When you consider the fact that Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes has only played one season at the collegiate level, it’s hard to forecast and predict with any concrete certainty just how good he actually could become in the future. But if those fantastic flashes and glimpses of greatness we saw in 2010 are any indication, it’s obvious that Rhodes has the potential to develop into one of the standout defensive backs in college football this season.
Since there were so many heralded underclassmen cornerbacks who jumped ship and declared for the 2011 NFL Draft this year, it’s left us scrambling to try to figure out which top eligible corner prospects we’re going to need to pay the most attention to when scouting for the 2012 NFL Draft this season.
Players like Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard, Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Virginia’ Chase Minnifield are just a few of the cornerbacks who have already established themselves as pro-ready prospects, but even though he hasn’t built up the resume of more experienced players like Dennard and Minnifield, Rhodes already looks like he belongs in that VIP group.
After sitting out his first season in Tallahassee with a hand injury in 2009, Rhodes stepped into the starting lineup at the boundary cornerback position last year and made an immediate impact for the Florida State defense.
In his first year as a starter, Rhodes racked up 49 solo tackles, picked off four passes and broke up sixteen pass attempts.
For his efforts, he was rewarded with numerous honors, including a spot on the Freshman All-American team and the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
After his breakout rookie campaign, Rhodes has officially put himself on the college football map, and now it seems like the time is right for him to take the next step and solidify his spot amongst the top cornerbacks in the game.
At a rangy 6’2’’, 215-pounds, from a purely physical standpoint, Rhodes is reminiscent of another top cornerback prospect, Patrick Peterson, who was taken with the fifth pick in this year’s draft.
Although he has yet to prove that he’s the type of game-changer that Peterson was when he played at LSU, you can tell just from a quick eyeball test that Rhodes has the size and build that will make NFL scouts and personnel folks drool, just like they did for Peterson.
The former 3-star recruit out of Miami’s Norland High School was considered a versatile enough athlete to play either receiver or defensive back in college. But the Florida State coaching staff knew his best value was as a cover corner.
Rhodes has already shown off his rare physical ability, and he’s given us a quick peak of his well-rounded skill set.
The big, athletic corner appears to be the complete package with top-notch instincts, elite closing speed and a willingness to come up and stick ball carriers in run support.
Rhodes can turn his hips and run with any receiver he goes up against, and his size advantage is something that truly sets him apart from the crowd.
So is Xavier Rhodes the next Patrick Peterson?
It’s still too early to tell, but I can confidently say that from what I personally saw of Rhodes last year, there’s no doubt in mind that he’s got the special type of talent to turn into college football’s next coveted corner.
With Rhodes and fellow future pro Greg Reid manning the edges this season, the Seminoles defense will undoubtedly have the best cornerback combo in the country in 2011.
Right now, I have Rhodes ranked as the top underclassmen cornerback prospect in the country, but he first has to show that he’s corrected a few flaws and become better at reading his keys in the passing game.
If he displays development and does in fact take that next step to become the elite caliber difference-maker his potential warrants, Rhodes has a shot to be a Top 20 pick if he ultimately decides to come out after this season.
It’s way too early to put him up there with Prime Time just yet, but at this point, Rhodes has that same type of buzz that Antonio Cromartie had going into the 2005 season, before he tore his knee up.
Mark Sept. 17 on your calendar, because that’s the night Oklahoma travels to Tallahassee for the big showdown with the Seminoles.
Xavier Rhodes versus Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma’s star senior receiver, is definitely a match up that no true college football fan should miss.
Rhodes is certainly a prospect to keep your eye on this season, but there are plenty of other corners who also possess first round potential.
Here’s an early look at how I’d rank the top eligible cornerback prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Top 10 Seniors
1. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
2. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
3. Chase Minnifield, Virginia
4. Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
5. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
6. Shaun Prater, Iowa
7. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
8. Keith Tandy, West Virginia
9. Tavon Wilson, Illinois
10. Brandon Boykin, Georgia
The Top 10 Underclassmen
1. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
2. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
3. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
4. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
5. Cliff Harris, Oregon
6. Morris Claiborne, LSU
7. Johnny Adams, Michigan State
8. Josh Robinson, Central Florida
9. Greg Reid, Florida State
10. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut