Vikings patch hole at cornerback with FSU's Rhodes
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are the receivers the Minnesota Vikings have the misfortune of facing twice a season while playing in the NFC North.
They all have a common trait: height.
Johnson is 6-foot-5, Marshall is 6-foot-4, Nelson is 6-foot-3 and Jones is 6-foot-1.
Minnesota is hoping it now has the height to match up with those receivers after taking 6-foot-2, 217-pound Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes with its second of three first-round picks in Thursday's NFL Draft.
Two picks after selecting Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings didn't pass on the chance to add Rhodes, who can play press coverage and man-to-man, while also fitting in Minnesota's Cover 2 zone system.
"We were sitting there, got a lot of calls on trades for the 25th pick, and then Xavier Rhodes was sitting there, the corner, a big press shutdown corner that we feel is going to be a great matchup with the type of receivers that we have to face in this division," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "So, to sit there and get two quality players like that, can't tell you how excited, well, coach (Leslie) Frazier and coach (Alan) Williams are right now, along with our scouting staff."
Cornerback became a more pressing need earlier this offseason after Minnesota released three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield in a cost-cutting move that left the Vikings with an unsightly hole at a key position in the pass-happy NFC North.
But even Winfield, for all his veteran savvy, wasn't a good matchup against the receivers in the division at 5-foot-9. Now, Minnesota hopes it can pair Rhodes with 6-foot-2 Chris Cook in the secondary to better combat the likes of Johnson, Marshall, Nelson and Jones.
"His size is obvious," Frazier said of Rhodes. "He's a guy who has great length. He has very good speed. He has some turnover ability as well and he's competed at a very high level against some very good competition in the ACC. So, we feel like he's a guy who can come in and match up with some of the bigger receivers in our division and our league as well; should be able to help us early on. It was an area we needed to address, and we were able to get it addressed."
Before adding Rhodes, the Vikings had Cook, Josh Robinson (5-foot-10), A.J. Jefferson (6-foot-1) and Marcus Sherels (5-foot-10) as their most experience returning cornerbacks.
Rhodes, a 23-year-old, three-year starter, had three interceptions last year and eight in his career at Florida State. An All-Athletic Coast Conference pick last season, Rhodes was ranked as one of the top corner covers in the draft and likely will have the chance to compete for a starting job immediately.
Rhodes is not considered raw as far as prospects go, but even he knows improvement will be needed to face the top receivers in the league.
"I'm going to have to get better because them guys, like everybody says, are great players," Rhodes said of the receivers in the NFC North. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Rhodes said he hadn't had any contact with Minnesota since the Combine and didn't expect to be drafted by the Vikings. But the Vikings saw a player who fit their need. Spielman, who said two days earlier he would be open to trading back because of the depth in the draft, decided the players who fell to Minnesota at Nos. 23 and 25 were too good to pass up and filled needs.
"I know we really tried to emphasize on getting bigger corners," Spielman said. "That was kind of our criteria… Him and Floyd were two of the players we said we would not trade out of and take those two players and try to fill the rest of the needs as we go through the draft."
Frazier, a former corner himself and a coach with defensive roots, enjoyed seeing defensive players such as Floyd and Rhodes tumble down the board as teams drafted offensive linemen early.
"It was good to see," Frazier said. "I still believe that you win championships with solid defense. You've got to be able to score points, and you've got to be able to do it in a variety of ways, but the way offenses are now and the way the rules are, you've got to find a way to slow people down. I think today we added two pieces to the puzzle that will help us in getting that done."
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