INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are willing to bend on certain physical measurements when it comes to selecting players in the NFL Draft, as long as that player has some sort of special trait that helps make up for their lack of size.
At 5-10, 170 pounds, former UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers doesn't have the size most teams are looking for in an outside cornerback, and it's even on the borderline for a slot defender. However, he has some special traits that helped get him the green light for the Colts.
In the sixth round of the draft on Saturday, the Colts sent cornerback Quincy Wilson to the New York Jets in exchange for the 211th-overall pick, which they then used to select Rodgers.
What the Colts get with Rodgers is elite speed — he was clocked running a 4.28 40-yard dash during draft prep — and kickoff return ability, as well as high-end instincts and ball skills on defense.
"Isaiah Rodgers – he's got rare speed, he's an explosive returner and he takes away the ball," Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters after the draft on Saturday evening.
In four years at UMass, he totaled 11 interceptions, with at least two in each season, to go with 34 pass breakups. As a return man, he had 99 kickoff returns for 2,338 yards (23.6 avg.), and returned 21 punts for 156 yards (7.4 avg.) and a score.
Rodgers' special abilities left an imprint in the UMass program record books, as he leaves school No. 1 all-time in kick returns, kick return yards and interceptions returned for a touchdown (three). He also ranks third in pass breakups, and has the school's most in the FBS era.
He was named All-ECAC as both a defensive back and return specialist as a senior in 2019 after leading the country in kickoff returns (53) and kickoff return yards (1,295) yards.
After hearing his name called in the draft on Saturday, Rodgers spoke with the Indianapolis media about how he got here and what he can provide the Colts. You can listen to that entire session above, but here are a few key takeaways:
» Following in the footsteps of his cousin: Rodgers' older cousin is former NFL cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who played 12 seasons in the league, primarily for the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.
The two are very close, and Rodgers-Cromartie has helped shape Rodgers not only as a football player, but as a man.
"I think he made me the person I am today. 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's coming true today,'" Rodgers said. "I'm just like, 'I'm just ready to go right now. Someone's gotta pull the trigger. I know I can play at the next level.' And him just being in my ear and being in my corner from Day 1, he's just a blessing."
» As a man who wears different hats, where does Rodgers fit with the Colts?: As an elite return specialist but an undersized defensive back, Rodgers was asked if he's been told by the Colts where they expect to play him moving forward.
"They're gonna use me more so on nickel packages, go to inside corner," Rodgers responded. "And then definitely every aspect of the game in special teams, from kickoff return, punt return and gunner."
While Kenny Moore II has the starting nickel cornerback job on lock, Rodgers can put himself in position to earn a backup job at that spot with a solid offseason, training camp and preseason.
At returner, the Colts return Nyheim Hines, who had a record-setting day Week 16 last year against the Carolina Panthers when he returned two punts for touchdowns, but Rodgers will most certainly get his share of offseason reps returning kickoffs.
» Although he's undersized, what does Rodgers do best?: He's not the first guy to join the NFL and not meet typical size measurement standards, so it's not a major deterrent in what he could develop into. With that said, what would Rodgers say he brings to the table, both as a defender and a return man?
"Just speaking with the Colts over the past few weeks and months, I think my best trait regardless of the size, is my athleticism. Just being able to get the ball, whether that's an interception or just making sure the receiver doesn't catch it," Rodgers said. "They talk about the size and the weight, but I have great length, great arm length and great eye contact for the ball.
"I was more so on the outside (in college), but I've practiced a lot on the inside playing nickel to get ready for the NFL," Rodgers said of where he has experienced lining up in the secondary in college. "I led the nation in return yards last year, and I also contributed on punt return and gunner, so I was mainly on all special teams as well."
Get your first look at cornerback Isaiah Rodgers after he was selected 211th overall by the Indianapolis Colts.