Vikings’ 25-and-under top 10: Xavier Rhodes

Xavier Rhodes made big strides in 2014 and should a cornerstone of the defense for years to come, making him one of the top-10 Vikings 25 years old and under.

Xavier Rhodes is becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in just two seasons. The Vikings selected him in the first round of the 2013 draft because they hoped his size and physical play would match up well against some of the bigger receivers in the NFC North.

He played in 13 games during his rookie season, and even though he showed flashes of his potential he never seemed truly comfortable. A big reason why is that Rhodes is more of a press corner and Leslie Frazier, the Vikings head coach in 2013, liked to have his defense play in a Tampa-2 scheme and often asked his corners to play zone coverage. Zone coverage was not his forte as a rookie.

Fast forward to the 2014 season and Frazier was out after the Vikings hired Mike Zimmer to be the new head coach. Zimmer likes his corners to be physical and often has them play in man coverage. Zimmer has also specialized in working with defensive backs since he entered the league in 1994 as an assistant coach to the nickel defense with the Dallas Cowboys.

The new head coach took a special interest in Rhodes during offseason workouts and helped him improve on different techniques. That extra help and a change of defensive schemes clearly was a boon to Rhodes as he showed a great improvement in his second year.

As a rookie, Rhodes recorded 48 tackles and 10 passes defensed. In his second season, he recorded 49 tackles, one interception and 18 passes defensed. The stats may not be all that different, but Rhodes seemed to get targeted less in his second year and would be able to take receivers out of the game on occasions. Toward the end of the year Zimmer trusted him enough to shadow the opponents’ No. 1 receiver, which is something he had never done in the NFL.

Even though he showed a lot of improvement between his rookie and second seasons, there is still plenty that Rhodes needs to improve. First and foremost is hauling in more interceptions. Zimmer says he is not too worried about how many interceptions his defensive backs record, but an interception can change the momentum and the course of the game. Rhodes gets his hands on a lot of balls; now he just needs to hold onto more of them.

This marks the third year of Rhodes’ four-year rookie contract. Since he was a first-round pick, the Vikings will have the ability to give him a fifth-year option at the end of this season, and barring any big changes in 2015 you should be able to expect them to take advantage of that. He seems to be one of the players the Vikings are going to want to keep around for years to come and sign him to a long-term deal.

But let’s say the team isn’t able to reach a long-term extension with Rhodes and he leaves after the 2016 season, who on the team would replace him? The Vikings drafted Trae Waynes in the first round of the 2015 draft and the hope is that he will become the starting cornerback opposite Rhodes. If Rhodes did leave the team, Waynes would likely take over the responsibilities of being the team’s No. 1 cornerback.

The player then playing opposite Waynes would come down to a couple of options. One player would be Josh Robinson, but that is only if the Vikings re-sign him. Another player that would be a possibility is Jabari Price. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2014 who was able to make the team as a rookie. The Vikings really seem to like him and what he has to offer. The final option to look at would be Captain Munnerlyn. He started opposite Rhodes last year but seemed to struggle throughout the year. Munnerlyn is a smaller corner and Zimmer has said that he would prefer to use him in the slot and not on the outside.

Luckily for Vikings fans, though, is that replacing Rhodes likely will not come to fruition. Instead, it’s more likely that the Vikings get a long-term deal done with Rhodes and he remains with them for many more years.

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