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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes reaching elite status

By Matthew Coller

Two days before the Minnesota Vikings matched up with the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, cornerback Xavier Rhodes said he wasn’t interested in trying to get into extracurricular activity with hot-headed receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Maybe it wasn’t his intent or maybe he didn’t want to reveal his plan, but that’s exactly what he did to Beckham.

In the first quarter, the video game cover boy was flagged for taunting after a little nudge by Rhodes out of bounds set him off. When the dust settled, Beckham had his worst career game with just three catches for 23 yards and Rhodes was hanging out on the ESPN set talking with Steve Young.

The Vikings’ corner was selected 25th overall in 2013 out of Florida State. He was the fifth defensive back off the board with New York Jets bust Dee Millner going ninth overall. One of the criticisms of Rhodes coming out of the draft was that he struggled in zone coverage and wasn’t great when he had to play the nickel spot. It’s possible those things are still true, but since he plays the shutdown role, it hasn’t mattered.

His strength is, well, his strength. At 6-foot-1, 210-pounds, Rhodes can reach out an jab receivers to slow them down at the line of scrimmage without any concern of losing his balance. Combine that with a 4.4 40-yard dash and it’s difficult for either big/physical receivers like Kelvin Benjamin or small/quick ones like Beckham to get open against him.

While Rhodes’ size and speed does make him a rare physical specimen for the position, there’s another attribute that goes overlooked: His knack for understanding receivers. The 26-year-old gave this breakdown of Beckham before their matchup:

“He’s really explosive,” Rhodes said. “He’s a great route runner. He is good at attacking the ball in the air. He’s just an all-around player. He can get pretty physical with you in the middle of his route. You have to just play your game and not get distracted by all the good things he does.”

The previous week, the Vikings’ No. 1 cover went against Kelvin Benjamin and allowed zero catches for the Panthers’ top receiver. In fact, Benjamin wasn’t even targeted until the fourth quarter and Rhodes wasn’t going against him on that particular play. Before the Carolina game, Rhodes again gave an in-depth analysis of what he was going against.

“He’s going to throw you around,” Rhodes said. “He’s going to be physical with you and you can’t allow him to do that. You have to have great technique and cut him off on some routes to the point where he can’t put his hands on you and stay on top of him. And once he puts his hands on you, you have to be physical right along with him.”

It isn’t just stars with last names beginning with B who have struggled against Rhodes. Quarterbacks are completing 46.2% of their passes in his direction and have a 35.2 quarterback rating against him. That’s the best in the NFL. While this year has been his breakout season, QBs only have a 78.0 rating versus Rhodes over his career. More or less, when quarterbacks throw his way, they are about as effective as Bobby Hebert (credit to PFF writer Eric Eager for that comparable).

There’s another part of his game that’s helped elevate Rhodes to elite status: He has the same calm confidence that you’d want in your surgeon. After breaking Beckham, he smiled, talked quietly and laughed politely as interview requests came in waves – ESPN, NFL Network and on and on. After he picked off Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer twice, including one for a 100-yard touchdown, Rhodes joked at his locker with a mass of reporters about needing oxygen on the sideline. His play suggests he’s a only-talks-once-a-week player, but he leaves the diva status to the receivers he shuts down.

Before Minnesota’s matchup with the Chicago Bears, Rhodes was asked about a terrific catch that Alshon Jeffery made against him the previous year. “Man, that was a great catch. Sometimes they get you, that’s how it goes,” he said.

On Thursday night, Rhodes will face another one of the league’s elite in Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. The star receiver is every bit as volatile as Beckham and nearly as big as Benjamin. Bryant, who has 33 catches for 550 yards this season, feuded with cornerback Josh Norman on Thanksgiving Day, resulting in several scuffles. You can bet Rhodes took note.

The post Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes reaching elite status appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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