Monday, July 27, 2015

chris cook

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

ATTRIBUTES

Height:  6′ 1″

Weight:  210 pounds

Arm Length:  33 3/4″

Hand Size:  9″

COMBINE RESULTS

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

Vertical:  40.5″

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.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

With or without the possibility of resigning cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings could use some more young, promising talent in their defensive backfield.  Both safety and cornerback are positions of need and the team will likely look to the Draft to add some help.

One of the most interesting prospects in this class is former LSU defensive back Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, who was reportedly a part of the Vikings “Top 30″ event they host annually in an attempt to get to know certain prospects better.  His inclusion in the event makes a ton of sense considering he has about as many question marks as any prospect in this Draft class.

Mathieu’s college career went from a peak to a valley very quickly when he was booted from the LSU team in April of 2012 for violating team rules, and then was subsequently arrested along with former teammates for drug related activity.  Mathieu then decided to check himself into substance rehabilitation, but the prospect that was once viewed as a sure-fire first round prospect had already done too much damage to his reputation to fully recover his draft stock within only one year.

In 2011, Mathieu was widely considered the best defender in college football, and was a rare defensive back Heisman Trophy candidate.  He led his team with 76 tackles and tacked on 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles, nine defended passes, and two interceptions.  Despite being only 5′ 9″ and 186 pounds, Mathieu was certainly a defender with knack for the big play and someone to be feared.

Equally as impressive was his versatility, something which is as popular as ever in the NFL, as LSU moved him all around the secondary and he was a dangerous player on special teams.  He averaged 16 yards per punt return and scored twice in 2011, and was equally as effective in keeping opposing return men from scoring as a part of LSU’s coverage squad.

After not playing football in 2012, teams are trying to get a feel for Mathieu’s commitment to being a professional, and most of those questions are going to center around his off the field woes.  At the Scouting Combine, he was at least able to make it clear that he is still the same athlete that we saw on tape from his time at LSU.

Like his nickname would indicate, Mathieu plays football with a certain amount of tenaciousness and his presence on the field far exceeds his physical size.  He can play man or zone coverage, he can tackle very well, has incredible instincts, and seems to constantly make plays on the ball.

Mathieu is expected to start getting attention from the teams that haven’t taken him of their board in the second round, but concerns about his character and his size could keep him waiting even longer to hear his name called.  If the Vikings are the team to take that chance at some point on Draft Weekend, he could immediately compete to fill Antoine Winfield’s role as a nickel corner or the starting safety spot across from Harrison Smith.  He also would be a strong candidate to dethrone Marcus Sherels as the top punt returner on the roster.

Winfield’s absence, however, also means Mathieu would be joining a secondary with very little veteran oversight.  Both he and Chris Cook would feel like weekly liabilities in terms of being able to suit up every Sunday.

I can see the attraction here, and some analysts in Minnesota feel he is well worth the risk, but I also just can’t see the team spending anything more than a third round pick on someone so seemingly undependable.

I chose the following highlight video for two reasons.  First, most of the other options were filled with foul language in the music choices which didn’t seem appropriate for these pages.  Second, ont he plays were he ends up with the football I want to to watch his eye/helmet… notice how great he is at anticipating where the football is going to end up.  Footballs are fairly unpredictable by nature, but he just seems to know.

On the surface, it makes sense for a team that obviously still considers itself to be rebuilding to release a soon-to-be 36 year old cornerback that carried a $7.5 million salary.

When you state it that plainly, it is really hard to argue with the logic, and therefore it shouldn’t be considered the most unreasonable course of action to take.

Still, when the Vikings released Antoine Winfield on Tuesday I couldn’t help but be a little upset at the Vikings organization, even while dismissing the emotional attachment I think most Vikings fans felt for the powerful little cornerback.

In 2009, Winfield agreed to a unique contract with the Vikings that was lauded, by both the team and the player, as a deal that would see him retire as a Viking.  The contract reportedly contained de-escalators (or escalators, depending on how you look at it) that greatly reduced Winfield’s salary in the final years of the deal.  The mechanism was based off of playing time.

The thought was that as Winfield got older the Vikings could relegate him to playing strictly out of the nickel, where he has always been at his best, and elongate his career while also paying him accordingly.

Instead, the Vikings used Winfield’s presence as an excuse to not seriously upgrade the cornerback position and constantly had to rely on Winfield to step into a starting role, seemingly week after week, which is how he triggered the pay raise.  During the time since Winfield signed this contract the most they invested into a cornerback was when they used a second rounder on Chris Cook, a known character risk, who has missed plenty of time with legal issues and injuries.

