Last year, Xavier Rhodes solidified himself as one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL, but the cornerback spot opposite him was never solidified for the Vikings. Both Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson had ups and downs over the course of the season. That inconsistency prompted the Minnesota Vikings to draft Trae Waynes with the No. 11 overall pick.
Many experts had Waynes as the best cornerback in the 2015 draft. The Vikings also chose him because his style of play fits perfectly with what head coach Mike Zimmer likes to do. Waynes is a physical corner who likes to play in bump-and-run coverage and square up with a receiver 1-on-1. This is how Zimmer likes to run his defense a majority of the time and is a reason why Rhodes had so much success a year ago.
Playing with that type of physicality, however, does have its drawbacks as well. Waynes was penalized nine times in his two seasons as a college starter, mostly because he had the tendency to grab receivers during their routes.
Another thing that Waynes will need to work on early in his career is the fluidity of his hips, which was probably the biggest knock against him coming out of college. His hips were tight and a little clumsy through transitions from time to time, according to the analysts, and that would lead to him being off balance and it allowed a short window of separation for the receiver.
Luckily for Waynes, though, he has great recovery speed, which was shown by his 4.31-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combing – fastest among cornerbacks. He also was the top performer at the Combine for his position group in the bench press, which might surprise some people because of his slender frame.
He comes in at 6 feet, 186 pounds, which is a good height but it wouldn’t hurt him to add a few more pounds of muscle to his frame. He also has an arm length of 31 inches, which is great for reaching out in front of receivers and deflecting the ball. There are a lot of things to like about Waynes moving forward and having Zimmer as a head coach should only help him develop faster.
During his senior year at Michigan State, Waynes recorded 46 tackles, one sack, three interceptions and eight passes defensed. His numbers may not be as impressive as some of the other numbers posted by defensive backs in this draft, but that is also because quarterbacks did not target him very often. He was often asked to cover a receiver one-on-one out on an island and he had the habit of taking those receivers out of the game.
Even though Waynes is expected to be the future long-term starter opposite Rhodes, he might not be the immediate one. The Vikings brought in veteran cornerback Terence Newman this offseason and in organized team activities and minicamp it was Newman who was taking snaps with the first team. Even if Newman is the Day 1 starter, expect to see Waynes on the field, either on the outside or in the slot, at some point during the season. It is not to often that you see a first-round selection sit their entire rookie season anymore.
Vikings’ 25 and under: Trae Waynes
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