Xavier Rhodes has gone from first-round pick to starting cornerback to the Pro Bowl over the first four years of his career.
Now as Minnesota's top shutdown defensive back enters his fifth season, Rhodes is looking to enhance another part of his game.
Tim Yotter of Viking Update recently wrote that the mild-mannered Rhodes is working on becoming more of a vocal leader for the Vikings defense.
*Rhodes was already named to his first Pro Bowl following the 2016 season and set a career high with five interceptions. It was one of the few missing ingredients in his game. *
*Vikings fans have become accustomed to seeing Rhodes in tight coverage and knocking away passes – he had 23 passes defensed as a rookie – but last year was a breakout for him in interceptions. He also made a name for himself by limiting Odell Beckham, Jr. to a career-low 23 yards receiving on three catches while shadowing him last year. *
*Rhodes following the opponents' best receivers has also become a staple of game plans in Mike Zimmer's defense. But, with a new contract signed at the start of training camp, Rhodes is adding something to his game off the field – becoming more of a leader in the defensive backfield. *
"Being labeled as a vet, that's totally different for me. Two years ago and even last year I was one of the young guys," Rhodes said on Tuesday. "But being labeled as a vet, coach is looking forward to me helping out the young ones and coaching them up."
Rhodes was ranked 66th on NFL Network's Top 100 list this spring. He had a team-high five interceptions in 2016 and tied for second on the Vikings with 14 passes defended. Rhodes also recorded 54 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) and added two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Barnwell: Vikings path to deep playoff run
The 2017 NFL season opens tonight, meaning every team has championship hopes and dreams fresh in their minds.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com took a look at how each team could make a deep playoff run, and said the Vikings could rely on young stars to lead the way.
Barnwell said Minnesota falls into a group of "young, talented teams with deep rosters and signs of recent growth. Their path to a Super Bowl is through a bunch of their emerging talent getting better at once."
He also recapped the Vikings 2016 season while looking ahead at what needs to happen in 2017 for Minnesota to be playing in February.
A trendy Super Bowl pick last season after breaking through with a division title in 2015, Minnesota's season never really got going. Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson combined to play 84 offensive snaps, and while Sam Bradford played better than anyone might have expected, the Vikings' offense was dead on arrival thanks to the league's worst O-line. The defense kept the team afloat during the first half of the season, but once Harrison Smith went down with a high ankle sprain and their astronomical turnover rate regressed, the Vikings couldn't keep up.
General Manager Rick Spielman has invested in the offensive line this offseason, spending big to add a pair of new tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. The interior of the line, anchored by rookie third-rounder Pat Elflein at center, might be a bigger concern now. The defense should be great, and if Bradford can stay healthy and one of the young receivers — most likely Stefon Diggs — breaks out, the Vikings have both the stars and the depth to challenge any team in the NFC.