Xavier Rhodes won’t get too many breaks this year.
The Minnesota Vikings’ shutdown corner opened up by facing Drew Brees and Michael Thomas, then locked onto Antonio Brown in Week 2 and now he will take on one of the league’s most dangerous receivers against Tampa Bay – whether that’s Mike Evans or DeSean Jackson.
Rhodes has some familiarity with the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who was a redshirt freshman when the Vikings’ franchise corner was finishing up his time as a Seminole.
“I knew he was competitive,” Rhodes said. “At Florida State, he would always want to race. He thought he was the fastest person on the team knowing he was the slowest.”
It stuck with Rhodes that Winston had a high level of self belief, which has been praised during his short time as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“He would compete at anything, he thought he had the best hands, thought he could cover anyone at DB and I was like, ‘Bro, you’re just an all-around athlete running a 4.8 [40-yard dash] huh,” Rhodes joked. “He always had confidence, always believed in himself and it shows in the NFL.”
The Bucs run a unique offense – a throwback in a way – which asks Winston to work the ball downfield, causing corners like Rhodes to stay on top-notch receivers on deep-developing routes. Rhodes said Winston’s IQ and fearlessness in throwing the ball downfield make him a difficult matchup.
“He’s accurate, he’s smart in deciding who to throw it to against certain coverages, he reads coverage really well,” Rhodes said. “Jameis is Jameis, he’s confident, he believes in his receivers, he’s going to throw it where they need to be and trust that they’re going to get there.”
If Rhodes is going to shadow a receiver this week, it’s more likely to be Evans, since he was a go-to for Winston, catching 96 passes for 1,321 yards last season.
“He’s big and strong,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “When Jameis gets in trouble he’ll throw it up to him and it gets to be a jump ball. He’s a physical receiver. He presents a challenge.”