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It may have been the worst-kept secret of the draft that the Vikings and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes were being linked together. All of the proposed blockbuster trades rumored to happen in the top-10 picks never materialized and the Vikings landed a running mate for Xavier Rhodes in the Mike Zimmer defense.
General Manager Rick Spielman raved about Waynes’ skill set, aside from the obvious skills he possesses. Not only does he earn high marks on his ability, but it was the feeling that he was a glove fit for the aggressive Zimmer defense that stood out the most.
“When you look at his physical traits – the length, the speed, the ability to play man coverage – fits exactly what we’re looking for in corners in this scheme,” Spielman said. “You want to get players offensively and defensively that are going to have a chance to excel in what kind of schemes we run on both sides of the ball.”
From the outside looking in, this had all the earmarks of a Zimmer-influenced pick. He’s made no secret about his affinity for having aggressive, intense cornerbacks. But Zimmer made it clear that it was simply that Waynes was the highest-rated cornerback on the Vikings board, but he was one of the highest rated players on the overall draft board.
“Everybody says I love corners and I guess maybe I do,” Zimmer said. “But I love good football players more than I love corners. I felt like he could help us a whole lot in a lot of different ways.”
As the Vikings saw it, there wasn’t much not to like about Waynes. There were a lot of factors the Vikings were looking for in their first-round pick – ranging from physical ability to character to work ethic.
In just about every aspect of a player that the Vikings covet, Waynes received high grades in practically every category.
“Just going down and checking all the boxes, Trae Waynes hit every box we were looking for when we draft a Minnesota Vikings player,” Spielman said.
Given the Vikings’ recent history of making trades – both up and down – since Spielman took over, he’s always willing to make calls and receive calls. But something about Waynes was different.
If a team was going to get the Vikings off the 11th spot, it was going to take an offer that would appear to most outsiders as lopsided. The Vikings listened, but in the end said no to moving and yes to landing Waynes.
“As you sat there and watched the draft unfold, there wasn’t a lot of movement or a lot of trades,” Spielman said. “We did have a lot of activity that came up to us (with offers), but we had Trae Waynes very high on our draft board and some of the offers that we potentially had to trade down, we didn’t feel that the value was there. As much as you like to do some movement and things like that, if there’s a player there that you covet, figuring how far you can move down and potentially lose that player, it’s not always worth it just to make a trade to make a trade.”
Nobody could say the Vikings didn’t do their due diligence with Waynes. They spent time with him at the Combine, both Spielman and Zimmer attended his Pro Day, and they had him in for a “top-30” predraft visit.
Waynes has one technical thing he’ll need to work on – Zimmer said he was a little “grabby” with receivers downfield at Michigan State – but Waynes has all the physical attributes the Vikings are looking for in a cornerback.
He brings a tantalizing mix of skills that could get him paired up with Rhodes to make a dynamic duo at the cornerback position.
“Depending on how fast this guy matures and how fast he gets into the NFL game, when you don’t have to worry too much about the corners – these guys got them covered – you don’t have to give them much help, you don’t have to cheat the coverages, you can do numerous things that allow you to attack offenses,” Zimmer said.
The hope is that he will take to Zimmer’s system like a duck to water, but the Vikings won’t push him out on the field too quickly. When he’s ready, he’ll be on the field, but not until then.
“He’s not going to be pushed into starting right away,” Spielman said. “That will be determined as we go through the offseason program, as we go through training camp, how quickly he comes along. But, we also have the luxury with the depth we have at the cornerback position that, if he’s ready, the coaches will determine when he’s ready.”