I’ve decided to take a different approach to these film studies by directly comparing the two cornerbacks most often mentioned as first-round possibilities for the New York Giants.
From Florida State, Xavier Rhodes
And from Washington, Desmond Trufant
Here we’ll take a look at some measurables relevant to a cornerback’s performance. All numbers are from the combine unless noted otherwise.
Height: Rhodes - 6-foot-1; Trufant - 6-foot-0
Weight: Rhodes - 210 pounds; Trufant - 190 pounds
Arm length: Rhodes - 33.75 inches; Trufant - 31.25 inches
Rhodes possesses tremendous size and length for a corner, which helps him compete with larger receivers and make plays on the ball in the air. Trufant is solid but unexceptional in this regard - his size may not be an asset, but there won’t be any NFL receivers that he can’t match up with.
40 time: Rhodes - 4.43;. Trufant - 4.38
Rhodes has excellent straight line speed, so he shouldn’t be a big play liability as long as his technique is sound. Trufant is even faster, giving him a greater margin of error when covering vertical routes.
Vertical: Rhodes - 40.5 inches; Trufant - 37.5 inches
Broad Jump: Rhodes - 11-feet-0; Trufant - 10-feet-5
The vertical and broad jump measure lower body explosiveness, which helps cornerbacks quickly drive on throws and elevate to contest jump balls. Both Rhodes and Trufant do well here, especially Rhodes, whose vertical ranked first among all defensive backs at the combine.
Change of direction
Three-cone: Rhodes - 7.29 (pro day); Trufant - 6.76 (pro day)
Short Shuttle: Rhodes - 4.65 (pro day); Trufant - 3.85
Unlike the speed and explosiveness drills, the three-cone and short shuttle results differed wildly for these two corners. Rhodes’ times are well below average, while Trufant’s are exceptional. The ability to make cuts without losing speed and quickly reverse direction are essential physical qualities for a corner, so these numbers are great for Trufant and troubling for Rhodes. The smaller player is expected to perform better in these exercises since he has less momentum working against him, but the wide gap in results is notable. We’ll need to look at some tape to find out whether they translate to the field.
Note: I won't be evaluating every single snap of these videos. Some plays they're barely involved in, typically runs away from their side of the field.
Rhodes vs. Wake Forest and Clemson
0:00 - Recognizes that the run is going outside and quickly tracks the ballcarrier to the sideline, committing a horsecollar penalty on the tackle. Nothing overly impressive about this play considering he has no blocker to deal with.
0:18 - Stays engaged with the tight end blocking him while trying to get a read on the running back, but reacts too late and fails to get in position for a tackle.
0:31 - Lined up to press, the receiver does a good job beating it, but Rhodes runs with him up the sideline, locates the ball in the air and makes a well-timed jump to tip it away.
0:55 - Playing zone, he comes up on the receiver running a drag before passing him on and picking up the running back’s wheel route.
1:01 - Lined up way off the receiver, he does a nice job driving on the slant and making the tackle. That’s about as little yardage as he could possibly give up on that play.
1:07 - Too eager to light into his blocker, he fails to locate the receiving back.
1:21 - Lined up off the receiver on third and eight, he does a mediocre job driving on an out route short of the first down, although it appears that he’s primarily concerned about defending the marker, so not necessarily a bad play.
1:28 - Overpowers the blocking receiver back into the running back, but Werner makes the play before he gets an opportunity.
1:35 - Playing four yards off a receiver running a slant, Rhodes drifts too high over him instead of driving down on the route.
1:42 - Facing a swing pass to the running back in space, he hesitates too long to make a move and gives up the first down.
1:51 - Sticks with his man on a deep crossing route, locates the ball in the air and elevates to bat it away.
2:25 - Creeps up on the play action and then does a decent job peeling off to the releasing tight end. The pass gets there just before he does and he makes the tackle.
2:39 - Wide receiver screen to DeAndre Hopkins, Rhodes blows through the blocking receiver and makes the tackle for no gain.
