To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.
This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.
Coming in at No. 7 on our list is cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
A great defense needs sound cornerback play. Entering his fifth NFL season, Xavier Rhodes has ensured that’s one box the Vikings check on whichever side of the field he takes.
Rhodes found his stride last season, culminating in a career-best five interceptions and highlight reels of him stalling some of the game’s top receivers. His play against Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin and others boosted an 8-8 squad to high marks in pass defense (3rd) and opponent QB rating (4th).
He’s drawn a close interest from head coach Mike Zimmer, the former defensive backs coach. He’s since grown from a talented prospect with ideal speed (4.43), size (6’1) and reach (33 3/4″ arms) into a budding No. 1 cornerback.
Should the Vikings achieve the elusive dream of a Super Bowl run, Rhodes will certainly play a starring role. And while he has plenty to bring to the table in contract negotiations (entering the last year of his current deal in 2017), there were still times last year when the Rhodes of old grabbed hold.
His physical play can still cross a line in the eyes of referees. He’s got a two-year run now as most-penalized Vikings player, including 11 flags (three declined) last year. Four of those penalties came in Jacksonville, when Marqise Lee got by Rhodes to become the first 100-yard receiver vs. the Vikings in Week 14.
Outings like that and the defensive collapse in Lambeau a couple weeks later contrast to holding Benjamin without a catch and Beckham Jr. to a season-low three grabs for 23 yards last season.
A consistent Rhodes could be a dominant and driving force for the talented Vikings defense, which faces Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston in September.
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
11. Trae Waynes, CB
16. Pat Elflein, C/G