According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the contending Indianapolis Colts’ achilles heel this upcoming season is at starting cornerback—which appears to be one of the roster’s lingering question marks positionally:
8. Indianapolis Colts
Achilles’ heel: cornerback
Projected starters: Xavier Rhodes, Rock Ya-Sin
Speaking of the longtime Vikings starter, Rhodes signed a one-year, $3 million contract with Indy after being cut by Minnesota. The 30-year-old isn’t the only change Indy has made in the secondary. Of the five defensive back starters who helped push Indianapolis into the postseason in 2018, only Malik Hooker and Kenny Moore are left, and the Colts declined Hooker’s fifth-year option over the offseason.
Moore, who is recovering from a groin injury, will start in the slot. That leaves three starters for two outside spots in T.J. Carrie, Rhodes and Ya-Sin. Indy would obviously love for Ya-Sin, who it took with the 34th pick in the 2019 draft, to emerge as a starter and should give him every opportunity to do so. Carrie, who was solid in 2018 before struggling as Cleveland’s slot corner in 2019, can play both inside and outside. He would make sense as a dime cornerback.
The bet the Colts are making on Rhodes comes down to scheme. When he was younger and a little more athletic, he was often used as a man-to-man corner, going up against the opposing team’s No. 1 option. According to ESPN’s automated coverage analysis, the Vikings used man coverage 59.6% of the time from 2016-18, which was tied for the fifth-highest rate in the league.
In 2019, with Rhodes and the rest of Minnesota’s corners struggling, the Vikings dialed up zone coverage at a league-average rate. He realistically can’t be an every-down man corner anymore, but he might still have the smarts and the athleticism to play in Indy’s zone-heavy scheme. Over the past two years with coordinator Matt Eberflus, only the Chargers have used zone coverages more frequently than the Colts. If they’re right, they might have found a starting-caliber cornerback on the cheap. If not, you can ask Vikings fans how many times they saw the back of Rhodes’ jersey last season.
While versatile cornerback Kenny Moore anchors the slot, the Colts have some critical question marks on the outside at starting cornerback.
The Colts will be leaning heavily upon 2nd-year cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who despite some early season rookie growing pains in 2019 was rock solid (pun intended) down the stretch for Indianapolis.
He projects to be the Colts #1 cornerback along the outside.
Starting opposite Ya-Sin at outside cornerback will be veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was one of the NFL’s worst graded cornerbacks last season but could really benefit from a scheme transition and much needed change of scenery in Indianapolis.
The former All-Pro with the Minnesota Vikings may not be what he once was as a shutdown cornerback, but he can still be a productive starter for the Colts secondary—with the right adjustments and a scheme shift less reliant upon his slightly diminished speed/athleticism.
The Colts secondary was dealt a blow when another promising 2nd-year cornerback, Marvell Tell, opted out because of COVID-19 concerns earlier this offseason.
However, the team did add versatile veteran T.J. Carrie—who should serve largely as slot insurance for Moore—the latter who the defense really missed last season when he was injured for 5 starts.
Along the outside, the Colts will be significantly relying on a combination of youth (Ya-Sin) and veteran experience (Rhodes)—with not a lot of of proven fallback options behind them—should either or both not perform up to starting expectations.
It doesn’t mean that either or both can’t clearly rise to the occasion in 2020, but it just means that the Colts lack proven backups lower on their depth chart as insurance policies.