2:45 - Hopkins beats the press and gets a step on Rhodes going down the field. Boyd looks at him but doesn’t throw the pass. It’s not clear whether this is because of a safety or Rhodes has caught him.
2:52 - Beats Hopkins’ block but can’t get in position to make a play on the running back with a couple players in front of him. He does show good effort by launching himself past an offensive lineman though.
3:11 - Does a mediocre jam on Hopkins, but the receiver can’t get any separation from him on a crossing pattern.
3:28 - Does a really nice job beating the tight end’s block. Fails to wrap up the running back, but that’s partly attributable to teammate pushing him through while attempting a tackle from behind.
4:12 - Hopkins beats the jam and gets good separation to catch a slant.
4:30 - Beats a receiver block but the quarterback is tackled before he can make a play.
4:41 - Quickly engages an offensive lineman instead of finding the running back.
4:50 - Peels off his man as he reads the pass and almost makes the play on an uncovered tight end.
5:50 - Opens his hips outside as Hopkins goes inside, but recovers extremely well and knocks away the slant on 3rd down.
The biggest thing that stood out to me in this tape is that Rhodes’ instincts vs. the pass are vastly superior to those vs. the run. He reads the quarterback and locates the ball in the air far better than he reads the direction of the run and locates the ballcarrier. He’s often indecisive when deciding what angle to take or which direction to go around a block, which ends up costing him potential stops when he waits too long to make his move. Sometimes he seems to be protecting the edge, but not all these plays can be attributed to that. The good thing is that he’s not afraid of contact - he consistently powers through receiver blocks and isn’t afraid to engage offensive linemen. He has all the physical tools to be an elite run defender, but needs to develop stronger recognition skills in this area if it’s going to happen.
Overall he looks very fluid and comfortable in coverage, and changes directions very well for a player his size. He’ll probably never be elite in this area, but his length helps make up for it. When playing off he shows the ability to drive hard on plays underneath, but doesn’t always do it consistently. There’s not much zone to evaluate here, but what little there is looks fine.
Watching him in press is a mixed bag, because while he does a great job turning his hips and running with the receiver, the jam itself typically isn’t that great. It’s usually just a quick jab that doesn’t affect his target much at all. With his length and strength he should be interrupting routes much more aggressively - the light contact minimizes the advantages of press while keeping the drawbacks. Hopkins, a receiver Rhodes manhandled in the run game, consistently wins his route at the line of scrimmage because he never has two hands put on him. This seems a pretty fixable issue though, since he has no problem being physical in general.
Trufant vs. Stanford
0:23 - Lines up three yards off a slot receiver running a slant, gives him a jab during the break and stays on him through the route.
0:44 - Playing as a single high safety, Trufant creeps up on the option fake to the running back, then accelerates quickly to the edge to assist tackling the quarterback.
0:55 - Again at safety, creeps up on the play-action, then quickly reverses directions to chase Zach Ertz running a corner route, but arrives too late to prevent the catch. Despite the initial move toward the line of scrimmage he recognizes the fake pretty quickly - if he had stayed home this play probably isn’t a reception.
1:15 - Lined up way off, he quickly recognizes the pass is going deep and turns to run well before the receiver reaches him, keeping tight coverage through the route.
1:25 - Does a nice job keeping his eyes on the rolling quarterback while running with his man into the flat, then turning with the receiver as he heads upfield.
1:42 - Lined up to press, he gets his hands on the receiver, then quickly turns to run with him up the sideline. When the ball arrives he reaches back to rip it out of the receiver’s hands.
2:21 - Blitzing from the slot, he quickly gets outside the tackle, but Nunes steps up and throws before he can get there.
2:48 - Locks onto his man extremely well in press, jamming the route as long as he can get away with it.
3:21 - Comes over from his safety spot to cover Ertz running a corner - the tight end catches the ball away from him, but it’s a great throw rather than bad coverage.
