Inside linebacker will be a high priority for the Packers heading into the NFL Draft this April, and one prospect they could take a close look at is former William & Mary defensive captain Luke Rhodes.
As a four year starter in college, Rhodes amassed 341 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles, and 5.5 sacks. He proved to be a well-balanced three-down linebacker at the heart of the Tribe’s defense, registering 19 pass defensed in coverage to go along with his impressive production against the run.
Rhodes also earned multiple All-CAA First Team honors and was a two-team team captain for William & Mary. Many draft analysts project the Pennsylvania native as a possible mid-round prospect in the draft, but also a player with good athleticism and instincts that could be a steal for a team looking for help at both linebacker and on special teams.
Considering Rhodes could be a player the Packers consider selecting, I recently reached out to him to learn more about his game and what he’s doing to prepare for the draft this spring.
Rhodes was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions. Here is what he had to say about his strengths as a linebacker, the areas of his game he’s working on improving, and how he’d feel about someday playing in the NFL.
Luke Rhodes Q&A
Q. As a four-year starter for William and Mary’s defense, you’ve been one of the most productive linebackers in school history. For you, what has been key to staying on the field and playing at such a high level for so long?
Rhodes: A couple keys for me have been my overall health. I’ve only missed one game in my career at William and Mary due to injury. To go along with that has been both my offseason and in-season training program. My preparation in the offseason to get my body in the best shape possible and maintaining throughout the season was of paramount importance to me to play at a high level each and every game without losing my strength or stamina in the end of games and at the end of the season.
Q. You may not get the national recognition in the media as some of the other 2016 draft prospects, but since you came on the scene as a redshirt freshmen, you’ve been one of the top linebackers in college football. For those who may have not seen you play, describe your game for us. What type of linebacker are you? What are your strengths as a player?
Rhodes: My game as a linebacker is playing smart physical football. I knew going into my redshirt freshman year that I would have to prepare mentally for games more than anyone else, due to being undersized at the time. I study the ins and outs of each team I face the same way, so that come game time I can react to what I had seen over and over on film. As my body grew physically putting on weight and strength and the continued preparation in the film room, I was able to make more and more of an impact on the field.
Q. Are there any NFL players (past or present) that you look up to, model your game after, or draw comparisons to?
Rhodes: I try and model myself after a couple of NFL players. First, Luke Kuechly in his mental approach to the game and his leadership on the field. I like to be in control and know and understand the game better than anyone else on the field, and be known as an “all over the field” linebacker like he is. Also, I would model my game after James Harrison as a physical all-around player. His off the field preparation, mentally and physically, has allowed him to play the game at such a high level for many years.
Q. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. What got you into playing football? Who in your life have been instrumental in leading you down this path?
Rhodes: I come from a football family. My father, Doug Rhodes, played Division 1 football at Navy and coached me all through high school. He was the one who got me started in football and I developed a love for the game and it all entails from him.
Q. With the NFL Draft only a couple of months away, what has this spring been like for you? Anything in particular you have been doing to prepare for the draft?
Rhodes: I’ve been training in San Diego with Todd Durkin to get my body in the best shape I can. I’ve also been preparing on the board and in the film room as well looking at myself in what I need to improve on and watching other players to get things that they do as well.
Q. What specific areas of your game have you been focused on improving?
Rhodes: I’ve been improving my tackling and explosion. Becoming a more sound and physical tackler will be something that will definitely improve my chances at the next level, while at the same time developing any sort of mental edge I can have with regards to the game on the field and off the field.
Q. I’ve heard several draft analysts speak highly of you, but with projections so difficult to make, do you have any specific expectations when it comes to the draft or your potential career in the NFL?
Rhodes: I am simply going to control what I can and that is my preparation for what is next. It’s something my coaches have always taught me that if I dedicate myself to right now and take care of what I can and am able to control then everything else will take care of itself and the cards will fall as they will. However, I feel that my potential has not been tapped fully and that my game in the NFL will only improve.
Q. If you are drafted this spring, what will that moment mean to you?
Rhodes: That moment will mean a lot of different things and carry a lot of different emotions. It will mean that everything I have worked for since peewee football has been worth it. All the hard work, all of the successes and failures have taught me enough to excel at what I love doing, playing football.
I will be happy both for me and for my family, as they have been the ones always in my corner concerning football and potential for playing at the highest level. I’ll be proud to represent them and everything that they have done for me.
Also, I’ll be proud of the school that I played for and the coaches that have helped me along the way to get to where I am. I realize that none of this would even be possible without my friends, coaches, and most importantly, my family behind me.
Q. The Green Bay Packers will look to the draft to improve their linebacking corps. If they selected you in April, what could you bring to their team?
Rhodes: I could bring a level of tenacity that would hopefully help the entire corps. My hard work and resiliency are what have made me the player I am, and that would only continue to improve wherever I got the opportunity to play. Effort and heart make a talented player that much better and that is what I pride myself on.
Q. What do you think you could learn from playing alongside veterans like Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers?
Rhodes: I can learn a multitude of different things, from technique and assignment, to alignment and execution. They are and have been the best at what they do for many years for a reason, and given the opportunity to learn from veterans like them would greatly improve my game.
Q. Regardless of who drafts you, once you’re on an NFL roster next summer, what are some goals you will set for yourself in your rookie season?
Rhodes: Goals for a rookie season in the NFL, regardless of which team, would be the same. To make an impact and a name for myself is what every rookie in football looks to do. To be given an opportunity to perform at my best and to help a team accomplish its goals in any way that I could.
Q. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. When you’re away from football, what do you like to do in your free time?
Rhodes: I’m a movie guru. I love to go to the movie theatre and watch movies of all genres. Horror and action movies are my favorite, but I will watch any movie, regardless of the reviews it got. I also enjoy skiing and hanging out with my friends. Weight lifting, away from football is also a big hobby of mine.
Q. Finally, is there anything else you’d like Packers fans to know about you before I let you go?
Rhodes: If there was something I’d like fans to know is that coming from a hard working family and being raised the way I was by my parents and extended family has brought me to where I am today. My parents always told me that nothing will be given to me, and that if there is something I want or desire, that I will have to dedicate myself to in order to reach my goals. I pride myself on being a role model for hard work and I think that my style and effort and enthusiasm for the way I play would be fun to watch and a joy to emulate. Thank you!
*I would like to thank Luke for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish him the best.