We continue to formally introduce you to our newest Vikings with our in-depth series. If you missed the one on Sharrif Floyd then click here to read all about our new defensive tackle.
Up next is someone we had identified as a possible Vikings target months ago. Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes did indeed end up being the Vikings second selection in 2013.
XAVIER RHODES, CB, FLORIDA STATE
Height: 6′ 1″
Weight: 210 pounds
Arm Length: 33 3/4″
Hand Size: 9″
Rhodes tested very well at the NFL’s Scouting Combine, but he did struggle in the positional skills, which is something you don’t see discussed in the media as much the forty times and bench press numbers. Despite his big frame he ran the 11th fastest forty yard dash of all the defensive backs at the event. Both his broad jump and vertical jump tied for the best at in Indy, while his bench press totals were adequately average.
Forty: 4.43 seconds
Bench: 14 reps
Broad Jump: 132″
PRO DAY RESULTS
Rhodes did not partake in any timed drills at the Florida State Pro Day, but scouts came away still impressed with the speed and quickness they saw from him at both events. Still, reviews from his Pro Day were in consensus regarding how the big corner can have trouble with changing direction quickly and how tight he can be in the hips. A lot of reports preceding the draft indicated that this event confirmed his inability to succeed in zone coverage, which has to be at least a little concerning to Vikings fans.
At Norland High, Rhodes was a top playmaker on offense, leading the team in both rushing and receiving during his senior season. It wasn’t until after his redshirt freshman year at Florida State that he changed to the cornerback position on a permanent basis. Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher first approached Rhodes about the position change in 2009 and Rhodes was not happy to hear the news.
“He was mad at me for a year,” remembered Fisher. “We laugh about it now.”
Rhodes didn’t want to accept the role at first as he had grown accustomed to being an accomplished receiver. Florida State receiver Rodney Smith, who also became a Viking recently as an undrafted free agent, played with Rhodes at high school football camps and described Rhodes as “pretty good.”
“I mean, I was better,” said Smith, “But he was pretty good. He was making good plays at the camps we were going to.”
Rhodes got torched badly in his practice debut as a defensive back. He said it really hit home when one receiver, Bert Reed, told him to get off the field because he wanted to practice against a real corner.
“So when he said that,” said Rhodes about the insult, “It hit me in the heart and I took that very seriously and I came back and Bert lined up and I jammed the [heck] out of him. Bert didn’t even get an inch off the line and everybody else that came up, I jammed them. And ever since then I gained confidence.”
Rhodes says that he learned to love the position, and while it took some time, it wasn’t until that love came about that he truly became good at his craft.
The reason he and Fisher can laugh about it now is because Rhodes went from being just another wide out to being one of the best shutdown corners in the nation.
Rhodes was originally born in Miami and turned down offers from West Virginia, Auburn, and Florida International to attend Florida State. Florida State was the only school that gave any indication that they had interest in converting him to a defensive back, but Rhodes never took it seriously… until it happened.
The first thing that jumps out about Rhodes as a corner is his big frame, which is something that particularly appeals to Cover-2 teams such as the Vikings. That size contributes to his success as a press corner that is known for jamming receivers off the line and disrupting route timing with his physical play. He is probably one of the better man-to-man corners the Vikings have had in a long, long time which could make them a more diverse defense capable of mixing it up a bit. While receivers can seldom get a decent block on Rhodes he hasn’t always been the best run defending corner, but we saw significant improvement over the course of last season in this area of his game. When he does have the time and angle to set up a big hit he takes full advantage and can rock a ball carrier.
Rhodes needs to continue to improve when it comes to tackling, otherwise Vikings fans will get quickly disillusioned with Rhodes for how often he gets embarrassed by NFL-caliber ball carriers. He also doesn’t have much versatility on his resume and will be relegated to outside duties nearly 100% of the time, with little ability to play in the slot. He will also need to be coached up when it comes to playing zone coverage, like the Vikings tend to do, as his game film leaves a lot to be desired in these situations. His injury history includes a 2009 hand issue and a bad knee sprain in 2011.
OTHER SCOUTING REPORTS:
The Vikings were not expected to have a chance at Rhodes unless they traded up, but he was somehow still available at #23 and then again at #25. After taking the best player available, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, at the 23 spot the Vikings then pulled the trigger on Rhodes. The move was well received immediately by Vikings fans, especially those that loathed the idea of spending that high of a pick on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. It was especially comforting to fans that were still, even after weeks had passed, reeling from the unexpected release of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield.
There were reports that the Vikings only had one player in the top tier of their draft board going into Thursday night and that player, who remains unknown at this point, was gone long before the Vikings selected at 23. When their first pick rolled around there were three players remaining in their second tier: Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Floyd was selected first and Rhodes fell into their lap at 25, while plans were already being developed to trade up an secure Patterson.
The only questions about the two defensive players revolved around how the team would utilize them from a schematic standpoint. Rhodes, in particular, seems to be a questionable choice for a Cover-2 team like coordinator Alan Williams runs.
“Right now, I’m just trying to gather them,” Rick Spielman said that evening. “We’ll figure the rest of the stuff out when we get them here.”
Secondary coach Joe Woods indicated that the selection of Rhodes, however, is what could allow the Vikings to branch out more often and get a little more aggressive than they have been.
“You can’t really sit there and say we want to play Cover-2 the whole game,” Woods said. “You can’t sit there and say you want to play man. It has to be a mixture, because any team that you play, if you have a tendency, they’re going to try to take advantage of it.
“We try to pride ourselves on playing different coverages, mixing in disguises. But now, we can mix in a little bit more man, a little more pressure. That’s just a general feel. We’ll talk about that in the offseason and see what happens.”
Rhodes said he immediately was aware of the fact that he’ll be asked, along with new teammate Chris Cook, to match up against the likes of Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson. He said that his first priority, however, was getting to know the playbook and getting to know his teammates.
That night, Brandon Marshall took note of the new, big defensive back that had been added to the NFC North. He took to Twitter to congratulate Rhodes on being drafted, but quickly added “We’ll meet soon” to his message sent directly towards the rookie.
I love the size and skills that Rhodes possesses. I love that he is not a known character concern. I love that the Vikings are finally taking the cornerback position seriously in the Draft, even if it was too late to take advantage of Winfield’s unique contract de-escalators. I love that we now have a pair of big-bodied corners to match utilize against the potent passing attacks of the NFC North. I love that the duo’s ability to jam receivers at the line could allow our stellar defensive line to be even more disruptive in the pocket and tally even higher sack totals.
Still, I worry about the schematic fit, despite the coaching staff’s persistent argument to the contrary. I worry that, like Cedric Griffin so many years ago, Rhodes will be abused on a regular basis and that it will take him multiple seasons to finally get a grasp on zone coverage and develop the technique it requires to keep opponents from finding the end zone all too easily.
Despite my worries, I am excited to see what this kid brings to the table as a rookie, because he is the most likely out of the whole class to be a full time starter from day one. The Vikings have said Rhodes was the best player on their board at 25, and I tend to believe them, so I fully condone their decision to draft the top talent at a position of need and then worry about schematic issues later on.