Colts Kick Returner Isaiah Rodgers Counting on Speed to Resonate in NFL

The Massachusetts cornerback, selected in the sixth round by the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, flew under the NFL radar for some teams until he ran a 4.28-second, 40-yard dash in a pro day workout. He's been working out with older cousin Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a 12-year NFL cornerback.
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INDIANAPOLIS — The first number that might raise an eyebrow about cornerback/kick returner Isaiah Rodgers is his 4.28-second, 40-yard dash.

No doubt, the Colts’ sixth-round selection from Massachusetts can fly.

Another number to consider, however, is 170, as in pounds dripping wet on a 5-foot-10 frame. That begs the obvious question: How will Rodgers hold up to the brutal physicality of the NFL?

He led the FBS with 53 kick returns for 1,295 yards as a senior, and also uses that speed as a gunner in special-teams coverage.

This admitted underdog prepared to turn pro by working out with his older cousin, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, a 12-year NFL veteran at the position.

Rodgers, selected with the 211th overall pick, qualifies as an intriguing prospect.

“I think he made me the person that I am today,” Rodgers said of Rodgers-Cromartie on a Saturday Zoom video conference call. “I was actually sitting right next to him before I got the call. He was just telling me, ‘Keep your head up, regardless. Your dream is coming true today.’ I told him, ‘I’m just ready to go right now. Someone has to pull the trigger. I know I can be able to play at the next level.’ Just him being in my ear and being in my corner from day one, he’s just a blessing.”

Those workouts, he added, were at times rather spirited.

“We’re very competitive,” Rodgers said. “There are things that he can do that I can’t and there are a lot of things that I can do that he can’t. So we just compete and just try to be the best that we can. It’s just a family love. We have our arguments and debates about who is better at this and that. But at the end of the day, we’re all spending time together and having fun.”

Coming from a smaller school usually prompts doubt, but the Tampa, Fla., native expects that. He’s thrived with that underdog chip on his shoulder pads.

“Definitely, I’ve had it my whole life,” he said. “It just became my lifestyle. I embrace it, it made me who I am today and I’m ready.”

His conversations with the Colts focused on special teams. He could also be used in the base defense in nickel packages and inside corner. One of the best Colts defensive playmakers is nickel cornerback Kenny Moore II, so Rodgers will have an ideal mentor.

He wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but concedes that 40-yard-dash time put him on the radar for several teams. But the Colts were already aware of him.

“Yeah, it definitely sparked that day when we released the video,” he said of his 4.28-second sprint. “Teams were calling in and out, trying to get to the video or just see if it’s actually true. We had an ex-NFL scout also run it so they knew it was validated to be fact. I would say it blew up after that.”

As much as scouts focused on that speed, Rodgers said his vision for oncoming tacklers is the key to being a capable returner.

“I think what makes me a great returner,” he said, “is just you’ve got to have good eyes and make a small hole a big hole.”