If there’s one player on the Vikings roster that can relate to rookie cornerback Trae Waynes, it’s Xavier Rhodes.
Like Waynes, Rhodes was a first round selection known for his aggressiveness coming out of college. He went through his own struggles after leaving Florida State in 2013, but Rhodes flashed his All-Pro potential last season in his first season under head coach Mike Zimmer.
So naturally, Waynes has approached Rhodes about the growing pains he’s already experienced in coverage three months into his career. Rhodes said the hardest adjustment he had to make as a rookie was playing within the NFL rules.
“Within those five yards not trying to be too aggressive, that’s by far the hardest thing that you can adjust to in the NFL,” Rhodes said. “You have to be technique sound here in the NFL. In college, you can be more aggressive down the field. In the NFL, you have to be able to work your feet more than your hands.”
Waynes, the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, was flagged twice for defensive holding and once for pass interference in his first preseason game, but he hasn’t drawn a penalty in the last three Vikings’ friendlies. The transition period is far from over, however.
Last week in practice, Waynes was flagged for pass interference during an 11-on-11 period. He was in good position to contest a deep ball but grabbed the receiver’s arm right when the ball arrived, causing the sideline official to reach for his yellow handkerchief.
Rhodes was only flagged once as a rookie during the preseason, but he drew two flags in his first regular season game — an illegal block above the waist and a pass interference penalty. He drew six penalties in 13 games played his first season.
But as time progressed, Rhodes improved his technique and had a better gauge of how to remain aggressive yet play within the rules. He finished last season tied for fourth in the NFL with 18 passes defended.
“It’s going to take time,” Rhodes said. “[Waynes] asked me when I grew out of it, and I said after the 30th flag. After a while, you’re like, ‘Something’s got to go. Something’s got to change.’ I said eventually you’re going to grow out of it, and you’ll eventually find yourself. Just don’t pressure yourself into trying to force [out of] it because the more you force it, the worse it’s going to become. Just let it come naturally, and once it does, you’ll be good.”
Rhodes is also very familiar with the media, social media and fanbase hype that can surround a first round selection. He was selected with the 25th overall pick in 2013, one of three first round picks for the Vikings. There’s often an unrealistic expectation that every first rounder must have an immediate impact, which is far from the truth. Rhodes stressed that Waynes, who was the first cornerback taken in the draft, shouldn’t focus on all the external pressure he will face in his career due to the draft.
“You have to stay focused, stay on your path and set your own expectations to the point where you can only disappoint yourself,” Rhodes said. “You want to go out and have expectations for yourself and not listen to all the hoopla and all that because that can distract you from your team goals and your self-goals.”