rhodes has another reliable All-Pro in the middle of the secondary in Jordan Poyer which will certainly help elevate his play. Rhodes won’t even have to be the number one corner for long, only until White comes back healthy. The signing also makes sense with the experience he brings. With a young cornerback room at the moment with Kaiir Elam, Benford, and Ja’Marcus Harris, Rhodes will be able to provide them with another veteran voice alongside White. Rhodes is a good fit, and will help this Bills’ secondary.