So, when I heard that Winfield refused to take a pay cut to stay with the Vikings, I was not surprised nor could I blame him.  His 2013 salary was a result of what he had done in the past, it was money he had already earned by being the great player we all know him to be, and this is one of those  rare cases when a player should feel entitled to money has not yet been paid.

Winfield gave us a ton of great memories over the years, including delivering a speech to his teammates last season that was cited as a reason for the defense playing better down the stretch, and he will be greatly missed.  The Vikings front office had an opportunity to improve their secondary and keep Winfield at a reasonable price.

Instead, they still have major question marks at the position, and Winfield had to be cut for cap reasons.

That is one to put in the “fail” column.

Adam has been absolutely killing it with his ‘Draft Target’ posts. Come April 25th, there will likely be no one the readers here at VT haven’t heard of the way he’s been rolling these things out. But I can’t let him have all the fun, right? Plus, I need to get my studying on as in a few days I will be representing Vikings Territory for the second time in #MockOne (Don’t know what #MockOne is? Check it out here.)

Xavier Rhodes. This is a name you may want to get familiar with in the next couple months headed up to the draft. The lengthy Cornerback from Florida St. has definitely began to catch the eyes of draftniks out there. And with a stellar performance today at the final day of the 2013 NFL Combine, he is likely to attract even more attention.

Rhodes (22) graduated from Norland High School in his hometown of Miami, Florida. In 2009, Xavier only played in two games, one for Boston College and the other for Georgia Tech, due to a hand injury that kept him from participating the majority of the season. In 2010, he moved to FSU where he impressed “as a promising young star” and won various rookie and freshman awards. In his next two years at Florida State, Rhodes solidified his role as one of the best corners in the nation and was on watch lists for both the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards.

Read any scouting report for Xavier Rhodes and I promise you’ll find the word ‘big’ within the first thirty words. Rhodes measured in at the combine at a whopping 6’1″ tall and 210 lbs. His size and large frame allow him to be an excellent press corner who is always pressuring the receiver. Don’t be mislead by his size, though. Rhodes ran a 4.43 40 at the combine today. He also had the highest vertical jump and broad jump of any defensive backs at the combine showing great leg strength and explosion. This ability to get off the ground coupled with his lengthy stature allows him to compete for balls with receivers. Rhodes is also well-known as being one of the best (if not the best) cover corners in the nation.The only real, consistent knock on Rhodes is that he isn’t amazing in run support and could work on his tackling.

There are bigger needs for the Vikings than Cornerback, no doubt about it. But, there are a few reasons why I think this pick would be really good for the Vikings.

First and foremost, I’m not completely sold on taking a wide receiver late in the first round (yet…). To me, the value just isn’t there and you could likely find someone comparable to the receivers who will be first off the board in the second and third rounds. Secondly, I really like what our secondary would look like with a guy like Rhodes added to the squad. Picture it – a physical, big-framed giant on each side, Cook and Rhodes (if Cook can stay healthy…), Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson in the mix on occassion and the bruiser Harrison Smith lurking around in the backfield waiting to destroy someone. Doesn’t that sound awesome?! I just think the value is there at Cornerback with a guy like Rhodes, especially when this year’s draft is so deep at other defensive positions.

Xavier Rhodes could be a player who makes the Vikings secondary one to be feared for years to come in the NFC North – a division that is ripe with good quarterback play and big receivers.

If Xavier Rhodes is available when the Vikings are on the clock come April 25th (and that’s a big ‘if’ considering his stellar performance at the combine) it will be very interesting to see if the Vikings surprise people and go with the Florida State DB.

Check out the video below for some good tape on Rhodes. And feel free to leave some comments with some guys that you think would be worth looking at in our “Draft Target” series.

It has been awhile since the Minnesota Vikings have gone into a season with the talent and depth at cornerback that they currently have.  Still, they could use some help at the position, and there are a ton of potential free agents to choose from if they want to dip into that pool.

Antoine Winfield is a possible cap casualty, although it seems unlikely, and A.J. Jefferson is a restricted free agent.  Thus, there are no pressing vacancies at the position at this point, but an NFL team can never have too many good cornerbacks and should never stop looking for upgrades.

Top Tier

Despite the lengthy list of free agent cornerbacks, I am not sure that any belong in this category, but I feel most strongly that Leodis McKelvin out of Buffalo has the highest ceiling.  Plus, he is the most likely to actually hit the open market since Buffalo has so many pending free agents.  He has been pretty solid as a spot starter and provides excellent skills on special teams, and I think he could compete for a starting job across from Chris Cook while also helping out the special teams unit.

Keenan Lewis was very solid for Pittsburgh as a starter in 2012 and could start for most NFL teams, including the Vikings.  Meanwhile, Miami’s Sean Smith underachieved for most of last season, but there is little doubt he still possesses the ability to play at a very high level in this league.

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