Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said first-round cornerback Trae Waynes “checked all the boxes” in what Mike Zimmer’s defense was looking for at the position.
The stats back up Spielman’s assessment. Waynes is the perfect fit for the Vikings defense athletically and was the “safe” pick from a character standpoint, which is why he was projected to Minnesota so often, both in Viking Update’s mock drafts and nearly from the start of Scout.com’s numerous mock drafts since January.
Starting with what the Vikings defense endured last year to what they want to accomplish this year, it just made too much sense to not take Waynes if he was still available at No. 11, and that’s why Spielman, despite his love of the draft-day trade, passed on some offers to move down in the draft Thursday night – he didn’t feel those trade offers produced enough value and went with Waynes.
The Vikings finished 2014 with the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite numerous issues throughout the preseason and into the regular season. The troubles started in training camp when Josh Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn both dealt with injuries that limited their availability. It was a clear point of frustration with Zimmer last year in training camp, when he was trying to install his defense for the first time in Minnesota without some of his key players.
Zimmer admitted a few times that Munnerlyn was signed mainly to be the nickel cornerback, but when Josh Robinson struggled (especially with taller receivers) Munnerlyn was pushed into full-time duty, something he embraced from the start.
But Munnerlyn didn’t perform up to his expectations either.
“I got big shoulders. I don’t mind who they draft or who they go get. I just know I got to go out there and play better than I did last year,” Munnerlyn said. “I didn’t play my best football. I’ve been speaking it all offseason, so that’s been in the back of my mind. I’m excited just to get back on the field and prove these people wrong around here.”
There were times last year, especially at training camp, where Zimmer seemed to think some defensive backs were a little too soft working through injuries. Waynes, who was an all-county baseball and track athlete at Marcy D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wis., found out his attitude was too aggressive for the baseball diamond.
“I never really thought about (baseball) seriously until I think my junior year. My baseball coach asked me if I was going to take it serious because he thought I had the potential to potentially get drafted,” Waynes said. “Football is my passion. This what I love to do and I got ejected for two games because I ran over the catcher, just out of frustration. So obviously I had to stick with football. This is something I grew up watching and I love playing, so I just had to follow my dream.”
Sounds like the kind of defender Zimmer can love.
Waynes also suffered a season-ending broken fibula and ankle, along with tearing three ligaments in his knee during an October 2010 contest. It forced Waynes to redshirt during his true freshman year at Michigan State.
His physicality shows up in the stats, too. In a comparison of in-depth statistics from the top five cornerbacks in the draft, Scout.com draft analyst Dave-Te’ Thomas found Waynes to be the top guy against the run.
Waynes ranked first in average tackles per game, second in average yards per rushing play toward him and first in total points in the rushing statistics among the other cornerbacks compared – Marcus Peters, Eric Rowe, Jalen Collins and Kevin Johnson.
“Most corners don’t play in the box that often, but Waynes and Rowe excel in this area, as both are physical hitters with great ability to keep the action in front of them,” Thomas wrote.
Waynes finished second to Peters in the overall passing categories, first in amount of passes that the defensive back re-routed or jammed receivers in his territory to prevent the catch. It’s just another indication that his physicality is his forté already as a press-man cornerback.
“That’s something we do thankfully at Michigan State and I’ll probably be asked to do a little more here,” Waynes said. “But that’s also something we did as well at Michigan State. We installed a whole bunch of things that we didn’t even use, but we had them in the game plan and we were made familiar with them.”
Wrote Thomas: “Waynes really came into his own after he shifted to the boundary position (in 2014). Evident by his performance at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, he has the speed to stick with any receiver in the NFL.”
Waynes was also the least penalized among the top cornerbacks studied, although some of the criticisms against him says he will have to scale back on the use of his hands.
Zimmer was one of those who believe Waynes will have to work on not clutching and grabbing receivers as much in the NFL, but Waynes appears ready to adapt to Zimmer’s focus on details, calling Zimmer a defensive back “guru.”
The presence of Zimmer last year was a huge influence in Xavier Rhodes’ maturity, with the normally reserved Rhodes effusive in praising Zimmer after the season. Adding Waynes opposite Rhodes gives the Vikings two cornerbacks 6 feet or taller on the outside that excel in coverage, and that gives Zimmer even more flexibility to keep the opposing offenses guessing.
In other words, Waynes looks like the perfect fit for the Vikings so much as that’s possible before the pads go on.
Physicality why Waynes is perfect in purple
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