Offseason acquisitions in the NFL are often designed to fix a team weakness. A free-agency acquisition or a draft pick for need can theoretically fill a hole, or an area that was well below average in the previous season.
No, it doesn't always work out. Maybe the change of scenery doesn't help, or the player doesn't translate from college the way the front office imagined. But sometimes the move pays off exactly as intended, and there is statistical evidence of that new player's impact on a given prior area of weakness.
Today, we're taking a look at seven teams' specific areas of improvement in 2020 that were fueled by a new acquisition through free agency, trade or the draft. Seth Walder points out the statistical surge and how the numbers show a player's contribution, while Matt Bowen dives into the tape and indicates why that player's skill set has played a big part in the boost in that area. One important qualifier: We should emphasize that multiple factors impact any area of the game, and while these players have helped create upgrades, they aren't the sole reasons for them.
Note: All stats are through Week 10 of the season.
Pass defense: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Indianapolis Colts
Statistical surge: The Colts rank seventh best in expected points added (EPA) per pass play allowed this season, a big jump from their No. 21 ranking in the same category last season. The biggest reason? Rhodes, whom they picked up from the bargain bin after the former star's play dropped off in 2019.
OK, that's putting it generously. Rhodes' completion percentage over expectation allowed last season in Minnesota was plus-18%, per NFL Next Gen Stats, meaning opponents completed passes at a rate 18 percentage points higher than we would expect for average players, given the throws made against him. That was the worst number for an outside corner by a mile (the next highest was plus-11%). This year? He's at minus-15%, the best number among outside corners. Indianapolis' gamble on him paid off. Big-time. -- Seth Walder
How he's doing it: In the Colts' zone-heavy coverage system -- one that protects Rhodes' declining recovery speed at this stage of his career -- the veteran utilizes his physical play style to generate on-the-ball production. This season, Rhodes has already registered eight pass breakups and two interceptions, including a pick-six.
He's a long corner with competitive coverage traits, and he can still match up in man situations and finish plays at the point of attack. However, I see Rhodes as a prime fit for the Colts' foundational split-safety schemes, with disruptive interior defenders who speed up the process for opposing quarterbacks. -- Matt Bowen