Xavier Rhodes will likely start opposite of Chris Cook as a rookie in 2013.
In the film American Gangster, Denzel Washington’s character says, “the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”
While Washington wasn’t talking about football, he could have been talking about the Minnesota Vikings’ three first-round draft choices: Sharrif Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson and Xavier Rhodes.
Who will have the best rookie season?
While the first two names are drawing all the headlines, the latter is flying under the radar, but he won’t be once the season begins.
Floyd was Minnesota’s first selection at No. 23 overall, and was projected to be, at the very least, a top-10 selection by most draft analysts. He has the natural athleticism and power that scouts and executives drooled over.
Patterson was the consensus No. 2 wide receiver in this year's draft class, by most accounts, behind West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (the No. 8 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams).
Patterson is considered a legitimate deep threat with good size (6’2”, 216 lbs) and speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash). Some fans are even going so far as to utter the name of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (i.e. Randy Moss) when describing his prospects.
Both players are phenomenal talents. But look at most scouting reports on them.
Floyd bounced around the defensive line at Florida. He didn’t focus on one spot. He’s also undersized for an ideal three-technique (6’3” and 297 lbs). He’ll need to gain roughly 20 pounds. Kevin Williams, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, measures out about what Floyd would with 20 pounds (6’5” and 311 lbs).
Patterson played one year of Division I football and two years in high school. He’s still learning the position and has average hands. He needs to run better routes, something he admitted to the Associated Press, and demonstrate the ability to overcome the physicality of NFL cornerbacks.
Don’t get me wrong: Both project as elite players at their positions, but that’s in the distant future. I’m talking about now.
Floyd and Patterson are likely to enter training camp as non-starters with the opportunity to earn a starting role—which also limits their rookie value.
Meanwhile, Rhodes is likely to enter training camp as the starting cornerback opposite Chris Cook. Rhodes is a big (6’1”, 210 lbs) cornerback who likes to play physically. He’s not afraid to jam receivers or give them a good lick.
Now, Rhodes isn’t without weaknesses. There are concerns about his abilities in zone coverage, inconsistencies as a wrap-up tackler and limited abilities as a blitzing corner.
Those concerns would be disheartening in some systems, but outside of his inconsistencies as a wrap-up tackler, the other two shortcomings are nearly irrelevant in Minnesota’s defensive scheme.
The Vikings play a Cover-2 scheme, with their safeties deep in zone coverage and cornerbacks playing firm man-coverage while rarely being asked to blitz.
That scheme plays right into the strengths of Rhodes.
Combine the scheme with his abilities and opportunity, and he should be Minnesota’s best rookie in 2013.
Who will have the best career of the 2013 rookie class?
In the long term, Patterson or Floyd may be better than Rhodes, but with an eye to 2013, Rhodes is the crown jewel of his class, even if he isn't drawing the most attention.