Vikings go big to combat NFC North WRs

The Vikings found the type of big, physical cornerback they desire to challenge the tall receivers in the NFC North.

Entering Thursday's first day of the draft, there was a lot of speculation about what needs the Vikings were going to fill with two first-round picks. Back on the clock just seven minutes after taking Sharrif Floyd with the 23rd pick, the Vikings found themselves in a similar situation – a player they coveted who was still there.

While coaches and general managers routinely laud their picks with such terms as "he fell into our laps" or "we were shocked he was still on the board," as Spielman addressed the assembled media at Winter Park Thursday night (before being ushered out to broker a deal to get back into the first round again), you got the impression he was being genuine.

Given the quarterbacks in the division (Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler) and a pair of the biggest, physical and most prolific receivers in the NFL (Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall), the Vikings were looking not only for a cornerback, but one who could stand up nose to nose with the superstar wide receivers and hold his own. The player they were targeting was Xavier Rhodes. Just as Floyd fell to them at No. 23, Rhodes was still on the board at No. 25 and the Vikings weren't about to let him get away. Nobody came up with an offer the Vikings couldn't readily refuse, even though there were offers out there.

"We got a lot of calls on to trade for the 25th pick," Spielman said. "When Xavier Rhodes was sitting there – a big press/shutdown corner – we feel he's going to be a great matchup with the type of receivers we have to face in this division."

Spielman denied speculation that Rhodes was a "need pick" even though at face value, it looked to be just that. Antoine Winfield, the unquestioned leader of the secondary, is gone to Seattle. Chris Cook has never played a full season and is in the final year of his rookie deal and a young group of other cornerbacks on the roster simply didn't have the size (6-foot-2, 210) that Rhodes brings to the table. It didn't take the Vikings long to turn in their card at Radio City Music Hall in New York City because they knew the guy they wanted was there for the taking.

"He was very high on our board at the corner," Spielman said. "We've really tried to emphasize on getting bigger corners. That was kind of our criteria. When he fell to us – we had four or five other players that we were really strongly considering, but (Rhodes was one of the) players that we would not trade out of."

Head coach Leslie Frazier believes Rhodes is a glove fit with the Vikings' scheme, where his ability to play press coverage with a team's top receiver, his experience in zone schemes, his athleticism and his history of facing elite receivers at the college level all play in his favor to get on the field and potentially start from Day One.

"His size is obvious and that sticks out," Frazier said. "He has great length. He has very good speed. He has some turnover ability as well and has competed at a high level against some very good competition in the ACC. We feel like he'll be a guy that can help match up with some of the bigger receivers in our division and help us out early on."

Spielman added that too much shouldn't be read into the style of play he was used in at Florida State. In the NFL, depending on the play, cornerbacks are asked to play press coverage – even in a Tampa-2 base zone defense – and that Rhodes is an ideal fit for a young Vikings secondary that is getting an infusion of talent from the draft.

"I think he has the instincts to play zone, but he plays a lot of press (coverage)," Spielman said. "He's a shutdown press corner and is as big a corner as you can get. He can run and has ball skills and (helps in) run support. He fits all the things we're looking for in a corner in this scheme."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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