3:30 - Beats a tight end with speed on a blitz, chopping down the quarterback’s legs as he steps up in the pocket, although the throw gets out just in time.
3:54 - Doesn’t do a great job beating the receiver’s block on a running play.
4:06 - Does a nice job slowing the receiver’s release in press coverage, then sticks right with him up the sideline, finds the ball in the air, and elevates to swat it away.
4:27 - Does an OK jam on Ertz (considering he's 250 pounds), who gets inside and makes the catch away from Trufant. How he got open is out of the frame, but it’s not bad coverage - the pass in only a few inches from being swatted way.
4:47 - The receiver slips the jam inside as Trufant open his hips outside, but he recovers very well and stays right with him through the route.
5:01 - Covering 6-8 Toilolo on the outside, Trufant keeps his eyes on the quarterback as he shuffles down the sideline, jumps and picks the ball out of the air.
Trufant looks extremely good in press and off-man coverage. He does a good job getting his hands into the receiver’s pads and disrupting routes, although sometimes he’s a little too aggressive, risking holding and interference calls. He turns quickly to pursue down the field and changes directions very sharply to mirror routes. When playing off he drives quickly on plays underneath him and reads the quarterback well. He also looks good in zone, showing good awareness of the receivers in his area.
Run defense is a bit of an issue with him. He shows no lack of willingness to get physical, but lacks the size to outmuscle blockers.
Who’s got the edge?
Press: Trufant - Despite all the hype Rhodes gets in this area, Trufant is actually better at it. He consistently disrupts routes instead of playing tag with the receiver. Both are excellent at getting quickly turned around and pursuing though.
Off: Trufant - Rhodes is not bad here, but he doesn't show the same ability reacting to inside breaking routes and the lateral quickness to position himself against them. Both play vertical routes and the sideline well. Neither has any real issues with their backpedal.
Zone: Trufant - This is sort of a win by default. Rhodes hasn't struggled in zone, but he doesn't get many opportunities in it. Trufant also plays more man, but the Washington coaches were comfortable putting him at safety against some of Stanford's heavy formations.
Run defense: Rhodes - He needs to get better at reading the running back, but Rhodes is far better at defeating blocks than Trufant.
Potential: Rhodes - While he lacks the elite quickness of Trufant, Rhodes moves extremely well for such a big corner. He has the physical ability to manhandle receivers in press as well as great length and strength to attack the ball in the receiver’s hands.
While Trufant has an advantage over Rhodes on tape, we need to consider the team drafting them when evaluating them as picks. The Giants are not likely to give extensive playing time to any rookie corner in 2013. Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster look to be penciled in as the starters, and Jayron Hosley, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross should compete for the slot job. This means that immediate impact shouldn’t be a major concern in evaluating a corner - what they’re likely to contribute in years 2-5 of their contract is far more important. This is good news for Rhodes, who has a fair amount of developing left to do. Trufant may be able to start Week 1 in the NFL, but if he’s not going to get that opportunity with the Giants it doesn’t much matter to me.
As far as scheme goes, the Giants under Perry Fewell utilize very little press coverage, relying on more zone and off-man looks. This isn’t great for either, but it’s unfortunate for Rhodes in particular, since he could develop into such an excellent press corner in the pros. Comparing their potential in a zone scheme is tough - Trufant has shown more on tape, but Rhodes should be physically capable of doing the same thing, and has better length to snare the interceptions that zone is designed to generate. Off man is bit of a different story - Rhodes does a good job of reacting to different routes and positioning himself to make the play, but Trufant has a clear edge in this area that I think is unlikely to change in the NFL.
In the end I’m going with Trufant because I love his floor/ceiling combo. His chances of busting are very low in my estimation because of his excellent tape lining up all over the field, while Rhodes is a greater risk because his technique isn’t quite there yet in multiple areas. Rhodes’ potential remains greater, but it may not be that much greater. He’s got the size advantage and great overall athleticism, but Trufant has remarkable quickness that is reflected in the numbers and on tape. I think both would be great picks at 19.