Minnesota Vikings: Is Xavier Rhodes still a top NFL cornerback?

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Xavier Rhodes
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Xavier Rhodes /

After making consecutive Pro Bowls and being elected First Team All-Pro after the 2017 season, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes found himself off both lists in 2018. Was his play last season that far beneath his previous two?

The cornerback position is hard to play. Some say it’s the toughest job in the game after quarterback.

It’s also hard to decipher, analyze and adjudicate. In examining stats, writers can manipulate their judgments with such things like a corner’s “target rate” versus his “completion percentage”, and “opponent receptions not achieving first downs”.

They can also rationalize their results. For instance, in making the New Orleans Saints’ Marshon Lattimore one of his top-rated corners, a writer at Pro Football Focus explains that the reason Lattimore had a disappointing sophomore season in 2018 is that he was matched up against the NFL’s elite receivers.

The same writer has 34-year-old Jonathon Joseph at number ten on his list for 2018. He explains that although in 2017 Joseph allowed the highest QB passer rating as an NFL cornerback in almost a decade, he bounced back in a big way the next season, allowing a 76.0 rating this year.

According to this guy’s logic–can we at least see the quarterbacks he played against in 2018?

Meanwhile, X gets an X on his list, as well from the majority of other such lists from writers that cover the game.

Where’s The Respect?

In 2016, Xavier Rhodes allowed only 36 catches for 429 yards in his first year as a Pro Bowler. As a leader of the Vikings’ number one defense in 2017, he was being voted to be a First-team All-Pro.

In 2018, the Minnesota Vikings disappointed with an 8-7-1 2018 campaign, and number 29 slips off the ‘top corner’ radar. It almost seems that he and his “Rhodes Closed” hoodie have disappeared.

What happened? Did his stats fall off the table? Did he give up a bunch of touchdowns? Lose games? Did he let Aaron Rodgers use him like the fat kid on the other team?

No. Not really. In fact–as a First Team All-Pro in 2017, Rhodes allowed 47 receptions for 538 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His yard per catch average was 11.4 and his catch rate allowed percentage was 53.7.

In 2018, Rhodes allowed 52 receptions for 594 yards for three touchdowns and two interceptions. His yard per catch average was again 11.4 and his catch rate allowed was 57.3.

In 2017, the Vikings finished the season second in passing yards allowed and first in touchdowns allowed. Safety Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes were elected First Team All-Pros.

In 2018, despite playing a first-place schedule, the Minnesota Vikings completed the season third in yards allowed and first in touchdowns.

Harry the Hitman got a Pro Bowl nod, but Xavier Rhodes got a bagel. He also got hit with a brick of bad press after a season where a nagging ankle injury and a hamstring pull got in his way, but he still pulled his weight on one of the NFL’s top defensive secondaries.

Of course, when you go 13-3 in one season, you get seven players voted to the Pro Bowl, when you go 8-7-1, you’re lucky to get four.

Off His Game?

Again, it’s not easy to grade corners unless they are intercepting footballs all the time. And we know that Mike Zimmer’s defense is a precautionary one where picks don’t come in bunches from opportunistic corners. Rhodes is also not a corner that many opposing quarterbacks like to target.

But some have said that Rhodes has lost a step. That young players like the Packers wideout Davante Adams, among others, were now out-classing hum.

So let’s look at that. In a Week 2 matchup that played into overtime in Green Bay, Adams had 8 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Rhodes shut Adams down completely, and the Vikings had their opportunity to win a crucial home game with a chip shot by a rookie placekicker.

In a Week 12 rematch in Minnesota, Adams had 5 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown for the game. In the fourth quarter, with the Vikings up by 10, Adams did indeed get past Rhodes for a 36 yard gain–however, three plays later, with 2:25 left on the clock, Rhodes defended a pass to Adams on third down that forced a Packer field goal and squeezed Green Bay into an onside kick situation that ultimately failed.

By point of fact, the pass defense of the Minnesota Vikings was downright stellar after a Los Angles Rams team embarrassed them in L.A. in Week 4. The culpability of that loss, of course, has been accepted by Zimmer–more than once.

How do you dominate such a team in 2017, allowing only seven points and a mere 254 total yards–then lose to the same squad on the road, giving up 31 more points and 300 more yards?

By getting cute. And Mike admitted it.

Roll On

Going into 2019, Xavier Rhodes and Mike Zimmer are a tandem. The veteran DB coach and the veteran DB. In 2014, new Vikings’ head coach Zimmer looked over a team and found a few players to be excited about. One was a wild and powerful defensive end from USC named Everson Griffen and another was a rangy kid from Florida State named Rhodes.

He liked Griffen, but he loved what he saw in Rhodes. Zimmer made him an NFL corner, a Pro-Bowler, an All-Pro.

Both these players and this coach have been rewarded for their success in the NFL, in at least the financial dimension of things. But after a season of football success in 2017, they all face new challenges as they move into the future of their careers.

For Xavier Rhodes, in the middle of a multi-million dollar contract signed in 2017, the challenge may be in ignoring the fact that many consider him presently to be less than the top corner in the NFL. Something that he, at one time not long ago, declared himself as being.

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What Rhodes may have to do–after he has re-assured himself and continues to play at a top level–is to be part of a team that wins more games than the Minnesota Vikings did in 2018.