The 2021 Indianapolis Colts' season was one that was full of surprises. From a blazing hot stretch halfway through the year to a monumental collapse late in the season, 2021 was one insane ride for fans of the team.
While there were plenty of individual player storylines that shocked us in 2021, one of the more surprising revelations of the year was the emergence of cornerback Isaiah Rodgers. Rodgers, a sixth round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, was selected primarily for his ability on special teams out of college.
"I know Bubba (Ventrone) and (Chris) Ballard wanted me specially as a special teams guy for returning and gunner." said Rodgers.
With injuries piling up early in the season, Rodgers started to see some real playing time on defense throughout the year. He finished the season with 525 total snaps on defense, which was a drastic increase from his 56 as a rookie in 2020.
With the departures of Xavier Rhodes and Rock Ya-Sin this offseason, Rodgers is in line for an even bigger role in 2022. Today, I break down why this talented corner is ready for the next step this upcoming season.
Rodgers started off the season as a reserve corner, as he saw just 40 defensive snaps in the first three games of the year. When injuries began to pile up in the cornerback room, Rodgers immediately stepped into a bigger role. From week three until the end of the season, he only had one game where he saw less than 20 snaps on defense (and five games with over 40 snaps).
On the year, Rodgers was strong in coverage. He allowed a completion percentage of just 62.3 percent on the season, and he came away with three interceptions and three pass breakups. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 72.2 when targeting Rodgers last year, which was good for best on the team.
Rodgers was also strong in deep coverage a year ago, as he allowed just three receptions of over 20 yards in 366 coverage snaps. Also, while his tackling could stand to improve a bit, he did come away with 12 stops this past season (which was second behind just Kenny Moore II out of all Colts' cornerbacks).
"The coaches always knew I was fast. They never wanted to see anybody get behind me." Rodgers explained. "My main thing was that I was never going to get beat over the top. That allowed me to focus on the rest of my game and not really worry about that aspect of play."
Simply a Playmaker
Rodgers made some jaw-dropping plays in coverage this past season. He may be on the smaller end for the position, but his athleticism and ball skills more than make up for this deficiency.
The interceptions in the video below are borderline elite plays by a promising young player. The first clip, against Houston, shows his insane recovery speed and ball skills to steal this interception late in the game. The second clip, against Tampa Bay, is a perfect blend of ball tracking and smooth lateral movement to make a play.
The third clip, against Las Vegas, initially shows Rodgers getting beat off of the line by veteran DeSean Jackson. He then shows off his insane recovery speed, as he runs down the track star receiver and then outjumps him for the interception. These are difficult interceptions that Rodgers made look easy in in his first real year of play on defense.
"Once the ball is in the air, it is 50/50. Something that I love about the corner position is that even if you knock the ball down, it is still a stat." said Rodgers. "You want those interceptions, though. We always joke about who has the best athleticism and the best hands in the DB room."
Silky Smooth in Coverage
Outside of the freaky interceptions, Rodgers also flashed some phenomenal movement skills in coverage. He has to improve a bit on his timing and overall technique, but he is rare athlete that is silky smooth in how he lateral moves with receivers.
His change of direction and ball skills are on full display in these clips below. He is effortless in and out of his breaks and sometimes has to even slow himself down coming downhill so he doesn't arrive too early. If he can just hone these special skills in going forward, he can truly be a Pro Bowl corner.
"I work a lot in the offseason to show my speed on the defensive side of the ball." Rodgers explained. "I work a lot on showing that I can move forward with speed, but also backwards and laterally as well."
Where to Improve?
Outside of cleaning up some technical issues, Rodgers' biggest concern at the moment is how he plays through the hands of the receiver. He is always contesting catches and in the right position, he just has to improve at jarring out the ball when he is in a spot to make a play.
Luckily, the team has brought in a long-time DB Coach in Ron Milus to help Rodgers with these minor deficiencies. Allowing a completion percentage of just 62% in 2021 was phenomenal, but that number can get even lower if Rodgers improves on his timing.
This is far from a major concern and Rodgers should be able to clean this up quite easily with more playing time.
Why the Breakout is Coming
Isaiah Rodgers is a special athlete with sky high potential in the NFL. His ball skills and change of direction ability are some of the best that I've seen since I began covering the Colts back in 2018. He has some minor improvements to make, but there shouldn't be too many obstacles in his way from hitting his potential.
While the Colts did sign two veteran cornerbacks this offseason in Stephon Gilmore and Brandon Facyson, Rodgers should be in line for another 500+ defensive snap season in 2022. In a new scheme with a (hopefully) better pass rush in front of him, Rodgers should be able to thrive in his third year in the league.
Rodgers is an uber-talented player that will continually get better in this league. How much better? Well, I don't want to say this definitively, but I could absolutely see him being a Pro Bowler in the future. He has the skills, the athleticism, and the mindset to be a premium ball-hawk corner. With a little more work, Rodgers can be a star in the NFL.
Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.