The NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and The Pewter Plank has been busy bringing you news and opinions about the best prospects, and who the Buccaneers might target at the draft. As we’ve discussed, most mock drafts outside of our site have the Bucs selecting a cornerback, often Xavier Rhodes, from Florida State. To get a better idea what Xavier Rhodes is all about, and get some more NFL Draft insight, I was graciously given some of Patrik Nohe’s time. Patrik is a sportswriter covering Florida State athletics for the Miami Herald, and has had a front row seat to watch Xavier Rhodes’ ascension to a star cornerback with first round hopes. Here’s the interview:
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Patrik.
Leo: Lots of draft experts and mock draft writers are talking about Xavier Rhodes, cornerback from FSU, coming to Tampa Bay with the 13th pick. As someone who has watched Xavier’s career closely, would you say Xavier is the 13th best prospect in the draft? If not, how close is he?
Patrik: No, I don’t think he is. Xavier Rhodes could be one heck of a corner someday and he has a lot of strength on a big frame. On paper, yes that’s extremely attractive. But in reality, he’s not there yet and I’m not sure he’s ever going to peak that high. At Florida State Rhodes had a huge year in 2010, but trailed off enough in 2011 that he opted to return for 2012. Over his time at FSU he notched 8 interceptions and had 31 passes defensed, but he also had lots of nagging injuries and never completely reached the potential he gave a glimpse of his redshirt freshman season. Many expected him to eventually emerge as the Seminoles’ field corner, but even after Florida State punted Greg Reid this summer Rhodes didn’t grab the job. That’s not necessarily an indictment on Rhodes as much as it a statement about how his athleticism is being rated by some draft experts. Right now because of the success bigger corners had in the NFL this season (especially in Seattle) and because of his size and what he did as a freshman when he was healthy, he’s being a little overrated. I’d peg Rhodes as a late first rounder, more likely a guy grabbed early in round two. But 13 is high in my opinion.
Leo: How would you assess Xavier’s strengths and weaknesses on the field? What makes him rank as a borderline first round prospect?
Patrik: He’s got great size and strength and unlike many corners, he likes to hit. Rhodes came into college as a wide receiver and flipped to corner early on his redshirt year, so his ball skills are also extremely good. He gets his head around quickly, and when the ball is in the air he’s looking to make a play on it like a receiver, which oftentimes means coming off his man to make the play. Inside of five yards, giving the jam, he’s going to be excellent in the NFL, he’ll play the run well and if he’s playing the right techniques he’ll make interceptions. He’s smart, he’s instinctual, in the right defensive scheme he could be excellent.
But he’s not as athletic as a lot of sites have him rated. He doesn’t have elite speed, and as was exposed in his sophomore season a true slot receiver can give him problems if he’s playing the nickel. He also commits a lot of penalties and in the flag-happy, pro-offense NFL that will be even more of an issue. Remember in college you can tussle with a receiver until the ball goes up. The NFL doesn’t allow contact outside of five yards and that was a big part of Rhodes’ game in college. At times, he can be overzealous, he gets ‘caught’ occasionally and doesn’t have the elite top-speed to recover.
Rhodes is one of the best corners in the draft, but in the NFL I see him as more of a very good second corner, not a shut-down number one.
Leo: If the Buccaneers are to reach for a cornerback like Rhodes with the 13th pick we have to be sure he’s a fit. The Buccaneers tend to prefer team leaders and captains with high work ethic and high character. What can you say about Rhodes as a person, and would he fit in with Greg Schiano’s “Buccaneer Way”?
Patrik: Rhodes isn’t the rah-rah, team captain sort. Now granted, he left early and was a junior on a senior-heavy team. And you are limited with how much direct access you have to players. But you can glean a lot when the guys on the team talk about leadership and where the messages were coming from. Rhodes’ name was not one of the more oft-mentioned ones. He did mentor the other corners a lot and deserves credit for that, but the leader of the Florida State secondary was junior safety Lamarcus Joyner and the leaders of the defense were Vince Williams and Bjoern Werner. Rhodes is a solid guy in the character department. He’s reserved, but not really a trouble maker and not likely a guy who would have a lot of off-field issues in the NFL. I think he’d fit, but more as the kind of guy who shows up, works hard and does thing correctly than the sort who is real vocal.
Leo: Knowing that the Buccaneers prefer corners who are solid in man coverage and are called into tackling runners more often, is Xavier a fit for the Buccaneers scheme? Did he have any similar experiences in Tallahassee?
Patrik: Yes, but not at 13 if you’re drafting him to be an alpha corner in your man-to-man scheme. Rhodes played plenty of man at FSU and can lock down a lot of receivers, like I said he’d be a very good number two and in terms of tackling would definitely fit well into what the Bucs like to do. But it’s all about where you value him at. He’s a reach at 13. He’s value at 43 when the Bucs pick in the next round. And don’t get me wrong, maybe he’ll develop into that alpha guy, but at 13 you want to make sure that’s what you have and he’s not right now.
Leo: Covering the ACC, you likely saw other NFL talent on other teams. Are there any sleeper cornerbacks you’ve seen that might wind up being solid NFL players but might be under the radar, behind big names like Dee Milliner, Johnthan Banks, and Desmond Trufant?
Patrik: Not in this class. I mean yeah, a few guys like Rod Sweeting and David Amerson will get drafted and have some kind of NFL impact. But nobody is going to really blow people away. Before the season started I may have said Amerson for sure. But he had a rough year including being absolutely abused by Tennessee on national television in NC State’s opener. So now the jury is out for me. Of all of them though, Amerson has the most upside. But no, not really in this class.
Leo: For Bucs fans who might also be Seminole fans, are there any other FSU prospects that might match the Buccaneers’ needs?
Patrik: Tank Carradine. Talk about a guy who would be that ideal guy for the “Buccaneer Way,” Carradine came to FSU before 2011 as a JuCo transfer. That was a transformative experience for him, because he admits it slowed him down and got him focused on what was important to him which was football. He came to Florida State hungry. In two season he notched 16.5 sacks, including 11 as a starter in 2012 when he also had a team-leading 80 tackles and was every bit as good as Bjoern Werner who will go top-five in this draft. Unfortunately for Carradine, at the end of FSU’s loss to Florida he tore his ACL and his draft stock will suffer for it. ACL’s heal, nowadays it’s not something that lingers, Carradine will come back full speed. If anything getting injured and dropping in the draft will re-stoke his fire, make him hungrier. I think on the second day of the draft Tank Carradine would be a great pickup for Tampa.
Leo: Excellent. Thank you for your time, Patrik!