The top Vikings cornerback on the roster is headed into his fifth year in the league, and his career has taken much of the same arc as his college career.
“It’s amazing and a shock at the same time,” said Xavier Rhodes on where he is as far as leadership on the Minnesota defense. “It seems like it was just a blink of the eye, one moment it feels like I was just getting here, the next I’m five years in and I’ve been having good seasons. Had a great season last year and a lot of young fellas want to be like me and have that kind of season [like last year], so I try and help them out and share my knowledge.”
At Florida State, the Seminoles’ product finished his career with his best year of the three, racking up 39 tackles and three interceptions, along with 12 passes defended and a forced fumble. He finished his collegiate career with 136 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, 28 passes defended and 8 interceptions.
Rhodes was trained in a system that pumps the NFL with great defensive back talent, but the knock on him was always his penalty count because of pass interference. His opening seasons in the league, he continued to suffer from the pass interference draw. The heavy problem was his bit on the double move fade, but plenty of deep routes continued to get the handsy corner in trouble.
“Just the knowledge of the game, learning more about the game, learning about the down and distance and the splits we see depending on which hash the ball is on, I could go into detail about what to learn about but just building knowledge,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes also believes he has come a long way not only as a player, but a leader as well.
“I believe I have taken more of a leadership role on the team and have a more vocal place on the defense [now].”
However, Minnesota continued to trust in the development of his raw talent and kept veterans around him, like Antoine Winfield, Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman to help his development and growth. After four seasons and now in a system with a defensive-minded head coach in Mike Zimmer, he was in a spot to take the next step, which he did in 2016, by posting monster numbers and going to his first Pro-Bowl.
“They’re doing awesome, they’ve got a great grasp of the game right now and a great grasp of the defense,” said the veteran Terrance Newman of the young player’s development. “Their knowledge of the game is improving, which is important as well because with film study and knowing where your supposed to be and where other guys are supposed to be is important and they’re getting that very well.”
Now, Rhodes is fresh off of his Pro-Bowl season that saw him tally 52 tackles, 11 passes defended, five interceptions, a touchdown and a forced fumble. Yet again, improving on past bodies of work. He was rewarded this offseason when the Vikings made him one of the highest-paid corners in the league on a 5-year extension worth $70 million, with $41 million of that guaranteed to the young defensive back. He is in a position to be what the corners like Winfield were to him, and help this team’s young cornerback talent develop, along with being a great corner himself.
“Those guys are going to be good. They’re going to be great, they just need to continue to work on their techniques and their knowledge of the game,” said Rhodes of the young corners. “Once you have both, the sky is the limit.”
It is his year to go out and prove why he was paid so handsomely, along with backing up his Pro-Bowl level season and lead the defense filled with young talent. While there is a lot riding on him and a lot of lofty expectations to fill, the corner remains his usual game-time calm.
“I’m still just trying to go out there and play football, play my game.”