One player singled-out on defense for having a particularly good off-season program so far is Xavier Rhodes.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer has talked about him a couple times during recent interviews and press conferences:
I don’t know about last year, but where he’s [Rhodes] at right now I feel like, you know sometimes with Xavier in the past, like when we come in for the off-season, it would be starting over again. And this year, he’s not like that. He’s back into... we didn’t have to go back and re-do everything... some of the more intricate things he was able to continue to do while he’s been here this spring. I think he’ll be a really good cornerback. You know he’s obviously got great length, he can run, he can turn his hips good, he’s physical. You know sometimes Xav’s his own worst enemy and he’ll get down on himself a little bit, but I think he feels confident about what he’s done this spring, he’s improved a lot in his off-coverage this spring.” - Mike Zimmer, 6/14/16
And again the next day during an interview with KFAN:
“He’s [Xavier Rhodes] had a great spring, he’s matured, he’s in his... fourth year I guess, sometimes it takes guys a little bit of time, but this guy he’s got a chance, I believe, he’s got a chance to be a really good corner, he’s improved a lot this off-season in my opinion. It used to be you’d be talking to him every single play and now you don’t even notice he’s out there which is great because that means he’s got his guy covered, he’s not being completed on him and things like that, so I think he’s got a chance to have a really, really good future.” - Mike Zimmer, 6/15/16
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes didn’t take that big leap forward last season, in part because he was plagued by penalties early on and it appeared to take him a while to get back to playing with complete confidence. After working out with All-Pro receivers Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. early in the off-season, Rhodes was locked in throughout the spring here in Minnesota, giving hope that a big leap forward might still be coming.
Last year Pro Football Focus had a 70.6 overall grade for Rhodes, putting him in the average category for his position. I would also note that Rhodes’ grades gradually improved over the course of the season, which is also promising for this up-coming year.
Additionally, although the Vikings picked up Rhodes’ 5th year option, extending him through 2017, this year may be effectively a contract year as the Vikings would likely want to extend him next year, rather than let him enter free agency, if he can show his value. No doubt Rhodes has millions of reasons for moving from average to above-average or near-elite status this year, when it comes to negotiating a new contract.
All of this points to improvement, perhaps significant improvement, for Rhodes this year - but the truth won’t be known until September at the earliest.