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Updated: December 1st, 2013 8:56pm
Zulgad: Xavier Rhodes shows his worth Sunday, limits Brandon Marshall

Zulgad: Xavier Rhodes shows his worth Sunday, limits Brandon Marshall

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Vikings had three selections in the first round of last April's draft, selecting Sharrif Floyd 23rd, Xavier Rhodes 25th and Cordarrelle Patterson 29th.

Patterson, a wide receiver and kickoff returner from Tennessee, has drawn the most attention because of his dynamic play-making ability and the fact he has an opportunity to make an impact every time he touches the football.

Patterson's lack of playing time for much of this season also has left many wondering why a sub-.500 team wouldn't elect to use him more often to provide a spark.

Floyd was projected as an early first-round pick by some, so the Vikings were thrilled on draft night when the defensive tackle from Florida remained available deep into the first round.

But Floyd has faced a few obstacles, including the fact he's behind veteran Kevin Williams on the depth chart.

In fairness, attempting to judge a defensive tackle also can be difficult, given the fact that the play of interior lineman doesn't often standout and many times when they are playing well it flies below the radar.

Rhodes, however, has no concerns about his performance going unnoticed. Good or bad. Such is the life of a cornerback in the NFL. The position is constantly under a microscope and, fair or not, reviews come immediately after a pass is caught or broken up.

Rhodes has played in all 12 games for the Vikings this season and has started five times. He opened the season as the left cornerback in the nickel defense, with Josh Robinson starting on the left side and then moving inside when five defensive backs were employed in passing situations.

Robinson started the first 10 games but fractured his sternum two weeks ago in the Vikings' loss at Seattle. Robinson often struggled and appeared overmatched, but coach Leslie Frazier was insistent that he would stick with the second-year pro as the starter.

This made little sense given that a first-round pick had been used on Rhodes and Robinson was a third-round selection from Central Florida. Rhodes' future is as a starter so why not get him the additional reps on the left side?

The only thought was that maybe Rhodes wasn't making the type of progress the Vikings wanted to see behind the scenes. The theory, however, seemed rather flimsy given how easily Robinson was being beaten by opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers.

With Robinson sidelined, Rhodes has moved into the starting role on the left side the past two weeks against Green Bay and Chicago. He hasn't disappointed and, in fact, those who questioned why he wasn't starting weeks ago have been proven to be 100 percent correct to have wondered about this.

On Sunday, Rhodes finished fourth on the Vikings with six tackles, including one for a loss, and broke up a pass. Last week in a tie at Green Bay, he had four pass breakups and four tackles.

Rhodes is listed at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and is a physical cornerback. He seems better suited for man-to-man coverage, as opposed to the Tampa-2 zone scheme that Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams likes to run.

The Vikings seem to be playing more man coverage of late, something that might be a wise nod to the fact that it's the job of the coaching staff to put their players in a position to succeed by adjusting their schemes to the personnel.

This is not to say that Rhodes hasn't made mistakes, but that's to be expected.

Rhodes seems to have something that many of the cornerbacks drafted in recent years by the Vikings have lacked. That's a confidence and cockiness that can be combined with skills to back up that attitude.

The Bears' Brandon Marshall is an ultra-skilled receiver, but Rhodes was often able to hold his own against Marshall on Sunday.

That's a big improvement on Marcus McCauley, who was drafted in the third round in 2007 but lasted only two seasons. Same goes for Asher Allen, who was taken in the same round in 2009 and retired after 2011.

The biggest flop is going to be Chris Cook, who was drafted early in the second round in 2010 and likely will be jettisoned after this season.

Cook looked lost at times Sunday against the Bears' Alshon Jeffery, who finished with 12 catches for a Bears' single-game record 249 yards and two touchdowns. Both of Jeffery's third-quarter touchdown receptions involved Cook, the second leading to the cornerback's ejection from the game.

Jeffery made a splendid 46-yard catch in the front corner of the end zone, rising up over a turned-around Cook. As Cook got up from the turf, he said something to the closest official and also made contact. That earned him an automatic ejection and was the latest strike against a guy who hasn't been able to stay on the field on a consistent basis during his NFL career.

"You've got to keep your composure, especially at the corner position," Frazier said. "There are going to be times you get beat. You can't let that stuff get to you."

The problem with Cook is it appears too often that things do get to him and opponents are more than willing to take advantage of this fact.

Rhodes on the other hand appears to be the type of cornerback who can effectively hold down a starting job in the NFL. That's good news for a franchise that could be looking for a new starter at right cornerback, as well as in the nickel, this offseason.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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