While rival Miami has watched helplessly as six underclassmen have already made up their minds to leave the program for the NFL Draft, Florida State has managed to hold on to all of its early-entry candidates.
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The latest is cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who announced his intentions Monday to continue his career in garnet and gold. He joins defensive end Brandon Jenkins and fellow corner Greg Reid, as Jenkins' mother confirmed her son's pledge of one more year to coach Jimbo Fisher this past Thursday and Reid did the same via his Facebook page a day later.
Rhodes is coming off a redshirt sophomore campaign in which he battled a handful of minor bumps and bruises seemingly on a weekly basis, including the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando against Notre Dame. The Miami native was forced to exit with a knee injury and did not return to FSU's 18-14 victory over the Fighting Irish. He finished 2011 with 43 tackles and one interception, but the year before, when he was recognized as a freshman All-American, the 6-2, 215-pounder recorded 54 stops and four INTs.
Despite perhaps a disappointing performance this past year, Rhodes has the enviable combination of size, strength and speed that teams are desperate for at the NFL level. He probably would have been a second- or third-round pick on potential alone, but a solid -- and healthy -- junior season might make him a legitimate first rounder in the 2013 draft and, naturally, put a lot more guaranteed money in his pocket.
After consulting with his family, he decided against rolling the dice and wanted to see just how good he can become as a collegian.
“I could have gone and been a second- or third-round [pick] or possibly first round, but that was a risk,” Rhodes said in a statement released by the 'Noles football office. “Why take that risk when if I come back and have the kind of season I can, improve my stock and be a first rounder?”
Rhodes will again be a part of what should be one of the best defenses in the country, as the only losses on the entire two-deep are linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Mike Harris and safety Terrance Parks, who are all out of eligibility.
“I talked to my family, including my grandmother, and they told me I should come back and get my school and improve [my] stock,” said Rhodes.
Nobody is more pleased than Fisher, who likes to describe himself as an offensive guy that recruits more defensive players than any other coach in the nation.
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“I think it’s a very mature decision," Fisher said, "as far as individual responsibility. “It’s huge for our program and gives us continuity in the secondary. ... We’ll benefit from having he, Greg and Brandon back, and they’ll benefit from playing on a very good team, a very good defense, while improving their stock. We’re very fortunate.”
Even with both back next season, Florida State is a bit on the thin side at corner once past the starting duo of Rhodes and Reid. Harris was essentially a third starter and excelled shifting inside to the nickel back position when the opponent put three and four wide receivers on the field. The only other corners that made the depth chart in 2011 were Avis Commack and Nick Waisome, but Commack is in the middle of a transfer and Waisome was a freshman that didn't get any meaningful snaps.
While safety Terrence Brooks is a fit for the nickel job, as he was the dime defender in six-DB packages this past year, the Seminoles are still in need of a top cornerback recruit to help replace Reid and likely Rhodes by 2013.
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.