Xavier Rhodes is currently one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s been to two Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro in 2017. Most teams don’t even try to throw his way. Rhodes also handed megastar receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. — widely considered one of if not the best receiver in football — his worst game as a pro, holding him to 23 total yards on three catches, on nine targets.
Rhodes’ journey to get where he is today is spectacular.
FSU fans would be forgiven for not remembering that the Miami Norland High School product was once the seventh-lowest rated recruit in Florida State’s 2009 class. A three-star receiver ranked as the 88th receiver in the country, and the 101st player in the State of Florida, according to the 247Sports composite.
It wasn’t for a lack of talent. Rhodes was a two-sport star in high school, playing football and running track. His senior year he led Miami Norland in rushing and receiving. He also qualified for the state track finals after running 10.70 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
When he arrived at FSU for the 2009 season, at all of 6’2 and a lanky 195 pounds, then-FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher saw his length, strength, and speed — and all the potential that came with it. Fisher made a decision to switch Rhodes to the other side of the ball. He’d play cornerback. So, Rhodes redshirted. It would have to be years before FSU would see any return on that kind of investment, right?
Nope. It took Rhodes all of, well, immediately, to be good.
Rhodes was named a consensus freshman All-American following his redshirt freshman 2010 campaign. He was awarded first team freshman All-American honors by College Football News and the Football Writers Association of America. He did it on the back of a 58 tackle — 49 unassisted and 3.5 for loss — two sack, four interception, and twelve pass breakups showcase from the boundary cornerback spot. He was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. He always made big plays, intercepting the Clemson Tigers in the end zone in a 16-13 win and recovering a fumble against the Florida Gators.
That’s all that FSU’s opponents needed to see. Or not see, as afterward most teams pretended his side of the field didn’t exist. Not just his next season, but the season after that, too.
The quality of Rhodes’ play didn’t diminish, but without the attention from opposing offenses his numbers declined. His tackles dropped from 58 to 43 in 2011, and then to 39 in 2012. He recorded just four pass breakups in 2011 and then rebounded to seven in 2012, also stealing another four passes.
As a consequence, Rhodes became criminally underrated by the awards circuit. He did finish as a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award, given every year to the nation’s best defensive back, his junior year. He was the only ACC player to receive that honor. He was also named a first team All-ACC player.
That year, in his last twelve games in the Garnet and Gold, Rhodes was targeted 47 times and allowed just 13 completions for 88 yards. The FSU defense lead the country in yards per play allowed and were in the top six in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. He earned back-to-back Mr. Dependable Skill Awards at the annual team banquet his last two seasons.
He finished his career at FSU with 140 total tackles, seven for a loss, eight interceptions and 23 pass breakups. He was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 25th overall pick in 2013 NFL Draft. And, well, you know the rest.
Rhodes stood on the shoulders of the giants that came before him and still left his own legacy. And he did it at DBU. Rhodes may not have put up the numbers that other players have during his time in Tallahassee, but he was just really, really good. And still is.